Saturday, February 28, 2015

Review: The Black Hood #1

"Archie Comics" and the words "dark" and "mature content" fit rather uncomfortably in the same sentence. The publisher's bread-and-butter for decades has been their kid-friendly gag comics featuring the ageless teenagers of small town Riverdale. In fact, the often bland but always wholesome, all-ages aura of Archie Andrews and friends has been used in the past as the fuel for certain Archie comics, like the infamous 1994 Archie Meets The Punisher and, much more recently, the Life With Archie series which saw grown-up Riverdalians facing adult situations like gun violence and breast cancer (culminating in the death of Archie) and the surprise hit Afterlife With Archie, in which a zombie apocalypse comes to Riverdale in a shockingly adult series.

The successful marriage of Archie Comics and darker, more mature content was almost certainly a factor in the publisher's new Dark Circle Comics line of superhero comics, as was, one imagines, their recent miniseries The Fox by Dean Haspiel and Mark Waid. Sure, it was light-hearted and all-ages, but it did reintroduce a handful of the publisher's old superhero characters (some of whom appeared in their digital-first series The New Crusaders, which I kinda liked, but lost track of after a few paper issues).

Archie's stable of superhero characters are quite long-lived, but unlike their immortal teenage characters, they come and go, rarely sticking around for very long. Products of the Golden Age superhero boom, when Archie Comics was still MLJ, they were revived by DC Comics twice—first and most successfully in the '90s, under the "Impact Comics" line—and more recently and more disastrously at the end of the last decade, when DC saw fit to inject still more superheroes into their already crowded DCU universe, and attempt to sell them in a pricier package consisting of lead stories with back-up features.

Now Archie Comics is bringing them back themselves, and, as the change from "Red Circle" (which appeared on the covers of The New Crusaders just a few years ago) to "Dark Circle" signals, these are going to be darker comics, with content on par with or, as in The Black Hood #1, surpassing the sort of content one might find from DC and Marvel, who have a stranglehold on the dark superhero-comics-for-grown-ups market. The Black Hood is rated "Teen +" for "Violence and Mature Content," and is, honestly, more adult than anything I've read from either of the Big Two featuring tights and capes in a long time: There's a "fuck" and a "motherfucker" in here, whereas your average Marvel comic might use those words, but spell them "@#$%" and "mother@#$%er." (Your average DC Comic, meanwhile, wouldn't have any swearing, just poorly-drawn ultra-violence, generally involving dismemberment or someone being impaled from behind.)

That they are challenging DC and Marvel for that corner of the comics market isn't really in doubt however, at least not with this particular title, as its creative team consists of names quite familiar to readers of both of the Big Two's superhero lines.

It's written by crime novelist Duane Sweirczynski, whose comics credits include The New 52 iteration of Birds of Prey and, for Marvel, Moon Knight, The Immortal Iron Fist, The Punisher, Cable and comics featuring various other X-people. He's also written Bloodshot for the new Valiant, the new X for Dark Horse, Judge Dredd for IDW, and he also did a Godzilla comic for IDW, which has been collected as Gozilla: History's Greatest monster.

And it's drawn by Michael Gaydos, probably best known for his Marvel collaborations with Brian Michael Bendis on the Jessica Jones character, in Alias and parts of The Pulse; he's also drawn Manhunter for DC and Snake Woman for the short-lived Virgin Comics.

So here we have a character that's 75-years-old, appearing in a new #1 comic book by a crime novelist and an artist working in a photorealistic-style, featuring a darker, grimmer, grittier take on the character than ever before. Game on, DC and Marvel!

So, who the hell is The Black Hood, exactly?
Well, he debuted in the awesomely-named Top Notch Comics back in 1940, the creation of a Harry Shorten, according to Wikipedia. This original Black Hood was a cop who was also a superhero, and he wore a pretty damn generic costume, one that looks about identical to that of The Tarantula and one of The Sandman's earlier costumes, only black where theirs was purple. Hell, that doesn't even look like all that hood-like a hood, does it?

He was revived in the 1970s as part of Archie's Red Circle line, and, as mentioned, again in the early 1990s as part of DC's "Impact" line, in which they created a new, interconnected world of superheroes based on the Archie-owned characters.
That particular series was written by Mark Wheatley and mostly drawn by Rick Burchett, although some guy named Tim Sale and another guy named Peter Snejbjerg got involved before the twelfth and final issue shipped (So hey, Archie, if you wanna go ahead and collect the Impact books, that would be fine by me). That Black Hood was actually about the Hood as much as the guy wearing it, and it was explained that it originally belonged to an executioner. Just as he was about to execute a witch, she cursed the hood, so that whoever wore it would be compelled to do good...and tended to die pretty quickly. This series established the Hood as a sort of legacy identity, passed down throughout history to different guys wearing the mask. As far as the designs go, I like the look of this hood the most.
Despite some '90s excess in the design, there's a pleasant cartoonishness to the hood itself, and, I suppose it's worth noting, there's some simlarities between Burchett's above cover for Black Hood #2 and Gaydos' cover for the new Black Hood #1 (Additonally, Howard Chaykin's variant cover for Black Hood #1 features a character wearing a sharp jacket not unlike that worn on cover for the DC Black Hood #7, seen above).

The final version appeared in a 2010 issue of DC's The Web, which starred a character with the ugliest costume in superhero history prior to the New 52's Teen Titans #1. That Black Hood's origins were connected to Justice League Detroit, so, um, yeah, who knows why DC's last Red Circle revival crashed and burned?

And all of that brings us up to date, right?

This comic and I got off to a pretty rocky start. I liked how when you turned the cover, you were faced with a second cover, featuring a close-up of the main character's face, sans hood, so as you opened the comic you were basically un-masking him. They shoulda die-cut this cover.

Then I turned another page, saw the "art"—photographs of Philladelphia, perhaps pulled from Google Earth, run through some kind of filter—and set the book down for a couple days. I didn't think I'd be able to get through 21 more pages of that.

For my second attempt, however, I was prepared for the worst, and thus, forewarned by that hideous first page, I managed to read the whole thing.

Swierczynski keeps a few central aspects of the character, including his cop and/or ex-cop secret identity, the fact that "The Black Hood" is an identity that can be passed from person to person and, of course, that there is a crime-fighter wearing a black hood in the first place.

Our policeman protagonist is Gregory Hettinger, information delivered to the reader via the first two lines of narration:: "My name is Officer Gregory Hettinger. This is what happened."

What happened is Hettinger, a motorcycle cop, is motorcycle-copping around when he gets a call on his police radio about a man in a mask and some guys with guns fighting near an elementary school. He intervenes, getting shot in the face with a shotgun before shooting one of them in the forehead with his gun.

The shotgun takes part of his face, his ability to speak clearly and a huge psychological toll on him. And the guy he shot? Well, that was local vigilante The Black Hood, who, like Garth Ennis' version of The Punisher, split the police force's opinion in terms of whether he was a criminal deserving of being put down or a hero deserving a medal for doing the things they can't.

Despite being lauded as a hero and meeting a beautiful speech therapist who is totally going to be his love interest, Hettinger downward spirals to rock bottom, which is him sitting on his couch in his undershirt, hiding his Two-Face-esque face under The Black Hood's black hood*, and indulging in stolen pain-killers, which he has become addicted to.
He's running around rooftops on Percoset when he sees someone getting mugged, and he jumps to the rescue, narrating, "I'm The Black Hood."

It's a decent enough first issue.

There's not much in it that is remarkably original, but street-level, realistic vigilante crime-fighters are pretty well done-to-death at this point, so if the first 22-pages of an episodic, written-for-the-trade story by Swierczynski seems generic and derivative, well, perhaps the genre is as much to blame as he is. I mean, yes, he could have done something different and interesting that would have made the writing end of this comic good, but he didn't. On the other hand, he didn't do anything bad really, either. He failed to be great, and is there really all that much shame in mediocrity?

That said, this is very much the first chapter, and I think it will be interesting to see where a writer like Swierczynski, who has so much experience writing about crime in prose, can take a superhero character where he's free to do pretty much whatever he wants, rather than having to navigate DC and Marvel continuity. I'm not sure what restrictions Archie had for Swierczynski going in, but it sure doesn't seem like they said no to anything in terms of content, and if there's a Black Hood continuity of any kind, it's not apparent from this book.

Gaydos' art is something that I imagine not too many readers will have a problem with, but I really couldn't stomach it. Everything looks like a photo. Well, the backgrounds all look like photos, the characters and foregrounds look like drawings of photos carefully placed atop photos. It's a style that must have its fans, as one sees it so often, but I prefer comics art that looks like it was created by pencil, pen, paper and hand; I like seeing the lines the artist makes, and I like seeing the world as the artist imagines it, not as I'd see it if I Googled "motorcycle cop" or "man running" or whatever.

Ironically, the panel borders are rough and hand-drawn looking, but the images in the panels are these pristine recreations from photographs. I like the overall design of the book, the panels appear on a similarly roughly-drawn white background, which is itself on a black page. I just don't like what's inside those panels.

Variant covers are provided by Francesco Francavilla, David Mack, David Williams and Howard Chaykin; I like all of their cover art better than I like Gaydos' art. Williams' is particularly cool, as his Hood looks an awful lot like an extremely angry Cobra Commander in some kind of all-black stealth mode:

Like most Marvel comics, this will run you $3.99, but it's not a bad package, really. There are only 22-pages of comics story, but there's also one page of a prose introduction of sorts from Swierczynski and two-pages of a prose article by his fellow crime writer Dennis Tafoya. And there are only four ads, and they're all at the back of the book, so they don't interrupt the story itself.

Two of those ads are for the next two books of the Dark Circle line—the next Haspiel/Waid Fox comic, and a new take on The Shield. I'm looking forward to both of those much more than I was this one, which I can confidently say was not my cup of tea, but then, I knew that going in.

*Looking over the comic one more time as I scanned images, I noticed that the original Black Hood in the comic, the one our Black Hood kills, seems to be wearing an entirely different hood. That first guy has what appears to be a simple black ski mask on, or something akin to a ski mask. It has a wide hole in the front for his mouth; actually, it looks a bit like a store-bought version of the Golden Age Black Hood's black hood. The hood Hettinger wears, which he finds hanging on his locker with a note from his partner saying, "Nice Shooting Son!", has no mouth hole. So perhaps it's just a black hood that his partner found and not the black hood that The Black Hood was wearing. That, or Gaydos screwed up on the art. I'm thinking the former now...especially since the hood The Black Hood was wearing would have a bullet hole in it, not to mention an awful lot of blood on the inside.

Friday, February 27, 2015


Posting has been a bit lighter than I would normally like here on EDILW, but I've got a decent excuse—I've been writing a bunch of stuff for publication elsewhere over the past week or so.

First up, I reviewed Scott McCloud's excellent graphic novel The Sculptor for Las Vegas Weekly. You've likely been seeing reviews of it and interviews with McCloud pretty much every where, and with good reason. The Sculptor is the book of 2015...or at least the first two months of 2015. You can read that review here.

I also (kinda) reviewed Peter Bagge and company's Sweatshop for Robot 6. That was a brief, likely semi-forgotten six-issue "ongoing" monthly that DC Comics put out in 2003. I discuss this in the piece itself a bit, but in Bagge's afterword he explains that the book grew out of editor Joey Cavalieri's apparent repeated attempts to get "alternative" cartoonists working for DC Comics. Cavalieri edited the Bagge-written, Gilbert Hernandez-drawn Yeah! as well as the Bizarro Comics anthology. That last one I thought of particular interest since one of the many unbelievable artists who helped Bagge out on Sweatshop was Stephen DeStefano, who drew the framing story for Bizarro Comics. I loved that story; I think DeStefano drew not only my favorite Mr. Mxyzptlk in that story, but also the definitive Bizarro. Whenever I think of Bizarro, it's DeStefano's design I see in my head (And that story? Totally in continuity; Big Barda, Steel and other members of the Morrison/Porter JLA team totally show up at the climax).

Anyway, you can read me talking about Sweatshop here.

Finally, I have a pair of reviews that were posted at Good Comics For Kids this week, one of Beware The Batman (the trade paperback collecting the DC Comic based on the TV show based on DC comics) and another of Peanuts #25, Boom's ongoing effort to produce original Peanuts material for the comic book market. You can read those pieces here and here, respectively.

Thursday, February 26, 2015

"Palin Protocol"...?

Last week's New 52: Futures End included this strange, unexplained reference, which I'm going to present in context here.

It is the year 2020, and superhero-turned-tech entrepreneur Mr. Terrific and Batman Bruce Wayne had previously collaborated on the creation of some sort of advanced A.I. called "Brother Eye." Terrific has been talking with it, but seems to be unaware of the fact that it's developed some form of sentience, and/or has been compromised by space-faring machine intelligence Brainiac, who is currently trying to remove Manhattan in tact from the planet Earth in order to add it to his collection of stolen cities.

Readers know that in the future, Brother Eye will go all Skynet on planet Earth, conquering it and turning its superhumans in murderous cyborg enforcers, which is why the Batman of the future sent his protegee Batman, Terry McGinnis, back in time to the year 2019 (the goal was 2014, in order to stop Terrific and that era's Batman from creating Brother Eye in the first place, but the time travel screwed up).

So, in New 52: Futures End #42, drawn by Scot Eaton and Scott Hanna and written as always by the four-man writing team of Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens and Keith Giffen,, Batman confronts Terrific about Brother Eye, and sticks a flash drive into a nearby computer, issuing the command "Initiate Palin protocol," apparently in an attempt to shut down Brother Eye.

Here's the scene in question, in which Batman's final line appears as a "voiceover" to the next scene, in which Terry McGinnis fights a murder-borg from the future:

So, uh, what exactly is the Palin Protocol, and why is it called that?

Presumably this week's Futures End #43 will show what it does, but apparently it doesn't explain why Batman (and/or Azzarello and company chose that particular name). I can't think of any DC characters attached to the name Palin, nor can I find any by Googling. More tellingly, Robot 6's DC expert Tom Bondurant didn't come up with a DC Comics-connection to the name either, joking in last week's "Futures Index" that the odds that it refers to Monty Python are almost astronomically low.

So I guess we have to assume that the "Palin" in "The Palin Protocol" refers to the number one Goolge search result for "Palin": Sarah Palin.

But what's it do, and why is it called that?

Does it translate Brother Eye's commands into complete, undecipherable gibberish, thus rendering it impossible for Brother Eye to communicate with any other systems?

Does it convince most other computer systems that Brother Eye just isn't qualified to take control over them by demonstrating Brother Eye's inexperience, ignorance, mean-spiritedness and limited world-view?

Does it make Brother Eye quit half-way through the path it had previously committed itself to?

Does it cause Brother Eye to abandon its professed ambition to become one of the most powerful forces in the world by convincing it that it would be really, really hard and not much fun to get there, and/or by convincing Brother Eye that it could make much more money if it pursued a career as a reality television star and cable news special commentator?

I guess we'll have to wait until future issues of Futures End to find out. Finally, the series has produced a cliffhanger I'm actually interested to see the conclusion of!


By the way, as long as I posted that page in which Mr. Terrific tells Batman he spoke to "God," did that strike anyone else as super-weird? Mr. Terrific II Michael Holt was, in the pre-Flashpoint DCU, rather pointedly atheist, which made interactions with ghosts and The Spectre and other supernatural characters and conflicts particularly uncomfortable for him.

Did he lose his atheism in the New 52 re-boot? (I didn't read his short-lived solo series, and his faith and worldview didn't really come up in any of his appearances in Earth 2 or Earth 2: Worlds End that I've read). Or is that the point of the scene, that his interactions with Brother Eye and/or Brainiac have so-changed him that they converted him from atheism to belief in a God, even if it's a super-powerful alien machine intelligence rather than the God most people who believe in God might think of (Not that that's a uniform concept, either, but I'd bet very few people who believe in God believe that his real name is Brainiac).

Monday, February 23, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: February 19

Batgirl #39 (DC Comics) That's a hell of a cover on this issue, in which our heroine finds herself targeted by pretty much all of Burnside, thanks to a $20 million reward for her capture that is posted on the social media app Hooq. Meanwhile, everything seems to be falling apart for Barbara Gordon and Batgirl, but hey, at least things seem to be coming to a head. I was a little unclear about that ending, in which the "other" Barbara Gordon/Batgirl is finally revealed (maybe?), but the revelation seems a little more silly sci-fi than I would have expected in a Batman-related comic, particularly one that's been as grounded as this one has been since the new creative team took over.

I did kind of love page 17, though—just the way the last panel deflates the preceding panels; that was probably my favorite page of the week. The "staff meeting" gag was kinda cute too, but Teen Titans Go! got there first.

Batman Eternal #46 (DC) This issue, featuring the lovely portrait-style cover of Ra's al Ghul by Jae Lee, is essentially just an issue-length elimination of Ra's from the list of possible suspects. While Ra's seemed like the most obvious candidate from the get-go (given the title and first page of the story, plus his wealth, power and knowledge of Batman's secret identity), this issue makes it fairly clear that it was not, in fact, Ra's, behind all of Batman's current woes. Ra's, like the other, earlier suspects, says he too got the same invitation that all of the other arch-villains did, but he says he burned it immediately. (This week I'm leaning toward either The Lion, Julia Pennyworth or Hush as the villain behind all the other villains, even if I can't think of a good motive for any of them; they're just the only characters who have been around too terribly long and are still around, even if Hush seems to have been eliminated).

This issue is scripted by Tim Seeley and drawn by three different artists with two different coloristss (and, sad to say, it looks like it; it's all downhill after the cover). Batman confronts Ra's, but first has to face Dr. Darrk (who I had to Google; is this his first New 52 appearance?) and Lord Death Man. Oh, and a bunch of ninjas, of course. During this encounter, Ra's asks Batman, "Is Batman eternal?" and our hero is confronted by hallucinations of various potential future Batmen, including Kingdom Come Batman, Batman Beyond, Damian's coat-rocking Batman and even Paul Pope's Batman from Batman: Year 100.

It's too bad about the art, as that could have been a pretty awesome scene, and the Poison Ivy scenes book-ending the issue didn't read quite right to me; I wasn't entirely sure what I was looking at in the very last panel.

Lumberjanes #11 (Boom Studios) This issue continues the story arc by co-writers Noelle Stevenson and Shannon Watters and drawn by Carolyn Nowak, in which Molly and Mal are trapped in a lost world full of dinosaurs with the mysterious bear witch, while the remaining girls try to earn easy merit badges. No matter how easy the badges might seem, however, they seem to have trouble earning least, all save Ripley. And Bubbles, the raccoon that was pretending to be Molly's coonskin cap for, like, the first seven issues of the series. (Man, raccoons are all the rage in comics these days, huh?).

The bear witch (not to be confused with a bearwich) reveals to Mal and Molly why she went to the lost world in the first place, and that they will have to help her reach the object of her quest in order to get back to the real world. This involves what appears to be a scene from a Super Mario Bros-like video game—hell, they've even got to avoid being bitten by barely disguised Piranha Plants.

I'm still adjusting to Nowak's art style and take on the particular character designs, but the last two issues have been fun, perhaps in large part because they serve as a pretty clean break from the epic-length adventure that tied the first eight issues or so into a single story.

The Multiversity: Mastermen #1 (DC) Writer Grant Morrison is joined by pencil artist Jim Lee, reuniting the creative team that was, once upon a time, going to rejuvenate Wildcats for DC's WildStorm imprint, an effort that lasted all of one issue (Also in attendance? Four different inkers—Scott Williams, Sandra Hope, Mark Irwin and Jonathan Glapion—and two different colorists; gee, I wonder if there was any kind of deadline crunch on this particular issue?).

For this latest chapter in Morrison's grand epic exploring the particular vision of the DC Multiverse he conceived of by synthesizing pretty much the entire publishing history of DC Comics and all of the other publishers it gobbled up over the years, the setting is Earth-10, which was Earth-X in the pre-Crisis cosmology (X being the roman numeral for 10, you see; that Morrison, he's always thinking!). That is, of course, the Earth where the Nazis won World War II (originally, it was to be called Earth-[swastika], but DC decided to chop off the arms of the swastika to make it Earth-X), and the world in which all of the superheroes DC acquired from Quality Comics resided.

These are the characters who starred in the pre-implosion series Freedom Fighters, and who Morrison kinda sorta already had a chance to revamp and revise around the time of Infinite Crisis and 52, although he turned his designs and notes over to writers Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Grey and various bad artists for the resulting Freedom Fighters series, which were all terrible.

That might explain why Morrison chooses not to focus on Uncle Sam and the other Freedom Fighters in this book (that he's already offered up his particular vision of those characters once), or perhaps his fascination with Superman lead to his focusing on that particular character on this new Earth-10.

See, Superman is the reason the Nazis won World War II on this Earth-10, as his Kryptonian rocket-cradle landed in Nazi-occupied territory in 1939, and Hitler and his inner circle raised young Kal-El to grow up to be Overman. Together with other, similarly Nazi-fied versions of Justice Leaguers—Leatherwing, Lightning, etc—Overman helped conquer the world and establish Germarica.

Because Superman is so good though, that there's an essential element of goodness in him that nature cannot wean out, so even this evil Superman, who was raised by Hitler and fought with the Nazis to conquer the free world, is plagued by guilt over all of the wicked deeds he's done, and now doubts the virtue of what has been his life's work.

It's a refreshing twist on the Superman Goes Bad story, which DC has been telling different versions of something like three times a month for about as long as I can remember. Morrison's version of a Superman Gone Bad is still Superman, and can therefore only go so bad, can only be pulled so far over to the dark side, before his inherent virtue snaps him back toward where he was always meant to be.

Most of the issue is set in 2016, but it begins with a sequence in which the Nazis discover infant Kal-El in 1939, then jumps forward 17 years to the point at which Superman leads the German army into a crushed and conquered Washington, D.C., and then jumps forward 60 more years to the present/near-future.

As for the Freedom Fighters, Uncle Sam seems to have been around at least since World War II, but the others were given superpowers by a Nazi, Earth-10 version of a character we've already seen in more than one issue of Multiversity; here they are "Jews, Jehovah's Vitnesses, Romani, Negroes...zur usual suspects." There's Dollman and Dollwoman, The Human Bomb, Phantom Lady, Black Condoer and The Ray (Black Condor is a black guy, because of course he is, whereas the Dolls are Witnesses, and so won't directly fight in the war; as to whose Jewish and whose Romani, I guess it doesn't really matter).

As for the costume designs of The Freedom Fighters, The Ray and Human Bomb are almost identical to Jim Lee versions of their original conceptions (although they have triangle motifs worked into their costumes, as do all of the Freedom Fighters). The Dolls costumes look pretty similar to their originals as well, although Dollman now sports a beard. Phantom Lady and Black Condor look different enough to be unrecognizable, however, were it not for their color schemes and the fact that they're standing on a splash page in which they are called "Zur Freedom Fighters!"

Unlike some of the previous issues, this one lacked much of an ending...or, rather, its ending doesn't seem as final, and leaves so many questions unanswered that one may wish to read more about this Earth, moreso for plot reasons than just to find out whether Uncle Same and The Freedom Fighters can ultimately triumph over The New Reichsman or not.

I'm guessing not, but maybe if they can team up with the Justice League of another world or something...

New 52: Futures End #42 (DC) In last week's issue, Ray Palmer was quite clearly killed while trying to sword-fight Brainiac's big skull ship in outer space. Here you can see either Jesus Merino and Dan Green or Andy MacDonald's depiction of Palmer's death:
Note all of the flesh being zapped off of his skeleton in the time it takes him to say "AARRGH!"

In this week's issue, featuring Palmer (I'm not sure if they've ever referred to him as The Atom) loooking like he's getting ready to wrestle the Multiverse that Brainia is projectile-vomiting at him, it turns out that Palmer isn't dead after all!

"It was the only way to get past The Engineer's defenses," Palmer thought-clouds to himself, "to shrink down to subatomic size and let her think I was no longer a threat..."

Yeah, well where'd you get the skeleton from, smart guy?

The perils of a weekly series and a lax editing, I suppose. Anyway, this issue continues the climactic battle involving many of the plotlines, with things getting so big so fast I'm beginning to wonder how much of the last 200 pages or so of the book will be devoted to Convergence and/or whatever comes after Convergence.

In space, "The Justice League" (Cyborg, Equinox and some Legionnaires) get slapped around by Brainiac's tentacles; inside the ship Palmer swims through hexagram-shaped cells containing scenes from throughout DC's publishing history (Look, there's Tommy Monaghan on page 14!) to rescue The Engineer; Batman Terry McGinnis and the Alfred operating system take out the Batman/Joker/Brother Eye Murder-borg Terminator; Batman Bruce Wayne punches out Mr. Terrific; and the combined efforts of the heroes, including Superman and Shazam, thwart Brainiac's attempts to collect Metropolis.

Is the day saved? No. Remember, there's still 10 more issues of this to go. Brother Eye comes online in the present in the last panel, so there's still a big, scary threat to deal with, in addition to tying up loose ends and converging with Earth 2: World's End and Convergence.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #7 (DC) Shane Davis' is one of the better covers this series has seen, depicting Wonder Woman shortly after triumphing over a minotaur, at least partly by using her magic lasso. Something still about it, though, as if it were a bigger image that was cropped in a strange way. It's be nice to see a little more of the monster and the ground he is apparently lying on or embedded in. The image is a pretty claustrophobic one as is, but Davis gives the monster a funny expression, and it's nice to see Wonder Woman looking poised and confident rather than in a berserker rage or something.

The inside of this issue has two stories, both of which ain't bad, and one of which is actually pretty good. The better of the two is the first one, written by Alex De Campi and drawn by Neil Googe (with three different colorists, for some reason).

The plot of this 20-pager involves a jerk of a scientist taking a team of specialists to Venus in order to set-up the first off-world colony (Why Venus and not Mars? Because the latter is too obvious a choice), and he made a "sizable donation" to the Justice League Foundation in order to get a Justice Leaguer escort. This being Sensation, he gets Wonder Woman, despite making his preference for Superman known repeatedly.

Things obviously go quite wrong, and there are giant space monsters to fight, but the real fun in De Campi's script is the breezy conversation between Wonder Woman and Robyn, the only woman on the crew, and the way De Campi's Wonder Woman is at once an everywoman and a superhero, switching from casual and relatable to take-charge ultra-competence in the space of a panel or two, depending on the circumstances.

I liked Googe's art throughout, including a pair of unusual Wonder Woman costumes (like the more modest attire she wears when saving lives in a Mulsim country, and her space suit costume), and De Campi even works in a message about how and how not to convince others that is so organic to this particular story it doesn't even feel like a message, even if it reads like one.

The second story, written by Amy Chu and drawn by Bernard Chang, is a ten-pager that still feels too-long. It's a Wonder Woman story, but one in which the character appears as a symbol and, truth be told, this could just as easily have been a Superman or Captain America story as a Wonder Woman one, which speaks to how generic it is.

It's about a soldier in combat who is rescued by Wonder Woman, although she's the only one who actually saw Wonder Woman, and it's not entirely clear if Wonder Woman was really there or if she was a concussion-induced hallucination (Given that Wondy's dialogue appears in these strangely colored blue dialogue bubbles drawn in a shakier line than all the others, and that the soldiers have access to Wonder Woman comics, I'm going with hallucination).

It's a decent story executed well enough, there's just nothing particularly interesting, nor particularly Wonder Woman, about it.

She-Hulk #12 (Marvel Entertainment) This is the final issue of the current volume of She-Hulk, which has been a pretty good run by Charles Soule and Javier Pulido. I wrote a bit about it, and this run in general, at Robot 6 last week, if you'd like to go read that piece.

This was the last Marvel comic I was still reading serially—that is, buying as each new issue was released, rather than waiting for the trade collections—so, for the first time this century, I'm down to having zero Marvel comics on my pull-list. Oddly enough, this series, like the last Marvel comic I was reading before it too was canceled (That would be The Superior Foes of Spider-Man), ended with minor Spider-Man villain The Shocker playing a rather important role in the climax.

Saturday, February 21, 2015

Marvel's May previews reviewed

So Secret Wars, in which Marvel Crisis On Infinite Earths a bunch of alternate worlds and/or timelines into a single, renamed planet—presumably very temporarily—kicks off in May, and while it does indeed give rise to some really damn weird series, this particular round of solicitations seems jam-packed with unexpected series (and/or the continuation of recently launched unlikely series) that have nothing to do with Secret Wars.

You can click here to read all of the solicitations for all of the books Marvel plans to publish in May, and you can stay right where you are to read my comments on a few of 'em...

• Marvel’s Mightiest Women finally get their own explosive series!
• In a secluded corner of the Battleworld, an island nation is fiercely protected by a team of Avengers the likes of which has only ever been glimpsed before…
• Fighting to protect the small sliver of their world that’s left, the Amazing A-FORCE stands shoulder-to-shoulder, ready to take on the horde!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

"A-Force" is a dumb name, and with the hyphen in it, all I can think of when looking at it is "A-Hole," which of course makes me think "Ass-Force."

I'm assuming the "A" stands for "Avengers" and not "Amazons" though, right? So why not just call it "Avengers Force" or "Avenger Force"?

• (Aside from get a new costume.)
• In the climax of a battle between Heven and Asgard, both their futures are changed forever.
• So... how is Sera alive? Clue: :(
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Angela gets a new costume! What's new about it? She's wearing clothes, apparently.

Another damn nice Michael del Mundo cover, this one for Bucky Barnes: The Winter Soldier.

• These are the stories of the end of the world, and of the people who faced the end together.
• Some of them wore costumes, and some of them didn’t. Some had super-human powers, and all some had were each other.
• They were the Mighty Avengers. And this is what they did on the last day.
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

The Last Days of Captain America and The Mighty Avengers...? Oh man, I hope they don't cancel this Al Ewing-written Mighty Avengers series. They haven't done that since...well, it will be eight issues ago in May.

• The universe’s most powerful cabal of villainy has formed right under the Earth’s Mightiest Heroes’ noses--and they never noticed! This group of fowl (get it!) villains, is the Pets of Evil Masters!
• And they’re after world domination! Rocket must team-up with The Pet Avengers (much to his dismay) to face down the foes that no one else can (or will bother with) in this Earth-Shattering adventure that can only be told in the Mighty Marvel Manner!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Cool. I was honestly just thinking about The Pet Avengers recently, and wondering if we had seen the last of them.

I'm assuming this cover for Inhumans: Attilan Rising is the Design Variant by DAVE JOHNSON. I kinda like it.

The most unexpected Convergence tie-in of them all!

(My sincere apologies to the thousands of other people who likely already made this joke).

M.O.D.O.K. ASSASSIN #1 (of 5)
• In a world populated by the most fearsome thieves, murderers and ne’er-do-wells, there is one who is a HEAD above the rest…
• Enter, M.O.D.O.K.: The Mental Organism Designed Only for KILLING!
• Killville’s very own Merc with a Maw is open for business! But his next job may be biting off more than he can chew…
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

More M.O.D.O.K.! Man, M.O.D.O.K.'s jacket is like the best idea ever. Given his unusual body type, I'm assuming it's custom-made. Which would make that a jacket designed only for the Mental Organism Designed Only for Killing.

Cover by SIYA OUM
• Marvel’s 1970s cult-classic miniseries is collected in one super-sized one-shot!
• Linda Carter, Georgia Jenkins and Christine Palmer are all studying to become nurses. But what will happen when Linda must choose between love and career?
• Can Georgia stop her brother from holding the hospital hostage?
• As the nurses care for a mysterious hit-and-run victim, Christine realizes that her new boyfriend hides a terrible secret!
• When a mob war spills over into the hospital, Linda must act fast to save lives!
• Will Christine survive learning the secret of Sea-Cliff Manor?
• And when Daredevil is fatally shot, the Night Nurse must step out of the shadows and return to action!
• Guest-starring Black Widow, Elektra, Iron Fist, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones!
• Collecting NIGHT NURSE (1972) #1-4 and DAREDEVIL (1998) #80.
112 PGS./Rated T+ …$7.99

Huh. I wonder, is Night Nurse supposed to appear in one of those NetFlix Marvel shows or something...? Because, if not, this seems pretty random. I really rather liked what Brian K. Vaughan and Marcos Martin did with the character in Dr. Strange: The Oath, where she ran some sort of superhero patch-em-'up service.

Cover by ALEX ROSS (FEB150650)
VARIANT COVER BY Jim Cheung (FEB150651)
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

I love how the solicitation for this says pretty much nothing at all, except from the fact that HOLY SHIT THERE ARE SO MANY VARIANTS FOR RETAILERS TO FRET OVER.

Well, it also says that the Ultimate Universe won't survive, but I'm pretty sure they've tried destroying it at least twice, maybe three time so far, and it never sticks. Maybe this is the time it will finally end.

Is that everyone who has every weilded Mjolnir in any reality there? If so, where are Superman and Wonder Woman? Also, no one tell that one dude who wrote the funny article about how a woman having Thor's hammer "ruin[ed] a chereist art form" how many ladies are there with Thor hammers on that cover.

And all the Eisners this year go to...James Stokoe, for this variant cover to Secret Wars' sister series, Secret Wars: Battleworld. And to think I used to find the cover to Marvel Adentures: The Avengers #9 amusing, with it's paltry seven M.O.D.O.K.-ized Marvel characters on it...

• A surprising betrayal!
• An epic battle
• Could this end in the death of the TONY STARK we know and love?
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Is the surprising betrayal by Pepper Potts? Because, if so, that betrayal doesn't seem like it will be so surprising. It's on the cover, isn't it..?

• The final battle with the Destroyer!
• Guest stars galore!
• A shocking return!
• And oh yeah...Thor’s secret identity revealed at last!!!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

At last is right. Eight issues? At $4 a pop? That means a reader would have had to invest about $32 just to find out who the new lady wielding Mjolnir actually is...? Yeesh. Do people actually like these kinds of mystery comics? I can't imagine I'd like such a story at that price point.

Cover by FRANK CHO
• GARTH ENNIS returns to Marvel Comics proper and he’s bringing his The Boys collaborator Russ Braun along with him! Fighter planes and dinosaurs collide in this raucous
tale that starts with the classic Marvel character Phantom Eagle and digs much deeper!
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Monsers? GARTH ENNIS?! Russ Braun? A comic book war hero in a biplane? And dinosaurs?! The only way this book would be more perfect is if it were Enemy Ace instead of Phantom Eagle, but, well, you can't have everything. Where Monsters Dwell—The comic book that has almost everything!

Can't wait to read the trade collection of this...

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

DC's May previews reviewed

There's little that's actually new in DC's solicitations for comics they plan to publish in May of 2015, as this is the second month of their line-wide Convergence event, meaning they plan to release the second half of the weekly Convergence series, and the second and final issue of all their Convergence tie-in miniseries. You'll notice that while the pricetags are still higher than usual for DC--$3.99, rather than their more standard $2.99--they've also apparently upped the page counts on these, as each is listed as being 40-pages rather than 32 (that's counting ads, by the way). Each ends with the same sentence: "This exra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what's coming up in the DC Universe!"

I have no idea what form that will take: Previews of new titles related to the titles they're appearing in, original comics content, some sort of advertorial content, but I certainly hope it is different in every book, because I can't imagine too many readers will be happy paying extra (well, more than they're usually asked by DC anyway) just to see the same advertorial content, like, two-to-40 times, you know?

I think these solicitations make it even clearer that the Convergence tie-ins, while revisiting long-lost (in some cases, very long lost) characters, it won't be a simple jaunt down memory lane, as those characters will be fighting characters from various Elseworlds series (it's kind of too bad that DC lost all of their licensed characters save He-Man and some movie stuff, as it would be much more exciting to see He-Man, Django, The Spirit and Doc Savage invading various DC time-lines than, say, lame old WildStorm characters, and whatever version of the Extremists--not The Extremist, but The Extremists--they're going to be using using). And, in fact, those characters seem to dominate some of these solicitations.

Next month's solicitations, for the comics DC plans to ship in June will be the really exciting ones, as those will feature the official end of the "New 52" (as branding initiative, if not continuity/cosmological status quo) and the addition of I think somewhere in the neighborhood of 500 new titles, many of which seem very promising and seem to call on new and exciting creators who weren't making DC Comics in early 2011, and, therefore, providing a very sharp contrast to the initial New 52 offerings, which were essentially just the same old DC Comics by the same old DC creators, only with a rebooted continuity and everyone wearing terrible new costumes.

In the mean-time, let's take our final plunge into the solicitations for the Convergence-iverse...

Reminder: Mike Allred is the absolute best.

Becky Cloonan's Zero Hour-era Aquaman still looks off-model, but he also still looks pretty cool. Too bad she's only drawing the covers for Convergence: Aquaman, although I do like the artwork of interior artist Cliff Richards just fine.

Written by LARRY HAMA
Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 13 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
STARRING HEROES FROM ZERO HOUR! Batman and Azrael team up against the original Wetworks lineup from the WildStorm Universe! Armor up!
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

What's this? The original Wetworks lineip from the WildStorm Universe? I bet that's really going to excite fans of Wetworks! Um, are there fans of Wetworks? Anyone who was reading WildStorm comics in the '90s who didn't grow out of their interest in WildStorm comics?

I suppose it's not unfair to judge, as random WildStorm characters showing up in these things aren't really any weirder than random characters from the so-called Tangent Universe or the pages of Kamandi really, but DC readers really seem to have rejected any and all attempts to sell them comics starring WildStorm characters over the years, with each WildStorm-related New 52 series being almost instantly canceled, as if the DC Universe were a body rejecting the publisher's attempts to transplant the WildStorm characters into it.

I rather like this cover of Kingdom Come Batman (left) menacing Zero Hour-era Catwoman (left), created by a Claire Wendling. I still think it would have been neat if they got Jim Balent to draw the covers (at least) for this series, but that's a really nice cover.

Looks like his fellow Syndicators made fun of Owlman's costume one time too many.

Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 13 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
STARRING HEROES FROM ZERO HOUR! It’s a family feud! The first-ever meeting between Oliver Queen and Connor Hawke gets complicated when they are attacked by Kingdom Come’s Dinah Lance and Olivia Queen!
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

I completely forgot how much I liked the Kingdom Come design for Black Canary. Man, that comic had so many good character designs, including maybe my favorite ever costumes/redesigns for Hourman, Doctor Fate, Dr. Mid-Nite and Red Tornado. Given how good Alex Ross designs were on that series (and elsewhere), given how popular and enduring so many of his costume designs proved to be and given the seemingly rather warm relationship between he and DC for a very long time, I was really rather surprised they didn't commission Ross to redesign the bulk of their characters when they did so for the New 52, instead of having Lee, a guy who has never designed any costume anyone has ever liked, do it himself.

Written by STEVE PUGH
Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 6 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
STARRING HEROES FROM THE PRE-FLASHPOINT DCU! Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Poison Ivy fight Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – to the death!
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

Wait, Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Poison Ivy? So this should really be called Convergence: Gotham Sirens, shouldn't it? Why are they calling it Convergence: Harley Quinn...? Oh right, for sales. Duh.

The description of the conflict in this solicitation—"Harley Quinn, Catwoman and Poison Ivy fight Captain Carrot and his Amazing Zoo Crew – to the death!"—is maybe the only truly exciting one in this batch of solicitations. That said, I don't think the Gothamites stand a chance, do they? They'll be vastly out-numbered and only one of them has any super-powers at all—and those have something to do with seducing men (human men), and or maybe something to do with plants, depending on the writer.

Written by RON MARZ
Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 13 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
STARRING HEROES FROM ZERO HOUR! Is it time to say goodbye to Ted Kord and Martian Manhunter forever? It is if the heroes of the Kingdom Come universe have anything to say about it!
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

Jade! I totally forgot about the very existence of Kingdom Come Jade. Man, rather than getting me super-excited about DC's May releases, these solicitations are really making me want to re-read Kingdom Come...

Huh. I wouldn't have that Gar would be strong enough to hold Cyborg like that.

Aw, this Jill Thompson cover for Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle is as adorable as their tux and dress are dumb looking. Thompson, like Becky Cloonan, should draw more superheroes for DC. Preferably interiors.

Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 20 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for more information.
STARRING HEROES FROM CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS! Brainiac 5 and Superboy are from one of the most advanced worlds under the Convergence dome, but nothing can prepare them for the all-out war they now find themselves in against the Atomic Knights!
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!
I can't think of any group of DC Comics characters I'm less interested in than the Legion of Super-Heroes (Well, other than Wetworks or WildCATS, I guess), but that is a lovely piece of art by Pia Guerra, and I've always loved the weird visual of those knights on giant dalmatians, particularly when there are no other characters around to provide scale, so one doesn't know if they are tiny knights on regular-sized dogs, or regular-sized knights on giant dogs.

Written by LEN WEIN
Art and cover by KELLEY JONES
Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 20 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T+
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
STARRING HEROES FROM CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS! Swamp Thing finds his connection to the Green renewed…but is it enough to help him survive the onslaught of the Red Rain vampire Batman?
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

This is probably the convergence title with the most perfect creative team on it. Swamp Thing co-creator (and first Swamp Thing writer) Len Wein, paired with artist Kelley Jones, who was once quite and obviously influenced by the work of Swamp Thing co-creator Bernie Wrightson, and has since gone on to draw a hell of a Swamp Thing (during his Batman run) and to be the artist who designed and drew all the vampire Batman comics.

Written by GREG RUCKA
Art and cover by CULLY HAMNER
Variant cover designed by CHIP KIDD
On sale MAY 6 • 40 pg, FC, 2 of 2, $3.99 US • RATED T
Retailers: This issue will ship with two covers. Please see the order form for details.
STARRING HEROES FROM THE PRE-FLASHPOINT DCU! Renee Montoya’s final stand as The Question comes to a head as she helps Two-Face battle Flashpoint’s Harvey Dent…but will her world live on?
This extra-sized issue includes a sneak peek at what’s coming up in the DC Universe!

Interesting. Writer Greg Rucka seems to be taking the opportunity this series offers to write all of his favorite DC characters. I have no memory at all of Flashpoint's Harvey Dent (I guess he had a beard?), but that may be because the identities of Flashpoint Batman and Joker were so unusual that any other characters who appeared receded from my memory in the years since.

Written by DAN ABNETT
On sale MAY 20 • 40 pg, FC, $3.99 US • RATED T • DIGITAL FIRST
Batman and his team battle Nightmare Batman. Later, the Monitor arrives on the Gaslight world to investigate the Earth Engine. But in doing so, he accidentally unleashes a wave of madness that claims him too. And a mystery villain is revealed.

This is the comic book series I've never read, which is based on a video game that I've never played. I'm sure I'll read the trades of it some day. I thought it worth noting this week if only because of how much its solicitation reads like so many of those for the Convergence minis.

Written by JOHN WAGNER, ALAN GRANT and others
Art by NORM BREYFOGLE and others
On sale JULY 1 • 520 pg, FC, $49.99 US
In these tales from BATMAN ANNUAL #11-12 and DETECTIVE COMICS #579, 582-594 and 601-607, all featuring the art of Norm Breyfogle, the Dark Knight faces the evil of the Ventriloquist and Scarface, the Crime Doctor, the Demon, a horde of Clayfaces and more!

I can't wait for this, despite the fact that I have an awful lot of these in single issues already. Breyfogle is, as I've said over and over, one of my favorite comics artists, and is one of the most important comics artists to me personally, as he was one of the handful of artists who got me interested in the medium in the first place.

He's tied with Kelley Jones for my favorite Batman artist, but I don't think there's any question that he's the best Batman artist. At least in my estimation; certainly we can argue about it, and I do plan on writing something big and long about why I think so in the near future (maybe when I get my hands on this book). But I'm pretty sure he's the best Batman artist who drew Batman for as long as he did.

A rather quick consultation of reveals the stories and characters attached to the 20+ comics collected in this. They include "The Mudpack" story arc teaming all of the Clayfaces up against Batman, a three-part team-up with Jason Blood and Etrigan, The Demon which climaxes in an amazing Batman vs. Etrigan battle, story arcs introducing the relatively minor but still "name" villains The Corrosive Man, The Ratcatcher abd Cornelius Stirk. Robin Jason Todd appears in a few of these. They're all from 1987-1989, and represent the very earliest of Breyfogle's work on Batman, so I'm assuming there's at least another two volumes worth of Breyfogle-drawing-Batman collections to be published, even if they don't bother with prestige format books (Batman: The Abduction and Batman: Dreamland), Elseworlds (Batman: Holy Teror) or original graphic novels (Birth of The Demon), or tangentially-related Batman stories (like the Anarky mini-series and short-lived ongoing series).

It doesn't take into account the rest of his run on TEC (13 more issues, featuring the introductions of Anarky and The Obeah Man, and Grant and Breyfogle's takes on The Joker, Penguin, Catwoman and Catman), nor his run on Batman (24 issues, featuring The Scarecrow, Maxie Zeus, more Catwoman, Gordon's heart attack, one of the better Killer Croc stories and Tim Drake's debut as the third Robin), nor his work on Shadow of The Bat (five issues), the first arc of which introduced Jeremiah Arkham and Mr. Zsasz.

The bulk of the stories in the collection are written by Alan Grant, some which in conjunction with John Wagner, while the "and others" mentioned in the solicitation would be Jo Duffy and Robert Greenberger.

Art and cover by DARIO BRIZUELA
On sale MAY 6 • 32 pg, FC, $2.99 US • RATED E
A cursed gem? A living mummy? They’re just the things to bring Scooby and the gang on the run – and pique the curiosity of Dr. Benton Quest. But when the “mummy” kidnaps Dr. Quest, the gang will have to team up with Quest’s son Jonny and his friends Race, Hadji, and Bandit to rescue the famed scientist!

I was literally just thinking about this series (again). Like the past two issues that were published (featuring The Flintsones and The Jetsons), this team-up sounds pretty unexpected, but I'm curious to see how Scooby and Bandit get along. Also, I guess I'm kind of curious about what a post-Venture Brothers Johnny Quest story might read like...

Michael Zulli is a great "get" for a Sensation Comics cover, and I love his Wonder Woman; in addition to looking real in a way Zulli's characters so often do, she looks completely distinct from, like, every other Wonder Woman I've ever seen. I do wonder how closely it reflects the insides of the book. This is a problem with modern comics in general, and these anthology series with rotating creative teams in particular, but somewhere along the line mainstream comics companies seem to have forgotten how to sell comics based on their covers.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Review: Uncanny Avengers Vol. 5: Axis Prelude

First, and perhaps most importantly, what's wrong with The Decemberists? The Decemberists are a great band, Leather-wearing Mutants...and Rick Remender, who wrote this scene in Uncanny Avengers Annual #1, which Marvel stuck in the back of the collection Uncanny Avengers Vol. 5: Axis Prelude, where it doesn't really fit or belong.

Also, The Decemberists may have been "indie" in 2001, when they self-released their first album, but they've had four fucking albums with Capitol Records by this point. I can't speak for Iron and Wine or Grizzly Bear, as I've not listened to either as much as I have The Decemberists, but I'm pretty sure the mutants in this scene—and/or Remender—aren't using the word "indie" correctly here.

This portion of the collection, which is drawn by Paul Renaud, is actually the strongest part of the book, in large part because of the unusual mix of characters Remender brings in under the collective name of "The Avengers of The Supernatural"—Dr. Strange, Blade, Satana, Ghost Rider Johnny Blaze, Man-Thing and a never named or otherwise identified Manphibian—and the fact that they all appear in a five-page sequence entitled "Martian Transylvania Super Hero Mutant Monster Hunger High School," in which The Avengers are jocks, the mutants wear leather and have bad haircuts and the supernatural characters are nerds.

The rest of the collection is exactly what the sub-title says, and, if you've heard or read anything about Axis already—even if just the solicitations for the series, or its premise—then there is absolutely nothing surprising about anything that occurs. It's three issues of Uncanny Avengers scripted by Remender and drawn by three different artists (Sanford Greene, Salvador Larroca and Daniel Acuna) and two issues of Magneto by writer Cullen Bunn and artists Gabriel Hernandez Walta and Javier Fernandez, all culminating with a cliffhanger in which The Red Skull assumes the form he wears in Axis (a form that, were it still somehow a surprise when encountered, would likely elicit an "Oh shit!" from older readers with memories of 1990s Marvel, and blank stares from others).

Let's first dispense quickly with the bulk of the collection, the stuff that isn't the Renaud-drawn annual. The Avengers Unity Division, the half-mutant, half-not-mutant squad that Captain America formed as a PR move in the wake of the Cyclops-lead mutant overthrow of the earth in Avengers Vs. X-Men, has just finished the long-ass adventure that filled up the whole first four collections of the series, involving Apocalypse dynasty politics, Kang and Immortus (and thus time travel shit) and The Red Skull, who had the late Charles Xavier's brain somehow shoved into his own skull with his own brain, giving him Xavier's mental powers. Somehow.

The Unity Division got messed-up pretty bad in the proceedings, with Havok having half of his face horribly burned and Wonder Man getting stuck inside Rogue in the same way Carol Danvers used to be stuck in Rogue.

Meanwhile, the Red Skull and his S-Men have set up a concentration camp for mutants, and Magneto wants to go kill him for that, but instead he ends up getting captured, along with Havok, Wanda and Rogue. Once free, Magneto, immediately goes about killing The Red Skull, ultimately smashing his head in with an armful of bricks. The mutant heroes are really, really mad about this for some reason, despite the fact that a) The Red Skull is an actual Nazi from World War II who just built a fucking concentration camp. And even if they want to be moral absolutists about not killing, even guys who are essentially Hitler, but worse, well, isn't it weird that like 20 pages earlier they were sitting around drinking beers with their BFF Wolverine, whose killed, like, a couple thousand people or something, and who had just vowed to kill The Red Skull himself. Hypocrites. (Oh, and in the Annual, Thor mentions all the frost giants he's "destroyed;" now, I'm sure those frost giants were real jerks and all, but I'm more sure still that they didn't participate in any organized attempts at genocide.)

Anyway, Red Skull then gets back up and is like, "Hey, I'm Onslaught now! And check it out, I'm all giant and I've got horns and tentacles for some reason! I'm all kaiju-ed out! Meet you guys in the pages of Axis, K?"
And that's the end of the Axis Prelude part of Uncanny Avengers Vol. 5: Axis Prelude; the rest of the book is devoted to the weird-ass annual.

The premise involves maybe the lamest, laziest, over-done plot motivator in X-Men comics: Mojo, the extra-dimensional TV producer who is generally just an excuse for a writer to get away with writing crazy shit with as little imagination or set-up as possible (See also Jason Aaron's far superior Astonishing Wolverine & Spider-Man).

As I said, there are some interesting ideas floating around in this script, including the passing suggestion that while Captain America and the Avengers may be engaged in a sincere effort to (finally) start doing something to help the world's mutants as they struggle with the constant threat of genocide, no one—not even the mutants—seem to have all that much sympathy for the plight of the world's monsters, who are even worse off.

Mainly though, it's interesting because it offers us a rare look at a comic book writer apparently suffering a crisis of faith about his career in the script of a comic book he's writing.

So Mojo finds hiself in a room with a group of TV executives, who are disappointed in his latest show (The intriguingly titled "Devil Dinosaur's Power Pack Force Antique Roadshow", a "Frankenstein" that Mojo says "was created in this room based on your team's notes." Things get meta immediately, with Mojo a singular creator with a special vision that is constantly being diluted by his corporate masters. He pitches "Avengers of the Supernatural," and is immediately bombarded with "notes," and a threat from the head executive: "Mojo understands that if he fails us again...I'll release the critics on him. There are Chinese hells more pleasant." Behind the executive, wearing high-tech body armor with glowing bits to it, are a group of men, some fat, some with beards, some balding, some with glasses; these are, apparently, the fearsome critics (Man, I haven't read a Marvel comic making fun of the people who read Marvel comics since...why, it's been almost two weeks now!).

From there, the story and Mojo's TV show become one and the same, with Mojo narrating. The Unity Division are all hanging out at the mansion, with about half of them shooting pool and the other half lounging in bathing suits by the pool (This, by the way, apparently takes place before all the comics that precede it in this issue, so the entire line-up is still present). Dr. Strange's supernatural crew shows up and there's a fight scene, ending with the Uncanny Avengers all getting glowing headbands, and then we cut to the aforementioned TV show, which recasts our heroes as characters in a high school drama.

It all falls apart when Johnny Blaze loses control of the spirit of vengeance somehow, and Ghost Rider motorcycles around, fighting everybody and trying to judge/destroy the whole world, a feat he at first tries to accomplish by popping a wheelie and flying his flaming motorcycle to the moon and looking down on the entire planet with his guilt-inducing "Penance Stare."

The Marvel heroes—man, mutant and monster—join forces to defeat The Ghost Rider spirit, re-caging it in Blaze. And then, on the final page and a half, Remender seems to question himself, through dialogue between two of the extra-dimensional television executives:

Hey, I'm a critic! I can help you Remender stand-ins decipher the story! It is unimportant, it is sloppy and derivative and it is bad.

But it could have been worse. It could have been any of the five comics that preceded it in this collection.

That annual sure had a nice Arthur Adams cover, though, didn't it?