21st Aug2013

Panel Discussion #018 with Jack and Mark

by Mark Allen

JandM-Comics

And hopefully something like normal service resumes!

14th August

Infinity #1, Jonathan Hickman, Jim Cheung, Marvel Comics

Marvel’s latest event begins with this galaxy-spanning opus featuring Thanos as the great big bad guy. As regular readers will know, I’m not much of a Marvel guy (the Image cartel that has its grip on my pull list has slightly broken to produce a more egalitarian quartet of reviews this week). I tried out Age of Ultron earlier this year only to find it a fairly pedestrian affair that ended in a series of adverts. However, I’ve been requested to cast judgement on this

Infinity, however, begins strongly – there’s not a lot of focus on the Avengers, which I like. Instead we see Thanos’ agents destabilising galactic politics in a manner that eventually sees the Avengers leave the earth in order to sort these problems the heck out. Unfortunately, that leaves the planet defenceless against attack. Generally, this kind of thing I can take or leave, but it’s curiously accessible for what it is. I guess credit is due to Hickman. I currently read two of his other books, so I suppose his writing ticks boxes for me. A pleasant surprise then; let’s hope it continues to be interesting.

Mark’s Take: Event comics have fallen out of favour with me since Secret Invasion and Avengers vs. X-Men replaced exciting, succinct storytelling with pretty explosions that exist solely to create more interesting plots in subsequent books. As such, I had zero interest in Age of Ultron (apparently justifiably so) but have read the bulk of Hickman’s recent Avengers run and while I never felt wholly satisfied by a single issue, it seemed reasonable to presume that Infinity would be the logical conclusion to all those questions posed in earlier issues.

And boy, does Hickman like questions. He’s more or less the Lost of the comics world, with all the baggage that brings with it – the one key exception being that Hickman, unlike Damon Lindelof and Carlton Cuse, tends to have an ending in mind when he starts a book, even if it does take a few years to unravel the plot. The weight of Infinity #1 alone made it worth the price of admission (a hefty $4.99, though significantly reduced for those with a Travelling Man loyalty card and a twinkle in their eye) and though I found the issue’s frenetic hopping across the universe somewhat jarring, the extra pages gave the story some much-needed room to breathe and I found myself – ready your gasps! – rather well excited for what’s coming next. Credit should, of course, be given to Jim Cheung, whose gorgeous linework brings a richness to each of his scenes and a fullness to his panel layouts that’s an excellent counterpoint to Hickman’s sparse, cinematic title pages.

(One sidenote, though: I’ve found the Builders and Captain Universe entirely problematic from the very beginning of Hickman’s Avengers, though this is more to do with inhabiting a shared universe than the writing, as there have been so many ‘first’ civilisations [the Celestials spring to mind as a recent example] in the Marvel U that to come up with another feels like ignoring history for the sake of ‘your’ story. I’m not usually a stickler for continuity, but something about this whole set-up sticks in my craw. Still, if Hickman and Cheung can deliver a rip-roaring space opera and keep the Star Wars references to a minimum – yes, we all spotted that guy dressed as farmhand Luke, and no, it wasn’t cute – then I’m willing to stop being a pedant for the duration of Infinity.)

Herobear and the Kid #1, Mike Kunkel, KaBoom!

Picked up on a whim this one. It’s about a kid who inherits a stuffed bear from his granddad. He gets bullied at school, the bear comes to life. That’s about all we’ve got so far – and that wasn’t a spoiler, by the way. The bear is alive and kicking on the book’s front cover. I’m a massive fan of Calvin and Hobbes – as all right-thinking people should be – and was attracted to the similarities Herobear seems to bear to the classic strip.

In the reading, it’s a little ‘European’-seeming for my tastes – slightly cheesy and prone to flights of silly fantasy, but was pleasant enough. Colour is used incredibly sparingly and construction lines are left visible around the characters, making reading the book seem almost like you’re reading someone’s diary. It was enjoyable all-ages fare and I may pick it up again.

Batman #23, Scott Snyder, Greg Capullo, DC Comics

Three issues into the Zero Year and Bruce Wayne has yet to don the bat suit (save for the opening prologue) but things are still exciting and well told. There’s a pleasing lack of deference to Frank Miller’s Year One – this issue demonstrates this with its own take on the iconic ‘I shall become a bat’ moment. Elsewhere, the Red Hood Gang give Bruce Wayne a beating, an impressively side-burned Edward Nygma plays his hand and there’s another fun backup story demonstrating exactly how hard Wayne really is.

So yeah, really good, but I’m looking forward to an appearance from an actual bat man next month.

East of West #5, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Dragotta, Image Comics

Last month I decided that if issue 4 of East of West wasn’t up to much, then I’d stop reading it. As it turned out, I really liked issue 4 and gave the title a reprieve. Unfortunately, issue number 5 has dropped off in quality somewhat, being a mostly exposition based instalment. Still, there’s decent imagery and ideas here, so I guess I’ll give it one more issue at least. It’s been an inconsistent first arc for the book, which shows a lot of promise but needs to deliver a little more.

Mark’s Take: As I mentioned before, if you’re reading Hickman you’re in it for the long haul, so I can’t really subscribe to Jack’s issue-by-issue assessment of East of West as I know (or at least hope) that there’s a payoff somewhere else down the line. In the meantime, I rather enjoyed this issue for the most part, revealing a significant chunk of Death and Xiaolian’s backstory while Dragotta kept me enthralled with his characterful faces and stark architecture. There’s nothing wrong with an infodump done right, and this issue was about as good as you’re gonna get.

To be honest, I’m far more interested in Hickman’s independent books than his Marvel work, because a lot of the time it feels like he’s telling the same story (Great Men burdened with Great Power, fathers, cataclysmic events, etc.) but it’s much more compelling when he gets to build his own world, and every issue is a fresh piece of the puzzle.

Mark

Star Wars #8, Brian Wood, Ryan Kelly, Dark Horse Comics

Wedge Antilles and Luke Skywalker detained on a Star Destroyer. Han Solo and Chewbacca chased by Boba Fett and Bossk in the sky over Coruscant. Princess Leia drifting through the remains of Alderaan in a black-ops X-Wing. Brian Wood’s run can easily be summarised by the phrase ‘catnip for nerds’, and I have little shame in admitting that that’s just fine by me. In fact, it’s pretty fucking great.

We get some character development for Luke as he reveals that he snuck his lightsaber past the Stormtrooper who searched him by trying out Ben Kenobi’s Jedi mind trick, something that’s totally in line with both his inherent recklessness (as pointed out by the affable Wedge) and his desire to learn more about the Force. I really get a kick out of Wood’s tendency to push people forwards – even ones we know as well as these – as it makes me feel like we’ll get something fresh and new from characters that are older than I am. Luke and Wedge’s plan to bug the Star Destroyer starts without a hitch, and their freeing a cell block of rebel prisoners promises much mayhem and laser battles next issue.

Han and Chewie’s side of things is more straightforward but no less entertaining as Han flirts with his would-be rescuer even when threatened by imminent explosions, all effortlessly rendered by Ryan Kelly. While Leia doesn’t get many pages this month, she does get to be part of what might be a major development for the Rebellion and the most significant departure from the series’ lore to date while paying tribute to her dead home. I love where this series is going, and somehow it gets better every issue.

There are some honourable mentions for last week I’d like to make as I was unable to when they came out. Trillium #1 (Vertigo) by indie darling Jeff Lemire was a fun exercise in dual storytelling, its flipbook gimmick initially cute but eventually giving way to an intriguing middle and a host of exciting future possibilities for the book. Depending on which way you read it, it’s about a shell-shocked British WWI soldier who loses his friends to savages in the Amazon and meets a mysterious girl from the future or it’s about a space colonist from 3725 on a mission to save humanity from a sentient virus who is led into an alien temple only to emerge on Earth and meet a mysterious boy from the past. Either way, this is definitely one to pick up if you find it.

My other recommendation from last week is Satellite Sam #2 (Image) from Matt Fraction and Howard Chaykin, where the story really kicks into gear, our hero Michael White mourning the sudden death of his asshole TV star father and seemingly the only one  who isn’t trying to make it work to his advantage. Instead he drinks and masturbates to the pictures of lingerie- and fishnet-clad women found in his dead dad’s apartment – as we all do – until he comes across something decidedly plot-thickening about one of Carlyle White’s models. The dialogue’s dirty and full of gristle as befits a ’50s noir and Chaykin imbues New York and its inhabitants with as much character and sleaze as a black & white Taxi Driver – though frankly there’s less moral ambiguity than reprehensibility – and it’s truly difficult not to fall in love with every one of his women, in stockings or not.

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