11th and 18th September
Jack here; I’ve bashed two weeks of my contributions to Mark’s stuff for the week of the 11th, because a) I’m behind on my writing and b) I’m not sure how to get caught up otherwise. Bit of a mishmash then, but I’m sure you can handle it, intelligent and tolerant reader.
It’s tie-in central at Marvel this week as X-Men #5 (w/Brian Wood, a/David Lopez) continues Battle of the Atom with a brevity and economy that Brian Bendis should take note of if he wants to make his lion’s share of the chapters anywhere near as compelling or characterful. Wood and Lopez deliver a solid chapter that allows almost every member of the exponentially growing cast to shine while doing a stellar job of keeping the utterly ludicrous plot seem almost grounded in some kind of reality. This chapter’s mostly about Young Scott and Jean on the run from the other X-Men, and while I disagree with their desire to stay in the present and bugger up the timespace continuum, they’re painted sympathetically enough here that I feel something for the fact that they’re really just teenagers fighting to stop adults controlling their lives for them. It’s hard not to relate.
I also really like this book and am pleasantly surprised at how much I’m enjoying Battle of the Atom, which continues in Uncanny X-Men #12 (w/Brian Michael Bendis, a/Chris Bachalo). The key things that the saga gets right are not to tell an overly complicated story, to pepper this story with some wit and humour and to add enough characterisation not to feel slight. I’d not read Uncanny before, but I liked its slightly offbeat writing and cartoony art so I may delve into it a bit more in future.
Slightly harder to relate to are the characters of Avengers #19 (w/Jonathan Hickman, a/Leinil Francis Yu, Marvel), alternately prisoners and antagonists of giant space-jerks The Builders as they are. We get nice bits of space opera here and there but most of the book’s taken up by exposition and posturing by the galactic council – not to forget Hickman’s obligatory mystery-waggling and a scene where the Builders actually remark on how significant it is that four of the new characters he’s introduced in his run are with the Avengers. Sigh. That said, it has paid off to have read the bulk of his Avengers so that I can actually name most of the characters in any given scene. It’s a shame Mighty Avengers #1 (w/Al Ewing, a/Greg Land) didn’t have more of a run-up to its release, as titles launched during a crossover often have a hard time telling their own stories and keeping readers once the event’s finished. Luckily Ewing manages to fit in a bunch of strong characterisation and what look to be interesting character arcs for often undersold leads Luke Cage and Monica Rambeau despite the sexed-up but ultimately impotent art of Greg Land and decidedly dull plot leftovers from Infinity. Don’t get me wrong: this is definitely this week’s superior team book, and I’ve no doubt it’ll be one to watch once it’s allowed to tell its own stories.
Meanwhile on the other side of time and space it’s a mixed bag for Matt Fraction’s last issue of Fantastic Four (#12, w/Fraction & Christopher Sebela, a/Mark Bagley) as we see the Storm/Richards family reunited after being separated at either end of time on foreign planet Celeritas, assisted/hindered by a bunch of irritating, nostalgic time terrorists. I was somewhat fond of Fraction & Bagley’s compressed Lee/Kirby approach to stories at the start of their run, but in this two-parter the plot holes are a little more glaring and everything feels a little more constructed, possibly due to Sebela’s stand-in scripting and confounding abuse of commas. It’s a shame, but fingers crossed that upcoming new scribe Karl Kesel can do something less bothersome with Fraction’s blueprints next month.
No matter what Hickman does in any of his other comics, Manhattan Projects (w/Jonathan Hickman, a/Nick Pitarra, Image) always delivers. #14 sees another coup within the Projects as one of their members makes a bid for power while on the verge of losing control of his mind. Also of interest: Laika the talking dog’s space mission makes an unnerving discovery and JFK likes to throw sexy parties. That sentence alone should more than explain why I love this comic.
As Mark says, it’s hard not to love Manhattan Projects in all its quite demented glory. As well as talking dogs and sexy parties, there’s also brain catching and the wonderfully surreal sight of a sauna scene featuring the triple amputee, partly mechanical Wernher Von Braun and Yuri Gagarin. It’s incredibly inventive and pleasingly unpredictable. Just read it, yeah?
Looks like it’s a week for space opera too as Star Wars #9 (w/Brian Wood, a/Ryan Kelly, Dark Horse) and Prophet #39 (w&a/Brandon Graham, Simon Roy, Giannis Milonogiannis et. al, Image) hit the shelves. They’re both exemplars of what can be done with the form and might actually be my favourite issues of each respective series yet, which is a rather pleasurable anomaly. The former is the more traditional of the two but no less compelling, expanding on last issue’s tease that Leia was to meet a ‘friend of Alderaan’ within the ruins of her old home in a moving and emotionally complex fashion, introducing a character whose peripheral existence in the original films seems so blindingly obvious that it’s almost a surprise that this is the first we’ve seen of him. Okay, SPOILERS – he’s the creator of the Death Star’s laser array. And he’s face to face with Leia. Let that sink in. That and Wedge being terrified of Luke’s lightsaber skills against attacking stormtroopers are why this book feels like it matters. On the other end of the spectrum, Prophet gives us a magnificent, introspective look into the life of supporting player Diehard, a cyborg that’s been alive over 10,000 years. Each different period of his life is portrayed by a different art team – many of whom have worked on the book previously, either in the main story or the regular backups – and each is rich in detail and distinct flavour and makes this one of the most sumptuous comic-reading experiences I’ve had in a while. It also helps that Graham & co.’s imaginations for all things weird and wonderful in SF is as fervent and bizarre as ever. Boux!
I’ve only been reading Buffy the Vampire Slayer (#25, w/Andrew Chambliss, a/Georges Jeanty, Dark Horse) for the past few issues just to see what’s on the last page of the season finale – and, okay, because I’m a completionist – and, boy, was it not worth the wait. Magic is returned to the world as we all knew it would, but at what cost? is the question (and answer, more or less) given us by the book’s end, but I found myself struggling to care. Season 9 has been fraught with spotty characterisation, weak plotting, emotional schizophrenia and – perhaps the cardinal sin for a Joss Whedon-related product – sub-par dialogue. Georges Jeanty’s art has improved greatly over the run, it’s true, but having fully grown adults that no longer look like tweens is cold comfort when it’s saddled with a writer who’s come this close *makes tiny squeezing gesture with thumb and forefinger* to stopping me caring about characters I’ve loved for more than half of my life. If Chambliss is back on the book for the duration of Season 10 I’d like to say I’m giving the book a miss, but my attachment to the series is such that not even consistently bad writing can keep me from wanting to know what happens next.
I’d pray for Whedon to take back the reins next season, but I hear he might be kinda busy with some other superhero thing or other. Sounds like a cop out to me.
Like the easily bought fool that I am, I’ve continued to indulge DC in their villains month nonsense and parted with cash for Riddler #1 (w/Scott Snyder and Ray Fawkes, a/Jeremy Haun) and Penguin #1 (w/Frank Tieri, a/Christian Duce). That said, both were much better than last week’s Two-Face and Joker efforts. Riddler sees Snyder’s reinvention of the character using his cunning to break into Wayne Tower on a personal vendetta and Penguin is a demonstration of the character’s ruthlessness and ability to gain and use power. They may both be kind of inconsequential but they’re similarly gutsy stories (Penguin in particular) and were decent enough distractions, but I’d much rather be reading Zero Year.
My picks from the Image stable this last fortnight were Zero #1 (w/Ales Kot, a/Michael Walsh), Sidekick #2 (w/J Michael Straczynski, a/Tom Mandrake) and, as ever, Morning Glories #31 (w/Nick Spencer, a/Joe Eisma). Zero had a cool cover design and some decent looking artwork inside. It’s about a secret agent in the near future who is trying to recover some biological weapons technology. Unfortunately, that biological weapons technology is currently grafted into the chest of a Palestinian soldier who is beating the tar out of/having the tar beaten out of him by a similarly cybernetically enhanced Israeli soldier. The artwork is reminiscent of the sparse, clear and expressive style of David Aja’s work on Hawkeye and is as such, really nice. Kot utilises dialogue economically and tells a reasonably engaging story very well. I liked it and I would read a second issue. This is broadly the stance I took on Sidekick, however I don’t think I’ll stick around for a third. It’s not that it isn’t any good, it’s just that I feel that even I, with my tip of the iceberg level of comics reading history, feel like I’ve read this deconstruction of the superhero before. Everything from Watchmen to Runaways, to Kick-Ass to pretty much everything by Grant Morrison has toyed with the idea of challenging our expectations for superheroics and Sidekick feels like it’s treading well-worn ground. It’s also just slightly too mean-spirited for my tastes. And of course, Morning Glories is as witty, clever and enchanting as it usually is. As I noted last month, the return to a focus on a single character per issue – in this book, the nerdy Hunter – has given it new, clearer focus and that is a Very Good Thing.
A second issue of a book that couldn’t be accused as being mean-spirited is Mike Kunkel’s Herobear and the Kid (Kaboom!). Despite its quite lovely art, my affinity for all-ages comics and a strong sense of goodwill towards it, I don’t think I’ll be buying this again either. It’s just a bit too mawkish and twee, despite my having quite a high threshold for these qualities. I am certain there’s an audience out there that’s loving it and as it’s only a five issue run, I’d be tempted to stick out to satisfy the completest in me, but it’s pitched just little bit too young for me to go the distance, which is a bit of a shame.
Finally, Infinity (w/Jonathan Hickman, a/Jerome Opeña and Dustin Weaver). I had some misgivings about issue 2, but I was back to mostly rather liking this big silly intergalactic event in this latest book. Things seem to be happening, even if a certain level of detail feels like it’s being a bit skipped over. There’s some nice big explosions, which is always good. If nothing else, Infinity has provoked my interest in the Inhumans, a chunk of Marvel history I wasn’t really aware of and will be making an effort to brush up on. So yeah, it’s a fairly fun space opera with some strong set pieces that seems to headed somewhere quite interesting.