Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Review: Avengers: Age of Ultron

No one says "SKRAWWK!" quite like James Spader.
What I found to be one the most remarkable aspects of this summer’s big Marvel movie, Avengers: Age of Ultron, was just how responsive to criticism of, commentary on and reaction to its previous installment, 2012's The Avengers.

The characters with little or nothing to do in the first film, particularly when compared to the Iron Man, Captain America and Thor characters (i.e. the ones with their own movie franchises), all got significantly more to do in this outing, up to and including more action scenes and more dramatic “acting” scenes (Often, I should add, to the detriment of this film).

There are more Avengers in general—five new ones, total—and, almost as if in direct response to commentary regarding how white and male The Avengers are, these new heroes and the supporting cast has a great deal more people of color and people without penises among them.

And it seems like some pains were taken to make sure everyone’s favorite characters from throughout the Marvel Studios super-franchise make at least cameos, so many, in fact, that it’s surprising, even somewhat disappointing, that Natalie Portman’s Jane Foster and Gwyneth Paltrow’s Pepper Potts don’t get cameos.

That pair of characters are mentioned, however, in what is probably the film’s very best scene, a climax to the film that comes way, way too early: Within the first half-hour or so, I’d imagine.

That scene is a sort of after-party for The Avengers’ last mission against Hydra to recover Loki’s spear, a powerful Asgardian artifact (with an Infinity Gem/Stone lodged in it, naturally). It follows the opening scene, in which the Avengers who assembled by the end of their previous film take on the forces of Hydra and invade their castle, the six superheroes functioning together like a well-oiled machine, even successfully surviving an attack by Hydra’s secret weapons, twin super-humans Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch (both raised with a healthy hatred of Tony Stark, whose weapons killed their family and pretty much made lives miserable for their country at large).

With that mission completed, our heroes put on plain clothes and basically just hang out in Stark Tower, drinking and chatting. It’s a bit like the shawarma scene, but longer, funnier, better-dressed and more satisfying. Anthony Mackie's Sam Wilson/The Falcon and Don CHeadle's James Rhodey/War Machine from the Captain America and Iron Man sequels are there, Cobie Smulder’s Maria Hill is there, and so is a Claudia Kim, paying Dr. Helen Cho, an Asian doctor with a small but noteworthy role (her presence also allows for the ticking off of two diversity boxes and, hey, opening up the possibility of Amadeus Cho in a furture Hulk movie, if they ever make another Hulk movie. I imagine they will someday, before they get to making a Man-Wolf or Speedball movie, anyway*).

It feels like a wrap party for “phase one” or “phase two” (or whatever cycle of Marvel Studios’ long, long-term planning they’re on), although in-film it’s essentially a wrap part for the Avengers’ mission, which has been on-going since the events of their last film (and without the benefit of SHIELD since the events of Captain America: The Winter Soldier, I guess).

There the characters all take turns trying to life Thor’s magic hammer, with various levels of un-success—there’s a fine moment where Captain America budges it, and Thor looks worried—and then the plot of this film actually begins, when an Ultron-possessed piece of Iron Man armor stumbles into the room and attacks them (an action scene in which I really rather missed the costumes quite suddenly, as I couldn’t tell Captain America from Hawkeye during it; in fact, it was dark enough that everyone sort of blended together. Black Widow was the one in the dress; I know that).

It wouldn't be quite accurate to say that it's all downhill from there, as there were some fun surprises to follow, and it's at least interesting to see the ways in which the new characters–Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver, The Vision, Ultron–get translated to the big screen (Perhaps especially so in the case of Quicksilver, as we've already seen how another actor played him, and how another film studio designed him, and how another director used him).

Stark has been working on an elaborate retirement plan for himself and his fellow Avengers (no mention is made of how exactly he went from giving up being Iron Man at the end of Iron Man 3 to being back in business here), in the form of a project he calls "Ultron," some sort of massive artificial intelligence that can work all his suits for him and protect the world in his stead. It doesn't work out, of course, as Ultron and the Jarvis AI get in a fight, and Ultron seemingly eats him and gains sentience and...Okay, it all get really complicated for a "Robot wants to kill all the humans" plot, really.

Ultron wants to hurt the Avengers' positive PR before actually destroying them (and all human life), and he also wants a new and better, human-ish body, so he plans on having Dr. Cho build him The Vision to inhabit or...whatever. Meanwhile, he recruits Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch to help him fight the Avengers. Big action set-pieces follow: The Avengers vs. Ultron and the Maximoffs (Days of Future Past did much better by super-speed, although there's at least a funny bit wherein Quicksilver tries to snatch Thor's hammer out of mid-air at super-speed), Iron Man in his "Hulkbuster" armor vs. The Hulk, Everyone Vs. Ultron at the climax.

It's a lot, even without considering the additional world-building ("Wakanda" is mentioned repeatedly, Andy Serkis shows up as Klaw, Thor has some dumb sub-plot that involves continuing the years-long set up for Infinity War) and the introduction of The Vision (played by Paul Bettany and looking fairly terrible, but probably less terrible than I would have imagined...I don't think the character design is any damn good at all, so other than the all-white Vision, I'm not sure how he could look good in live-action).

But then the film has to respond to discussion of the first film, so Jeremy Renner's Hawkeye gets a random, dumb backstory (similar to that of Ultimate Hawkeye, as opposed to Regular Hawkeye), the only positives of which are that it leads to another coupla plain clothes hang-out scenes, and we get to add Linda Cardellini into the Marvel Cinematic Universe. Black Widow is randomly in love with Bruce Banner all of a sudden (apparently they fell in love between movies?), but he doesn't want to be with her because, as he explains in the most excruttiating part of the film, he can't have kids...? (Certainly the thing about being a big, giant super-monster when he gets mad rates above his fertility, doesn't it?).

The film feels less like a comedy than its predecessor, which is too bad, but luckily James Spader's Ultron is a sarcastic robot, and he and the relatively quick-witted Vision provide most of the laughs, probably even more than Robert Downey Jr.'s Stark, who spends far too much time in his armor and being serious. As good as Spader is at voicing the title robot, I didn't much care for the design. He has eyeball and lips, and thus looks something like a smaller-scale Decepticon from the live-action Transformers films, rather than the jack o' lantern faced metal man of the comics (his first appearance does resemble that of the comics, as do drones he uses later; it's a nice demonstration of how effective the comics design is, versus the more realistic, emotive design of Ultron Prime, I guess you could call him).

As for Elizabeth Olsen's Scarlet Witch, when she first uses her powers against The Avengers, she appears as some kind of ill-defined horror movie villain, creepily moving around them and giving them weird nightmares that allow for presentations of their origin stories (in the case of Black Widow) or cameos of actors playing characters from throughout the Marvel Cinematic Universe (in the case of Cap and Thor). Later, she just uses hex-bolts, which appears to be nothing but Olsen doing tai chi in front of a green screen, with special effects artists adding red energy bolts in later. She has a bizarre accent that reminded me of Natasha from Rocky and Bullwinkle, but my friend likened it more to that of The Count on Sesame Street (why she has to have an accent at all, given that it's just a made-up country she and her brother hail from, is beyond me; why they didn't cast someone with an accent is also beyond me; I think I'd prefer Asia Argento to Olsen, but hey, it's probably too late to tinker with the casting of a movie that oughta be out on DVD in time for Christmas, huh?).

The climactic battle, in a crumbling city being lifted high above the Earth in order to become a projectile capable of an extinction-level impact, is kind of all over the place, paying a little too much attention to Renner's Hawkeye and his relationship with the Maximoffs and re-casting Iron Man in the exact same role he had at the end of the first film, but there is a fantastic few seconds in which The Avengers assemble around Ultron Prime and all attack him at once; I've heard these moments described as a comic book splash page come to life, and that's a pretty good description. It's one of two moments–the other is the group shot in the trailer–that feels particularly comic book-y, as opposed to comic book movie-esque.

The long-ish denouement, which involves Stark seemingly going into retirement (again), Thor flying off to keep doing infinity shit (again), Hulk running away sadly and Black Widow also having a sad because her forced, random relationship with him didn't work out, does lead-up to a pretty swell conclusion, which I am now going to spoil (It's been months; I assume if you wanted to see the film you already have).

The week before I went to see it, I remember watching the latest trailer online and thinking how weird it was that they were adding three new Avengers–Scarlet Witch, Quicksilver and The Vision–and that they were simply adding two more white people (and a red-faced android with the voice of a British guy), while War Machine and Falcon are right there.

Well, the film ends with an all-new Avengers line-up. Captain America and Black Widow are leading the new team of The Scarlet Witch, The Vision, The Falcon and War Machine. Sure, they don't actually assemble until the end, but the new Avengers line-up is one white dude, two white ladies, two black dudes and the British-voiced robot man. That's a pretty damn diverse line-up, compared to the one we started with, right?

I'm not sure how much we'll see of all these guys–I'm assuming this will be the line-up in Captain America: Civil War and any time Avengers guest-stars are needed in other Marvel movies between now and Infinity War**–but I was pretty excited by the idea of Cap and Widow's kooky quartet.

And in that regard, Age of Ultron was like your average Marvel Studios movie. There's a lot to like, there's a lot to dislike, there's a lot that's just interesting to consider from the perspective of a comics fan (what creative choices they make in terms of characters, costumes, powers and so on), but the endings never feel like endings, just suggestions of other, later, hopefully better movies to follow.

In that regard, the Marvel Studios films have been able to mimic the experience of reading comics. Not only have they created an elaborate shared setting, but they also reflect the serial nature of comics: The end of one is just a segue to the beginning of the next.

*I fully expect a third Hulk movie, a Man-Wolf movie–"Like John Carter, but with a werewolf!"–and a Speedball movie before they get around to making a Wonder Woman or Carol Danvers movie.

**Actually, we've already seen one of them show up in Ant-Man.

Monday, July 27, 2015

Review: SHIELD Vol. 1: Perfect Bullets

If you don’t watch the television series Agents of SHIELD, then you probably have no idea who Leo Fitz, Jemma Simmons or Melinda May are, but they are some of the characters on that show, the titular agents that work under actor Clark Gregg's Agent Phil Coulson. You're more likely to know him, as he played roles of varying degrees of smallness in various “Phase One” Marvel Cinematic Universe movies, and was later introduced into Marvel comics.

Well, SHIELD is the Marvel comic based on the TV show that is itself based on Marvel comics; why it’s not called Agents of SHIELD, I couldn’t guess. In general, it seems a lot like what I imagine the producers of the TV show wish they could do with the show, had they unlimited resources, carte blanche to fully integrate the Marvel comics universe while ignoring the Marvel cinematic one, and to use and any all Marvel characters they please, regardless of which film studios own the rights to which characters at the moment.

So each episode—er, issue of SHIELD features at least one major guest-star, and, like a TV show, each individual unit is structured as its own discrete story, albeit one that continues a single narrative thread forward.

The creative component more-or-less mirrors the basic structure.

As for that structure, there is a single, steady lead character in Coulson, and a consistent supporting cast (Fitz, Simmons, May and Maria Hill) and a storyline about an invading magical force with designs on conquering Earth, but there are different missions and conflicts within each issue, along with different superhero guest-stars (issues #1 and #6 are both particularly full of them).

Likewise, the series has a single writer in Mark Waid, but each individual issue has a different guest-artist, and these tend to be some rather high-quality, “name” artists: Carlos Pacheco, Humberto Ramos, Alan Davis (inked by Mark Farmer, of course), Chris Sprouse, Mike Choi and Paul Renaud.

Waid is, of course, a perfect writer for Coulson, given what relatively little we know about him from the films: That he’s a die-hard superhero fan. In a nice, sharp, three-page intro, Waid introduces us to life-long superhero fan Coulson, who studied super-people since childhood for fun, and eventually got himself a job where a deep well of such trivia is indispensable. He is now SHIELD Special Ops Supreme Commander.

“It’s fun when your hobby becomes your work,” Coulson remarks dryly in the first issue. I imagine Waid would agree.

In that same issue, Coulson describes that job as a matter of “choosing the perfect bullets,” which is half of the reason this collection is titled thusly, and is a premise that allows him (and thus Waid) to mix and match characters on an issue by issue basis. The result is maybe the perfect gateway comic to the Marvel comics universe…at least in theory.

Say you watch a Marvel movie and then start watching Agents of SHIELD. You look for a comic like that, and find this. It’s got many of the same characters, even if they now wear black and white spandex SHIELD uniforms, and then you see Blue Marvel, Valkyrie, Black Knight, The Vision, Hyperion and The Hulk all fighting the same threat in an issue…and Luke Cage, Captain Marvel and Beast at The Thing’s poker game…and so on.

As for the other half of the reason it’s called “perfect bullets,” it ties to the conflict running through the six issues.

The first and sixth chapters introduce Coulson and the series premise, as well as the threat and the way the threat is ultimately dealt with (although not every question about it is resolved, so perhaps it will continue to be explored in the future). These are also the ones most full of guest-stars. In the case of the first issue, they are mostly just various superheroes called in to hold the line, and a pair of specialists. In the case of the sixth, these include cameos by heroes all over the world, a new version of the monstrous “Howling Commandos” chosen for their barely functioning brains (Hi Man-Thing!) and an out-of-left-field supervillain whose pants I would like to discuss further at a later date.

Those in between are more character specific, and actually act as something of a character study of those specific characters, using their interactions with various members of the recurring cast to define them.

As mentioned in my review of Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, which collected SHIELD #2, that issue has Coulson and Simmons teaming up with Kamala Khan. It’s followed by one in which Coulson, super-obscure villain Pavel Rasputin (formerly Pavel Plotnick) and Spider-Man try to navigate Doctor Strange’s home when Strange is off-plane (By the way: Alan Davis Spider-Man!); one in which The Invisible Woman gets called in for a mission only she can accomplish; and one in which Scarlet Witch joins Fitz and May as they investigate mysterious attacks on all of the world’s mystics (allowing for more cameos, like Satanna, Son of Satan, Wiccan and so on). I like Scarlet Witch's pink winter coat she wears when they journey to the Antarctic in this issue.
The art-work is uneven by design, of course, and because that un-evenness is built into the book–it is as much a showcase for the guest-artists as it is for the guest-stars, as I mentioned–it’s not so bad. Sure, the artists aren’t particularly chosen for their stylistic compatability with one another (no one’s going to mix up Humberto Ramos and Alan Davis, for example), but the only place this is really noticeable is in the recurring characters.

Likenesses are always a tricky proposition in comics, and how closely the characters resemble the actors who play them on TV tends to vary widely from artist to artist, although most of them seem to have Clark Gregg’s face down pretty well. (I kind of hated Choi’s depiction of the dread Big Bad when he revealed him on a last-page splash in #5, but Renaud’s depiction of said evildoer looks much better in #6; certain characters just don’t work when an artist uses digital effects to create them rather than plain old pencil and ink…or their digital equivalent, I guess. That guy is probably going to be one of the top three most difficult Marvel characters to translate to film).

I’ve never watched an entire episode of the show (just bits and pieces over the shoulder of a friend who watches it) nor had any real interest in doing so (although I got pretty excited when I heard Cobie Smulders say the name “Man-Thing” in one of those bits), so I guess I can’t say with any certainty if this is a good comic for people who like that show.

But all on its own? Yeah, it’s a pretty good comic. And, as I said, theoretically at least, it is an excellent gateway into the wild, weird world of the Marvel (comics) Universe, complete with all it’s most recent changes (Thor being a lady, The Falcon being Captain America, etc).

Actually, I may start watching the show if they introduce Agent Jeremiah Warrick to it. He certainly has a compelling look to him…
...I'd post a panel of him here, but it would genuinely spoil a fun surprise, and I wouldn't want to do that.


By the way, the very first panel of the collection reveals the fact that Coulson is from Ohio. Now, where in Ohio, exactly? This will but me until I find out:
My favorite part of that image, however, is that Coulson apparently has a signed poster of the Golden Age Namor, The Sub-Mariner, reading "Sincerely, Prince Namor The Sub-Mariner." It's hard to imagine this guy signing posters for fans, you know?

On the other hand, his hand-writing looks exactly like the writing on the Captain America and Bucky poster, so maybe The Invaders just had a press agent sign all of their posters for them...

Finally, I just thought this was kind of neat:
With all of the world's sorcerers taken out of commission, Coulson needs to find a way to enter a magical dimension using technology, and this is what SHIELD comes up with. I don't know if I've seen this before–it seems obvious enough a visual that I feel like surely someone must have thought of it by now–but it struck me as pretty clever.

Friday, July 24, 2015


I reviewed the first collection of Nick Spencer and Ramon Rosana's Ant-Man Vol. 1: Second-Chance Man at Robot 6 yesterday, looking specifically at the way that Marvel and their creators chose to navigate between the two most recent takes of the character (In Matt Fraction, Mike Allred, Lee Allred and company's FF and the recent movie), and man, did they lean hard towards the movie version.

After spending an additional 24 hours thinking about it, as much as I love that Allred Ant-Man costume design above (swap out the blue for red and the red for black and it becomes a perfect "solo" Ant-Man costume), particularly how smooth and stripped-down it is, while still looking both ant-like and man-like, I've come to the conclusion that  the clunkier, more "realistic" costume he wore in Ant-Man Vol. 1 probably suits the story and Rosana's style better.

I was a little surprised to see that Marvel bothered to put a "1" on the spine of Ant-Man Vol. 1, however, as it is the entirety of this Ant-Man ongoing, as the book gets re-titled and re-numbered this fall as Astonishing Ant-Man (while retaining the same creative team). I would hope they will just label the collection of that series as Ant-Man Vol. 2, instead of Astonishing Ant-Man Vol. 1, because, goddammit, how confusing is that going to be, if you want to start reading the Nick Spencer/Ramon Rosana's series, and it starts with a Vol. 1, and then continues into a second Vol. 1.

Also at Robot 6, I wrote about Godzilla In Hell #1 at much greater length than I did last week here on EDILW.

And I've had a pair of recent-ish reviews at Good Comics For Kids, neither of which I think I've linked to here yet: Bandette Vol. 2: Stealers, Keepers! and Steve Jobs: Insanely Great. Those are both very solid comics, but the latter was surprisingly good, so maybe worth bringing special attention to, as I guess I knew extremely little about Jobs and just how crazy important and influential he was in crafting the world as we know it today (I had no idea he had anything to do with Pixar, for example). The style of the book is great too, particularly for the subject matter, which, as I said, isn't anything I knew a great deal about or, if I'm being honest, cared all that much about.

Thursday, July 23, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: July 22

Archie Vs. Predator #4 (Archie Comics) It's the exciting conclusion of the least-expected crossover of the year! (Well, except for Archie Vs. Sharknado, maybe.) I can honestly say that I did not see anything in this issue coming, after about page 4, so props to write Alex de Campi for that.

The book opens with just Betty, Veronica and a wounded Archie left to face the Predator, and I would not have expected which of the three would be the first to die, or the girls to have their clothing shredded so thoroughly (Andrew Pepoy's generally sexier-than-the-interiors cover aside), or for that particular maiming, or for that particular rally or for that bizarre ending.

Probably the best part, though, was the Predator discovering scrunchies:

This is the fourth and final issue, and I still being surprised by de Campi and pencil artist Fernando Ruiz's unexpected call-backs to the first and best Predator film, in the dialogue ("You are one ugly melon farmer!"), the narration ("Veronica Lodge: Ain't got time... ...to read.") and even the visuals (I'd show you, but it would be a spoiler; bottom panel of page 14, though).

This was an enormously entertaining comic, start to finish–and the finish here is a two-page Josie and The Pussycats/Finder crossover by de Campi and Calra Speed McNeil–and maybe the most fun I've had reading a comic that wasn't Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe this year.

I do hope they do a sequel, but not picking up where it left off; I want a read a story like the one suggested by some of the variants, like Faith Erin Hicks' for this issue. You know, where Predator moves to Riverdale and starts going to school there, and becomes Archie's archrival, and no one seems to notice that he's an alien monster other than Archie, and whenever he tries to point it out to someone, they accuse him of being jealous. Yes, that's the Archie Vs. Predator comic I want to read. This one was great too, though.

Batman '66 (DC Comics) Jeff Parker does have the advantage of improving an already extant character, I know, but it's still worth noting that "Holly Quinn" is a much better and more realistic name than "Harleen Quinzel," just as "Harlequin" is a better villain identity than "Harley Quinn" (which is, of course, why Robert Kanigher and Irwin Hasen used that particular identity for the Golden Age Green Lantern villain, DC's first Harlequin). In the lead story of this issue, Parker and artist Lukas Ketner introduces the '66 version of Harley, or, rather, finish introducing her, as she appeared as an Arkham Institute doctor in Batman '66 #11, who sacrificed her own sanity to save Gotham from "The Joker Wave" that the Clown Prince of Crime was using to drive the city as mad as he was.

As noted, this Harley goes by a slightly different moniker, but is otherwise pretty recognizable, right down to her color scheme. If she had appeared on the 1966 live-action TV show, this is more than likely how she would have looked and acted, and yet Parker still manages to write her as recognizably herself from the cartoon and comics, which is surely a more difficult feat than it may seem.

Ketner's art on this 10-pager is fine, his realistic take accentuating the absurdity in the saw that the live-action TV show managed by simply putting real people in those costumes (Still, I can't help but wish cover artist Mike Allred drew the interiors, the one problem with having him do covers; every single month I see Allred's version of the characters before opening up the book to find some other artist's work, which I must then compare to Allred's and generally find wanting, if only because Allred is one of my favorite artists). Ketner does a particularly fine job during a montage of Harley's crime spree and in costuming the would-be goons and thugs that show up for her gang try-outs, all of them wearing a mish-mash of the sorts of uniforms the various henchmen of the show would wear. (Nice touch with the match in Batman's disguise too; I guess this issue also features the debut of Matches Malone '66 then...?).

The back half of the book is devoted to a story written by Gabe Soria and drawn by Ty Templeton; entitled "Bad Men," it is a kinda sorta riff on TV's Mad Men, in which The Joker, The Penguin, the Gorshin Riddler and the Eartha Kitt Catwoman take an ad agency hostage in an attempt to force them to re-brand them. Luckily, Barbara Gordon is at the agency, working a temp job. Why isn't she at the library? So that they could do a Mad Men riff, obviously. I never saw the show, so I don't know how accurate this is, or if I missed a lot of gags and allusions, but it works A-OK as is.

Sensation Comics Featuring Wonder Woman #12 (DC) There are two stories in this month's print issue, a 20-page lead issue and a 10-page back-up. Of the two, the lead is probably the stronger, but then, it does have more room to breathe. On pre-Flashpoint Themyscira, Wonder Woman and Hippolyta find an unexpected guest in the form of Poison Ivy. The two super-people decide to team-up to take on a threat to both the island and the world, the monster Typhon. You won't be at all surprised to learn that they do so.

It's an extremely straightforward story by writer Derek Fridolfs, featuring pretty great art by Tom Fowler. I thought Poison Ivy's Swamp Thing-inspired tree bark armor (complete with vegetation "wings" like Swampy sported during Scott Snyder's run on the title) was a little much, as was the intimation that Wonder Woman and Poison Ivy flew straight down for four days to get to Tartarus (without food, water or having to go to the bathroom? Is Ivy so plant-like and Wondy so magic they don't need any of that stuff, or what?).

That's followed by a piece written by Matthew K. Manning and drawn by Georges Jeanty (with Karl Story and Dexter vines inking). Set during the Watchtower-on-the-moon Era, it finds Batman calling Wonder Woman to help take down Doctor Destiny. She's upset by the crime scene, and Batman knows exactly what she needs to relax: To punch someone in the face.

It's a rather weird story, really, but the art is nice, and I suppose it's short enough that by the time one might start questioning aspects of it, it's already over.

A pretty mediocre issue all together then; nothing sensational, but, on the other hand, nothing that bad either.

Walt Disney's Comics and Stories #721 (IDW Publishing) Okay, yes, I probably should have just trade-waited this (the first collection is already on the schedule), but I bought and read the first issue of all the other IDW/Disney comics, so I figured I'd at least try this one out too. I'm not a particular fan of Mickey and Goofy, except for how they may relate to Donald Duck, but this issue is devoted to the opening of a 12-part epic art from 1990, one that will involve Mickey, Goofy, Donald, Uncle Scrooge and, based on the cover, Minnie, Pluto, Gladstone, Grandma Duck, Huey, Dewey and Louie, Magica de Spell, Pete and some other characters I don't know. And the Phantom Blot?

So yeah, that looks big and exciting. In this installment, there aren't any ducks, though.

That excellent cover is by...Jonathan H. Gray? But he's the translator! I didn't know he was also an amazing artist! But I really like this cover quite a bit, from the little hairs on Goofy's ears, to Donald's action pose, to, most especially, the look on Uncle Scrooge's face.
Damn, that is an awesome Scrooge. Why isn't that on our twenty dollar bill?

This issue also does a better job than the previous IDW/Disney books of contextualizing the stories, with the credits for each of the four including where they originally appeared (two from European comics, one from a U.S. Sunday newspaper strip and the fourth from a Golden Age issue of this very title) and when (1990, 1982, 1933 and 1943). The first issues of Uncle Scrooge, Donald Duck and Mickey Mouse did not this, and I think this is a great improvement, as that's something I'm always curious about when reading Disney comics. (Part of that likely comes from being trained to expect some degree of context by all of those excellent Fantagraphics' collections, and part of it is just being interested in where comics come from.)

These shorter back-ups include reprints of a Silly Symphonies strip, a Donald and his nephews story and a short Gremlin two-pager by someone named...let's see... Walt Kelly. He seems like a pretty great cartoonist; I wonder whatever became of him after his 1943 short subject...?


Or wait, should I trade-wait this series? Walt Disney TPB Vol. 1 is scheduled for November, according to an ad in this book, but that will only be four or five issues into the run, so it will likely include all of these back-ups, rather than just "The Search for the Zodiac Stone." Hmmm...Well, I guess I've got another month to figure out if I want to read this monthly until that storyline is over, or wait for the trades.


Anyway, 42-pages of ad-free comics for $4 is a pretty decent value. And thanks for including the credits about the original sources of the stories in this issue, IDW.

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

DC's Power Couple vs. The Suicide Squad

Superman/Wonder Woman #18 marked the first issue of series in DC's post-Convergence universe, in which the pair of heroes each have drastically different new directions in their ongoing titles.

In the case of Superman, he was publicly outted as Clark Kent, he got a new haircut, he traded in his old costume for t-shirts so tight they might be body paint (if Paulo Sigueira's cover to the issue is anything to go by) and he was vastly (if ambiguously and mysteriously) depowered.

In the case of Wonder Woman, she got a new outfit.

This first story arc is called "Dark Truth," and it is written by Peter Tomasi and drawn by pencil artist Doug Mahnke and a bunch of inkers (four of 'em in issue #18, but just one in #19). In part one, we find Wonder Woman in Superman's bed, wearing his Superman t-shirt (which fits her like a dress), stroking her sleeping Man of Steel and reminiscing about their relationship thus far.

Awoken at 3 a.m. by a phone call from Lana Lang that gets cut off suddenly, the characters suit up and fly to Smallville to investigate.
The goings-on there are rather strange; not only is Lana Lang and New 52 Steel missing, but someone has somehow stolen The Kent Family home and barn, and seemingly emptied all of the graves in the graveyard.

A furious Superman calls out whoever is doing this, and a blast of machine gun fire heralds the appearance of The Suicide Squad, who Mahnke draws over a two-page splash, so I'll only show the right half.
This is the first time I've ever seen The New 52-icide Squad drawn well, before. Deadshot's costume still looks terrible, but it's the least terrible I've ever seen it look, and at least as Mahnke and whichever of the four inkers inked this page draw it,it's clear that it's made out of some sort of red metal.

Superman and Wonder Woman give them dirty looks on the last page–another splash!–and Superman uses the H-word.
The cover of the next issue, the one actually containing the fight, seems to indicate a victory for the Squad, or at least Harley Quinn. Could it really go down that way though? I mean, this particular Squad consists of Harley, Deadshot, Captain Boomerang, Black Manta and The (a?) Reverse Flash; a fully-powered Superman should be able to take them all out by clapping his hands or blowing at them. He's not fully-powered, of course, but he is hanging with Wonder Woman. She should be able to level them all in a panel, with only Reverse Flash maybe causing her some trouble.

The fight actually lasts 8-10 pages, although two of those pages are devoted to a two-page splash showing the two opposing sides rushing at one another.

I am immediately unimpressed with supposed master marksman Deadshot, who has three shots of his blocked by Wonder Woman's bracelet, and the ones she doesn't block just bounce harmlessly off of her new shoulder pad (I guess it's a good thing she just started wearing shoulder pads!).
Actually, I'm also unimpressed by Wonder Woman. She only blocked three out of five of the shots fired at her in that panel. That's just 60%. I thought she was supposed to be the best on Paradise Island when it came to bullets and bracelets!

Wonder Woman quickly redeems herself by breaking a tombstone over Deadshot's head (ow!), kicking Reverse Flash in the face (even if he didland a few punches before she did) and then clobbering Reverse Flash with Captain Boomerang, who she is swinging around by his stupid scarf (Who wears a knit cap, scarf and overcoat in Kansas in July, anyway?) and, finally, pulling Harley off of Superman and punching her silly.

While Black Manta and Superman have a test of strength that gets broken up by the former's eyebeams, Deadshot again proves to be bad at shooting targets, while Wonder Woman simultaneously proves to be bad at blocking bullets with her bracelets.
After the Justice League's power couple finishes beating up the Suicide Squad, they talk about getting some information from them. Naturally, Superman decides the best way to do this would be to threaten Black Manta:
Oh, if only they had some kind of, I don't know, magical device like, say, a rope, that they could use to compel someone to give them information that they want.


She still has her magic lasso of truth, but she uses it mostly for entangling and strangling people.

But before either of our heroes can remember that Wonder Woman carries a magical polygraph device with her at all times, Deadshot wakes up and starts shooting wildly at them.

He is so bad at shooting:

I mean, he hits Superman a lot, but not, like, in the eye or mouth or forehead, and not in the same place repeatedly, just sort of all over the place. He brags about his "homemade high-velocity armor-piercing shells," but they don't actually seem to do too much damage to Superman, seemingly afflicting him the way a bunch of bees might affect you or I–they hurt him, they stagger him, but they don't grievously wound them, or even tear his shirt.

Wonder Woman than throws Deadshot into a tree, grabs Superman, and files away with him, leaving the Smallville cemetery littered with unconscious super-villains.

I guess Superman is weaker, but still bulletproof...?

Anyway, this is a very well-drawn pair of issues, but I'll be damned if I can make heads-or-tails of what's going on with the Superman franchise at the moment. I wish they would have let "Truth" play out in Superman and Action before we started seeing this new, weakened Superman showing up in Batman/Superman, Martian Manhunter and this title (and maybe some other places I haven't noticed), as it's not really clear what his deal is yet.

Monday, July 20, 2015

Review: Ms. Marvel Vol. 3: Crushed

The third collected volume of Ms. Marvel, sub-titled Crushed, is the last collection before Secret Wars rears its Secret Wars-y head in Jersey City, sweeping Kamala Khan up in the (completely temporary) end of the Marvel Universe. The collection has three complete and distinct stories, each with a different artist and, most surprising of all, one of those three is not written by Kamala's co-creator and writer G. Willow Wilson (I think marking the first non-Wilson scripted appearance of Ms. Marvel), and is from a book other than Ms. Marvel.

All three stories are very good, however, which, in the case of the third, is actually quite a relief.

The first story is a done-in-one from Ms. Marvel #12, and features a somewhat forced appearance by Loki, currently in his Agent of Asgard appearance (handsome young man with smaller-than-usual horns on a...tiara, I guess...?) and status quo. He's sent to Jersey City on a flimsy mission to investigate the recent dangers there. He immediately meets Bruno and tries to help Bruno win Kamala's heart, and then crashes their school's Valentine's Dance.

Ms. Marvel and Loki don't exactly fight and team up; they sort of argue and then go their separate ways.

Elmo Bondoc draws this issue, and while the art is in sharp contrast to that in the rest of the book, it's within the same aesthetic ballpark of original artist Adrian Alphona, and is actually really quite sharp.

Wilson's script is as fun and funny as usual, including the way that everyone but Kamala seems to know Bruno is pining for her, and everyone but Bruno knows he'll never win her heart. There's a running gang about how no one even flinches at the site of Loki either, assuming that "viking" is just a new, hipster style that will be catching on soon (I guess that works if Loki has the appearance of a twenty-something now).

Wilson did pass up a perfectly good opportunity for a Mean Girls allusion, however, when Ms. Marvel smashes through the skylight in her school's gymnasium, points at Loki, and shouts, "Everybody stop! This guy is not in high school!"

Surely "He doesn't even go here!" would work just as well, right?

The second story is the three-issue arc from which the collection takes its title, which ran from #13-#15, and is illustrated by the always excellent, always welcome Takeshi Miyazawa. It's an awfully Inhumans-y story, and I'm not crazy about Ms. Marvel's connections to The Inhumans–her name alone saddles the character with a little too much Marvel Universe baggage, making her one of the dozen or so Marvl Comics Marvel characters, so to also link her origin to the new conception of The Inhumans and to keep referencing it doesn't seem terribly smart to me.

It's a very fun story though, even if, by it's climax, I found myself wondering if I should know who this "Lineage" character is and what became of Queen Medusa and Lockjaw in New Attilan. Kamala's parents want to introduce her to their friends son, and while she dreads it, wouldn't you know he turns out to be super-cute and to have so much in common with her that it's practically love at first sight?

It turns out he may have too much in common with her, however, as he reveals that he too is an Inhuman, after Kamala fights a young, bad guy Inhuman about her own age by the name of "Kaboom."

It's a short, swift arc, and there's a lot of fun teen drama in there, including the continuation of the Bruno-love-Kamala plot, and some business with Kamala's older brother. Her almost-boyfriend showing his true colors happens pretty quickly, and I wonder if the arc might not have been more dramatically satisfying if Wilson kept us guessing about him longer, but then, chances are she didn't have time. Secret Wars was looming, after all.

This is pretty awesome:
Because her last name is actually Khan, get it?

The final story in this collection is an issue of SHIELD featuring Ms. Marvel, written by Mark Waid (who will be writing Ms. Marvel regularly in the post-Secret Wars Avengers title) and drawn by Humberto Ramos and VIctor Olazaba.

It seems somewhat unusual to include an issue of something other than Ms. Marvel in a trade collection of the Ms. Marvel series, but I think it's a testament to how popular a character she is (readers who read her will want to read all of her appearances), and how relatively young/new she is (there aren't that many appearances of her outside her own book yet; her Amazing Spider-Man appearances are solicited to appear in Ms. Marvel #4.

In this issue, two of the SHIELD agents from the TV show, Agents Coulson and Simmons, are trying to track down a high school student dealing in old super-villain gear. And wouldn't you know the high school he attends is Kamala Khan's? Despite Coulson's continual attempts to keep her from helping out, Simmons sees something of herself in Kamala, and Ms. Marvel naturally forces the issue, helping them whether they like it or not.

Waid handles Kamala particularly, even surprisingly well, but perhaps it shouldn't be too big a surprise. One of Kamala's more endearing character traits is the extreme fannish-ness she harbors towards the superheroes of the Marvel Universe. It's a trait Waid accentuates in this issue, and certainly an old-time, old-school fan with an encyclopedic knowledge of Marvel (and DC) superhero trivia like Waid can easily relate too. It bodes well for her time in the Waid-written Avengers book.

Pencil artist Ramos offers one of the more far afield depictions of the new Ms. Marvel to date, but he is and pretty much always has been a consummate artist of teenage super-people, and he naturally does a fine job on the art for this issue as well.

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Review: Avengers & X-Men: Axis

Well, I really liked the logo.

Perfectly designed so that the "A" can be read as an "S" and an "I" when upside down, whoever designed the Axis logo has transformed the word into one that looks the same upside down or right side up. It was rather well used for the covers of the nine-issue event miniseries, most of which featured two characters on either side of the word "Axis," so it could be difficult to tell at a glance which way was up and down at a glance (On the cover of this collection, only the tiny little Marvel logo and "Bonus Digital Edition Included" tag let you know whether it's the heroes or the villains who belong ton the top).

It also fits with the overall premise of the book. The word does not refer to the Axis Powers of World War II, as one might reasonably believe, given the fact that The Red Skull is the major villain of the series, but rather a fixed line of reference around which something could rotate (Note the line through logo, completing the "A"). Here, the axis is that of morality or alignment, to use the role-playing game word for it.

Unfortunately, the rest of comic isn't nearly as inspired or well-executed as the logo and cover designs. This is both a shame and somewhat surprising, because the basic premise is so simple: The heroes have become villains, and the villains have become the heroes.

Now a large part of the problem with writer Rick Remender's Axis plot is that as simple as the above premise sounds, its set-up, fall-out and resolution are extremely complicated, in terms of incident. There's that, and then there's the fact that the demands of a nine-issue limited series meant to act as the spine of a line-wide cross-over event don't really make for the ideal exploitation of that premise.

The two pages of synopsis marked "Previously..." at the opening of the first issue, which include six large panels taken from other books and paragraphs of text accompanying each, start during the climax of Avengers Vs. X-Men and the killing of Professor Xavier by a Phoenix-possessed Cyclops, and the rest of the events are from Rick Remender's own Uncanny Avengers series (Aspects of the story of Axis actually go back even further, to incorporate the events of House of M...and some bullshit X-Men comics from the nadir of Marvel Comics in the '90s, but the big stuff is all from Uncanny Avengers).

To summarize that summary, just as Captain America had put together his half-Avengers, half-X-Men "Avengers Unity Squad," The Red Skull had stolen Xavier's corpse and somehow stuck Xavier's brain into his own head, giving him super-psychic powers.

Most of Uncanny Avengers dealt with the fall-out of that–with a diversion into the Apocalypse business Remender seems to always be writing–and, when the series ended, Magneto had killed Red Skull on Genosha, where the Nazi super-villain was in the process of building a concentration camp for mutants. Somehow smashing the Skull's skull in released "Red Onslaught," the Red Skull version of Onslaught, who, um, I don't know, Wikipedia that shit, I guess.

Axis proper opens in Los Angeles, where The Avengers Unity Squad and some other random-ish Avengers are fighting Plantman and trading tedious quips like they're all Spider-Man all of a sudden ("Assume anything green is your enemey, Avengers." "Even kale?" "Especially kale." I guess The Kale Growers of America should have bought that ad space in Marvel comics when they had the chance!).

The Avengers start to bicker, and then start arguing pretty savagely with one another, and then outright fighting. This is mostly due to the influence of Red Onslaught, who is sending psychic hate waves all over the world, but it starts gradually, and the make-up of these Avengers are so new and foreign to any other Avengers books I had read that I don't really know how they all get along anyway (The Vision is there all of a sudden; The Hulk is there and he has seemingly gone through his bi-annual personality re-vamps; Thor is here, and he's lost Mjolnir but hasn't yet lost his arm, so I guess the Thor in this entire series is taken from somewhere in the middle of Thor #1; Sam Wilson is now Captain America).

Iron Man continually uses "raincheck" as a verb, something he does throughout the series, so I'm assuming it's just a weird writing tick of Remenders, and none of the editors decided to say, "Hey Rick, I think this eighth instance of Iron Man saying 'raincheck' is a bit much. You're starting to sound like Claremont here, with your constant repetition of the same slang."

The Avengers eventually get their shit together, thanks to a psychic-blocking doodad of Iron Man's invention, and while the entire world breaks into random rioting, they eventually trace the hate-waves back to Red Onslaught on Genosha, where Magneto and a handful of X-people are already fighting him.

Once the Avengers, a random calvary of X-Men and other assorted character (Sue Storm, Nova, Medusa) start dog-piling on Red Onslaught, he unleashes his secret weapons: A pair of Stark-built Super-Sentinel robots, specifically designed with Civil War-related counter-measures pulled from Stark's sub-conscious brain via Skull's super-telepathy and built as the ultimate superhero-fighting and capturing countermeasure.

It works beautifully for a while, until Magneto comes up with a brilliant plan: If the robots are designed specifically to take down superheroes, they won't be able to deal with supervillains, and so he brings a completely random assemblage of villains to the party (Mystique, Sabertooth, Enchantress, Loki, Doctor Doom, Enchantress, Deadpool and, most randomly of all, Carnage, Hobgoblin, The Absorbing Man and Jack O' Lantern, whose new design I liked a lot...I really like characters with pumpkins for heads in general, though).

If this strategy sounds familiar, you may remember when Grant Morrison used it in 1998's JLA #17; that's the one where Prometheus takes down the Justice League using special, anti-superhero stratagems programmed into his brain, but is helpless to defeat Catwoman, as she's a villain. It worked fine as a few panels of a one-issue story, even if it does fall apart if you pick at it. It shouldn't matter if you classify the person swinging a bullwhip at your genitals, as Catwoman did to take down Prometheus, a "hero" or a "villain"...the defense against bullwhips would still be to either block them or dodge them, whoever's swinging them).

It's really just a reason to get some villains in the scene for the big switcheroo, of course, (And that at least explains why Magneto didn't just pick up some old allies from his Brotherood of Evil Mutants, but also picked out random Spider-Man villains who someone else somewhere in Marvel editorial had plans to put in Axis tie-in miniseries).

The plan is to have a couple of magic people cast a spell reversing the tiny bit of Xavier that's in Red Onslaught with the dominant Red Skull personality, giving the heroic bit control and reducing the evil bit.

It doesn't go according to plan, exactly. It works, dismissing Onslaught and rendering Skull unconscious (and presumably with Xavier in the driver's seat and Skull now tied-up in the trunk), but it also affects everyone on the island. As I said, good guys are now bad guys, and bad guys are now good guys.

And here we come to a problem.

What exactly does that mean? The idea seems to be that every hero has a little piece of evil in them, and every villain a little bit of noble, altruistic goodness, and that the spell simply reversed the proportions, bringing the evil out of all the heroes and making them bad, while bringing the good out of the villains and making them good.

This is really much more of a DC Comics concept though, as most DC villains are just evil-with-a-capital E. Over the years, layers of psychology have been given to the likes of Black Adam, Lex Luthor and Sinestro, but whatever their motivations, they're essentially rotten apples, characters who either want to rule the world or rob banks. They may have more justification than, say, The Joker, but they're just no damn good, in the same way that despite paranoia or overzealousness, DC's heroes are all good, upstanding, saintly citizens (something Geoff Johns and other writers have been rebelling against as much as possible of late, but no matter how many Parademons and monsters you have Aquaman and Wonder Woman kill in battle, they're never going to be anti-heroes like Wolverine, The Punisher and Ghost Rider).

For some of the affected, it is as literally true for them as it is for Red Skull. Genesis, the clone child of Apokolips that Remender introduced in Uncanny X-Force and has been part of the cast of Wolverine and The X-Men, apparently does have a literal seed of villainy in his inner-workings, and this spell "inverts" his Genesis and Apokolips identities (and appearances).

But it doesn't work so well with, like, anyone else. Magneto and Dr. Doom, for example, haven't really ever been evil-for-evil's sake, at least not since the mid-60s, and while both often commit despicable acts, they have always been justified in the minds of the characters, and able to be rationalized to others (Magneto especially of late, as he has literally been on the X-Men team for the last few years). No one's a villain in their own minds, and all that.

Neither of these two villians seem affected at all by the spell, really...except during one scene later in the book where Doom addresses his people in Latveria and apologizes for being such an evil tyrant to them; in personality and relationships with other characters, though, he remains unchanged.

Deadpool is also unaffected; he's there because he sells books, but his "inversion" affects his fashion more than his personality, and so he continues to talk utter nonsense and behave as usual, he just now talks with hippy slang.

Why this is such a problem is that the inversion happens in issue three, which means Remender still has six issues to fill with good guys-gone-bad and bad guys-gone-good.

Now, if this were an old-school, summer annual style event, with two oversized bookends, the story might work much better. Imagine issues #1-3 of Axis compressed into a 48-page Avengers & X-Men: Axis #1, and then every title's annual telling a story about the individual characters now that they've had their alignment's switched around, concluding with Avengers & X-Men: Axis #2, where the problem is resolved and almost everything goes back to normal, save a plot thread or three to explore in future issues of ongoing series.

But Remender doesn't have that option, and so he has to keep going. And that means he has to essentially keep the Avengers and X-Men operating as teams, which doesn't really work if they are all suddenly evil (well, he didn't have to, I suppose, but the book would have been particularly disjointed if it spent the next four or five issues spending a few pages on 40-different characters one at a time).

The now evil core group of Avengers (plus Medusa, because Marvel's trying to push The Inhumans) stay together, but wipe a bunch of the characters off the board by capturing almost all of the non-mutant characters. They repeatedly say they'll stick together because it serves their interests, but it's not clear how.

A few do go their own way, at least temporarily: These include Tony Stark, who rather than just being randomly evil like most of his peers, has his selfishness and arrogance amplified. He's basically the character he was at the start of the first Iron Man movie. It's weird that Remender picks and chooses which characters have motivations for their actions, specific aspects of their character that change, while others are just bad guys for no reason.

Then there's the Hulk, who develops a Hulk's Hulk (not unlike the Null that appeared in Matt Fraction's short-lived Defenders revival), unimaginatively named "Kluh," who has black skin, a white mohawk and glowing red lines around his torso, looking vaguely like one of The Worthy from Fear Itself.

Meanwhile, The X-Men decide to overthrow humanity for, um, some reason, wiping them all out. Apparently, the inversion of all of the X-Men's heroic natures is...that they are genocideal maniacs? (This doesn't work too well, considering that almost none of the evil mutants have ever wanted to go quite that far).

The wild cards in this new round of Avengers vs. X-Men fighting are Spider-Man, Nova, Old Man Steve Rogers, the latest Nomad (Rogers' son, apparently? I've never heard of him) and, of course, all of the villains-turned-good.

After much fighting, including one–just one–character being able to reverse his own alignment-reversal to go back to being good again by force of will, the remaining good guys and bad guys-gone-good are able to cast another inversion spell, this one putting everyone back to normal.

The only exceptions are Iron Man, who is able to use his technology to shield himself, and the two guys standing next to him: Havoc and Sabertooth. Iron Man would go on to star in Superior Iron Man (an presumably be restored to good again before or during Secret Wars), and the other two characters will presumably be dealt with in Remender's relaunched Uncanny Avengers, which prominently featured Sabertooth on the cover.

So in the end, it was a very simple, rather fun idea, but a very small one, and it didn't really work in the complicated, serious Marvel Universe, nor to support an event book of this scale.

I suppose some of the tie-ins might have been good, though, particularly if they offered their writers the opportunity to do more with the inverted moral alignments than Remender does here. That is, if there are tie-ins that explore how an inverted Sam Wilson or Nightcrawler differs from the regular version, aside from just being a psychotic maniac...you know, if other writers do with other characters what Remender does with Iron Man and pretty much no other character in this series.

The artwork is unfortunately all over the place, and isn't even divided by acts or arcs within the series as a whole. Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson and Jim Cheung all pencil the book, but come and go randomly. Kubert's there for the first, second, seventh and parts of the ninth issue, for example. Yu for the third, fourth, eighth and part of the ninth. There are nine different inkers (no, not one per issue; don't be silly) and five different colorists. It's all pretty okay artwork, and the book makes visual sense, but hoo-boy does it read like a deadline-dodging, last-minute jam book thrown together at the last minute. It's a sharp contrast to the story, which Remender was building to for years.

The opening sequence, drawn by Kubert, is particularly weird, as all of the pages have extremely wide borders filled with the Axis logo repeating over and over like the comics panels were being framed by Axis wrapping paper.

It is a nice logo, though.


So anyone have any recommendations for Axis tie-ins to pursue in trade? Were any of them any good? I remember thinking the Hobgoblin mini looked intriguing when I saw it in the shop, and I'm curious about the new Jack O' Lantern.

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Comic Shop Comics: July 15

Black Canary #2 (DC Comics) The second issue of the very promising new Black Canary series by Brenden Fletcher and Annie Wu seemed like a too-quick read, and it's really no wonder. There are only about 14-pages of comics content in it, with a two-page spread devoted to a recap of sorts (presented as clippings from an article about the band Black Canary, with some drawings in the background), two more pages devoted to pull-out poster, and then two pages of illustrated prose on the back of the mini-poster. The poster makes for some fun content, but it really seems like the sort of thing one should get as a bonus, rather than in lieu of the comics one might reasonably expect.

What little is actually here is pretty good, of course. Apparently more than one mysterious force is after Black Canary (the band), either because of mysterious, meta-human band-member Ditto and/or other mysterious, meta-human bandmember D.D. (who readers now is the superhero Black Canary, but the members of the band Black Canary apparently don't). In this issue, D.D. tries to train her bandmates in various forms of self-defense (including killing people with guns?), while they are again ambushed by something that would seem to be way out of most rock band's league.

I like the art, and I love the coloring (by Lee Loughridge) and, as much as I love the comic book format, I wonder if maybe this isn't one that will be a more pleasant reading experience in collected form? At the very least, I wouldn't then find myself counting pages after reading a chapter of it.

Dr. Fate #2 (DC) Not much plot advancement here. Young Khalid is still trying to come to terms with the fact that he has a magic, talking helmet that gives him powers, as he struggles to save his dad and the city from a flood and possessed dogs, both threats that have been unleashed by Anubis.

As superhero plots go, writer Paul Levitz's is simple, accessible and effective, if unremarkable, but with Sonny Liew's idiosyncratic artwork, the book is easily and instantly set apart from every other DC comic (and most of the Marvel ones) on the stand. Liew's lines going all wiggily during trippy scenes is particularly striking, as is that wonderful cover.

The very last panel includes a little next issue box, featuring the Helm of Fate with a manga-style sweat drop and that's something I've never seen before, and things I've never seen before? That's exactly what I want to see in superhero comics.

Godzilla In Hell #1 (IDW Publishing) The cover says absolutely everything you need to know to make an informed purchasing decision on this one. It stars Godzilla, it's set in Hell, and it's by Stokoe, as in James Stokoe, the man responsible for Godzilla: The Half-Century War.

It's not exactly the Godzilla in Hell comic I would have written–which would have basically been The Divine Comedy, only swapping out the protagonist for Godzilla, and the historical figures with various characters and monsters from Toho movies*–but then, this is going to be a rather weird anthology series, wherein each issue will have a different creator or creative team tell a story of Godzilla in Hell. I'm not sure what #2-#5 will be like, but this one is a standalone, done-in-one issue, with a pretty perfect story by Stokoe presenting what Hell might be like for Godzilla.

If you've read Half-Century War, than you already know of Stokoe's considerable virtues in the realm of Godzilla comics, and you'll be happy to know that many of them are on display here. If you haven't read Half-Century War, then do pick this up: It's a nice sample of what you'll find in that series, which is now available in two differently formated collections.

Lumberjanes #16 (Boom Studios) Okay, that's a pretty awesome cover there, Brooke Allen, telling a complete and compelling story that gives a would-be reader a pretty good idea about what the series is all about in a single image, but man, there are no mer-people in this issue!

Instead, it continues the plotline in which several 'janes from a previous generation–Rosie, Bear Lady and big game hunter Abigail–attempt to resolve some unresolved issues, which mainly entails slaying a big, dumb-looking monster with a dumb-sounding name, or stopping the slaying of said monster, depending on the character. Told to keep out of it, our Lumberjanes naturally do no such thing.

*Godzilla would naturally Godzilla his way through the nine circles of the Inferno, stomping Dis like it was Tokyo, and battling the various monsters native to Hell: Cerebus, Geryon, the centaurs, harpies, giants, devils and, ultimately, the three-faced, six-winged Satan, imprisoned from the waist down by ice. This Godzilla melts with his atomic breath, freeing Satan, in order to kick his ass in the greatest battle of Godzilla's career. With Satan destroyed, Godzilla thus emerges from hell. It could then go one of three ways ways. Either Godzilla returns to Earth alive, having been just too powerful and stubborn for hell to hold him for long–with the implication being that this is how Godzilla has seemed to return from death in the past, or he could find himself as Dante did at Mount Purgatory which he would attempt to ascend, but, finding no monsters left to battle, he grows bored, and returns to Earth seeking more battle, or the story could end with Godzilla beginning his ascent towards heaven, and facing the celestial armies, cutting off before actually showing whether Godzilla could take God or not. Obviously Godzilla couldn't–he's King of The Monsters, not King of The Universe–but it would certainly be in Godzilla's nature to pick that fight.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Marvel's October previews reviewed

One of only two of the hip-hop variants I recognized the inspiration for.

If you visit any of the comics sites I visit, then chances are you heard some conversation regarding one of Marvel's planned variant programs for the month of October. Here's a hint: It wasn't the "KIRBY MONSTER VARIANTS"* or the "COSPLY VARIANTS" the "INHUMAN 50th ANNIVERSARY VARIANTS," nor any of the various sketch, design or blank variants.

No, it was about the planned "HIP-HOP VARIANTS," which actually do sound kind of fun, as they will apparently entail posing various Marvel heroes in recreations of classic hip hop album covers (like the Ms. Marvel cover-as-The Miseducation of Lauryn Hill album cover above), in much the same way DC and Marvel have done with movie posters and works of fine art in the past.

Please see this article on Comics Alliance for an overview of the program and the conversation regarding it, including relevant links to a piece by David Brothers, which explains cultural appropriation and why hip-hop variants from Marvel Comics may not be that cool an idea, and why it might irritate a hell of a lot of fans of Marvel comics and/or hip-hop.

As a straight white man, I hesitate to say anything at all about any of this (and, like Abhay Khosla, I don't want to sound like I'm defending Marvel for not having more black writers and artists or anything–"That’s just some dumb guy in a dumb hat dancing around institutional racism," as Khosla worte), but I will say that I was kind of surprised by the anonymous poster who asked Tom Brevoort about the lack of black writers and artists involved in their post-Secret Wars books. Because that seems kind of shocking, in 2015, doesn't it?

I only buy Marvel comics in trade, because I am not Jay-Z and can't afford to pay $4 for 20-pages of comics, and the last two I trades I bought were All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 2 and Ms. Marvel Vol. 3, the former (mostly) drawn by a black artist and the latter (mostly) by a guy with a Japanese name who I therefore assume is either Japanese or Japanese-American, and...I honestly have no idea what race or nationality or cultural identification to assign the other artists who drew parts of those books, Elmo Bondoc, Kris Anka and Felipe Smith. (I know it's been said by others before, but comics are a medium where one knows creators by their work and name, but may not have any idea what they look like, and thus what their race, nationality or, in some cases, even their gender might be. Unless I've seen a photo of a creator in the back of a book, or I've seen them at a convention or during a personal appearance of some kind, or in a photo accompanying a mainstream media interview, then there's a pretty good chance I will have no idea what they look like. Like, two of my favorite artists are Richard Sala and Kelley Jones. I've never seen a picture of either one of them, and when I imagine them, I see a creepy guy in a trenchcoat and wide-brimmed hat and an hulking, over-muscled Batman with three-foot-long ears and a 45-foot-long cape, respectively.)

But if it's true Marvel doesn't have any writers or artists who are black working on any of their books post-September....? That's pretty weird. Marvel publishes a lot of comics. Like, 52,000 different titles a month. (Hey, this is a good argument for relaunching All-New Ghost Rider though, and keeping Damion Scott on as artist!)

I find the idea of cultural appropriation regarding hip-hop and Marvel kind of funny though, because hip-hop had so much in the way of appropriation of other music throughout its history, via beats and samples. And, as the Comics Alliance article pointed out, there are several rappers who have to varying degrees based aspects of their music and personas on Marvel Comics IP (created almost exclusively by middle-aged Jewish men), rappers like MF Doom and the Wu Tang Clan (whose work also borrowed heavily from Hong Kong action movies for inspiration). So hip-hop borrows from other cultures and recontextualizes stuff to make something new, like, all the time. That's a large part of what hip-hop is, isn't it?

On the other hand, when the situation has been reversed in the past, and a hip-hop artist or rapper has borrowed a name or image from Marvel Comics, it's not as if Marvel has exactly been cool with it, you know? In that regard then, it's kind of funny to see Marvel put in the position of having to explain why MF Doom has to watch his step when it comes to using images of Doctor Doom, but it's totally cool for them to repurpose rap iconography to sell their comics.

But enough about cultural and corporate appropriation, let's talk about something we can all agree on: Marvel Entertainment will be publishing a bunch of comics in October.

Here's what jumped out at me...

In the aftermath of SECRET WARS, it's an All-New, All-Different Marvel Universe, and this is your one-stop entry point to the changes and mysteries that have developed during the eight months that have passed! Featuring new stories of DAREDEVIL, CARNAGE, CLASSFIED, CLASSIFIED, AGENTS OF S.H.I.E.L.D. and CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS!
56 PGS./ One-Shot/Rated T+ …$5.99

I have to confess I find this find this title pretty hilarious. The dumb ".1" numbering was a way of publishing important comics between issues (or before issues, in the case of new titles), so I don't know why on Earth you'd use one on a one-shot. I guess Marvel realized that too, so they didn't use ".1", but they still spelled out "POINT ONE" before the "#1." Sometimes the Big Two are just too adorable when it comes to numbering their comics, you know?

Spider-Man has gone global! Parker Industries is more successful than ever, with offices in New York, Shanghai, London and San Francisco and Peter Parker is racking up the frequent flyer miles with his “bodyguard” Spider-Man in tow, of course. But success breeds enemies and a reinvigorated Zodiac have also widened their scope to threaten the whole world. Join Dan Slott and Giuseppe Camuncoli as they take Spider-Man to the next level! This huge first issue also includes stories featuring Silk, Spidey 2099, Spider-Woman and much more!
ISSUE #1 - 72 PGS./Rated T…$5.99
Issue #2 - 32 PGS/RATED T...$3.99

"THE WORDLD'S GREATEST SUPER HERO," huh? Third best, maybe. But definitely in the top six.

It looks like post-Secret Wars, Spider-Man, who will be one of only about a half-dozen or so various spider-people running around, will get a new costume design. I'm not sure how I feel about it yet, and I will probably need to see it drawn by different artists in a few comics before I can make up my mind. It seems to keep the essential elements, though, and adding glowing-eyes isn't much a big deal, but the other lights I'm not so sure about.

Oh, and is that Spidey's Spider-Mobile 2.0 in the second image? Nice.

Hip-Hop Variant by Annie Wu
Stolen from ASGARD, exiled from HEVEN, and robbed of SERA, her greatest companion – ANGELA plunges into the depths of blackest HEL to save her friend...and once there, the lost princess of Asgard will carve out a realm of her very own. All hail ANGELA, THE NEW QUEEN OF HEL!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

So I guess Marvel really did make a deal with Neil Gaiman to get Angela just to annoy Todd McFarlane, then? Because they don't seem to have any idea what to do with the character. This is like her third or fourth direction in the–two years? Three?–that she's been around.

TIM SEELEY (W) • Logan Faerber (a)
Hip-Hop Variant by TBA
32 PGS./Rated T+ …$3.99

Hey, that doesn't look like Blade; that looks like a lady! I thought I read somewhere–like, in a headline I scanned–that Marvel would be publishing a new book starring Blade's daughter. If Blade's deal was that he was half-vampire, I wonder what his daughter is? Is she 1/4 vampire? Is there something that could be made out of this regarding racial identity? Maybe.

I always liked the idea of Blade, even if I never stuck with any of his comics too terrible long. I'm not familiar with this artist either, so while this seems intriguing, I'm not sure if it will be for me or not. If I'm trade-waiting though, I should have plenty of time to make up my mind.

Who do you call when things are coming out of your dreams and trying to kill you? Or when your daughter is cursing in Latin and walking like a spider? Or when your dog keeps screaming at you to strangle your neighbors? Doctor Strange, of course. He's the only person standing between us and the forces of darkness, but has he been paying his tab? Every act of magic has a cost and Jason Aaron (THOR, ORIGINAL SIN) and Chris Bachalo (UNCANNY X-MEN) are going to put Stephen Strange through hell to even the scales.
40 PGS./Rated T+ …$4.99

Okay, re-casting Doctor Strange as Dr. Dre on the hip-hop variant cover is pretty awesome. The only one that would possibly be better would be doing a Doggystyle homage on the cover of the Inhumans book, with Lockjaw in the Snoop role.

I can't imagine this book won't be good, and the fact that Marvel put such a high-profile creative team (and are making sure it has a million variant covers, like Amazing Spider-Man and Iron Man, seems to indicate that they want it to be a big deal ahead of the eventual Doctor Strange movie, too.

Still curious about that axe, though...

Based on the fact that I hate all of these costume so much, Extraordinary X-Men can go straight to hell. Maybe if they had called it X-traodinary X-Men I would be more forgiving. But no, go to hell Extraordinary X-Men! And take Old Man Logan and all those dumb costumes with you! (But I guess Colossus can keep his metal beard; that's alright).

I suppose it's possible that they will announce more mutant titles in the near future, but none of the X-books solicited for October look the least bit interesting to me.

• You didn't think we were going to tell the story of one of Groot's adventures without bringing BABY GROOT into the fray, did you?
• With his goal of reuniting with his best friend (and interpreter) Rocket Raccoon within reach, Groot's only got a ship full of mercenaries to contend with. Should be a piece of cake, right?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Wait, Groot has a "KIRBY MONSTER" variant cover? Groot is a Kirby monster; every cover of Groot is a Kirby monster cover!

Peter Quill has abandoned the Guardians and his role as Star-Lord to be Emperor of the Spartax. Rocket didn't wait a single minute to take the reins and become team leader of Drax, Venom, Groot, Kitty Pryde (A.K.A. Star-Lady ?!?!) and new Guardian BEN GRIMM, the everloving THING! 32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

Oh good, a new Guardians of The Galaxy #1. Because that series hasn't been hard enough to follow and/or make sense of in collected form already (I've complained about this before in individual reviews of individual collections, but the large number of #1's and #0's and specials and "#.1's" and so on have given the collections an odd, start-and-stop feeling that makes them almost incoherent, narratively...and I suppose it doesn't help that at least two storylines have appeared not in Guardians of the Galaxy collections, but under the title Guardians of The Galaxy/All-New X-Men–"The Trial of Jean Grey" and "Black Votex." Maybe instead of trade-waiting, everyone should just wait 3-5 years, until Marvel publishes something like a Complete Guardians of The Galaxy By Brian Michael Bendis series of omnibuses or something).

Please note that this has a "KIRBY MONSTER VARIANT" and it will be of Kirby monster-turned-Guardian of the Galaxy, Groot. So that would seem to indicate that the Kirby monster variant on Groot will not be Groot. Huh.

Hip-Hop variant cover by TBA
Hidden deep beneath AREA 13 lies the clandestine headquarters of S.T.A.K.E.--a top secret division of S.H.I.E.L.D. housing aliens, mythical beasts, and all manner of extra-normal entities. Under the command of legendary soldier DUM DUM DUGAN, these monsters step out of the shadows and defend the world against supernatural threats too dangerous for normal men as THE ALL-NEW, ALL-DIFFERENT HOWLING COMMANDOS OF S.H.I.E.L.D.!
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99

I'm always all in for more Man-Thing, and I always enjoy it when Marvel writers find new acronyms kinda sorta related to SHIELD (SWORD, ARMOR, HAMMER). STAKE is a good one for this team, and it seems inevitable they will have to team up with HAMMER at some point; I mean, you need a HAMMER to drive in a STAKE, right?

My friend pointed this picture out to me and I thought she just wanted me to note the presence of Man-Thing, but that wasn't it. "Look closer," she said. Do you guys see it? How one of those things is not like the others? Hint, it has to do with the one character who is definitely not male is posed, in contrast to the others.

Exploding out of the pages of SECRET WARS, one of the most popular super heroes in the world gets a gigantic new series. From the creators that brought you ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN comes new armor, new supporting cast, new villains and a new purpose that is going to tear itself across the entire Marvel Universe and beyond. With a shocker of a last page that will have everyone talking and the return of one of Tony's biggest nemeses, you will not want to miss this!! Also, who are Tony's biological parents? The quest begins here!
32 PGS. (each)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (each)

God, does this book have enough variants? It's not like it's Star Wars or anything...

Hip-Hop variant cover by TBA
EVERYTHING IS NEW. In the wake of SECRET WARS, the old order changeth - and Bobby DaCosta, Sunspot, is just the man to changeth it. Welcome to AVENGERS IDEA MECHANICS - a super-scientific global rescue squad of tomorrow's heroes... today! America doesn't want them! S.H.I.E.L.D. doesn't know what to do with them! But Earth might not survive without... the NEW AVENGERS!
32 PGS. (each)/Rated T+ …$3.99 (each)

Is it weird how damn different the concept for every book that uses the title "New Avengers" is...? This is apparently spinning out of a plot point near the end of Hickman's Avengers run, in which Sunspot bought-out AIM and changed it to a force for good, one of several players in the Illuminati vs. SHIELD war. That's an...interestingly weird-ass line-up, one that makes Cap's kooky quartet look a hell of a lot less kooky when compared to Sunspots kooky quintet.

Say, what's Elekra's costume made out of that a sai capable of ripping through its front and entire body can never quit seem to pierce the back of it, but rather just makes a tent out of it? Did Mr. Fantastic make that for her out of unstable molecules or what?

Cover by ALEX ROSS
The Marvel Universe is no more! The interdimensional Incursions have eliminated each and every alternate universe one by one. And now — despite the best efforts of the scientists, sages and superhumans — the Marvel Universe and Ultimate Universe have collided…and been destroyed! All that exists in the vast empty cosmos is a single, titanic patchwork planet made of the fragmented remains of hundreds of devastated dimensions: Battleworld! And the survivors of this multiversal catastrophe all bend their knee to Battleworld's master: Doctor Doom! What strange creatures inhabit this world? Which familiar faces will return? And what happens when Battleworld's various domains go to war? The Marvel Universe is dead — and the victors of the Secret Wars will determine what comes next! Collecting SECRET WARS (2015) #1-8 and material from FREE COMIC BOOK DAY 2015: SECRET WARS #0.
224 PGS./Rated T+ …$49.99
ISBN: 978-0-7851-9884-0
Trim size: oversized

Huh. The collection of Secret Wars is solicited for the very same month that the last issue ships.

• An oppressive domain run by BARON ZEMO!
• The peoples' only hope? An underground group of rebels… GORILLA-MAN! M-11! NAMORA! VENUS! MARVEL BOY!
• But their leader JIMMY WOO…captured!
Can AGENT COULSON help save the resistance or will he lead them to their doom?
40 PGS./ One-Shot/Rated T+ …$4.99

Ask and you shall receive, sorta, I guess. I have a brief interview with writer Tom Taylor and editor Mark Paniccia here, if you're interested.

• Chewbacca Unleashed!
• Skywalker in chains!
• Han Solo...with a ball and chain?!?
32 PGS./Rated T …$3.99
Star Wars © Lucasfilm Ltd. & TM. All rights reserved. Used under authorization. Text and illustrations for Star Wars are © 2015 Lucasfilm Ltd.

Attention, Tumblr! Marvel's solicitation copy writer/s just referred to a wife as "a ball and chain." I mean, I know this comic is set "a long time ago," but that's still pretty retrograde language, isn't it?

"You're under arrest?" Really? Not, "Thou art under arrest"...?

*This is one of those times that I wish the big two would just collect all the variants into "gallery" style comics of pin-ups, so I could just buy that. There aren't many examples shown here–one by Mike Allred, I noticed–but those are some cool subjects, and those are some great creators announced for some of them. For example, All-New, All-Different Marvel Point One #1 has one by Paul Pope. Paul Pope drawing a Kirby monster? That's pretty much exactly what I want from a Marvel comic book.