Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

27 June 2009

I give you yet another excuse

I missed putting up a review; a review will be up Tuesday. You, the loyal reader, deserve a better excuse than “my personal life was crazy” or “I was crushed by the amount of work I had to do this week.” Frankly, you can get those kind of excuses anywhere, and we all know they’re lies, just excuses for being too lazy to put in the kind of quality work an unpaid “labor of love” deserves. So you get a better excuse. Like this one:


There’s unrest in the spirit world.

And when you combat unrest in the spirit world, you hope to battle or meet really cool spirits: Napoleon, Rasputin, Hannibal. World-changing guys. Or if you don’t know the names, at least you hope they’re really evil.

But no, this time the disturbance was centered on Kansas. The cause of it was William Burroughs, who was babbling some stream-of-consciousness crap about Allen Ginsburg and drugs and Interzone. Turns out, spells that try to recreate the fabric of the universe don’t work so well when you’re not picky about the order you say the words in. It does cause weird side effects, but mostly the spirits were unquiet because they were tired of listening to Burroughs.

The worst part is it’s not all that fun beating up on the ghost of a spindly Beat poet. He just keeps asking for more drugs.

(Although this time I did battle the ghost of Evil President James Buchanan. It wasn’t as satisfying as I’d hoped: he just stood there and did nothing, smugly watching Kansas bleed.)

Labels: ,

23 June 2009

Omega the Unknown Classic

Collects: Omega the Unknown #1-10, Defenders #76-7 (1976-9)

Released: December 2005 (Marvel)

Format: 224 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785120094

What is this?: Reluctant superhero has strange connection to orphan boy, who’s trying to survive in Hell’s Kitchen with the worst foster parents ever.

The culprits: Writers Steve Gerber, Mary Skrenes, and Steven Grant and penciler Jim Mooney and a little Herb Trimpe

My admiration for Steve Gerber’s imagination and occasional weirdness is vast; he is among the greatest imaginative talents (with Jack Kirby) to ever be part of the comics universe.

Howard the Duck is his signature character, but one that is emblematic of his career, in some ways, is Omega the Unknown. Its description by readers is so uniform it might as well be part of the name: weird. So when I found an inexpensive copy of Omega the Unknown Classic at a Charlottesville comics store, I was all over it.

Omega the Unknown Classic coverMost of the weirdness is encapsulated in the concept, which makes it hard to sum up. There are two narrative threads: James-Michael Starling, a child who suddenly becomes orphaned, and an unnamed superhero who escapes from his devastated planet. James-Michael, who is far more analytical and unemotional than most adults, has to survive school and life in Hell’s Kitchen, which he is singularly unsuited to do. His half-attentive caretakers don’t help, and neither do the strange fits and occasional powers he exhibits. Both are seemingly linked to the hero, who comes to Hell’s Kitchen himself and gains the name “Omega” after his headband, which is in the shape of the Greek letter. Omega, mute and taken in by an elderly shopkeeper, becomes a superhero, although he struggles with our alien morality.

It’s interesting that for such an odd concept, the book is firmly ensconced in the Marvel Universe: Omega fights the Hulk and Electro, for instance, and battles minor villains like Nitro and Blockbuster. Perhaps it was Marvel editorial policy. Still, other than a villain revealed to be Ruby Thursday by a later writer, there aren’t any of the strange villains Gerber could and often did create.

Omega is largely follows the themes Gerber emphasized in works like Howard the Duck and Man-Thing: alienation, being an outsider, the senselessness of much of human endeavor. Sometimes I think it must have been a very lonely and frustrating existence to be Steve Gerber. His protagonists are rarely happy and can’t find even the minor victories that, say, Spider-Man indulges in.

It’s no different in Omega, although there’s none of the leavening of humor that you find in Howard. Everything is played deadly serious, as deadly serious as young James-Michael always is. I don’t know if this is because of the influence of co-writer Mary Skenes or because Gerber thought Omega was a more serious creation; perhaps there’s another reason. The school scenes with James-Michael are depressing criticisms of urban education; the extraneous elements of the school experience realistically overwhelm the classroom parts, which is puzzling and disturbing for a scholar like James-Michael, and that gets across to the reader quite well.

Steven Grant has the unenviable task of wrapping up the story; I don’t know if the idea to do so was his or Marvel’s. It certainly wasn’t Skenes and Gerber’s, who didn’t like Grant’s ending at all. (As far as I know, Gerber never revealed his ideas for the series after its final issue.) It’s not a horrible ending in the “any-ending-you-can-walk-away-from” sense. But it certainly doesn’t match Omega’s tone; it’s a bit too optimistic and striving to match any Gerber story, whose cynicism stared back at the reader from the page like a third eye. Interestingly, Grant doesn’t skimp on the weirdness, although he does it in a more modern sense: characters like Ruby Thursday and Moondragon, plus invading aliens.

Jim Mooney provides the art for the Omega run. This was the ‘70s, you see, and Mooney gives the effort a workman-like edge. There’s little memorable about the art; it looks like most of the rest of the decade. There’s nothing that matches the imagination of the concept; I have the idea Mooney probably approached Omega as just another job, perhaps one more baffling than others. There’s nothing wrong with that, and I don’t want to come across as criticizing him. But if an artist with a distinctive style had worked with Gerber and Skenes, Omega might be a hidden classic rather than a curiosity. Herb Trimpe pencils the two Defenders issues and does a fine job.

Even after reading Omega, I’m still not sure what to make of it. It’s not as bizarre as I had expected, although it’s certainly different. It’s worth reading for two reasons: because it’s always worthwhile to explore Gerber’s body of work, and because it’s just interesting enough that a comic fan should have an opinion about it.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol (3 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , ,

20 June 2009

X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion

Collects: X-Factor v. 3 #33-8 and She-Hulk v. 2 #31 (2008-9)

Released: May 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785128656

What is this?: X-Factor! She-Hulk! Skrulls! Darwin! Longshot! Try and contain yourself.

The culprits: Writer Peter David and penciler Larry Stroman (along with three others)

The math, at least, makes sense: She-Hulk is a second-tier title that had a reason to do a Secret Invasion (a subtle invasion by the shape-shifting aliens, the Skrulls) tie-in despite having little connection to the main plot. She-Hulk is written by Peter David. David also writes X-Factor. Since neither sell phenomenally well (She-Hulk has since been cancelled), make them cross over!

It makes sense, but the final answer, X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion, doesn’t quite come out right. It’s a shame, really.

Jazinda, a Skrull, is She-Hulk’s sidekick. She and She-Hulk bull their way into Detroit (X-Factor’s new home town!), where the talisman of Skrull victory, a figure just below the Skrull gods, is hanging out, waiting for the war to begin (or end, perhaps). Why Detroit? you might ask. Why not Detroit? Not everything has to happen in New York … admittedly, everything does have to happen in America or within 100 miles of its northern border.

X-Factor, v. 6: Secret Invasion coverWhat’s amazing is what David manages to get out of the crossover. Admittedly, I expected nothing good to come of it, and he’s writing both ends of the story. But given how his story seems shoehorned into the cracks of the Secret Invasion event, it’s very readable. Not the plot, so much; that feels as if David said, “Plot? Who’s concerned about plot at this late stage in Secret Invasion?” No, it’s the characters that make the story readable and fun. The characterization of the X-Factor members doesn’t feel forced: it feels like a normal issue. The same goes for She-Hulk and Jazinda, although I’m not a big fan of Jazinda, and She-Hulk is in a “not playing well with others” stage. Darwin, introduced in Ed Brubaker’s wretched X-Men: Deadly Genesis, seems to flail around, but that seems to be his role: the person confused by everything as the plot revolves around them, and unable to do much about it.

What doesn’t help is Larry Stroman. He teamed up with David on his acclaimed ’90s X-Factor run. Unfortunately, it’s not the ‘90s any more, and his distorted style makes the characters look more like refugees from Marvel Apes, at times, than humans or Skrulls. It’s … not good, not good at all. Figures are distorted, exaggerated, twisted, and stripped of their differences, and not in a good way. It’s impossible for me to evaluate the work of Valentine de Landro, Nelson, and Vincenzo Cucca, who each contribute an issue; after Stroman’s work, anything looks good.

The second half of Secret Invasion is much better. The real Longshot, from Chris Claremont’s long X-Men run, is dropped into the cast, and the team’s reactions are both funny and spot on. The story is mainly an excuse to drop him and Darwin into the cast and see what happens; meanwhile, subplots aplenty advance satisfactorily, and there’s an unexpected twist at the end. Madrox’s development in particular is going in directions I didn’t expect.

Secret Invasion is a poor jumping-on point for new readers, not so much because it would leave them confused but because they would be put off by Stroman’s art or grow attached characters who might not be around for much longer (Darwin and Longshot). Even She-Hulk readers are unlikely, I think, to jump over to X-Factor, even if it’s continuing after She-Hulk has been cancelled. But it’s another of those books that reward the readers, the ones who are watching the development of the characters and appreciate all those character jokes.

The value of Secret Invasion lies not so much in its intrinsic qualities as it does in how Peter David manages to get excellent returns on a cast and idea I wouldn’t have bet would last a year. And that’s so amazing we lose track of how amazing it is.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol (3 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

17 June 2009

Daredevil, v. 5 (hardcover)

Collects: Daredevil v. 2 #66-75 (2004-5)

Released: June 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 256 pages / color / $29.99 / ISBN: 9780785121107 (hardcover)

What is this?: A hardback that collects two Daredevil arcs: “Golden Age,” which features the return of the old Kingpin, and “Decalogue,” in which a bunch of New Yorkers talk about how Daredevil and supervillains entwined their lives.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev

I started buying collected editions of books just as the third Daredevil hardcover came out. Armed with money to start building a TPB collection, I jumped all over those three and the fourth when it came out the next year. It was good stuff, too: Kevin Smith, Joe Quesada, and David Mack in the first volume, followed by writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev’s long run in the following volumes.

Bendis turned Daredevil’s life upside down by outing him to the press while making sure nothing could ever be proven. Bendis used this to take Daredevil’s life down predictable and unpredictable paths. It was fun, but by the end of the fourth volume, I was beginning to wonder how long Bendis could continue to dance between the raindrops. Not long, I figured, and that, along with the high price of the hardcovers (even with a discount, it would take up half my monthly budget) kept me from v. 5. But after a few years, you can sometimes find things cheaper …

Daredevil, v. 5 hardcoverSo you have Daredevil, v. 5 (hardcover), which contains two storylines: “Golden Age” and “Decalogue.” There is a vast difference in quality between them, but they both feature the same chatty, “naturalistic” Bendis style of dialogue and pacing. Some people love it, and some hate it; you know which category you fit into.

“Golden Age” inserts a previous kingpin into Marvel continuity, Alexander Bont. Preceding Wilson Fisk,31Bont was ousted by the FBI and Daredevil at the beginning of the Silver Age. He used Gladiator, a costumed criminal who later went straight, as his failed instrument of revenge. Now, an old man, he’s released from prison, but now he knows exactly who to blame: Matt Murdock.32 Blackmailing the reformed Gladiator and using MGH, he seeks his revenge: blood and humiliation.

It’s an interesting story; I have to give Bendis that. The story shifts from the ‘40s to the ‘60s (Golden Age to Silver Age) to the present. But although the time shifts allow Maleev to show off, I’m not sure what they add. Bont gained criminal prestige in the ‘40s by having (a little) audacity and pulling the trigger of a gun; he was a licentious old man in the ‘60s. These are not exactly revelations. These scenes feel like padding for what should be a two-issue story.

Not helping things is Angela del Toro, the FBI agent assigned to the Daredevil case. She’s inherited the Jade Tiger amulets that allowed her uncle to be the White Tiger. She comes to Matt in a horrible conflict of interest to ask what makes someone become a hero. Matt responds in the jerkiest way possible — he’s even a bigger jerk than if he told her to buzz off. The subplot seems tacked on as a trailer for the White Tiger miniseries, especially since nothing is mentioned of Agent del Toro in the next storyline, “Decalogue.”

But we can be happy for Ms. del Toro, because “Decalogue” is a talky mess. The only thing worse than a bunch of Catholics33 sitting in a church basement yakking about Daredevil is each of them telling the story about how a demon baby touched their lives. Did you know Daredevil functions better without supernatural elements?34 Sure you did. But Bendis didn’t. Still, he takes five issues to tell this story, although admittedly he doesn’t introduce the demon baby until the third. The preceding two issues are a “touched by a Daredevil” special episode and a criminal tale. One might make a change of pace between storylines; two, during a storyline, tries the patience. Overall, “Decalogue” is confusing and dull. And set in a church basement, where confusion and dullness spend their summers.

And that’s not even taking into account that Matt all but admits he’s Daredevil to a basement full of strangers. He claims he never said he was, but he ventures far past the point of plausible deniability. That clinches a crap rating for “Decalogue.”

Thank God for Maleev. His work is well fitted to the character, and I think he goes into the conversation of best Daredevil artists of all time, along with Frank Miller and Gene Colan.35 I don’t think he’d win, but he’s still excellent. In this collection, he gets to pitch his art as black-and-white Golden Age stuff (disclaimer: his art looks like nothing from the Golden Age) and as pantoned Silver Age material (it does look like some of the Silver Age). His work reminds me of series of stills, even at it’s most kinetic; that’s not a complaint, just an observation on stylistic choice. There are, however, many double-paged spreads that are just talking heads; it’s unnecessary and confusing, but given the prevalence of the practice in Powers, I can blame that on Bendis too. My only real complaint about the art, other than some odd color choices in “Decalogue,” is the lack of blood in a suicide scene; a character is supposed to have slit her wrists and gouged out her eyes, yet it’s impossible to see the character, in a wide shot, has anything wrong with her (the head is averted). Could be a coloring problem, but there doesn’t look like there’s anything in the pencils to indicate a large, seeping crimson pool.

This is a frustrating book. It goes steadily downhill, from a promising beginning to an ending that nosedives into the dungheap. Without Maleev as a saving grace, this book would hardly be worth picking up, even if you were picking it up to throw into the recycling bin.

Rating: Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (1.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , ,

12 June 2009

Punisher War Journal Classic, v. 1

Collects: Punisher War Journal v. 1 #1-8 (1988-9)

Released: August 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 208 pages / color / $24.99 / ISBN: 9780785131182

What is this?: Jim Lee doing a Punisher series before he became a mega star

The culprits: Writer Carl Potts and penciler Jim Lee

There are an awful lot of Punisher stories out there. Many are available in reprint form; one of those reprints is Punisher War Journal Classic, v. 1. How is this Punisher reprint different from all the others?

The others aren’t drawn by Jim Lee. That’s about it.

This is early Lee — before Image, before he took creative control of franchises, before he even began on X-Men. In fact, this is before everything he did at Marvel but Alpha Flight, where he worked on the tail end of Bill Mantlo’s subpar run. As you might expect, his early work is like his later work but less so, like a less exaggerated imitation of his later work. It’s good work, solid and filled with action, but it’s not the kind of work that would spawn a decade of imitators.

Punisher War Journal Classic, v. 1 coverWhen I said Lee was the only draw for this book, that wasn’t to slight writer Carl Potts. At the time War Journal started, the first Punisher ongoing was at the end of its first year, so it must have seen like there was a near unlimited field of stories to tell. But from this end of the Punisher’s publication history, the novelty has worn off, and readers have seen some of these stories many times. The opening three-issue story with the Punisher running into the mutual revenge plots of two characters peripherally connected to his family’s murder is the most interesting. The Punisher is shaken from his general certitude about who to blame (and thus kill), and the plot is a good reminder that drugs and organized crime have a longer reach than we sometimes remember. It can be seen as a needless addition to the Punisher’s origin, which was my first reaction, but a tie-in to the Punisher’s origin is a logical start to a new series, and the characters involved can be easily jettisoned without regard to the story’s continuity or consequence. It’s not an epic story, but it was a good choice for the opening of the new series, and it does take the character in an interesting direction (temporarily).

The rest of the stories are mostly by the numbers. There’s also a story featuring the Punisher’s Vietnam comrades and a story with the Punisher vs. street gangs. Neither is very memorable, although the Punisher’s van beats a vicious street gang by itself in the latter story. The former involves a secret conspiracy that falls apart far too easily; the conspiracy is backed by a secret government organization — the DEA — and their trade in drugs. In the Punisher’s world, that stands for Defense Espionage Agency rather than Drug Enforcement Administration; I wonder whether Potts didn’t know about the real agency or enjoyed the irony of accusing the DEA of dealing drugs and spreading, rather than stopping, the drug trade. This story is preachy, making me suspect the latter.

Punisher War Journal, v. 1, also has a two-part story that is easily the most transparent and contrived excuse for a Wolverine appearance I have ever seen; strangely, despite Lee’s future career advancement, I found his Wolverine unimpressive. It involves cryptozoology and poaching in Africa; after noting the general lack of preachiness, the less said, the better.

A running subplot throughout the volume features the Japanese family that runs a convenience store in the first floor of one of the Punisher’s safehouses. It seems like a trailer for Potts’s Shadowmasters miniseries, which featured the family and came out later that year. Readers can look at this as a detriment; the optimistic can see it as a inducement for all the Shadowmaster fans — all five of them — to buy this book as a part of their self-constructed Complete Shadowmaster collection.

As a historical note, as a study of the evolution of an artist — and you shouldn’t hold your breath for those mostly forgotten (and rightly so) Alpha Flight issues to be reprinted — Punisher War Journal, v. 1, holds some interest. Otherwise, it’s mostly a bland book, with only the opening arc to rescue it from the skull-covered, Tim Bradstreet-drawn Punisher background.

Rating: Punisher symbol Punisher symbol (2 of 5)

Labels: , , , ,

10 June 2009

Essential Spider-Man, v. 9

Collects: Amazing Spider-Man #186-210, Amazing Spider-Man Annual #13-4, and Spectacular Spider-Man Annual #1 (1978-80)

Released: May 2009 (Marvel)

Format: 600 pages / black and white / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785130741

What is this?: A slice of late ‘70s / early ‘80s Spider-Man that introduced the Black Cat and features the return of the Burglar who killed Uncle Ben.

The culprits: Writers Marv Wolfman and others and artists Keith Pollard, John Byrne, and others

Can you have nostalgia for something you never experienced?

Marvel sure wants you to. The Brand New Day continuity is a direct throwback to the Spider-Man you can find in Essential Spider-Man, v. 9, which reprints Amazing Spider-Man issues from 1978-80. Some readers will remember those days, and long for their return, but most of us only have second-hand evidence those days ever occurred.

The parallels between Brand New Day and v. 9 are striking. In each, there’s no MJ or other steady girlfriends, but there is poverty aplenty, Harry Osborn (and the rest of the supporting cast) hanging around, and a non-J. Jonah Jameson boss supporting Peter’s photography. Other than a healthier Aunt May and no Black Cat in BND, it almost feels like BND writer Dan Slott or editor Tom Brevoort gave pre-publication copies of Essential Spider-Man, v. 9, to the other writers and said, “This is what we’re looking for.”

Essential Spider-Man, v. 9 coverAnd v. 9 is at a level of quality the Spider-titles haven’t seen for years, so that would be good, even though I just made that anecdote up. Marv Wolfman, who wrote #186-204, was in a sweet spot in Spider-Man lore here: after the doldrums following Gwen Stacy’s death and leading into the revitalizing run of Roger Stern (who wrote #206). Wolfman brings back the Burglar and gives him a reason to have killed Ben Parker. In an interesting story that shouldn’t work but does, Wolfman slips in an unnecessary retcon, uses Mysterio and the Kingpin as blocking figures, and still writes a story that hits all the important Spider-Man notes, managing to be moving while both using past continuity and advancing the characters.

This is not an empowering book for any female readers. (Any out there? And how can I tell if those chirping crickets are female or not?) Wolfman creates the Black Cat in this volume, which is a mixed blessing; she’s a big part of the ‘80s, but although she comes across as level headed and capable in her first arc, he and David Michelinie portray her as a crazy stalker in the second. Given the way Wolfman writes Betty Brant, as a clingy ex-girlfriend who has to have a man after leaving her husband, no one was going to be giving him any awards for positive portrayals of women. Denny O’Neil, who wrote #206-10 and Annual #14, balances things (a little) by introducing Madame Web, a criminally underused supporting character. But back on the other hand, Peter also treats Deb Whitman, departmental secretary at his graduate college and occasional date, like crap no matter who was writing him.

The villains are among Spider-Man’s best: Electro, Dr. Octopus, Kraven (with Calypso!), Chameleon, the last appearance of Alistair Smythe, Man-Wolf, and the aforementioned Kingpin and Mysterio. Smythe’s attempts to kill Spider-Man and Jameson are especially good; his final plan, which involves strapping both to a bomb, is one of the better Spider-Man stories, and his attempts to use John Jameson to do his dirty work show a man who’s thought about his revenge and decided to make it as cruel as possible. (The strapping Spider-Man and Jameson show a man who has not thought things through completely.)

The long-term subplots in this book lack a satisfying end. Betty Brant’s attempts to win back Peter were wrongheaded to begin with, and Peter’s attempt at getting her to go away was cruel and almost villainous. The resolution to Jameson’s long-running bout of insanity feels … well, stupid, really, but I’ll settle for “rushed.” And Peter’s entire employment at the Globe is contained in this volume; I thought his employment at the Bugle’s competition was cut too short, as his smarmy boss at the Globe offered a nice contrast to Jameson’s fury.

(One more thing: The linked annuals — Amazing #13 and Spectacular #1 — tell a story about Dr. Octopus’s plot to steal a nuclear sub. Wolfman wrote the first part in Amazing Annual, while Bill Mantlo wrote the second. God bless Mantlo — and he should, at least once more — but seeing the two parts juxtaposed like this reveals some … stylistic excesses in Mantlo’s approach.)

Keith Pollard isn’t going to be listed among the top Spider-artists of all time, but he takes the torch handed to him by the likes of Ditko, Romita, and Andru and carries it admirably. His work looks a little like a modified version of Ross Andru’s; if there were an early house style for Spider-Man, Pollard would be an excellent example of it. His Spider-Man is athletic and flexible without being distorted or overstylized, and his supporting characters are all distinct and recognizable. (Of course, most artists could do that in those days.) Pollard also created the Black Cat’s signature costume, which you can take as a criticism or compliment.

John Byrne does a few fill in and annuals, and his work is outstanding — although I enjoyed Pollard, I would have really enjoyed seeing Byrne on Amazing rather than on Marvel Team-Up, where he had worked a little earlier. Byrne’s work in v. 9 is everything his early work was — beautiful, imaginative, stylish. Sal Buscema, Frank Miller, and John Romita, Jr., also contribute excellent work to the volume, as do Jim Starlin, Al Milgrom, Alan Weiss and Richard Buckler. Really, if you weren’t one of the best, Marvel wasn’t going to let you near Amazing Spider-Man (although technically Buckler worked on the Spectacular Annual).

There’s a lot to like in Essential Spider-Man, v. 9. And there’s a decent amount that comes across as lacking. Although I enjoyed the book throughout, I couldn’t shake a nagging feeling that it just missed being great. So it has to settle for good.

Rating: Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Spider-Man symbol Half Spider symbol (3.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,

05 June 2009

Powers, v. 12: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time

Collects: Powers #25-30, Powers Annual 2008 (2007-8)

Released: February 2009 (Marvel / Icon)

Format: 200 pages / color / $19.95 / ISBN: 9780785122623

What is this?: Deena Pilgrim’s mysterious powers finally are explained and her storyline ends.

The culprits: Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Michael Avon Oeming

(While researching this review, I was poking around Jinxworld, Bendis’s site. Somehow, I ran across the Bendisizer — I don’t remember how I got there, and I’ve lost the URL. Anyway, the Bendisizer recasts any text put into it into Bendis-flavored text. There’s even three settings: Low Bendis, Medium Bendis, and Entirely Verbalized Pauses. I selected the “low” setting because anything greater would result in an incomprehensible review; it promised not to use explicit obscenities. Also, I admit I cleaned up the result since I didn’t have the heart to leave in all the misspellings and grammatical errors that comprises Powers’s writing style.)

So this is the direction they decided to go, huh?



You’d think that — I mean, really, now — you’d think Bendis would be able to figure out a better ending for this storyline. I mean, writer Brian Michael Bendis had — what? — four years to figure out what was going to happen. And artist Michael Avon Oeming can plot, too — he’s not a halfwit with a sharp pen. Well, not just a halfwit with a sharp pen.

Four years. And this is what we get.

For f*#@’s sake.

Powers, v. 12: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time coverPowers, v. 12: The 25 Coolest Dead Superheroes of All Time is disappointing, to say the least. I’ve had trouble keeping interested, with all the, you know, delays. The delays were — let’s be honest: they’re embarrassing for a job that you actually get paid to do. I know, I know, Bendis and Oeming have better things to do, but I’ve been waiting for v. 12 for a while now, and I thought the delays meant Bendis and Oeming were working hard on making a quality product. Instead, Bendis was working hard on his Avengers projects and Bend-overs24 and Oeming’s working on whatever Oeming works on.

But I kid Oeming. I’m sure he wasn’t working on anything.

In short, at the end of Powers, v. 11: Secret Identities, Det. Deena Pilgrim, infected with a virus that gives her powers and apparently some sort of insanity, freaked out and disappeared when she saw her partner, Det. Christian Walker, had been keeping his own powers from her. Rather than see any of the interesting fallout from that development, v. 12 starts eight months later.

Hey, those eight months don’t matter. I’m sure — I mean, who cares? Really.

Walker’s got a new partner, Pilgrim’s unraveling from the effects of the virus, Internal Affairs wants to nail Pilgrim (wherever she is), and the virus is starting to reach critical mass, as the infected are using it as a weapon against underage girls. Walker, saddled with a new partner, investigates, and Pilgrim traces the killers as well as her condition steadily deteriorates. I guess “deteriorates” — she looks like hell. That has to be bad, right?

And, of course, everything comes out OK in the end. Not for — the dead girls, they aren’t OK, but everyone else. Not to burden you with spoilers, but — well, this TPB came out four months ago, and the single issues four months before that. So: Spoilers. Yeah.

Triphammer — remember Triphammer, been seen once since the first TPB? Red armor, pain in the ass? Of course you do, he’s f*#@ing unforgettable — cures the virus, just as it is about to overwhelm everything. Didn’t know Triphammer was a brilliant f*#@ing biologist? Neither did I. Neither did anyone. But that’s OK. You don’t — I mean, who looks a gift cure in the mouth? And Pilgrim, cured, is absolved of all the horrible things she’s done. Just like that. Even gets a $3 million payoff from her employers to go away forever.

And then — big reveal! — her big regret is killing some scumbag years ago. The readers had forgotten. Mostly, yeah, I know you didn’t forget. But did you care? I mean, really? No. We’d all moved on. That was — I mean, look, it was ancient history, and no one cares about ancient history. Ask somebody if they care about Hannibal invading Greece with elephants, and they’ll tell you to go f*#@ yourself. She’s not haunted by killing her ex-boyfriend, because, hey, he was creepy. No loss there. And her brother, the until-now-unmentioned minor superhero? Just a blip on the radar, baby, and then he’s f*#@ing gone. Killing his adversary is a momentary thought. No, shooting someone — someone she killed long ago, and for all we know never crossed her — never even entered her mind since then …

I mean, we’ve never seen the murder affect her. She must have been hiding it well. Some people — you know some people are like stone outside. And inside, when they know readers are looking in their head. They don’t show anything.

Who’s killing the dead girls? Some random people with the virus. Supposedly, they’ll be legally absolved as well, but they ain’t Deena Pilgrim, so f*#@ them. Who cares? Sure, the dead girls — the dead girls are dead, though. They don’t start too many arguments.

As a side issue, no one asked for a sequel to the monkeysex issue from v. 1 of Powers, but we got it anyway, in the reprinted Powers Annual 2008. I mean — don’t get me wrong, your science teachers must be very proud of you and your knowledge of comic-book evolution — but no one liked it as anything more than a joke the first time. We sure as hell didn’t want to see it again.

And the title — cute. Nice joke. Must have knocked them dead on the playground, but this is the big leagues, Bendis. Try something that actually had something to do with the story next time. I mean, I know you’re busy deciding who gets to abuse whatever female reserve Avenger you have “respect” for this month, but see if you can buy an assistant editor to do it for you. They work for sandwiches and comp copies, right?

I admit Oeming’s gotten off lightly on this one. He has — I guess you’d say tics of his own, although I like his style usually. But there’s no — I don’t have much to say about his work this time. Since this will be my last volume of Powers, I have to say I won’t miss his unnecessary double-page spreads. I have a lifetime — I’ve been reading from left to right on a single page my entire life, and when it becomes a guessing game as to whether I should read both pages or just one at a time and I guess wrong, well, I’m not going to blame myself. Half the time it takes me an entire issue to figure out I made a mistake. Of course, if there was any action on the page, it would help me decide, but instead it’s Bendis’s disjointed — OK, punchy dialogue. I think — really, it could be read in any order and come out all right.

I sincerely won’t miss the double-page, 5x7 panel (per page) sex scene. Because — no offense, that’s the least interesting sex scene I’ve ever scene. What’s the purpose? Really? No purpose? It’s not relevant or interesting or sexy — for … Why? Does Oeming have a fetish for miniatures? Is there a minisex Internet community or something?

Goodbye, Powers. I’ve been reading since the beginning, and I’ve excused your foibles. I can’t any more. I’ll miss the three or four issues Bendis and Oeming put out a year. But it’s kinda appropriate: Bendis and Oeming have better things to do, and so do I.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (0.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , ,

02 June 2009

Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand

Collects: Uncanny X-Men #495-9 (2008)

Released: September 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9780785119838

What is this?: The X-Men find their new home city of San Francisco is a bit trippier than they expected.

The culprits: Writer Ed Brubaker and penciler Michael Choi

You might expect the first X-Men volume after Messiah CompleX, which essentially stated things would be different for the X-Men, would seize the new direction and run with it. You would be wrong.

So instead, we get a five-issue stall in Uncanny X-Men: Divided We Stand, in which the X-Men wait for issue #500 in Germany, Russia, San Francisco, and the Savage Land. Oh, Scott Summers tells us things are different, but the San Francisco storyline flashes back to the psychedelic ‘60s and the X-Men fight old villains throughout. And you don’t get much more classic X-Men than the Savage Land, although I’ve never understood the link between mutants, Tarzan knockoffs, and Lost Worlds.29

X-Men: Divided we Stand coverAfter their vacation in the Savage Land, Scott and Emma head to San Francisco, where they find the city (and many of their teammates) are in the midst of a ‘60s flashback. Wolverine, Nightcrawler, and Colossus head to Nightcrawler’s and Colossus’s old European stomping grounds (technically, I believe Colossus is supposed to be from Siberia — Asian Russia — but I don’t think that’s spelled out). There, they run afoul of the Russian government and Omega Red … who I think is the only evil Russian mutant I can remember. It says something — and it isn’t good — that several years after M-Day, writers can still do stories about the obvious consequences of that story that no one else has done; in this case the Russians rightly wonder why the X-Men were relatively unaffected by M-Day but Mother Russia lost all their operatives.

None of it is terribly high-tension or earth-shattering, but not every storyline has to be about the end of the world. Besides, just because Divided We Stand is marking time doesn’t mean it isn’t entertaining. I’ve never seen what others have seen in writer Ed Brubaker — perhaps because I haven’t read his strongest work — but I get a glimpse here. Emma and Scott’s vacation is entertaining, and we finally get a glimpse of why Emma stays with Scott after she’s already cracked his nut. (Metaphorically.) Brubaker also has a good sense of the humorous interplay between Wolverine, Colossus, and Nightcrawler. The dialogue is in character, and although it’s not quite as sharp as, say, Joss Whedon’s best, it’s still very good.

Penciler Mike Choi gets to have the great fun of putting the X-Men into ‘60s fashions — well, it looks like it’s fun. I’m not sure if I like his work; it’s clear and straightforward but a little soft and unassertive in its line. Choi also makes his males a little less rugged than you would expect from a superhero comic, especially Wolverine. (I’m beginning to think any sort of manga-influenced art is a bad idea for Logan, as it makes him look less animalistic and powerful, two of the keystones of his character, and more like a teenage manga character — the weird hair is mandatory for both, though.) Still, as I said, the ‘60s costumes are fun, and there’s nothing wrong with his work: I just find it a little … off.30

Brubaker, through Cyclops, keeps promising things are going to change. I haven’t seen it yet. After the cause of the ‘60s flashback is revealed to be an amnesiac mutant, he even has Emma give a speech calling the middle-aged hippies “pathetic” for using the mutant to “relive [their] glory days.” I think the implications are clear: not only is Brubaker going to change things, but dwelling on those glory days is pathetic. I don’t disagree. The only way to go is forward. I resent having to wait for the next book, but the change is long overdue.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (3.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

01 June 2009

What the Hell, DC?

I got my copy of Batman: Battle for the Cowl #3 in the mail yesterday. (I had subscribed to Batman, which got switched to issues #2 and #3 of Battle for the Cowl — but not #1. Thanks, DC!) Anyway, I noticed that Black Canary appears in one panel in the issue, in a crowd scene but in the foreground.

Writer / artist Tony S. Daniel has made the decision to go for a rare triple on Black Canary: ass shot, torn fishnets on legs that are 150 percent as long as her head and torso combined, and breasts in profile with a hint — the merest hint — of an upturned nipple. As I mentioned, this is Black Canary’s only appearance in the issue.

Comparatively, Daniel played it conservatively with Huntress — she too has her backside to the reader, but she has her hand obscuring her rear. Her legs are as proportionally long as Black Canary’s, but of course she features boots just above the knee rather than fishnets. Still: breast in profile, hint of nipple.

Keep it classy, DC.

Labels: , , , , , ,