Who Is This America Dem Speak of Today?

Yes! It’s Thursday!

This week:

  • Archer & Armstrong #24
  • Armor Hunters #3 [Didn’t arrive at my shop. Expected next week. Bummer.]
  • Captain Marvel (v8) #6
  • Nightcrawler (vIDunno)#5
  • Spider-Man 2099 (v2) #2
  • Unity #10
  • #16

First, the one that, for story reasons, I was most looking forward to (and thus clearing a publisher in one shot!): X #16.

I blasted through 1-15 once I had them all in my possession, and found I really liked Duane Swierczynski’s take on rebooting one of the cornerstone “Dark Horse Heroes”. It was hideously violent at the outset, with X throwing himself so unshakingly into his attempt to clean up the city of Arcadia that he ignored assaults and injuries to enter a safe room and get to the man he was after.

X is a blazing psychopath in most senses, but a driven one. He’s simultaneously an embodiment of all kinds of “badass” and “justice” fantasies that spur on love of The Punisher or Batman (obviously leaning more toward the former), but with no punches pulled on his fragility as a human. He’s a tactician, and a plotter, but he’s not invulnerable or perfect. When the story began to cycle somewhat back on itself, Swierczynski really threw a monkey wrench into it recently with what began to happen to X’s largely unwanted “sidekick” Leigh and X himself. We’ve continued to receive only hints of X’s past, but even those waters are muddied with probable deception–half-truths, untruths, or unpleasant whole truths, we still don’t know.

But even with the savage beating and loss X took at the hands of Deathwish, Gamble, and Carmine Tango, the first appearance of The Archon showed us something entirely different was going on. Hints that perhaps X is “something more than human” are put to the test with Archon, to results I’ve seen a few reviewers find questionable in intent–but I think the object here was to introduce elements, clarify their relation to each other (such as Archon and X), clear up something of what those hints meant, and what X (the book, I mean) is all about. It’s an interesting take on this kind of conflict in terms of how X himself reacts to it, as he pulls out a few tricks in the process–and it’s somewhat reinforced that what he suffered before at the hands of Tango wasn’t in defiance of his character and abilities.

Having Nguyen getting stable on the book again is also a boon–his art is by far the best fit we’ve seen for Swierczynski’s writing, stylistically conveying the grit and unpleasantness, without it becoming so overbearing as to be wearying, much as the plots are not consistently positive or negative in outcome.

Next up, we have the latest issue of Archer & Armstrong, which concludes the “American Wasteland” story started in issue #20.

Sadly, I realized that the amusing album cover parodies for this storyline were not all in my possession–I had no idea where the cover from #21 was from, with good reason: I had the “normal” variant, not the one that parodies Are You Experienced? I do at least have 23’s London Calling and 20’s Hotel California (the most relevant of all, at least!). Apparently some other variants exist, like a second album for #20 (Welcome to My Nightmare) and #22 (Face to Face). The alternate for #23 is this month’s theme like the previous “8-bit” covers: Minecraft. But these are too appropriate to the story not to go with, so those covers looked fun, but this was the right one.

In the continuing adventures of okay-we-can’t-really-jam-Armor-Hunters-in-here-and-that’s-actually-okay, we’ve seen The Lizard King’s strange plot, the presence of endless deceased stars–a tiny bit befuddling after my recent readings of Sensational She-Hulk which has its own star-powered afterlife confusion¹–and gotten some clarity on the Wheel of Aten. However, as we’ve gotten details on what they’ve discovered, we’ve not gotten a clear indicator of what A&A can do about this, especially with the sudden re-appearance of Mary-Maria–but Van Lente does exact a thoroughly satisfying conclusion to the whole arc, and once again manages to tease the future in just the right way for a comic book–satisfied, but eager for what is to come.

Valiant has not, in everything I’ve read of the reboot–which is everything except Shadowman–ever made a mis-step with artist match-ups. It can be disappointing when a regular artist swaps away, or is filled-in-for a couple of times, but it never feels at odds with the writing. And Pere Perez is definitely one of the excellent choices for a book like Archer & Armstrong –just cartoony enough to fit the mildly zany (is that possible? If it is, it’s right here) sense of humour, without losing track of the actual drama and characters underlying it.

Unity #10 is a tie-in for Armor Hunters #3, which means that, like previous ones, it gives the broadstrokes of what occurs in the primary story while allowing those events to be expanded by the character(s) the book title references. This is a minor sadness–I now know something of AH#3 before getting to read it, but that’s a shipping error, not a goof on Valiant’s part, based on the reviews already skipping around–I guess, anyway. Maybe those are advance copies.

Anyway, as the cover strongly implies, this is about Livewire’s interaction with GIN-GR, where Livewire’s ability to communicate with technology allows her to experience the entire life–yep–of the Armor Hunters’ ship/robot/companion/thingamajig. It’s far from the happiest time, and, while we’ve seen a lot of where the Hunters are coming from in their pursuit of X-O armours, there’s a surprising twist on the involvement of the armour in GIN-GR’s life. We follow up this unusual and alien history with Ninjak and Gilad taking down another of the Hunters’ hounds–a nice, solid action sequence to follow a rather sad story. Valiant’s writers and artists continue to make tie-in issues that stand alone but feel like they are exactly what a tie-in to a massive event should be: the peripheral stories of our book’s characters experiencing events too major to be constrained by any of the individual books, but keeping the major beats so that you don’t have to read the primary story to understand what’s going on. Though I guess you do still need to read the rest of the recent arc in-book (or at least the catch-up on the inside cover).

And now–Marvel. This is going to be a bit peculiar, I think. I seem to be very against the grain in a lot of what I’m getting from a lot of Marvel books, unexpectedly positive, unexpectedly negative, which is not a strange thing for me, I guess, but it does seem to happen more often without the perspective of past judgment and history of others built up to inform opinions.

First up, Captain Marvel #6. Kelly Sue DeConnick has been writing Carol Danvers for a good while now–all of her solo books since she became the good Captain (rather than Ms.) and a fair number of other appearances in things like A+X and Avengers Assemble. I quite liked the last volume (7, if we count by title, rather than unique character), which ran for 17 issues and culminated in an event I heard her speak about at a panel two months ago, where she talked about how killing Captain Marvel would be an asinine thing to do, especially as she was, at the time, sitting next to Jim Starlin², and so a different kind of stakes had to be put in place.

The second volume started almost immediately after, and…sort of continued the story. I talk a lot with other comic book people these days, particularly the employees of the shops I frequent, and at least one other reader of this book shared my confusion that we seemed to be following the previous volume, but that this one seems to have managed to gloss over and then completely forget the ultimate event of the prior volume–not pretend it didn’t happen, but resolve it somewhere off-panel, without admitting clearly that it happened, or that it had been resolved. It was very odd, and almost immediately this series took to the stars for what a recent reviewer understandably termed an egregiously forced interaction with the modern Guardians of the Galaxy (Bendis-style, not Valentino for sure, but also not Abnett and Lanning, either). My last conversation had both of us feeling that Cap was about to get really, really interesting in this issue, after a dogged pace for a few books, some steam seemed to have built up.

Now, I write pretty much as I go–which is a flawed approach, but I’m lazy–which means it was hardly planned that I referenced built up steam, but it allows me to mention that unfortunately that steam was, well, a bunch of hot air. Things just kind of deflate in this issue–the pacing and focus feel completely wrong for the stakes and the overarching plot. Things are tied simply and neatly, and so the story ends. Well, okay.

To my confusion, this series remains one of the best reviewed ones Marvel is currently releasing (to my annoyance, this is in contrast to the relatively middling ones New Warriors is getting…) and I honestly have no idea why. My fellow, “Well, okay,” reviewers seem to hit on the same feelings that I had–this seems like a plot just kind of plopped in, with no particular investment in it one way or another. DeConnick definitely builds up some relationships between Carol and the folks she meets on Torfa, but it’s so transient, and yet treated as if it’s a lifelong thing (perhaps that on-ship, memento-type photo of them together at the end was Lopez’s idea, but it didn’t feel very “realistic”, wherever it came from–like a ham-fisted attempt to remind us that, “Yeah! Carol made real friends and relationships here!”). David Lopez’s art is nice in its consistency (versus the randomness and occasionally incongruous images of the previous volume), and I like seeing Carol’s helmeted costume (with the crazy mohawk it propagates, seen on the cover, that seems to echo Kree style), but this is the first book part of me just wants to drop, as I’ve been waiting to see it realize potential and some form from the blocks being placed, but it just isn’t happening.

I’ve always shrugged at the fact that my favourite X-Men have remained painfully obvious for someone who grew up in the 90s–Nightcrawler, Gambit, and Wolverine. It is what it is. It would be amusing to be a rebel who just loves Maggott or something, or who’s just sideways of expectations a little and prefers Storm or Colossus (these would be eminently more understandable than Maggott…). But, nope. Nightcrawler has always been my absolute favourite, so this was actually one of the first new books I started picking up. I wasn’t intending to collect or anything, but when I was looking for variants of the Thanos annual, I saw this series had started and snapped them up: Claremont doing Nightcrawler?! How could I not?

And I’ve honestly not been disappointed. It’s Claremont the way I like to imagine everyone likes him–though, if I’m honest, I actually liked his return to the core books 10 or whatever years ago, though almost no one else seems to–and limited to a single character, which means he can’t do everyone’s least favourite thing and develop something like the Neo again (I never minded them, myself). Kurt is dealing with a world he was taken away from and returned to–his faith, rather than being shaken, is simply informed by this. Dealing with the loss that occurred in previous issues, Kurt is a man who does not let this drag him down to morose grieving, but struggles to be what he can in the life he has (again). Here he’s coming to grips with the idea of being a teacher at the Jean Grey school Wolverine has started, mostly embracing the relationship he has with Rachel “Phoenix” Summers, with whom he once shared membership in Excalibur.

Todd Nauck continues to churn out wonderful art that doesn’t lean too heavily on style, while also being one of the most readily complimented by the modern style of printing and colouring (which Rachelle Rosenberg has done wonderfully with for this series–deep, full hues, that are a complete contrast to the sketchy, light tones she uses on Superior Foes).

I want to call this something like a workhorse book–but that feels inappropriately denigrating. I think, most accurately, Claremont and Nauck are creating a book that doesn’t try to stretch boundaries unnecessarily, that doesn’t hew toward old conventions or new, that just does what it does and does it all right. It’s a character book and an adventure book, and it does both of those things too beautifully to be as dismissed as it seems to be.

Lastly, we have the second entry in Peter David’s return to Miguel O’Hara. I’ve now read the issues of Superior Spider-Man where Miguel was brought into the Earth-616 timeline, which just does a minor bit of gap-filling to explain his presence in modern-day Alchemax and his familiarity with Liz Allan³, though in my ever-neurotic paranoia, I went back to confirm this and found he’s been bouncing around more of later Superior Spider-Man, which means finding those, I guess. Drat.

Anyway, the first issue re-centers the story on Miguel, who has been a supporting character–naturally–in a book that was not named for him in his appearances since his original series was canceled. This one continues to develop the world around him in terms of how a character from 80 years in the future exists in the modern world. His Michael O’Mara (yowza–it’s amusingly close to his real name, which means he should be able to respond to it readily, but it seems like a headache for PAD or anyone writing about the book to get right) identity at Alchemax with Liz is not exactly built on careful planning, in that he comes from a time that doesn’t exist yet, and the appearance of Spider-Man (2099, that is) in a locked down Alchemax has put the employees under scrutiny–and his background (or lack thereof) is not helpful to this.

The defensively abrasive Tempest, who is the superintendent of Miguel’s adopted home building re-appears and continues her amusingly confusing interactions with Miguel, who is still not quite sure how to deal with her moment to moment, but does learns from each failure to adapt to her approach to him. While I’ve talked about the pacing in Captain Marvel and the pacing in Ghost Rider in its current form (let’s be honest: I probably forgive its ludicrous decompression because of Tradd Moore’s beautiful art), PAD, eldest of writers in that group, knows what he’s doing. Some want more to happen, it seems, but he crams dialogue, character, and intrigue (and, last time, time-traveling assassins who totally could’ve been Death’s Head) into pages that don’t have “much” happening. We’re building up the cast and settings of Miguel’s “new” (heh) world and letting Sliney get a feel for how everyone looks and interacts around David’s plotting and scripting. It’s still establishing stuff, but no less interesting for that fact, and should not be taken as too slight a story. I’m very pleased with this one, too.

Today’s title: the title track (well, it’s full title, but the actual name of the track) from Antibalas’s Who Is This America? Delightfully meandering Afrobeat/jazz.

 

¹The best part is the presence of both Bucky and Norman Osborn. Oops!

²Who, of course, wrote Marvel’s first ever original graphic novel, The Death of Captain Marvel, widely regarded in nothing but positive terms.

³Man, how many of us thought it was “Allen”? I’ve read 1,000 and whatever Spider-Man comics and I was sure it was Allen until the past month or so.

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