“YES! I Came Up With That Line!”

Delays, delays–excuses would be mostly that, so I’ll spare you. Light-ish week this week…

  • All-New Ghost Rider #7
  • Armor Hunters #4 (of 4)
  • Harbinger: Omegas #2 (of 3)
  • Magneto #10
  • New Warriors #10
  • X-O Manowar #29

All-New Ghost Rider #7

This book has been peculiar from the outset: wild, inventive Tradd Moore art, with scripting from Felipe Smith that turned a lot of expectations on their ear. Letting Tradd’s art drive (ahem) the book while the pace kept at a very low temperature in some ways, Moore’s exit (probably coincidentally) signalled a departure in plot-speed.

Robbie’s “co-pilot” Eli has been nudging at him for a while now–after last issue’s internal motivation push, Robbie left Eli’s demands for violent, vigilante “justice” alone, feeling that he fulfilled his responsibility with his newfound power quite well by keeping his brother happy and healthy. It was an interesting notion, that made sense in the situation the Reyes brothers are in–no parents, and nothing like an inheritance to keep them going through high school for Robbie and general development for the much younger Gabe.

While Mr. Hyde/Dr. Zabo is serving as Robbie’s core foe, this really isn’t even on his radar. Zabo has refined his for-others Hyde formula and given it to a gang, while his original formula, so very abused in the hands of a gang recently, has fallen, accidentally, to scavenging animals.

This ends up putting an interesting kink in Robbie’s life, as this has nothing to do with what he wants to do with his powers, but through proximity ends up affecting him anyway. Eli is alternately petulant and pushy in the face of Robbie’s sense of responsibility to his brother over all else, but what happens around them serves to affect him as well.

Damian Scott is trying to fill some weighty shoes coming behind Tradd, but his graffiti-inspired style comes into its own for the book here–maybe it’s being given the cover as well this time, but it really works that much more than the previous issue. Shots like a behind-the-wheel view of Robbie preparing to race, or the moment he finally lets Eli cut loose on those animals–a borderless, half-splash, half-organic-panel two-pager–really are something to see (especially with Val Staples’s glow on the Ghost Rider fire, and tag-styled palette), and his characters look like they’d look on a wall from cans, but feel natural in the environment to match.

Another positive example in my long-running crusade for consistent stylized art!

Magneto #10

Yep, I’m caught up. And let me just repeat as I’ve done recently out loud: I can’t not read that as “March to Sixis”. Bad ambigram design. I think a solid bar, or at least a bar only going through that word would’ve worked better. I was having fun trying to figure out why the hell you’d name an event “Sixis”, but now it’s less exciting (if appropriate, considering who’s involved). Oh well.

Severely de-powered, Magneto is righting major wrongs he sees to mutantkind, as a sort of roving, amoral, ultra-violent <i>Kung Fu</i>, but more directed, with specific goals in mind as he wanders about. There’s probably a better television comparison, but his “off-the-radar” stays in cheap hotels and semi-grungy look just give me a more nomad-ish (no, not Nomad-ish) feeling about the book.

Having been readily overpowered by the Red Skull’s (remember how I said “Axis” made sense? Yeah.) S-Men, Erik is bound up to provide for tortures psychological and physical by the Skull, who is imbued with the powers of Charles Xavier, after implanting some of the powerful psychic’s brain into his own. Magneto’s lengthy history with pain means he is largely prepared for this–perhaps more than for almost anything else, he is prepared to deal with pain. But the Skull is a psychopath, and will stop at nothing in his relishing of torture–Bunn even throws in a line about how he hopes to enjoy the tickle of pity from the piece of Charles’s brain as he watches Erik suffer.

Trawling through moments of pleasure to subvert (mostly at the hands of a projection of one of the named Nazis in Erik’s time at Auschwitz, Hitzig) and moments of pain to enhance, the Skull, through “Hitzig”, chips at Erik’s defenses.

Previously alternating artists Javier Fernandez and Gabriel Hernandez Walta are both present for this issue, with the former handling the psychological torture mind-world and the latter handling the real. And I really have to mention: I love Walta’s Red Skull. The “eyes free in eye sockets” and clearly delineated teeth are just creepy and unsettling, without looking the wrong kind of ridiculous. Fernandez’s work is more “free” (Walta’s reminds me of Steve Dillon or Tony Moore in a sense–rigidly consistent, though still stylized, with the semi-static feel of Dillon in particular) and has cleaner, thinner lines, but can vary a lot more wildly. Obviously, that means the split makes a lot of sense.

The choice to very directly address Magneto’s character and motivations in this book was brilliant–the way we look at his responses to given choices and moral decisions is fascinating in its consistency and obeisance to who we’ve known him to be in all ways, but especially in light of everything that has occurred over the years.

New Warriors #10

Sigh. Two issues left.

Largely, this issue is reminiscent of the action-packed issues of the first Evolutionary saga for the book, like issue 4 (interestingly, similar-ish cover designs…) rather than the snappy patter of my favourite-est issues (like the last one).

This isn’t a complaint, and I can only imagine it’s driven by Yost’s attempt to wrap up some of his plots with the limited time left (though this issue was co-written by Erik Burnham for reasons unknown to me). Herbert Edgar Wyndham–oh, yes, the High Evolutionary is back–has failed to abandon his attempts to cleanse humanity of its aberrations (mutants, clones, the mystical and science empowered–you know), as he still fears the return of the Celestials to destroy all human life period.

We get an action-oriented issue that Yost and Burnham prevent from being stuck on any of the Warriors exclusively, giving us nice beats of each and the background sense of accelerated timelines, but not of rushed pacing of the story itself. Marcus To returns to art duty and gives us nice faithful renderings of our core heroes, but my less-preferred variation on Jake Waffles and Mister Whiskers, particularly the former, who has gone from floppy-eared hound (my favourite) under Nick Roche to the perked ears and snarl of a more lupine form. Ah, well.

The story moves quickly, but, as I said, efficiently, and gives us some nice beats from everyone that don’t feel like Saturday Night Live style “remove vacuum packaging to find pristine and identical to previously” type beats, but still very in keeping with the characters, who definitely drive the fun of the book.

Armor Hunters #4 (of 4)

As far as internet-overused words go, “epic” has actually been appropriate for this cross-over. Pretty truly world-spanning (within some kind of reason, anyway), not-so-depressingly brutal and violent in the modern Valiant fashion (not as a comparison to the classic era, but to the modern fetish for constant hopelessness and rug-removal), and with a threat that believably poses a major risk to the world.

Armor Hunters: BloodshotUnity, and Armor Hunters: Harbinger all, to their last relevant issues, tied everything up to initiate this final conclusion. The secondary threats the Hunters spawned were dealt with by Bloodshot, Unity, and Generation Zero, and those interested in protecting the world or team-mates moved onward to face what remained.

Here, Aric is forced to recognize the shift in identity that is precipated by a world-wide threat from outside (who says the original ending of Watchmen doesn’t work?!) and takes an interesting tack in approaching the Hunters, attempting to explain what Livewire has done with the armour and spare the few remaining hunters, who immediately leap to destroy this last armour as their final act. But they are not overly prepared to contend with the Terminator-like unstoppability of Bloodshot, or the inhumanly rapid tactical analysis of Ninjak and must re-group to deal with them.

This miniseries has, somewhat strangely, stolen the focus of X-O’s solo book, and it culminates in this, Aric’s first major involvement in the conflict in some time. Behind the scenes, as grieving King, as planner and schemer, he’s been present, but now he decides to enter the fray for himself.

Robert Venditti and Doug Braithewaite close the story cleanly, in the sense of conclusion–there are loose ends, but we’ve got Armor Hunters: Aftermath to deal with those (though I hope the cover indicates we’re going to look at the world contending with a fallen GIN-GR and obliterated Mexico City, as each of the other books will let us deal with the effects on our protagonists).

X-O Manowar #29

Helpfully, I opened this issue and it said it took place after Armor Hunters #4 (now you don’t even have to open it first!).

The one major entrant left un-dealt with was Malgam, the half-Armour former hunter entrapped by Bloodshot at the end of his own miniseries, but not, it seemed, intended by anyone to be left to rot.

A hand is extended to him, as a cure–the one Livewire devised–is mentioned, but it’s unexpectedly cut short by the ever-lustful hopes of one of the world powers–criminal, governmental, or otherwise–that seeks to hold the power of an X-O Manowar armour for itself.

Venditti lets Aric finally return to his own book to take care of such business, and grapple more with what this solution has cost him, and what it will cost Malgam as well. It’s a fascinating approach, as there’s nothing tricksy–in a deus ex machina sense–but still something clever init. Aric was always nigh-invulnerable in armour, and now that may not be the case, or at least carries some risk to it. It’s a good set-up for exactly what it should do, which is bridging the gap between an event like Armor Hunters and returning to a solo book “status quo”–not to say things are invalidated, but that it’s not going to have quite the sprawl necessitated by inherently involving everyone else (in the world).

Harbinger: Omegas #2 (of 3)

It’s weird, in some ways, that Peter Stancheck and Toyo Harada weren’t involved in Armor Hunters, but it also would’ve made things very odd, considering their levels of power. Of course, Peter has abandoned everyone and everything to seek isolation in almost all ways possible, while Harada’s balance of megalomania and fascistic interest in world peace continues to butt up against itself. So, maybe it makes sense that these two troubled (and probably traumatized or otherwise damaged) narcissists didn’t.

Anyway: the world takes on an interesting feel when Harada reveals himself and instates his unstoppable nation, working through every method they can think of to find the one being powerful enough to act upon Harada–Peter. Peter’s incessant use of his mental powers to blot out his appearance from everyone around him is circumvented by technology in increasingly clever ways, forcing him out of hiding in a sense, but never in a way he feels unable to contend with.

Dysart continues to find interesting things to do with these characters–Harada’s investment in the world, necessitated by his threats, means that he acts far more than Peter, who spends most of his time dodging anyone and everyone. This is a very new feel for Harada, whose initial cracks in character were, however hesitantly and haphazardly, previously sewn up urgently, whether by P.R. and psychic manipulation, or the unwavering faith of many of his adherents. To have it in the open is rife with possibilities–that his internal motivations (the same ends, with the same questionable means) remain unchanged keeps him thoroughly interesting. I’m glad to have this holdover as we wait for the core book to return in some fashion.

This week’s title: it’s from New Warriors #10. Are you really surprised?

“Damn. Why didn’t I respond like that?”

Wednesday this week left me bouncing between the two local shops and spending entirely too long hanging out to get back in time to read or write here. With, unfortunately, encouragement to explore the upcoming/starting event Spider-Verse. Well, I did read when I got back, then immediately passed out. So, here we are!

  • All-New X-Factor #14
  • Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #3 (of 3)
  • Daredevil #8
  • The Delinquents #2 (of 4)
  • Edge of Spider-Verse #2
  • Elektra #6
  • Superior Spider-Man #33
  • Translucid #6 (of 6)
  • Unity #11

NOTE: Elektra #6 is part of my “I’m not yet caught up” trend. So, I didn’t read it. So, no review.

The Superior Spider-Man #33

Let’s get this out of the way: my known distaste for Humberto Ramos means I’ve not been reading much Spider-Man, despite his being, otherwise, my most-read Marvel character without question or hesitation. It also means that The Superior Spider-Man, in particular, stayed off my radar through some kind of fancy filtering. Yeah, some other folks were in there, like Camuncoli (who penciled this one), but I’m usually disinclined to pick up a series piecemeal.

The one exception I made was for the Stegman-penciled 17-19, which brought back Miguel O’Hara (that is, Spider-Man 2099) into Earth-616 for his solo series, and I figured, for the last two issues of the series “ever” (we’ll see about that, of course), I could deal for both a cross-over idea I like and the fact that I wouldn’t have to cautiously watch it to see about dropping it if Ramos returned (thus losing plot threads and so on)¹.

My affection for, especially, some of the more “off-brand” Spideys (Ben Reilly, Kaine Parker, the aforementioned O’Hara), meant the storyline would be intriguing. This pair of issues (that is, including the preceding #32) are set to introduce why and how all these Spider-People are gathering. Conveniently, the events take place in a temporal pocket that was acknowledged in–hey! Superior #17-19. Nice!

So: #32 got Otto-Peter (Superior) to recognize the threat posed by this hunter Karn, who is pursuing Spider-Folk through the multiverse. He began to gather others in light of this, as they were the only prey in any given reality that Karn was interested in–so if Karn came after him, they would be centralized enough to provide a snowballing threat. #33 takes him up from here and introduces more Spider-Folk, as well as dropping some in who are appearing in other ways (such as via Edge of Spider-Verse, the second issue of which is reviewed below, and the first issue of which introduced Earth-90214’s “Noir” version). In his immeasurable arrogance, Otto assumes he has the means of controlling Karn, and finds that Karn is, as he suspected, but one of many–and that this threat may be one that only he and a few of the other Spider-Folk are willing to treat “appropriately” (ie, with fatal methodologies).

Christos Gage and Dan Slott give us a variety of voices for all of our Spider-___s, though most of them are largely (as would be expected) mild variations on Peter Parker’s voice. Giuseppe Camuncoli is an excellent choice for these stories–his pencils with John Dell’s inks keep a slew of characters who, inevitably, look somewhat similar from being in any way hard to tell apart. Even amassed, it’s pretty simple to distinguish the six-armed Spider-Man’s body parts in a panel from a cyborg whose metal portions are not always on display, or Spider-Monkey, or Spider-Man: India, all of whom have limited visible differences from the waste up, colour-wise. Antonio Fabela’s colours, too, assist in this, acting as only mild variations that keep characters separate without being so glaring as to feel forced.

There’s a back-up feature, also by Gage (this time solo on script) with art by M.A. Sepulveda, with Richard Isanove on colours, that doesn’t do what I’ve often found awful with back-ups–let the first one down. Maintaining the writer helps, but having a good art team really makes a difference. The focus, tone, and style (mostly thanks to Sepulveda and Isanove) shift entirely to Karn and his family of hunters² as they pursue the more outlandish of Spider-Folk–the Master Weaver of Universe-000 (!) and self-described “God” Ai Apaec that helps to explain the in-Victorian-theme-but-otherwise-weird diving helmet of Karn, while also developing something of his character in the process.

Having these two stories together does manage to justify the bumped cover price, I think–so long as you accept the current-standard pricing in general.

Edge of Spider-Verse #2 (of 5): Gwen Stacy, Spider-Woman

On Earth-We-Actually-Don’t-Know,-It-Seems, the radioactive spider bit Gwendolyne Stacy, not Peter Parker, and it set off an entirely different, yet strangely familiar story: Peter Parker’s reputation as “pathetic [instead of ‘puny’] Parker” turns him, in absence of accident, to deliberate manipulation of himself, a death that inspires the heroics of Spider-Woman (who also started in entertainment, using her powers for drum-playing gimmicks) also launches JJJ’s crusade against her, and Captain Stacy (!), too, questions this vigilante.

We’ve got a pretty great two-page rundown of most of these events characterized as “Previously in Spider-Woman…” while Gwen is processing them in Spider-Person standard fashion (and her luck is about on par with “The Old Parker Luck”), having a gig with her (well, not her, pretty clearly) band the Maryjanes, the police on her tail after the aforementioned death, her own father unwittingly pursuing her, and the Kingpin sending the Rhino after that same father in a misguided attempt to curry favour with her.

This story actually doesn’t do much at all to tie in to Spider-Verse yet–but that’s fair. Even the first issue, which covered 90214’s “Noir” Spidey had the previous Noir to function as world-building and set-up for that version of Peter, where this Gwen has never even been seen. We get a single panel to remind us, at the very end, of where this is all going, but prior to that–well, we’re getting lots of nudges toward the proposed/hoped for/what have you Spider-Gwen solo book.

Jason Latour manages to work some nice details in on Gwen’s approach to life, motivation, dreams, and superheroics–tying the last to her first love (music!) in a nice way, even. Our new versions of her father (especially) and even Betty, Glory, and Mary-Jane also get some little bits of fleshing out, with a plot that manages to short-hand a lot of the differences in this universe from everything we’re used to.

Robbi Rodriguez, however, suffers from the kind of stylized art that I continue feel utterly inappropriate for superhero book. Or maybe it’s just Big Two books. Or something–I don’t know. Putty faces (which have always bothered me, considering my distastes for Ramos, McFarlane, even JoeMad) are matched with the sketchiness that I think did dis-service to a few issues of Captain Marvel and She-Hulk (is there some idea that this style is suited to female protagonists or something?), especially as Rodriguez’s inks just reinforce that sketchy feeling. Gwen’s own face is wildly inconistent–from the cover to the first page, she looks like an entirely different person. Her father’s face sometimes middle-aged, but by the end looks like it’s melting. Weirdly cartoon-y giant foreheads appear and disappear, without rhyme or reason, sometimes seeming to stem from strange perspective choices, sometimes just “because” (Matt Murdock suffers this pretty strongly).

The negative-space-based design for her costume is really cool, with its inversion of the red-with-webs standard as highlights and liner only, but I think that serves to highlight the thing that redeems most of the art: Rico Renzi’s colours and Clayton Cowles’s barely-controlled lettering. Renzi douses the book in loads of psychedelic colour that resembles the approach Adam Metcalfe took with Translucid’s psychedelic hallucinatory moments, without quite the madness that was appropriate there. The texturing “effect” on Rhino is pretty great, too, with bluish splatters across his otherwise grey skin to imply that texture. Cowles’s lettering is wild and primal, which helps to really sell the feel of the book where it appears–even “Previously in Spider-Woman…” is slapdash paint-strokes! I’m vaguely wary of where to associate some of it, the way that the lyrics to the song we assume is called “Face It Tiger” are incorporated into the art really sells the tone and makes that song and the idea of the band work

While I’m completely down for seeing Gwen’s adventures continue, I cannot let the moment pass without mentioning that a band called Married with Sea Monsters recorded what they thought “Face It Tiger” would sound like, and holy crap, I think they nailed the hell out of it, down to the punk-ish tone I read immediately, “MJ’s” riotgrrl-y vocals and Gwen’s power-thump of drums. License this shit, Marvel. Do it now.

All-New X-Factor #14

One day, I’d like to escape my self-destructive habit of reading stupid reviews, but that hasn’t happened yet, so a brief aside: last issue, we pursued the story of Pietro Maximoff’s reunion with his daughter Luna (and his public admission of his crimes) after it was opened the issue before. Someone said it was treading water, someone else dumped on the book over art and ignored everything else. This is bad. This is very bad. Don’t do these things. If you’re reading a PAD book and you think an issue that’s exploring the character-effects of actions is boring repetition, you’re probably reading the wrong author.

Anyway, Peter decides to continue his focused approach from those issues, moving on from Pietro, but not leaving the Lensherr lineage in the process: Wanda Maximoff appears before Lorna Dane, and, after a bit of hissing over her monstrous actions, Wanda admits that she’s just there to attempt to be family to her half-sister, as the two of them have never done so, and Wanda has failed to even do anything non-work with Pietro, either. It’s all an interruption of Danger’s continued forays into segments of the human experience that she is now looking to Lorna for information on–making for the most ready need for exit Lorna could have.

Pop Mhan continues the Di Giandomenico-aping from last issue and does quite well at keeping the art largely clean and restrained to emphasize the character-based storytelling. Lorna gets to be in the interesting position of “most normal person” when Wanda’s limited socializing and Danger’s thoroughly non-human approach to the world collide at…a RenFaire? Well, why not? Lorna wants a way out of all of this (while still giving it a shot), Wanda has no idea bout anything, and Danger is, well, Danger.

Mined for some great exchanges, and Wanda’s first real exposure to alcohol, David works in a quick subplot about some of the acting staff at the RenFaire, and gives our book’s protagonists something to deal with in an action sense alongside everything else–an action they even acknowledge when they take care of the situation and remark upon their rotten “trouble magnet” luck. And then David sucker-punches us, in ways I’m not going to describe other than–oh dear, do I want issue 15 now.

Daredevil #8

Mark Waid dealt pretty quickly (and wonderfully, let me repeat) with the Original Sin tie-ins for Matt, and we’re on to a new story that I’d already forgotten the core of for some reason, and didn’t even manage to recall on seeing the cover.

If you’re not feeling as thick as me–yes! It’s the Purple Man. Always a peculiar villain–he’s purple and has a stupid name, but can be and has been used for some pretty interesting stories in light of his powers, which somehow imbues his stupid name with, instead, a kind of brilliant simplicity–he controls (ahem) much of this issue.

Matt and (legal and romantic) partner Kristen McDuffie take some time to broaden Matt’s sensory base (“What if someday, as Daredevil, you’re overrun by either sea lions or seals? Your life may depend on knowing which is which.”⁴) when a discussion about an out-of-the-blue phone call from her father leads them to a trip to visit him on his boat. Meanwhile the Purple Man is using his powers of persuasive control of others to assemble and purple-ize children who join that self-same recruitment effort, his reasons for which are quickly made clear.

The best thing about the way Waid deals with these characters is the way they are explored without worrying incessantly about “expansion”. Chris Samnee’s illustrations of Matt Murdock’s perceptions (reminiscent of the transformative–*cough*–effects of Unicron upon Megatron and his fellow wounded cronies in Transformers: The Movie) even assist in this feeling. We’ve got another voice looking into Matt’s powers, finding them fascinating–unusual, he notes, for the people in his life–while we also look into what life is like for the Purple Man, neither of which feels like a seismic shift so much as a revelation of what was already there (see also: Peter David). While it is largely a set-up for what will occur with the Purple People (note: Waid, do not use this terminology), the personal-life events for Matt make the issue itself very worthwhile–nevermind the delving into the Purple Man’s motivations and character.

I will say that Matthew Wilson’s initial colouring approach came off really confusing. In light of forgetting that I’d been told (in advance, by some preview or other–maybe even the last issue) that this would deal with the Purple Man, the night-time setting left me completely unaware of the purple skin present. Came off as rather day-for-night–so I got the overall idea of what was happening thanks to everyone else, but I didn’t realize at all it was the Purple Man until later, in different lighting.

Translucid #6 (of 6)

And so, we reach the end of what has been a stellar miniseries.

The Horse has captured The Navigator for his own purposes, to understand, fully, what it is that has caused the Navigator to sag in his heroics. Having walked “with” him through his origin, the Horse feels a greater understanding for who and what the Navigator is, and what he will do with this information.

I don’t know how to talk about this issue, to be honest. It’s a conclusion I’m not sure I expected on any level. I felt my jaw actually drop, because I was legitimately surprised at where it went. Claudio, Chondra, Bayliss, and Metcalfe didn’t do anything to let down the previous five issues, with the wonderfully mysterious and uncomfortably appealing Horse so forcefully taking center stage in the real and present world, with the Navigator left primarily to exist and drive the book in hallucination and flashback as things stand.

If you’ve been sleeping on this, make sure to change that up when it’s collected, if nothing else. This stuff is really good.

Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #3 (of 3)

And so, we see the conclusion of another Valiant Armor Hunters mini.

Having defeated the hunter Lilt, Bloodshot is left only to deal with the savage half-hunter/half-armour Malgam, with the recouped forces of Livewire and M.E.R.O. supporting him. Any shifting tides related to this incursion outside this locale are not relevant–this is mano-e-mano in the loosest of terms (since neither of them is even “man” in a nice generalized sense, between the nanites and the X-O).

Despite the cover, GIN-GR is not really involved in any capacity.

Joe Harris did not, I think, quite capture the heights of Swierczynski, Gage, Dysart, or the other writers who’ve helmed Bloodshot as a solo book–the mystery man himself doesn’t really even seem to recognize his existing depths, let alone expand upon them. It’s a pure action book, to be sure, and the events certainly preclude his search for identity, or acting on anything other than the immediate, but it rings pretty hollow as a result of all of this, alas.

Trevor Hairsine’s art is not necessarily a saving grace, but does keep a momentum-based, action-oriented book from faltering too much. Still, the flashbacks continue to seem largely irrelevant, even as we’ve now closed this entire chapter–or, if not irrelevant, certainly unnecessary. In a universe as largely “flawless” (within reason, that is) as modern Valiant’s, this is the first book I might hesitantly call disappointing.

The Delinquents #2 (of 4)

The first chapter of The Delinquents mostly placed the pieces in places: Mondostano as the not-so-subtle villainous corporation which hires Quantum and Woody, and Aram and Archer as crusading (in the Indiana Jones sense) for the same goal.

Asmus still has clear control over the book’s script (again, he and Van Lente plot, but Asmus scripts) as it deals far more in the kind of humour Quantum and Woody deal in, than the kind that Van Lente uses with Archer & Armstrong. This isn’t a complaint, and neither Aram nor Archer suffers for it, to be sure.

The cover, at first, made me a bit sad–where is Goat, after all? But the book resolved this with a number of great “silent” goat-gags, enhanced by the addition of a ridiculous children’s typing toy that lets us in on their father’s identity being trapped in the goat, but with the silly shorthand typing that keeps it nice and ridiculously goat-y.

What really sells this, though, is exactly what the first cover promised: the strange bonding of these two teams as they really and finally meet up. What was surprising was the way that the writers ended up “pairing them off”–it’s not like that first cover. The obvious Woody and Aram pairing was lost to Woody and Archer’s non-invulnerable status leaving them more cautious and thus able to hash a few things out–and lord knows, as much as Woody would love someone as hedonistic, the chance to corrupt the willing brings out the best/worst in him.

Unity #11

A clever cover all around (conveying the size of GIN-GR, while also managing to imply the issue number a second time) is, alas, also not exactly appropriate. Unity has firmly dealt with the hounds, but the felled GIN-GR has released mechanical “spores”. There’s a bit of confusion about Livewire’s concurrent roles in the two books this week (I didn’t stop and try to really break it down, though, it just felt odd), but we’re really dealing most with Ninjak and Gilad this time.

We get a nice insight into what makes Ninjak unique as the operative that he is, with a cool bit of hand-waving “meditation” bollocks that slides right into that “acceptable suspension of disbelief” slot and explains why he’s just such a BAMF.

Kindt gets to give us a nice bit of interplay in the pairing we’ve seen for the last few issues of Ninjak and Gilad, with Ninjak’s very solitary nature running up against the team-based reasons for the book and its name, as well as his own militaristic background as the “Eternal Warrior”.

I always feel like, unless it’s unexpectedly not-great, commenting on the pencils in a modern Valiant book is just silly–Segovia, as with most of their artists, is good at both interesting images and the storytelling aspect necessary in comic book penciling, and I just can’t find myself asking for more than that in this universe.

Today’s title’s from All-New X-Factor. Lorna finds her conversational tact shown-up unexpectedly.

¹If it’s not coming through, even ads for Ramos’s work send me into fits of infuriated rage, I loathe his pencils so very much. I’d rather they not, but they do. It mostly makes me angry because I’d rather be reading Spider-Man, but I hate the art so much it would be distracting (as it has been any time I look at his stuff, covers or interiors) and just gross to look at, but that’s a reminder that it wouldn’t work out, and that I lost the chance to read those stories with at least art I don’t mind. Irrational? Sure. Whatever. It’s a sincere reaction. I really, really don’t like his work and wish he could magically stick to books I don’t read so that he’d still get work and his fans could still pick his stuff up, but it wouldn’t interfere with my reading. Selfish? Obviously. But it’s not like I’m campaigning for it, here. Let me have my silly fantasy world.

²His family includes the otherwise more famous Morlun, who apparently returned after JMS’s run on ASM a decade ago that I read and liked, but most people hated for turning mystical–more fuel for the “there are no bad characters” fire, I guess–that or a bunch of angry readers are out there right now.

³It immediately reminded me of Morbius, the Living Vampire #6, and the band that the Basilisk and Morbius crash in on, which I’ve always liked (even if Len’s lyrics were a bit iffy on the meter-side).

⁴One can only hope this is foreshadowing.

The Crazies (1973)

Of George A. Romero’s 16-feature-length filmography, I’ve seen 14 of them and own just as many¹. By 2007, I owned most of those–the exceptions are the then-unreleased (at all!) Diary of the Dead and The Dark Half (thanks, largely, to my overall disinterest in Stephen King). Day of the Dead (in Anchor Bay’s 2-disc “Divimax” format) was one of the first 25 or so DVDs I owned. So, as directors go, Romero’s been more “complete” in my viewings than just about any other–discounting, of course, those with much, much shorter filmographies.

I watched The Crazies many years ago for the first time–something like a decade ago, with my friend John (he rates Martin as his favourite Romero movie), with whom I shared the moniker “Zombie Boys” in college thanks to our habit of watching zombie movies in the shared lobby/large-screen TV there. This stemmed, despite our mutual friends who were also thrown under the umbrella, from our shared habit of zombie-watching, as we passed the movies back and forth, which we continue to do to this day–but, for instance, he was the one to encourage me to watch Return of the Living Dead (fitting, considering his then-stronger punk background).

David (Will McMillan) and Judy (Lane Caroll) are a volunteer fireman and small-town nurse respectively, called out from bed for their respective duties over a house fire in the small town of Evans City, PA. David for obvious reasons, and Judy to assist local doctor Brookmyre (Will Disney) with the small children who are the only survivors. David meets up with coworker and friend Clank (Harold Wayne Jones) to learn that the raving man in the backseat of a police vehicle is the father of those children, murderer of their mother, and arsonist behind his own house’s destruction. Judy gets a closer look at the gathering mass of bureaucracy that surrounds these events, with Brookmyre attempting to shuttle her off in pregnancy before the military, led at first by Major Ryder (Harry Spillman) and later Colonel Peckem (Lloyd Hollar), comes to quarantine the entire town. It seems a plane crash released an experimental vaccine, which has sent one of its developers, Dr. Watts (Richard France) into town to assist, as David and Judy attempt to escape with Clank and fellow confused townsfolk Artie (Richard Liberty) and Kathy (Lynn Lowry).

Whew, bit of a mouthful as a synopsis, but that’s because this is, in some ways, a complete distillation of the essence of Romero’s movie-making: as with his Dead films, the virus, “Trixie” is catalyst, rather than core of the story. The science is “fast and loose” as he himself says, because it isn’t the point. We follow Ryder and Peckem with their attempts to control a situation they are wholly unprepared for, with information withheld both by and from them, leading to uneasy troops, bewildered townsfolk, and angry town officials. David, Judy, Clank, Artie, and Kathy all try to make their way between the military and everyone else on the backs of David and Clank’s military experience. Dr. Watts is infuriated by the incompetency of his directives, which remove him from his most useful position (at “home” with his existing data) and tie his hands repeatedly on the grounds of ill-prepared labs and equipment. A cadre of top officials bounces around ideas for containing the situation as both outbreak and news, while displaying a whole spectrum of empathy from pragmatic absence to heartfelt incredulity.

The titular “crazies” would be those who suffer one of the outcomes of “Trixie”: complete madness. In light of a previously-thought-casual operation and the failure to bring it up to speed when opinions of it changed, there’s no way to confirm the infected until symptoms manifest, in any variety of ways–from homicidal moodswings, to curious choices regarding cleanliness, to enthusiastic and gregarious welcomes to strangers.

This is everything that Night of the Living DeadDawn of the Dead, and Day of the Dead are about concentrated into one place, in a sense. It’s not really even an outbreak movie–more time is spent considering how the townsfolk with no explanations of what is occurring, or on the failures of the attempts to contain it competently, than is spent on the idea of infection, disease, or the risks of either. It’s a way to manifest the responses of the ordinary, the middle-men officials, the impotent local officials, and the “Grand Picture” bigwigs to such an event. If it’s not a curious, conceptual MacGuffin, it’s pretty dang close (the madness and infection vectors are kind of necessary to the plot, though–it wouldn’t work with, say, an earthquake or other natural disaster type event, even though they could be similarly used to explore many of the responses).

France gets to really push out his later–yes, that’s temporally backward, sue me–“DUMMIES! DUMMIES!” TV-scientist from Dawn of the Dead, as the perpetually beleaguered Watts, who is rounded up and forced into town against his wishes, even as they coincide in intent with the action to send him there. He has no patience for the military’s bungling of everything, but still does what he can to work around it. Plenty of our core cast (some of whom continued regularly acting, others drifting away as time went on) gets to work around the prospect of a creeping madness that is not always readily identifiable until it begins crossing unexpected lines of violence.

George, particularly as editor, gets to work in some unusual choices, despite his usually-straightforward (especially at that time) approach to film-making. He attempts to work out some musically-oriented cuts, and some really interesting stock-footage edit assemblies surrounding the early plans to plan for nuking (!) the town. There are moments that come back to relate to later work, too–a shoot-out that comes out much like Dawn of the Dead opener with Roger and Peter’s SWAT team, future Day of the Dead star(ish) Liberty gets work on a really uncomfortable character (which I guess is not a change from Logan/”Frankenstein”, to be fair…).

I have occasionally marked this as my possible favourite Romero flick–because of the way that it works all of his ideas into one place, and has his naturalistic approach to acting, that has a different feel than a lot of other film-makers. A weird kind of feel, that is part of why I initially found the sudden tonal shift in Dawn of the Dead really disturbing, the way it involved me more completely with its characters than many movies would. In retrospect, I’m not sure this is my favourite–Romero himself admits there are some serious issues with elements that aren’t just about the limited ($270k) budget, like the ADR they did for the military themselves afterward, and a lot of the sound-mixing in general. I did also fail to recall that there was indeed a scene of sexual violence (muddled that much more by the illness-induced madness of the people in it), but it avoids exploitative gratuity and serves as uncomfortably clear exploration of the corners of the madness the disease unleashes.

What forever stuck with me–past anything else–was the ending. What about it, I naturally shan’t say. But some images stuck for the past decade, and formed the basis of my probable selection of this one. It’s not for folks who can’t deal with low budget effects, or Altman-style dialogue (ie, overlapping conversations), but the actors and Romero’s script still really sell the ideas and achieve very much exactly what they clearly intend with regards to the inefficiencies and bureaucratic nonsense most probable to exacerbate a major issue like this, despite intentions and expertise.

¹Exceptions: I’ve not seen The Dark Half and Monkey Shines, but own the former and have seen Survival of the Dead.

Ghost Dog: The Way of the Samurai (1999)

“…’Night Nurse’? You read that?”
“Nope. I just like the cover.”

On the face of it, and from the title, it’s hard to figure out whether to be excited or horrified by a movie like Ghost Dog. It’s Jim Jarmusch, which means any number of things, and it’s Forest Whitaker, which means a number of different things, and a soundtrack by The RZA just means a whole other slew of things. Ostensibly, it’s a collision of hip-hop and samurai (so, you know, the RZA, at least, makes sense, after a fashion) or organized crime and samurai, or some mish-mash of all three.

Ghost Dog (Forest Whitaker) is a hitman who works under the direction of mob-man Louie (John Tormey), and has been tasked with whacking Handsome Frank (Richard Portnow) for spending a little too much alone time with Louise Vago (Tricia Vessey), the daughter of boss Ray Vago (Henry Silva). When the hit goes, well, absolutely right, but includes the unexpected factor of a not “on the bus” Louise, Vago calls Louie in and tells him they are now going to need to take down his mysterious hit man. What follows is a hitman devoted to the code of the samurai, as espoused in Hagakure, clashing with the aging mobsters who once functioned as his employers–and, within that, the exploration of the limited social life Ghost Dog has allowed himself with the French-speaking-only, ice cream vendor Raymond (Isaach de Bankolé) and the curious girl Pearline (Camille Winbush), to whom he lends the copy of Rashomon (the collection of stories, not the Kurosawa flick) he gained from Louise.

I feel like you cannot do anything to imagine this would be anything but an incredibly odd movie. If you know Jim Jarmusch’s ouevre, it should be even less surprising, I should think. That it is indeed  “Jim Jarmusch movie” (as opposed to one he simply directed functionally) is quite clear early on. Long, quiet pauses, especially some that turn to slow fades to black. The sense of humour that permeates the movie–such as Ghost Dog’s knowingly redundant dialogue with Ray that neither of them understands, or the hilariously doofy mobsters–is also pretty familar.

Jarmusch never lets the humour dominate or control the movie, though. We have Whitaker’s performance, which is as excellent as always for that man. In the midst of his work, he is knowingly and intentionally cold and deadened, while his interactions with Ray and Pearline give way to some softening. Even the dog he looks at as he first meets Pearline (which stares, too, at him) gives the hint of an upward tic to his mouth. He’s clearly a lover of animals, as is emphasized throughout. Tormey is thoroughly endearing as Ghost Dog’s “master” who is caught up in his role as mobster.

RZA’s score is heavy on 808 boom-bap-based beats, very clean and straightforward (and encouraging me strongly to pursue the soundtrack), with intermittent appearances from non-instrumental rap tracks (most amusingly via Cliff Gorman as Sonny Valerio, fan of Public Enemy) and a particularly noticeable free jazz track that Ghost Dog plays in another stolen car from Andrew Cyrille and Jimmy Lyons, his second genre deviation after a previous car trip includes the dub-y Willi Williams track “Armagideon Time”.

The mobsters in particular end up amusing in a sad way–Vago and his men (especially the hard-of-hearing “Aging Consigliere” played by Gene Ruffini) are nowhere near the top of their game. They are clumsy, poor, inefficient, and oriented around brute force, in contrast to Ghost Dog’s lithe, professional, and expert movements. Louie struggles in the middle of this, first resisting the intentions of the largely silent Vago (and the greatly ridiculous Ruffini’s interjections) out of respect for the loyalty Ghost Dog has shown him, and the threat his skills imply.

But this is very much a part of the film medium specifically. Outside the trademark relaxed transitions of Jarmusch, there are numerous interesting choices visually, like the early matching of “swords and arrows” to Ghost Dog’s silenced pistols and machete. When Ghost Dog finds himself unexpectedly confronted with Louise, he backs away slowly and the camera slides sideways around a corner to mimic his cautious exit. The music is matched brilliantly to the movie, with the street swagger of Ghost Dog (who also has the respect of gangs, as seen in a brief cameo from Jamie Hector–later Marlo Stanfield in The Wire), or his spiritually intense meditation and physical practice of swordplay and martial arts on a roof-top. This isn’t surprising for a man like Jarmusch–even setting aside the play of music in his movies (and that would be pretty criminal, but for the sake of argument), his selection of figures for Coffee and Cigarettes should give it away. Tom Waits, Iggy Pop, Jack and Meg White, oh, right–and the RZA and GZA–only a few years later.

I have vague notions of either really enthusiastic or really disparaging comments about this movie crossing my path at some point–I honestly can’t remember which, and don’t much care at this point. I wouldn’t be surprised that someone would dislike such an odd movie on the face of it, or out of failure to catch the weird humour Jarmusch inserted, but it’s worth the attention for sure. It matches, somehow, a mob movie, a hip-hop movie, and a samurai movie into a weird mixture that functions perfectly despite the weird interplay of these three odd things to combine. If you dig Jarmusch and haven’t seen it yet–change that. If you’re willing to give things a go, especially if you like odd things, then do so. It’s worth it.

Also: it was a surreal moment when I remember where it was I knew Henry Silva’s face from. It was Alligator, of course, which is almost referenced here, with his attempt to seduce Marisa with his gator mating calls.

“Don’t Worry…I’ll Let the Others Know You Still Hate Us.”

And so it’s Wednesday Thursday, again!

I think the weeks will all be heavy going forward, but I could be wrong. Last week, this week, next week–all of ’em are, so, I’m not sure I am wrong.

In any case:

  • Archer & Armstrong #24
  • Armor Hunters: Harbinger #3 (of 3)
  • Captain Marvel #7
  • Hawkeye #20
  • Magneto #9
  • New Warriors #9
  • Nightcrawler #6
  • X #17

Magneto currently joins the group known as “Shit, I don’t have issue #3 yet…” so I shan’t comment, as I stopped at issue #2 for now.

Captain Marvel #7

Well, I meandered off to one of the places I pick up reviews and I think I found the perfect encapsulation: “Pick this one up, no question, and prepare for what I can almost guarantee will be a killer issue next month in the follow-up to this story.”

Sounds great, right?

Well, break that down, and you might see the problem. This, like almost all issues of this book so far, is really slight. It mostly serves to set things up. It doesn’t do an awful lot in and of itself (some fun with Rocket and his suspicion of Carol’s cat Chewie, a tiny bit of development with Tic regarding her stowing away) and just looks toward the next issue with a feeling of, “Man, I want to read that story!” Which, I’ve got to be honest, is a really, really bad way to write comic books. Maybe it’s all of those Jim Shooter articles about making sure anyone can pick up a single issue and know what’s happening (which, admittedly, most publishers deal with via text encapsulations of “The Story So Far…”)–I don’t know. I read an interview with Simonson on the way “in” to my new books, and he mentioned the seismic shift in approach from that to “Write a 5-6 issue arc to be collected.” Thing is, this is a lot like serial television–you should still be making the separate units it’s released in functional. I’ll certainly allow a bit of stretch while you set things up in the first place if you’re aiming for heavily serial storytelling, but there has to be some satisfaction within each.

So far, every issue of this volume has felt very light–I’ve no idea why it’s getting so well-reviewed. I still feel like I’m waiting for the story from the first six issues to really kick into gear–and the story is resolutely concluded. I’m inevitably hesitant to drop a book, but if I do, it’s going to be this one. Disappointing.

Marcio Takara’s art isn’t–I always felt he was a weird fit for Incorruptible, just when set next to Irredeemable. Carol’s been through a wide swathe of styles so far, but Takara’s definitely not one of the offensively inappropriate ones, and indeed works pretty well. Just wish he had a more interesting story–next month, perhaps. Sigh.

Hawkeye #20

One issue from the end, and we have the end of Kate Bishop’s “Summer Vacation” away from Hawkguy. Things are a light-hearted noir dead-end right now: Kate’s up against it over Harold’s death (from an arrow remarkably like her own), her friends’ trailer being torched, and continuing to be destitute. And Madam Masque, forever angry after that one time, is very interested in maintaining this dismal status quo for Kate.

While the Hawkguy issues have been strongly oriented around the more experimental story-telling choices (hey, try last issue), Kate’s have been solidly straightforward stories, though not without their quirks (the last page is a pair to the first page here).

Interestingly, this might be the opposite problem from Captain Marvel within the same modern comic framework: good lord, did I not remember everything that was going on. I tried to let sparks of memory light up as I went along, but it was just not working. Names and faces and reactions to them were fresh for characters, but fuzzy bits to me. Of course, at least a chunk of this comes down to the miserable release schedule for this book–bad enough that Kate and Clint are trading off issue-to-issue, worse when it’s not on-time monthly.

Still, once everything fell into place (which unfortunately took a re-read–this did, incidentally, highlight something of the problem with the amusing “The Story So Far…” synopses in this book, that tend to be delightfully snarky instead of useful) this was a pretty solid end to Kate’s trip to L.A., while setting up the next (last!) issue pretty cleanly. Aja puts a wonderful signature on the story, with his scratchy but detailed work fitting perfectly that “light-hearted noir” feel I mentioned–everyone’s especially expressive (not quite in the Maguire-style of disturbingly perfect expressions, but still on it), and that’s certainly important for this story, which has a lot of realization of that noir-esque feel, with Kate realizing just how outside her understanding a lot of this was.

I probably should have re-read the (pre-)preceding issue beforehand, but I’m not entirely sure that’s on me…

Nightcrawler #6

I feel like I’m writing these in some kind of intended order, but I’m really not (they obviously aren’t alphabetical, though I think this may be the order I read them in). Chris Claremont basically takes the problem I had with Hawkeye above and kicks it to the curb in the most emphatic way possible: Page 1 largely replicates the penultimate page of #5, though it sets aside the bits of characterization to instead let the characters present (Nightcrawler and scorpion/insect student Rico) learn what we learned on the last page last time: this run for a new mutant isn’t necessarily going to be a cakewalk.

Of course, it’s not until they arrive that Nightcrawler is left to recognize the specifics of what we learned last time (and this cover tells you): the threat surrounding the mutant they’ve been sent to talk to about attending the Jean Grey School is being pursued by the Crimson Pirates, led by the cover’s Killian (yes, that’s kind of weird for me). We get something more in the vein of Nightcrawler’s initial miniseries¹, as Kurt decides to take on the Pirates without immediately requesting backup from Storm, after asking Rico how he feels about getting involved.

The two of them are left to defend both the mutant, Ziggy Karst, and the scientists caught in the crossfire. We get a good look at the experienced Nightcrawler (completely in his element, as Killian’s peons are space pirates, but still pirates, so the swords they carry are Kurt’s favoured) in contrast to the dry-mouthed, anxious need-to-achieve-and-prove from the rather scared young Rico, who gets a variety of responses from the scientists Kurt sends him to protect.

As I’ve felt about every issue of this book so far, Todd Nauck and Rachelle Rosenberg are working hard to try to overpower Claremont’s storytelling. The art is so great and so appropriate that it’s just a joy to read these–and, of course, that wouldn’t work if Claremont was not on-form. Kurt’s got the right balance of Claremont-angst and Cockrum-carefree to really carry the book, and the addition of Rico really gets to not only let this new character come into his own slowly, but to give us another perspective on Kurt–both Rico’s, and our reader’s view of Kurt as teacher and protector of this student.

It would’ve been easy to turn this issue and Rico’s first non-Danger Room fight into something maudlin or twisted in some way, but the direction Claremont goes with it is definitely the most satisfying of conclusions, without feeling contrived or completely telegraphed. Rico’s shaping up really well–his concerns about his appearance and his skill aren’t beaten into whinging so much as very real worries, and he also doesn’t turn around into a blank foil for Nightcrawler to stare at in awe, or fawn over, or need saving by, or anything. Just two characters both in one place. Pretty great story, as a result.

New Warriors #9

All right. First things first: New Warriors is cancelled at issue 12. This is criminal. This must be un-done, and I’m tasking anyone reading this with contributing. Buy all copies of the book you can find, and order more.

Why?

Glad you asked. Having dealt with the after-effects of the Terrigen Mist (particularly affecting the newly-named Haechi, and New Warrior friends), Jake Waffles and Mr. Whiskers transport Wundagore Mountain after Kaine’s request to drop off Hummingbird and be done with everything–but they manage to follow the location directives of Hummingbird herself, instead, and the team finds itself in…Houston?

Yup. Aracely still thinks this is home for Kaine, despite the events that closed out the Scarlet Spider book. Kaine (as always) disagrees, and is pissed off about it. Justice decides to chase him down and convince him not to quit (“You can’t quit something you never joined!” Kaine resounds, with trademark short-tempered hostility and caustic wit). But their “heart-to-turned back swinging away on webs” is interrupted by the appearance of…a giant mascot bear, rampaging through Houston. No, no, seriously.

Convinced that he is a superhero and hearing Kaine is Houston’s supervillain, Clut–er, Choke, who is definitely not the Houston Rockets’ mascot or anything–takes on the two of them, or, well, attempts to.

I’m not gonna lie, Tana Ford has a few weird panels (mostly some trouble with establishing perspective on the most spider-y of Kaine moments early in the book) but finds momentum and does justice (ahem) to the story, managing to convey the way that Yost writes Kaine, which is still delightful. His initial response to Choke’s appearance is perfect, and the choice of an absolutely ridiculous antagonist (which Ford deftly conveys the goofiness of!) just cements what is so awesome about this book. It is completely absurd, but still manages to hold the right drama and stakes for all the characters–an intrusion of stupid into an otherwise troublesome and “normal” superhero world.

This is also why I’m going to cry after issue 12. I hate all of you for letting this happen.

X #17

Duane Swierczynski has created an interesting dilemma with X, as he escalated stakes on the book rapidly–it would’ve been boring to see inevitable success for X after a while, and the last arc, with Archon, escalated the stakes all the way to “X cannot beat him in a million, billion years.” It addressed this appropriately, by removing Archon from the picture of his own volition (as X is not what he was interested in).

Now we’ve got X after Leigh’s brainwashing has started to fade, X after getting his ass completely handed to him, and X after redeeming himself from a much lesser defeat. What does he do now?

Well, Leigh’s instincts, as is often the case, drive him forward–a woman found partly skinned (!!) leads her to request X’s pursuit of those responsible. Which, understandably, he points out is not really his domain–he’s about the violence and the retribution, not the detective work (a good bit of further affirmation and clarity to his role from Swierczynski), which Leigh doesn’t mind–she notes that she can do that part of it all for him.

We’re left with new villains, new strangeness and mystery, and the endearing sight of X bullheadedly rushing in with frothing mouth and very clearly questionable grip on self-preservation and reality, regardless of his opponent (X himself seems unlikely to change significantly, which makes sense for who he is). It is indeed, as that green banner at the top suggests, a good entry point–though its quasi-sci-fi leanings of late are not a good indicator of how this all started, I’d say. Nguyen is still just absolutely the best choice for this book, as the mad dog nature of X is never in question, and the increasing weight of everything on Leigh is readily apparent. And that extra scrub of grit and grime over the whole thing is just the right touch to really keep the book from spiraling out wildly as Duane increases the wilder content.

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #3

After my little minor debacle with acquiring Armor Hunters #3 and having the weird experience of reading AH: Bloodshot and Unity before it came out, I was wary of reading this without knowing what was occurring, but it looks like Valiant’s very much on top of their printing schedule. Generation Zero–who we last left with Renegades Torque and Zephyr–are dealing with the sudden release of a veritable plague of insects that were dropped on earth for total cleansing by the Armor Hunters.

What this means is, well, it doesn’t matter what’s happening in the main story for this one, so ti was a good, solid read all by itself. This was probably the most self-contained tie-in, as it’s psiots dealing with their corner (the devastated and basically obliterated Mexico City) of the event and never really interacting with anyone else.

It’s a satisfying story in-and-of itself, as it lets us really get in with Generation Zero, as I’ve mentioned before. Titan and Cronus and Tellic and Cloud² and the rest have had their appearances (mostly in Harbinger Wars), but we really get to see Cronus come into his own as a leader, with everyone alongside him achieving their own points of glory via their powers. The story’s resolved cleanly, neither abruptly nor with an eye-rolling deus ex machina or other, “Uh oh, this is the last issue…shit!” feeling to it. Dysart manages to work all the characters in, and even do something really clever with Torque to deal with something we’ve not been seeing much of lately. Robert Gill captures all the characters distinctly, and the gross, body-horror of this plague with the right, well, disgustingness. I’ve got to add, it’s nice to finally see a little of the mechanical, driven sheen fall off of Cronus, too, as he thinks Generation Zero can just maybe finally let go of all of their defensive posturing and relax–at least a little.

Archer & Armstrong #24

Ah, one of those semi-dickish “this has little to do with the contents” covers. This could’ve been #0: Mary-Maria, but I don’t know that the book can handle a third #0, so it’s probably best it wasn’t.

Anyway, as that probably indicated, this book is entirely about Mary-Maria–indeed, it’s largely about her origin. Through the Sisters of Perpetual Darkness, she receives notice of loan shark “O Polvo” in Brazil, where she actually grew up before being adopted by the Archer clan of conspiracy fundamentalists (that’s a thing, right?). We learn of how she came to be in their care, as well as of what family of hers exists–her mother died when she was very young, giving birth to her twin sisters. It’s clear this loan shark was strongly involved in her childhood in terribly negative ways, and so she accepts this assignment without hesitation.

Unexpectedly, this is the first issue of Archer & Armstrong to not be written by Fred Van Lente, which might only be apparent with regard to the general absence of humour here. Mary-Maria has certainly been used to humourous effect (in much the same way Archer is used), but it’s appropriately-inappropriate here, as the story doesn’t really demand humour to counterbalance it in any way, and it might undercut what is here.

I wondered why the art felt so incredibly right before I realized it was Clayton Henry, who has done loads of covers for the book, but not pencilled it since the first couple of issues. It’s great work all around on this one–enough that I just enjoyed it without even realizing these things had been shifted around!

Today’s title is–surprise!–from New Warriors #9. Because it’s fucking awesome, if you have somehow missed that fact. GO READ IT.

¹Which Dave Cockrum wrote. Fascinating, in its way–Dave wanted a swashbuckler when he created him, Claremont later inserted the aspect of faith that contorted that carefree mentality pretty significantly.

²Honestly didn’t do that pattern on purpose.

A Successful, Signature Flash Thompson “Hail Mary” Play

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Hey, look at that! I finally found Agent Venom! And he can stand next to my only-good-Kyle-Rayner-there-is figure! Awesome!

My new books are delayed, because I had a job interview and social activities (through the internet, and gaming, but whatever). I’ve read the Marvel stuff, and my thoughts are the usual on the titles that were released, but rather than sell them off in single words, I’ll leave that to future actual writing tomorrow.

The game in question, since I rarely succeed at discussing these things, is the semi-infamous Payday 2. I started a bunch of friends on the original Payday: The Heist after pre-ordering it, and did the same with this one. I’m now playing with friends who were friends-of-friends, because it’s been very cyclical with the Payday-ing. A lot of folks quit with me when the stealth mechanic was changed significantly, and when the heist payouts became absurdly untenable, and when cloakers were added in.

Some people love an obnoxious challenge–indeed, a recent bump in those aforementioned payouts to a more palatable level earned plenty of “Noooo! Now new players will catch up quickly and they will be terrible and ruin my gamessss!!!” complaints, but those people can pretty much go sit in shit.

The risk/reward is finally at a good place again–at least, for average players like myself. The challenge-lovers can smash their faces against the Deathwish difficulty (regular++++ difficulty, the highest) and otherwise shut up. Niche-ing a game until it appeals to only a very, very select few is a horrible idea. Terrible.

Anyway, in the interest of mask collecting, I’ve been running every mission in “Hard” to get all of them done at that difficulty, to great success. I decided to do the Bank: Pro Job today by myself, and had this exciting result:

 

There’s a good chance you can’t tell what the point is. Well, notice two things: 1) Escape is available, and 2) There are customers still in the bank unawares.

Yup. I emptied the vault without the front of the bank noticing. It’s not something ultra-rare, but it was pretty exciting for me, so sod off. I also pulled off the hilarious trick of throwing a guard’s body off the roof, not realizing it would land at the feet of another guard. Who I leapt down and shot in the face as I fell, then ran upstairs for the last guard. Cleaned his clock and that was that. Sat and waited on the drill, unbeknownst to the folks in front, and emptied it out then sneaked the bags up the street. Good times.

I’ve also been hitting Legacy of Kain (in general) pretty hard, but mostly via Blood Omen, which I never finished. I’ve gotten further already than I did when I bought it (sometime in the mid 2000s, in a large box, back when those and PC game stores still existed in the physical world). I really love Templeman’s characterization of Kain, and the dialogue written for the game. Probably my favourite overall marriage of tone, atmosphere, and characters.

I booted up Soul Reaver first just to glance back at a game I found frustrating but mostly rewarding, and decided I’d hit up Blood Omen instead to be “chronological” about it, hoping it would run on 8.1. Well, short of a known issue with installing on modern hard drives, which I assume relates to either the file system or the previous “maximum” size confusing the installer’s perception of free space (for which there’s a fan-fix), not a problem at all. It’s hilarious going down to 640×480, too, but, hey. I love the design of the game in general and sprite work tends to suffer less in pixellated form, anyway.

Off to read the Valiant and Dark Horse Books!

“Aye. I Showed That Two-Bit Copycat What-Fer, Didn’t I?”

X-Cutioner’s Song.

Is it a simply encapsulated indicator of everything everyone looks back and shakes their had at from the 90s?

Maybe. Every issue was polybagged with a trading card, and it used all the X-team books at the time (X-ForceX-FactorX-Men, and Uncanny X-Men) for three months. It focused heavily on Cable and Stryfe (almost-but-not-quite getting to the bottom of both characters).

But it’s an interesting story, in retrospect: I got myself caught up on all of those books¹ in terms of immediately preceding issues so that I could have a clue what was going on going in. I’ve read all of X-Men up to that point (an easy feat: the cross-over starts for it with issue 14), and I’ve been reading Peter David’s original run on X-Factor, and some spotty, intermittent reading on Uncanny (all of this kind of coming together with the Muir Island Saga, too, and a variety of other cross-over bits and pieces immediately preceding this storyline.

In 1992, Cable is still one of the X-books’s mystery men (either blessed or cursed with them, starting with Wolverine and adding the two most “90s” of X-characters, good or bad–Cable and Gambit). His X-Force team (derived from the now-late New Mutants) is very “outlaw” and “antihero” in everyone else’s mind. With the apparent death of Magneto at the end of Claremont’s run (X-Men #2), the arch-nemesis gap is filled by a trio of baddies, who also represent a lot of the prevailing attitude at the time–Mr. Sinister, Stryfe, and Apocalypse. Of the three, Mr. Sinister and Apocalypse were most aged in the real world, having appeared in ’87 and ’86 respectively, at the hands of Claremont and Louise Simonson (also respectively). Stryfe, in costume alone, bore a lot of the excessive and peculiar design choices of the decade–clad in red-caped metallic armour, his helmet was a series of overlapping blades not entirely unlike the strange excess of wings Archangel bore at the time.

Each of the three led a small team (Stryfe: the Mutant Liberation Front, Apocalypse: the Dark Riders and his Horsemen, and Sinister: The Nasty Boys²), and had been meddling in mutant affairs for many of the recent issues (not long before, of course, Nathan Christopher Summers, son of Cyclops and Madeline Pryor, was sent to the future in an attempt to spare him the ravaging techno-organic virus Apocalypse infected him with, for instance).

The storyline opens with an assassination attempt on Professor Xavier, with the man responsible strongly resembling Cable. Now, Mystique was currently at the mansion, so that’s at least one explanation completely out. The mysterious and vigilante nature of Cable didn’t help matters much–so most of the teams accepted readily that this was really and truly Cable who was responsible. They rapidly learn, through Moira MacTaggart and Beast, that what seemed to be a simple firearm assassination attempt was actually the planting of another techno-organic virus.

What follows is an acceptably convoluted attempt to chase down the source of this–as well as the sudden abduction of Cyclops and Jean Grey–that leads them through all of the major villains, with each team refusing to stay planted firmly in their book. In essence, it’s a very real cross-over: it might say “X-Factor” on the cover, but you’re going to see lots of storylines that are just X-Men-based. Of course, in the background, Peter David tries valiantly to maintain the threads of the story he’s been running already in X-Factor via the “man-that’s-lucky” advantage of Jamie “Multiple Man” Madrox (who can be involved in both stories for obvious reasons).

I’ve not mentioned it much here, but my investment in Spider-Man meant that the major 90s cross-over I found myself most familiar with was Maximum Carnage. I had three issues (of…14!) and it was held out to be a major event. Years later, I read all 14 issues. Please don’t do this. It’s a really horrible, awful cross-over, where the same things happen over and over and/or drag on and on. I think Spiderfan.org reviewer Jose Gonzalez put it best in a review of the SNES game that cross-over inspired:

This is a perfect example of how a game is capable of transcending its source material and delivering a really fun experience, even if it did have the unfortunate side effect of telling thousands of kids everywhere that it’s OK to enjoy something with Carnage in it.

So, as much as I just kind of accepted where I was going here–I had some measure of “Oh well, I’ll have read it, at least,” involved in my decision to read every issue of the X-Cutioner’s Song story. It didn’t turn out that way, though–maybe having the multiple threads to follow (Wolverine and Bishop pursuing Cable independently, X-Force being stubborn and defiant, but eventually corralled, Sinister and Apocalypse and Stryfe all shuffling responsibility and threat and keeping everyone on their toes, the bizarre abduction and torture of Jean and Scott…

In the end, the worst criticism is certainly that it goes so much toward explaining Stryfe and/or Cable, and then gives up, pretending to murder both of them at the very end. The stakes are certainly high here, and there are clues all over the place, so the climax works for the story, but it’s kind of impotent in the grand scheme of things, in a sense.

It was all worth it to see David have X-Factor beat the snot out of Liefeldian X-Force, I must admit. The quote I titled this with was Wolfsbane commenting on her trouncing of Feral. Maybe it’s because she’s Scottish, or because PAD got to write her, or because she existed way before Feral, or because Feral’s 90s costume is a hot mess of ridiculous stupid, but that was the exact outcome I wanted. I seem to be alone in this, if my vague and random Googling of the issue is to be believed. But, like most of the battles in this (admittedly battle-heavy) book, it was scripted and depicted well-enough that it didn’t ever feel like a monotonous repetition or pre-determined outcome (lookin’ at you again, Maximum Carnage).

¹Except X-Force. Beyond cross-over issues, my interest in X-Force Volume 1 begins and ends with the Milligan/Allred stuff.

²Peter, the only explanation I will accept is a strange manifestation of Janet Jackson fandom.