“Yeah, I know my origins. God sent me here to destroy sadists who misquote the Bible.”

It’s Friday, which is not Saturday, so this is an improvement on last week, at least. Still, I’m writing movie reviews roughly daily, and I have to read these books, and I talk to people at comic shops whilst doing so, which takes up most of Wednesday, and I’m working on getting jobs (the paying kind) together, so, deal with it, I guess?

Anyway:

  • The Amazing Spider-Man #7
  • Avengers ● X-Men: Sixis¹ #1 (of 8, I think–I’m more entertained leaving this unknown to me for now)
  • Bloodshot #24
  • Captain Marvel #8
  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #3 (of 5)
  • Grendel vs. The Shadow #2 (of 3)
  • Miracleman #12
  • Nightcrawler #7
  • Wytches #1
  • #18
  • X-O: Manowar #0

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #2 (of 5)

Shan Fong is back again–man, it feels like it’s been a while since #1–and is now wandering the other side, which we now have confirmed is not some tertiary plane, but in fact that already-known secondary Deadside from Shadowman (completing that tie between Roberto de la Torre’s art jobs for Valiant!). She’s asked to trade for information on where she might find her late husband, Hwen, and the trade requested is a story–so we begin to learn just how the two met, and how she came to understand the things that allow her to be capable of this in the first place. Her recent employer, March, is tied to a chair back in the world, and being tortured in an attempt to find her.

While the first issue was meaty enough, this one really lets both Jen Van Meter’s writing and de la Torre’s art find their place in the series. Jen really set up Shan’s personality in the first issue–to reduce, grief masked with abrasion–but here gets the plot really moving. In seeing the dealings of a younger Shan with Hwen, being dragged into learning from what was supposed to just resolve the plague of her “second sight”, de la Torre gets to sneak in some great work on the more demonic entities that occupy the other plains, both at that time and in the present as she begins a journey through the other side. This one really hones what was started last time.

Bloodshot #24

One day, I’ll remember to read captions first. Maybe it’s because I’m picking up modern books, or maybe it’s the general abandonment of the “keyed” yellow boxes. I’m not sure, but, regardless, I found myself very confused when I started reading this issue. We’ve not had ol’ Bloodshot in his own book for a fair bit now, leaving us mostly experiencing his time through the Armor Hunters: Bloodshot miniseries for the last few months.

B. Clay Moore eases into the role of writer on the book by telling a story over a decade in the past, from the time when Bloodshot was still the controlled agent (tool, really) of Project: Rising Spirit. He’s sent in to take down a growing conspiracy in Russia, one set to use sleeper agents to rebuild the Soviet Union.

It’s a bit odd to re-start this series after a hiatus with a flashback–maybe it was or should’ve been a #0, but the title’s already had two of those, so, like Harbinger, I think it’s gonna be stuck shouldering flashback issues with regular issue progression. Ah, well. Still, it’s a solid, if light, issue–again, I think it’s Moore finding feet for the character and the book, with Will Rosado being even less credited on books, and thus doing some of the same. Rosado and Moore do bring the cold lethality of (especially the controlled) Bloodshot forward, in contrast to the far more brutal (and thus unpleasant-in-a-different-way) violence of a book like (oh, hello again Duane!). It’s also a clear set-up for something to come, with an epilogue that makes sure we’re all aware of that.

Still, it’s a bit disappointing to return to the character only at a time where he wasn’t much of a character–even if Moore manages to work in some nice flashes of the always-encroaching independent thought PRS had to contend with.

X-O: Manowar #0

It’s a bit weird that modern-Valiant’s flagship, longest-running title is the one series that hadn’t had a #0 yet (assuming we discount the only-8-issues Eternal Warrior, anyway), but I guess that can be chalked up to the way the early issues of the series proper were telling a lot of the “Aric before the armour” stories to get us used to him before he was wearing it. This story does mean, though, a return of his childhood friend Gafti, and Venditti gets to delve a bit more into him while telling us something more of what made Aric who he is today. We’d seen hints, seeing him as a very young child witnessing his first battles as a Visigoth, but now we get to see the time that led to his first entry into them.

I’m really glad Venditti has had a stranglehold on writing Aric’s story, as it has kept him a very consistent character, and the tone of his world and interactions on a unified thread as time goes on. Clay Mann is a welcome choice for the book’s pencils, pulling a nice trick of some mirrored imaging of Aric as plain ol’ Aric finding his feet as a Visigoth warrior, and X-O Aric holding up the tradition centuries later. The poses aren’t exactly the same, so it’s a nice bit of symmetry that functions more as a choice of depiction by Mann than lazy copying or simple mirroring.

After Armor Hunters helped Aric find who he needed to be in the world he has found himself in, this issue is useful in showing how he found who he needed to be when his life was as it started.

Grendel vs The Shadow #2 (of 3)

There’ve been a lot of attempts to cross-pollinate franchises and characters over the years, but they often don’t have the love of both sides that makes them work for fans of both–you’re likely to alienate one at the cost of the other if you’re lazy in depicting your bias. And that is why Matt Wagner is just a stupidly good person to be putting this book together. Creating Grendel, but also writing a fair bit of The Shadow, and then acknowledging that, time periods notwithstanding, the crime-focused themes of both mean their pairing actually makes a lot more sense than some.

The prestige format approach is also really helping the book, which gets the space to roll out the red carpet for two characters and not sell either short, without being stuck trying to tie things off just enough to end an issue after a standard number of pages. We spent the first book watching the two circle each other’s plans, largely unwittingly, and finally meet at the last moment, and so we pick up there: Lamont facing Hunter down. They quickly discover that they’ve certainly met at least their matches, as neither is the ho-hum opponent the other is used to.

The writer/penciler-in-one approach usually works best when the person’s capacity for the latter is used more for the needs of the former, and Wagner is a prime example. Without resorting to boring or “basically acceptable” art, he keeps it from distracting from the story, which is very much the core of this particular crossover. And it shows that he knows that–no one gets short shrift, and somehow he makes a modern and a period character seem like they belong together. This was already the Shadow’s world, but it’s one that appeals distinctly to Grendel, and a wily and capable opponent is something both of them would like to sink their teeth into–even if Grendel is more delighted and the Shadow is more concerned.

X #18

I’m getting really curious about what Swierczynski is doing with X. He had him beaten into the ground, captured, and redeem himself, then had him beaten almost to a pulp by a superhuman who mistook him for a colleague. Now he’s been captured by a group of wackos who wear grotesque masks and skin people in “good-intentioned” (I guess…) but ultimately pretty Mengele experimentation.

Nguyen and Swierczynski are a pretty well-oiled machine at this point, keeping the brutality that has been the hallmark of the book from being lost or rendered intolerably “x-treme” or actually boring. This, as should not surprise many fiction readers (but especially of anything tangential or directly superhero related) is often orchestrated through shifting and peculiar villains who find new ways to deal with our masked psychopathic vigilante.

Dr. Heide is pursuing the ability to bring new techniques to skin grafts, ones that will allow for cosmetic reconstruction to skip the stigma that is likely to follow them as it stands–and he’s decided X is the prime candidate for exploring the technique. This is an excellent follow-up choice to the Archon story, as well as the little flickers of the same idea in the immediately preceding one. It’s still kind of fascinating how this book is starting to operate with a protagonist who isn’t quite as up to the tasks he intends as he thinks he is, but who does not become cowed or re-evaluate in light of it. I’m very pleased Duane is keeping this stuff fresh.

Wytches #1

I heard a few things, in advance and as I wandered around Wednesday, that finally convinced me to give this sucker a shot. Weirdly, it’s a bit in sync with my October Project selection for Thursday.

A brief intro begins our introduction to Scott Snyder and Jock’s world of wytches: a woman is bleeding, noseless (!), and crying for help from inside a tree (!!), in the past. Here in the present, we have the Rooks: Sailor, Charlie, and Lucy. Sail and her father work on an imaginative game to keep Sail grounded as she starts at a new school. A few spooked moments don’t completely de-rail her, but the blunt, callous question of a classmate sends her spinning back to the dark and bloody moment that moved them all out in the first place.

This is mostly a tonal set-up–an idea of the world this book takes place in, of the level of threat and darkness (the two coming out most clearly together in the vile, vile words of the girl Sail was bullied by). Jock’s work is, unsurprisingly, a good match for this tone, splotchy and splattery in just the right way to emphasize mood over linework. This one shows some promise, for sure.

The Amazing Spider-Man #7

For Ramos-related reasons, I’ve not touched this book of late, so I only know the cursory story–Otto found Peter somewhere in his brain and let him regain dominance, and so we have the original Peter Parker, Silk (who I’m even more vaguely aware of) and Otto’s love all holed up in an apartment when the issue opens. That love, Anna Maria Marconi, is discussing with Peter the responsibilities he now has as the operator of a company, and that he should acknowledge some of the methods Otto chose do serve a purpose. Peter is Peter, though, and finds himself acting on a police call which brings him into contact with the new Ms. Marvel–who, unsurprisingly, fangirls over teaming up with Spidey, much as she did with Wolverine over in her own book, as they face a Kree (of course!) wearing something like the second Ms. Marvel costume (but not really), which someone claims is the original costume (it isn’t).

It was mildly frustrating to avoid a Spider-Man book, especially one written by an appropriate writer like Slott, but them’s the breaks to avoid Ramos’s art (which unfortunately plagued the summary page–curses!). It’s a fun adventure in the Spidey team-up tradition, and does not quite wrap up at its end. Incidentally, Christos Gage scripted it, which I kind of feel in the way Kamala reacts to meeting Peter in its specific choices (in a good way!), and is definitely another excellent choice for writing words for Peter.

But, that means we have room for another Edge of Spider-Verse! Spider-UK (I can’t quite decide if I’m going to pronounce that “Spider-Uck” or not, as I’m still thinking, “Peter isn’t Spider-USA, so why the heck would you name yourself that?!”) is, unsurprisingly, Billy Braddock, because he’s a member of the Captain Britain Corps. He is by far the most equipped to directly observe the effects Morlun’s family is having on the omniverse in general, and attempts to take the issue up with Majestrix Saturnyne, who is too busy dealing with the even more massive omniverse issue of the breakdown of the space-time continuum.

Slott takes that story on alone, and it makes for a good character to back up that awesomely simple tweak of Spidey’s costume for Billy. Giuseppe Camuncoli takes on pencils for both stories and is very much what I want from a Spidey penciller–clean, clear, verging on realistic, but still loose and bright to keep the sense of fun, so that we can stress the horror of some of the worlds Billy peers into in the latter story, while not losing track of the fact that Peter should still be in a more triumphant mode of being.

Avengers ● X-Men: Sixis #1

Somewhat unheralded–at least, I’m told, in comparison to previous events like Infinity–Sixis (it’s really Axis, but tell me that ambigram isn’t a little fuzzy is a collision of X-Men and Avengers teams and villains somewhat prophesied by the advent of the Unity team (psst, hey Valiant, I’m siding with your Unity here) of Uncanny Avengers (ie, former X-Men). Magneto #10 saw the rise of the Red Onslaught–a merger of the deep darkness in Xavier with the deep but more all-encompassing darkness of Johann “Red Skull” Schmidt–whose appearance is ominous enough (and manages to keep shy of the overdone-ness of the original Onslaught, much as I was largely okay with that design).

This first issue is where the Red Onslaught makes himself known as a threat, using insidious telepathic whispers to bring out the hatred and small-mindedness of anyone and everyone, up to and including the Avengers, while his S-Men deal with the captives back in Genosha (Cyclops, Quenton Quire and Evan/Genesis). Tony helps the Avengers deal with the telepathic threat, while Rogue attempts to help Wanda find the strength to deal, in close proximity, with the taunts of this new menace.

But this is issue one of…some number in the eight-ish range, and my experience of Remender means that slow pacing isn’t ever his thing, but instead a constant forward momentum through roller coasters of action in both senses–explosions ‘n’ stuff as well as events of more meaningful impact. This isn’t really an exception to that, but avoids the “all the heroes are just instantly slaughtered because this new bad guy is just super-bad, guys.” It will be interesting to see where this takes us–and, certainly, while Charles losing out to a dark side so thoroughly is interesting, it’s more of an immediate nod to see someone like the Skull pursue that kind of power. Andy Kubert gives a major event pencils it deserves, because, honestly, it’d be pretty awful to match an event of this intended magnitude with “eh” penciling.

Nightcrawler #7

After a good run of adventurous issues, Claremont gets to let Kurt’s character breathe–and by character I mean the kind you build by camping in the woods with no awesome amenities, or anything else Calvin’s Dad subjected him to without apology.

While the Death of Wolverine book has ended up severely delayed, the fact that we all have no questions about it happening means it’s not quite the worst thing to see Kurt dealing with it already (on-schedule for Claremont). Margueritte Bennett plots the book quite well indeed, with Kurt spending most of the book in his head, revisiting the memories that made Logan his best friend in the first place, Claremont scripting in the internal monologue that befits that friendship and Wagner’s more religious mentality in his hands. Not that Kurt beleaguers this point at all–it’s just that his thought process is informed by it, even when it isn’t being brought up.

There are some very sweet moments, particularly when Kurt is forced to abandon his first attempt at grieving, realizing it doesn’t feel like the way Logan would’ve wanted to be remembered, and he runs into Rachel Summers, with whom Claremont has been linking Wagner pretty steadily in this new book, thanks to their Excalibur-based relationship, I imagine.

As ever, Nauck’s art is nothing short of just right for the book–even in mourning, Kurt is Kurt, and his new-found understanding of a second life keeps the mourning from being maudlin or dark, and Nauck’s art reflects the balance of that very well.

Captain Marvel #8

Well, last issue hinted at something ridiculous coming from the revelation that Rocket was right all along and Chewie was a flerken, having laid a huge pile of eggs. The cover, too, encourages this interpretation.

In the end, though? It’s a pretty hollow story, as this entire volume has been. That’s a better description of the problems I’ve been having since issue 1 of this reboot than I’ve had before–I feel like “nothing happens”, but things do. Plenty happens here, in fact. Yet it still had that sense that “nothing happens”, and that’s what it is–the beats are just hollow and meaningless. They seem paced like something that wants to explore character, and then scripted like something that just wants to be fun. It comes out feeling like all of the substance is just utterly absent. I don’t know “who” Carol is at all–I just feel like Kelly Sue DeConnick loves the heck out of this character. But she’s not showing me what it is she loves, exactly. At points, it feels almost orchestrated to try to tap into something I’m not quite grasping, some grand design of “things that the Carol Corps will like”, or something, and it feels empty because of this.

Marcio Takara is the saving grace of the issue–particularly Chewie’s strangely realistic depictions in contrast to the exceptionally cartoony Rocket. Self-satisfied, or utterly unfazed at various moments, she’s certainly the most entertaining character here. Unfortunately, it’s not enough to save the book–and I think I’ve heard Takara’s leaving anyway. I was giving the book until this issue, but I don’t think I can do it anymore. I’m going to be dropping this sucker, unfortunately.

Miracleman #12

Well, that’s a weird leap…from fluff to intensely dense.

I’m not sure I read this segment of Miracleman before at all. Maybe I didn’t even read the book–just encapsulations of most of it. I forget, it’s been something like a decade.

Anyway, Miracle Woman appeared at the end of the previous issue, but here explains her history at the hands of Gargunza, entirely apart from Moran, Dauntless, and Bates. Outside the government’s watchful eye, Gargunza’s egotistical nastiness is given full freedom (including distantly depicted sexual violence, fair warning). The Warpsmiths appear and most directly make their presence known to the Miracle-folk, and we get glimpses of a strange, Utopian (?) future in 1987.

Totleben’s second issue penciling and inking for Moore sees him starting to really take over the aesthetic of the book. As Avril (Miracle Woman) relays her story, there’s a brilliantly done overlay of her face in the now on top of stacks of her period comic books, which are all inked in clean, sharp lines, her face being inked in a pseudo-realistic pointilist fashion (as clarified by the bonus “behind the scenes” material, which mostly serves to show that Totleben really knows how to use inks to make the most of his pencils). As has been the trend with recent issues, original Marvelman stories are only a minor feature–the last six or eight pages, after a good 40 of Moore’s material and that “behind-the-scenes” stuff.

This continues to be an excellent re-issuing of one of my two favourite works of Moore’s (the other is Swamp Thing), and well worth reading to grasp some of what he could do, given the right working base.

Today’s title comes from X. It was a toss-up between this line and the ultimate X line (said to himself): “Don’t be a coward. It will heal. IT WILL HEAL!” The one I chose, I think, works better than the other as an out-of-context quote, though. Feel free to tell me I’m wrong about that.

¹Zzzzzzzz…I’ve explained this too many times by now. I know the real title, let’s leave it at that.

“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.

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.

New Titles and Some Other Stuff!

Yesterday I got in my copy of Braid’s No Coast on vinyl, which means I release myself to listen to my digital copy, too (why I have this “rule”, I don’t know–I guess so the vinyl has freshness, like sticking to getting something the day it’s officially released. Some ritual is nice!).

It’s really good, living up to the rather excellent lead ‘single’ “Bang”.

 

 

Most of what I did while listening to it was sort my now 10ish longboxes (yeek) of comics. But it showed up around Wednesday, which means new comics! I started on Hawkeye thanks to reading the first issue online (I have a bad feeling about 2,3, and 7, the issues I couldn’t get a hold of…). I also picked up She-Hulk #6, which meant I finally read the new series yesterday–holy cow, it’s really good. Pulido’s art is the kind of creative layout usually reserved for the “indie” segment of independent books, experimental and unusual. Wemberley took over on the last two issues and kinda got into that same territory as Andrade did on Captain Marvel (not a great thing here, either–mostly just disappointing after Pulido’s four issues, though I understand Javier is thankfully back for at least the next few).

My modern Valiant collection continues to grow and remain thoroughly unread–I should probably do something about that, but I stopped off first to read X finally (my Dark Horse Heroes reboot books–also ignored!) and it’s also really, really good. Swierczynski keeps X in a nicely unclarified ground of being someone superhuman but humanly breakable, brutal and unrelenting, but not completely super powered. And the swirling corruption seems to be keeping itself light on its feet without turning too obviously toward cliché or expectation. I’m really looking forward to the next issue of that one.

As it stands, I’m currently pouring over Byrne’s Sensational She-Hulk mostly, while still trying to get everything sorted.

Valiant gets its own box, and D.C. has two (one is the “colour box”, as it contains Blue BeetleBlue DevilGreen Arrow, and Green Lantern), and there’s probably going to be a box of “other stuff”–but Marvel is proving to be a pain. After acquiring all those Thunderbolts, and all the X-Factor from Peter David–they kind of dominate boxes they go in. I worked out X-books in their own box (a tight fit that won’t last at all), but everything else is still kind of funky. Spidey was gonna be its own box (with Venom, Scarlet Spider, and the like), but that means I’ve got Midnight Sons stuff and Daredevil with unclear homes.

I guess I’ll figure it out eventually…