“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.

“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.

“What Kind of Laughter?” “Hysterical, Tinged with Sadness”

All righty, folks. It’s Wednesday. And this time, we’re going to see if I can hook all this up to Wednesday itself. Part of the Overarching Master Plan™, which involves devoting specific days to specific types of media. We’ll see how much I regret or fail that plan later.

Anyway, heavy week–and almost all Marvel–this week, which might be made worse as I ponder a few more titles, like Iron Fist: The Living Weapon. Ugh. Here we go.

This Week’s List:

  • All-New Doop #5 (of 5)
  • All-New X-Factor #13
  • The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1 (of 5)
  • Grendel vs. The Shadow #1
  • Miracleman #10
  • Moon Knight #7
  • She-Hulk #8
  • Spider-Man 2099 #3
  • Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15 (of 17…)

The Death-Defying Doctor Mirage #1

This is a weirdly Valiant-light week (I’d say for me, but that’d be pointlessly egocentric: I collect all the current Valiant titles anyway, so, short of back issues and reprint variants, this is a Valiant-light week period).

Doctor Mirage is one of the remaining “old guard” Valiant characters as yet untouched (skipping the licensed Gold Key stuff they don’t have now) in the modern Valiant universe. I know the Armorines are planned (thanks, Previews!) and I imagine many of the others will follow in some form or other, but this is one that–unlike, H.A.R.D. Corps and, if I’m not mistaken, that upcoming Armorines appearance–gets its own book.

While I’ve got an overflowing longbox of classic Valiant waiting to be read (swiss cheesed enough that I haven’t started anything yet and don’t soon plan to overall), I’m still pretty in the dark on most of it, so this was walking in blind as could be. The book’s been heavily advertised in Valiant books for a while now, but it does tend to stick out as the one I had no access to until now–so it probably just seemed heavier than the others.

Doctor Shan Fong “Mirage” has lost her husband (Li Hwen Fong) recently, and, despite her ability to commune with the other side, she cannot find or speak to him. Her associate Leo keeps pulling her into paying jobs despite her mourning and reluctance so that she can continue her life in some fashion–at least the one that avoids debt and default. After a functionally-simple-but-emotionally-difficult reunion of the widowed with their loved ones, Leo drags Mirage into a much better-paying and more involved job for one Linton March, who cautiously rolls out an explanation of why he sought her assistance with minimal detail. But the hook is in when something seems to suggest a means to find her husband, regardless of the risks, dangers, or her questions about March.

Jen Van Meter has set us up with an interesting protagonist–something on that spectrum of caustic and detached, but without the aggressive condscension of many of the more popular ones in the modern day. She’s not a jerk, but she doesn’t suffer foolish questions, or tread lightly when it comes to anything that relates to herself. She does not want to involve herself in much of anything, certainly not anything as involved as the money with March would indicate–though she radiates the confidence (and abilities to shore it up) that imply that, involved or not, she’s capable.

Robert De La Torre provides moody, scratchy art that seems to keep a lot of space around Mirage when her grief is most surfaced–a visual approach that isn’t the most common in its impressionism for modern Valiant. His work was also used on Shadowman, one of the last new Valiant books for me to sink my teeth into, but one that I know is thematically similar, or at least more related than the core, flagship-type titles that keep intersecting.

A promising start, though it looks, for the moment, like how this will be dealt with in five issues is quite the mystery.¹

 

Grendel vs. The Shadow, Book One

The only title here that was not pulled in advance, I’d hemmed and hawed on it, being intrigued by both characters, and the author involved, but only pulled the trigger on seeing it in person. This sucker’s in prestige format (meaning no staples, and square, glued binding with writing on the spine and everything), so it’s nice and dense at 48 pages.

Matt Wagner’s Grendel has floated around the periphery of my awareness for most of the time I can recall, I’ve even got some of those (weirdly sized) Dark Horse omnibuses of his stuff, but I’ve yet to read it. I did, however, read the first four (of eight, I think) of his The Shadow: Year One, and saw in it a love for the character and a deep appreciation of the setting and style of a pulp crime-fighter. What little I know of Grendel (a rather debonair criminal mastermind) meant this was an ideal pairing for both author and reader–and giving Wagner complete control over the two major elements (writing and art) meant it would be almost guaranteed quality, and pretty debilitating disappointment if it didn’t work.

Well, let’s cut to the quick: it works. While there’s a doohickey required to get Hunter Rose (that is, Grendel) back to the Shadow’s time, it’s done very in-universe–an rare collectible artifact fits Grendel’s quickly established sensibilities, and that artifact is strongly tied back to the Shadow. It takes little time for rose to get his wits about him and realize what is occurring (in terms of time travel), and to capitalize on his future knowledge. This same knowledge is foreign to Lamont Cranston (that is, The Shadow), but the facts point in the right direction all the same–the repeal of Prohibition. Both realize what could be gained in this light, but have different feelings on the subject, as Grendel sees opportunity, and the Shadow sees only the risk to his city and the innocent.

Wagner gives the book a nice “peanut butter and jelly” feeling to this meeting, just as hoped–clean and clear-cut pencils that revel in the time period and the characters, with neither given short shrift in favour of the other. A character loved as creation and one loved as a kind of idol makes for a nice face-off, one that feels less like a marketing decision and more like a labour of love. Those 48 pages allow the two to establish themselves for readers, while letting Grendel establish himself for The Shadow, whose pursuit of the identity of a new and violent face in his at-risk city is swift and decisive.

This book ought to do well with folks who look at the characters involved and nod sagely. It does exactly what it should, without feeling rote.

 

All-New Doop #5 (of 5)

And so, Peter Milligan signs off of his character’s very first and currently only solo book. While his writing made Doop more endearing (by allowing us to explicitly understand him), David Lafuente made his appearance far more adorable than the bafflingly weird (see: Allred cover pictured) look he had through X-Force and X-Statix.

This was a good move all around, as it made his character a much more palatable protagonist–even as Milligan’s mind-bending (also time, space, and other-things-bending) writing made mincemeat of a big X-event (that I never read). Doop has re-birthed himself to speak English, proposed to Kitty Pryde, pissed off Iceman in the process, and begun to discover something of his origin and shattered home life. He now knows he was not born from an Ingmar Bergman script, and that Mama Doop resents his presence driving off Papa Doop–but the loads of X-Men present around the Battle of the Atom (that x-event I mentioned) are required to deal with the sudden torrent of Doops appearing everywhere, as the psychological torment of Mama Doop’s declarations tears at Doop himself. Logan cannot stand this, and confronts Mama Doop to…interesting results, as Doop must deal with the strange interactions he has had with Kitty.

Let’s not beat around the bush: Milligan’s story has been weird as hell since he started the book. Doop suspects he came from an Ingmar Bergman script, he lives in “Marginalia”, which is a pretty decent stretch of the fourth wall that is left with big question marks on whether it actually breaks it or just frames Doop’s perception of the world in a manner curiously familiar to readers of comics. He was able to turn himself intelligible, and showed affection for another character, though it has been marked by a seeming deeper motivation than that surface. Lafuente has managed to keep Milligan’s strangeness constrained in a way that is both bafflingly normal and appropriately odd, which is a godsend considering.

Things are closed off here, cogently and clearly, but not without some lingering (intentional, I feel, as it does not mar the story) confusion. Well done, Milligan. I suspect more than a few people remain utterly befuddled.

All-New X-Factor #13

Understandably, Harrison Snow (owner of Serval Industries) and Linda Kwan (Director of PR for Serval Industries) are frazzled after X-Factor (superhero team for Serval Industries) member Pietro “Quicksilver” Maximoff’s admission of his crimes at their press conference–an event that X-Factor should probably reconsider participating in, at least so long as Peter David is writing them, in any incarnation (may that be as long as possible).

As Pietro has revealed his ruse and found himself reconnected with daughter Luna, this has attracted the attention of the Inhumans–unsurprising, as Luna is also the daughter of Pietro’s ex, Crystal. Gorgon sees fit to attack and punish Pietro for his crimes, as well as reclaim the errant Luna.

David has decided to continue the thread begun last issue surrounding Pietro’s character and history, leaving many of the other elements of the story as it has been developed to the side for the moment, and it serves the book well. While the focus is certainly on Quicksilver, Lorna Dane gets in her digs as she responds to Harrison’s decision to fire him in light of these revelations. Amusingly enough, Gambit willingly provides information much as she does in the service of maintaining the team, despite the rather mutual distaste he has with Pietro.

Pop Mhan takes pencils up in the absence of Carmine Di Giandomenico, and actually leans toward mimicking his style rather than throwing in his own. David worked with Mhan on his Spyboy series for Dark Horse, but there Mhan embraced his own manga-influenced stylings. I mostly know Mhan’s name from an article somewhere by someone who absolutely loathed his work on (Wally West-era) Flash, and who had nothing but (un)kind words to say about it. I seem to recall I arrived there after finding the once-Mark Texeira-pencilled Dan Ketch Ghost Rider somehow became this, which was hideously neon and dayglo as a design, and wildly inappropriate for the book’s tone–or, at least, its original tone. Anyway, the lines keep things pretty straightforward, if lean (again, like Di Giandomenico), which works for such character-oriented work very well.

 

Moon Knight #7

Let’s get this out of the way: yep, Warren Ellis and Declan Shalvey are off the book. This isn’t their book anymore, it’s now in the hands of Brian Wood and Greg Smallwood. They decide to avoid jarring change from Ellis and Shalvey’s intentionally self-contained first six stories, with a tone that continues to be largely minimalist and artistically experimental. Not edging quite into the occasional psychedelia and full-fledged experimentalism of their run, Wood and Smallwood (really?) seem to be more finding the ground of the book and this incarnation of Marc Spector.

The story is largely straightforward–an assassin is after a target, and partly making use of a drone to achieve this. When his methods affect New York City in the entire via an EMP, Moon Knight makes it his personal goal to put a stop to whatever the assassin’s plans are. 

It’s partly familiar (think #2) but our new team makes clear that the almost absolute independence of the preceding stories is not quite where they’re now aiming the line-only glowing white spectre (heh–oh, and, by the way, guys: Moench wrote him as silver, though I imagine the white-thing has been around through latter serieses and was not explicitly introduced here). Smallwood keeps that line-only approach Shalvey started this volume with, and keeps him largely in his “Mr. Knight” Garb of +1 to Fancy. It feels something like what I hear about Brubaker’s follow-up to Bendis and Maleev on Daredevil: continuation with personalized deviation. Following up a monster book like that first run is stepping into some big shoes, and I’m getting the feeling they’re up to it.

 

She-Hulk #8

Charles Soule has had an acclaimed run on this new volume for Shulkie, being the first practicing attorney to take on the character (full-time, at least. I’d love to dazzle you with pulling out an obscure one-shot story by another, but I’m actually just specifying for CMA reasons). The first four issues had him paired with Javier Pulido, who dipped out for issues 5 and 6, only to return on this and the prior issue.

Five and six faltered on the absence of Pulido, but held fast with Soule’s great writing behind, especially, a guest appearance from Herman “Shocker” Schultz. Last issue saw Pulido return for a bit of a one-off story that involved Henry Pym in a nice story that didn’t find itself stuck on Avengers #213. It was a fun, if slight, story.

Now, though, the book is fully back on course. This is a stellar issue. Jen is set to defend the now physically-aged Steve Rogers from a wrongful death charge brought about by events forty years earlier. Jen has to work with the ever-principled Rogers through the restrictions he places on her as his counsel. This hamstrings Jen’s initial plans (“I’ll say it again. No. I don’t want to win this on a technicality. Period,” he says, in truly Steve fashion) and leaves her with the prospect of defending the former Captain America in the inevitable media circus that such a thing will unquestionably inspire.

It’s neat to have Soule running through Jen’s legal thinking and suggestions (even as they’re rebutted by Steve) knowing that he actually has a background in law to form some kind of basis for it. Pulido renders a great run of panels illustrating her prep work (including a pretty great one of her rather “informally” prepping the night before, oblivious to anything but the case, as established by the progression that shows her focus unwavering as her friends drop off and ask her to sleep).

I cannot wait for the next issue–we’ve seen this coming, Soule having readily and unambigiously foreshadowed it early on, but with Pulido at the reins of the pencil and Soule sketching the words out behind them, this is gonna be a good time. And that he worked in not only some exciting (!) legal work alongside a gag that Pulido sells the hell out of–ah, such a good read.

 

Spider-Man 2099 #3

More Peter David?! Why, of course!

Miguel’s now revealed part of his identity to Liz Allan, and now finds himself wary of acting again in any fashion that may jeopardize his approach to protecting his youthful future-I-guess-is-accurate grandfather Tiberius. He’s sent out with Tiberius on a plan to sell Spider-Slayers to a country in turmoil (I think suggesting it’s an allegorical Syria would not be taking too much in the way of liberty) with the vague hopes that seeing such technology as the slayers would cease the fighting occurring there. Miguel, er, “Michael” (still sticking with his slight name shift) thinks this idea is pretty stupid, for some odd reason (*cough*), but goes along to protect his grandfather at Liz’s request (well, order).

I know some folks thought the first issue of this was thin, but we’re working with an interesting twist on the secret identity, the interesting, driven version of Liz Allan that has appeared, and the conflicting nature of Miguel’s position (being from the future, his technology is superior, as is his knowledge of the future, but he’s a bit disconnected from everything despite all that, having not existed in this time for the expected period of time for someone of his age). Miguel remains very likeable and stays away from being a carbon copy of especially Peter Parker, though it’s a bit of a loss not to see him trading barbs with his super. But that’s where the story is–and justifiably so. We’re getting more clarity on the origins of Alchemax, on Liz’s attitude about her company, and forcing Miguel into a position that is significantly less than his ideal, while also letting Peter delve into the attitutdes driving this, ahem, fictional conflict.

It seems crappy, but I don’t have much to say about Sliney’s work because it tends to be so completely what I want and expect from David’s story as art that it doesn’t draw attention to itself. This not an insult, or a bad thing, or anything like that–it’s actually really great art, in the way that the core Valiant titles make me really happy art-wise. Character-filled renderings that mostly just do that–render.

Superior Foes of Spider-Man #15

With only two issues to go after this one (let’s not talk about New Warriors either, okay? *sniff*), Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber don’t seem to be “aware” of that in this issue, though I like to think the “carefully hidden” gestures of everyone on the cover are aimed at whoever is responsible.

The issue reads exactly like I’d expect the follow-up to 14 to read, regardless of cancellation, which is a good thing: Shocker is upset that everyone thinks he’s a complete doofus for being loyal, which has finally upset him thoroughly. For moments, everyone seems reasonable, then reveals exactly why they suck as a team, and suck as people, to hilarious effect.

Silvermane has apparently not thought much past his encouragement of Shocker, and finds himself a football in more than just general appearance (he’s a disembodied head, you know). The set-up for the next two issues is absolutely glorious, as is Fred Myers’s continued dickery as clumsy manipulator of his entire five Sinister Six members (don’t ask).

Lieber’s light touch on the pencils continues to be a wonderful match for Spencer’s writing and the books comedic tone. When things are awful, we feel the right sympathy for the characters, without getting so involved that we don’t laugh when they turn out to be exactly the assholes they’ve always been, who mostly wouldn’t know teamwork if it bit them in the ass (unless it bears a stunning resemblance to “double-cross” and has a label on it).

 

Miracleman #10

Lastly but most definitely not leastly, Alan Moore’s now uncredited (at his behest–his proceeds are going to Marvel/Miracleman creator Mick Anglo’s estate)  run on Miracleman continues in its reprints. We’ve only got one issue of Warrior included this time, with practically the entire issue shown in the “behind the scenes section” with both original Veitch pencils and Ridgeway/Veitch inked pencils.

Johnny continues his internal fight with Kid Miracleman, while our mysterious investigators pursue the “Cuckoos” (a term which makes sense, given what we now know of where the Miracleman Family powers come from and go), and Liz Moran begins to struggle with the voracious appetites of her young daughter, requesting an appearance of Mike from Miracleman, who agrees and brings him forth.

This series is forever a jaw-dropping reminder that Alan Moore’s Swamp Thing was his second turn at re-envisioning a character from the ground up, with modern sensibilities and a completely different eye toward original adventures. Veitch, Ridgeway, Davis, and everyone who contributed art never falters in delivering the dark, yet somehow still un-bleak view that Moore applies to a previously light and fun character.

It’s worth noting that there are some weird parallels here with Tom DeFalco and Mike Manley’s Darkhawk: Moore’s new source of Miracleman power is very similar to that which young Chris Powell experiences in Danny Fingeroth’s original 90s series, though it was later retconned into an imagining via the War of Kings: Darkhawk miniseries (and everything that followed it). Moore’s seems to respect the characters as they originally existed and work everything from the prior storylines–even storylines that are very patently mired in Golden Age simplicity–into his new version. In contrast, the re-writing of Darkhawk utterly invalidated an in-continuity origin “because”. It was certainly not respectful of those initial stories, and neglected to work with them in any way when it tore them out.

This is what makes Moore’s so fascinating: Micky Moran, Dicky Dauntless, and Johnny Bates are still themselves, even as their memories are something entirely other than what they thought. He takes and molds those older stories and turns them into something else without losing them, viewing them through a new lens and building on them. It makes me wish–just a bit–that we could’ve seen the “original” Watchmen, to have those old Blue Beetle and Question characters shifted into their new roles. Ah, well. What we’ve gained in that editorial mandate was worth it–so it’s a curious thought, but the reality is all good.

Today’s quote, in keeping with my new media-relevant patterning, is actually derived from the issue of All-New Doop above. Former X-Statix member Tike Alicar (Anarchist) is asked by U-Go Girl to describe the laughter he claims to have heard, and that was his answer.

¹As an incurable habit, upon reading some of the middling reviews of this book, I saw some really, really stupid ones. The pacing isn’t slow, Mirage isn’t boring and uninteresting [I realize this is subjective, but there’s a character there, at the least, with facets and edges not seen entirely ad nauseum], and most definitely the pages are not unnecessarily crammed with exposition, unless, of course, one prefers to have only dialogue that avoids any exposition whatsoever. Such reviews read like folk who have only touched the modern era, and largely things that hinge on the rapid-reads that are decried by plenty of the old-timers–which apparently includes me. Alas.

“THIS Is Because I’m Not a Cop. Now, If You’re Real Quiet, I’ll Call One, and Tell Him Where to Find You…”

A few lingering titles, a few continuing titles, and some bumped off the list, but here’s my planned back-issue reading for the week:

I’m still reading the Giffen/DeMatteis run of Justice Leage [_____], but I’ve passed their first cross-over (“The Teasdale Imperative”), so I guess that’s some achievement or other. The two books are shaping up nicely with independent voices, though DeMatteis has, by “now”, left Europe in the hands of Bill Messner-Loebs (who I know best as scripting cohort of Sam Kieth for The Maxx). All the unpleasantness that Giffen’s own Ambush Bug mocked in Ambush Bug: Year None makes this a very weird read–knowing what was done with Lord and Sue Dibny in particular (though I utterly ignore the latter, as fuck Identity Crisis¹). At least semi-shoehorned, that.

That’s a semi-arbitrary issue of X-Factor, except that it is the last issue before the X-Men reformed, X-Men started, and X-Factor became Peter David’s first run, the one without any of the original X-Men who were the book’s reason for being, previously. I’m trying to reasonably lead in to it, but stopped setting issues down over editorial notes when I realized I don’t have Uncanny X-Men #274 (which apparently involved at least Guido). Started this this morning, as the sheer volume of X-Factor books I have is absurd. Almost their own box, unique amongst the x-books in that respect for my collection.

That’s the next issue of Green Arrow on my agenda. I’ve got The Longbow Hunters and the first six issues down already, and it’s shaping up quite nicely. I buy a lot of this stuff semi-blind–reputation, character involvement, or some other not-necessarily-meaningful aspect (writers, too, of course) will draw me in, and I start collecting it just to have enough to really read it over. Not necessarily the smartest approach, but it’s my own.

I never got around to Spectacular at all, but I keep circling it. I imagine I’ll get down to it this week for real.

Hellstorm, Prince of Lies is a book that, by all rights, should’ve been included in the whole “Midnight Sons” grouping/imprint, but wasn’t. It’s another reboot of a weird, occult 70s character (Daimon Hellstrom, Son of Satan²). I’ve been meaning to read it (thanks to, well, my love of the Midnight Sons books) but never got around to it. I haven’t quite got the entire run (a measly 17 books) but the first 10 issues seems like a reasonable start.

Ah, yes. I’ve read the 1990 miniseries Deathlok which introduces the Deathlok of the 90s–Michael Collins (no relation)–but this was his ongoing. I’m literally missing one issues (#33), which is a far cry less than Darkhawk which I picked up for similar reasons and read the first 30 issues of already. They’re just those characters that were kind of bubbling off in the vein of Ghost Rider and Punisher and everyone else “extreme”, without ever breaking through. Sheer curiosity, honestly.

And, to break up all the Big Two love, here’s Jhonen Vasquez’s Squee!. Only a four-issue miniseries, Squee himself was initially a sort of backup feature in Vasquez’s Johnny the Homicidal Maniac–another 90s thing, that weird “I’m going to write about an indie book about a psychopathic murderer who may or may not be supernaturally motivated” (see also: Evil Ernie) thing. This was the only Squee-featuring book, and I couldn’t resist getting all four issues easily as I did.

My intention is to move myself toward more varied coverage of my pop culture loves, as the slowly increasing number of “About” pages on the left increases. Movies are probably next–probably my most well-received approach to review–with music to follow, if I can figure out how to do all this and not find myself hating any of the three things I love the most (music, movies, and comic books). Games are, have been, and will be a more random thing, simply because, well, that’s how I do it.

Until next time…!

This also means I’m going to start shifting my quote/title approach. This actually comes from Green Arrow #6, the last issue of the series I’ve read so far. Ollie’s got a smart-ass gang-related kid suspected of being responsible for a series of gay-bashings who thinks that telling a vigilante he has “rights” will somehow allow him to be silent about the gang’s reason for doing this. The lead-up might be even better: If you’d been paying attention, you might have noticed I’m not playing by the rules, asshole.”

¹Seriously, fuck that book. Brad Meltzer is an asshole.

²Apparently, DeMatteis has said, of his writing the character for The Defenders: “[Daimon] was absolutely my favorite character. Characters like Son of Satan are a wonderful metaphor for what we all contain, good and evil, high and low aspirations. He’s literally the son of the Devil, trying not to be what his father is. For a writer like me, how can you not feast on that?” Oooh!

After Tonight, I Just Can’t Be Alone

While I consistently read the new stuff that comes out when it comes out (with occasional delays for other plans in that Wednesday/Thursday time-frame), I’m pretty haphazard in my reading of the enormous set of back issues I’ve picked up in the last few months. I set out plans for the beginning of the week (visible here) and…sort of stuck to them.

I got another Moon Knight under my belt–Moench and Sienkiewicz, but before Sienkiewicz abandoned his Neal Adams style, and almost polished off Scarlet Spider (still that Minimum Carnage issue, but it fetches a pretty penny, which, owning and reading the rest of that story tells me isn’t worth a pretty penny). I backed off on End of Days simply because I’m not sure if I can get away with it with my severely choked Daredevil reading. JL(I/A/E) was also stalled, after discovering the existence of the Justice League Quarterly that the Giffen/DeMatteis (with shifting co-writing and backups) team was actually involved in. Curses. Spectacular ended up waiting mostly as a result of some unexpected arrivals on Wednesday.

What I did read was The Atlantis Chronicles and Time and Tide, as well as the less-planned first four issues of Green Arrow and the beginnings of the reprinted Miracleman series (the aforementioned unexpected arrivals).

The Atlantis Chronicles

The Atlantis Chronicles (pictured in either meta or narrative sense to the left!) are Peter David’s renderings of the histories of (D.C.’s) Atlantis as recovered by “Professor R.K. Simpson”. It was a 7-issue miniseries published in 1990, a fair number of years before PAD got his hands on an ongoing Aquaman series (apparently as a direct result of the events of this miniseries, in fact).

Each issue (well, almost) is narrated by a different chronicler from Atlantis’s history, first by Albart, under the rule of Orin and when Atlantis was still a surface kingdom, then by Albart’s nephew Britton (after Atlantis sank), Britton’s sister Illya, Illya’s son Regin, and, much later, the less-clearly-descended Atlanna–eventual mother to Aquaman.

While the series serves to set up various elements of Aquaman’s own power, history, reputation, and character via the characterization of ancestors, reason for Atlantean aquatic nature, origin of oceanic telepathy, and so on, David doesn’t make the mistake of grounding the series too emphatically in the future (well, our “present”) and leaving everyone as nothing but foreshadowing for what we “really” want. Orin, Narmea, Shalako, Dardanus, Kordax, Haumond, Kraken, Fiona, Trevis, Bazil, Cora, and, indeed, the chroniclers themselves, are all portrayed as whole characters. The nature of historical writing–especially, my Classically-oriented father would probably agree, the kind being imitated here–is embraced fully, biases intact, such as Albart’s disdain for Orin (and love of Shalako), or Illya’s youthful interest in more the personal than the political.

Atlantis’s history becomes rich and clear, filled with the holes you’d expect from historical documents–Simpson explains in faux articles that many volumes have not been found–but still leading toward the future without aiming itself for it. There are no twists or turns that function as intentional violations of expectation, without leaving itself mired in predictability. Albart’s bias could (it did for me) leave you rather enamoured of Orin to spite him, especially as his writings contrast so much with the character, and thus bias you against his object of worship, Shalako. But neither character, in the “subtext” of “actual” events comes out as clean or darkened as either Chroniclers or spiteful contrarian views of the same would lead you to believe.

Dardanus does not and cannot come out as anything other than a truly vile, self-absorbed pile of shit, but there’s not much to be done there–his actions speak of an self-serving sense of justice and injustice, and a remorseless understanding of his own crimes.

Esteban Maroto brings the best kind of pencils and inks for the job, with interesting and recognizable character designs for characters we’ve not really seen before in many or most cases (or, if you’re me, all cases). There’s drama and detail and grace in all the right places, and the feeling of the creakiness of ancient stories–the differing focus on representation of ancient art, if you will–without losing the comic book pacing and movement that we’ve added to earlier types of sequential art. Eric Kachelhofer enhances this feeling with his colours, which are nice and bright and clear, with just the right kind of dull to keep them from distracting or overtaking, and even further enhancing the art’s role in the story’s nature as “historical chronicles”.

Sadly, this story has not ever been collected, but it was at least released digitally via (at least) Comixology. This is a perfect example of why I don’t just go out and buy trades (though there are plenty more in my longboxes, of course).


Aquaman: Time and Tide

Though delayed by a few years (replaced in the interim by a 13-issue attempt at an ongoing by Shaun McLaughlin from 91-93), Time and Tide is effectively Peter David’s direct sequel to The Atlantis Chronicles, or at least a direct continuation. Arthur Curry–Aquaman–is given the Chronicles and decides to continue them himself, relaying his own life and origin to establish it firmly in the post-Crisis continuity, as well as explaining the prophesied elements of his life that Atlan told Atlanna of when Arthur was conceived.

In a fashion befitting the somewhat more diary-like nature of Arthur’s approach to the Chronicles, it’s a bit episodic in nature. Arthur relates the first interactions with humans who think of him as “hero”, which includes a kindly Barry Allen attempting to introduce him gently to the surface world, with somewhat King Kong-like results, his rescue and adoption by the dolphin Porm, and one of his more positive interactions with humans in remote North America, and finally an exploration of Ocean Master and his history with Arthur.

More building blocks for an ongoing (which would follow much more quickly than this did The Atlantis Chronicles) than a fully independent story, Peter does good work with this four issue miniseries (often considered a bit of a “Year One”), but is hampered slightly by the peculiar pencils of Kirk Jarvinen, who often does good, clear work, but sometimes dips far, far too deeply into “Disney Eye Syndrome”, which looks exceptionally weird in the context of both these stories–and his own other renderings. Consdering the alternate is often the kind of eyes seen above (squint-lines), it’s not encouraging, and can get really distracting. Still, the stories work quite well, and allow Peter to exhibit more of his wit (I’m more in love with the Trickster gag than I should admit).

While I have The Longbow Hunters and the first four issues under my belt, I’m going to hold off on discussing Green Arrow further for the moment, as well as Moore’s Miracleman, which I will likely “catch up” when the next reprinted issue arrives.

This title: “Please, Head North”. I try to avoid repeating artists, just for variety’s sake, but Transit’s been on quite a bit for me lately, so here they are again. This track appears three time in their discography: in one version on their split with Man Overboard, again on their second full-length, Keep This to Yourself, and finally in an acoustic form on their first “alternate stuff” (mostly acoustic renderings of existing songs) collection, Something Left Behind.

I Never Strayed from You My Dear, but You Suspect I’m Somewhere Else

Just for fun, my planned reads for the week, outside new issues:

I’m already almost done with it, but Peter David’s The Atlantis Chronicles is definitely on the bill, to be shortly followed by Aquaman: Time and Tide, like, you know, it’s supposed to be. Then, of course, Peter David’s Aquaman “proper”.

I just read Scarlet Spider #3, as it came in the mail today, putting me one issue away from completing the series (and also tying a bow on Venom, as it’s an issue from the admittedly “meh” Minimum Carnage storyline–but, hey, at least it isn’t Maximum Carnage.)

I finished Justice League International (as in, the one that came out of Justice League and precedes Justice League America) and am thus in a place to begin both Justice League Europe and Justice League America (note: no “of”).

I just got in Peter Parker, the Spectacular Spider-Man #110, too, which means I can work on re-reading most of that run (a few gaps, to be fair, but with all the other reading…shouldn’t be a problem to halt as needed).

Daredevil: End of Days I may need to look into (insofar as, well, “How much does this tie into Bendis/Maleev’s run on the core book…?”), but otherwise, it’s the remaining complete Daredevil work I’ve got hanging around.

And lastly, I should get back to the original run of Moon Knight, as I’ve got large chunks of ever subsequent series queued up behind it.

This is sort of off-the-cuff and all–moods shift, and I currently don’t have a reason to emphatically organize my reading around anything other than my whims, so that’s how it’s going to end up right now.

This title is from Sugar’s lovely single “If I Can’t Change Your Mind”, which was found on their full-length debut Copper Blue. More classic stuff, folks. I actually like the chime-d-y nature of the other song with “change” on the title from the same album (“Changes”) more, but what are ya gonna do.

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.