Hickman’s Infinity

Fair Warning: Spoilers are to follow.

Infinity.

It’s hard not to think the name was chosen to recall prior stories—inevitably those of Jim Starlin, ie, The Infinity Gauntlet, The Infinity War, The Infinity Crusade, [Adam Warlock and] the Infinity Watch, The Infinity Abyss, now The Infinity Revelation, and soon The Infinity Relativity. If nothing else, the man has had a virtual lock on Marvel comics with that word in their title, now most clearly and brazenly excepted here.

Of course, I originally intended to ignore the story—I knew the Thanos beats, and they rung so falsely that I decided it fell into the territory of the vast majority of non-Starlin Thanos stories: stuff I ain’t readin’.

But I found myself lured to Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers (and New Avengers and Avengers World)—and that meant that, unless I excised issues written by Hickman on the basis of what was written, I was going to go tromping off grudgingly into Infinity, like it or not. As both books tromped onward in their lead-up to the events in that miniseries—and, ostensibly, future ones still to come, whether simply unread in my case, or as yet unpublished—I found that, perhaps, it was an unintended coincidence. The concept of infinity (specifically through the infinities of a multiverse) was central to what was occurring.

I’m left to wonder, somewhat, if the inclusion of Thanos (and the title, or maybe as a result of the title, or maybe many things) was editorial mandate or in some way just as grudging for writer as me for reader.

Whether it was or not, the read was intensely frustrating. I’ve been asked by a few friends of late to recommend the works most apt to explain my love of the character, which has highlighted (though it’s largely instinctive) the problematic nature of every other writer’s approach to the character. This, though, was the most frustrating of all, because it was a glaring stain on what was otherwise an interesting and enjoyable story. I liked the Builders and where that went—I thought the concepts there were very well-realized, thoroughly engaging and interesting. To add insult to injury, the badly-written Thanos was in what felt like a shoe-horned plot—totally unnecessary distraction from what really mattered. The moment where they find the wearied, beaten worlds raising up the “A” in honour of the only ones who felt able to stand against the builders—and Hawkeye holding his bow with the Centaurians—was inspiring in the best of comic book hero ways.

I just took a few moments to re-read Starlin’s most recent work on the character, to confirm for myself whether he’s stumbling in that absence or not (the answer was “not”). This Thanos is so radically different from the one employed by Hickman (and everyone else, for that matter), that I’m left with the same impression I had on leaving the theater after seeing Guardians of the Galaxy: whatever good here is marred by the chasmic loss of what was to what is.

Retcons are a fact of comic book life—as are continuity errors, mistakes, and writers who just don’t give a toss. But fundamentally altering a character within the stream of continuity without expectation is nonsensical. It fits a pattern that many have stated, and I, too, have put forth: if you aren’t going to use the original material, why do you steal it’s visage?

In other words: this isn’t Thanos. So why do you call him that and make him look this way?

There’s a very clear manner to his speech, visible in every famous Thanos story up through the early to mid 90s (indeed, almost every story, with only two notable and unpleasant exceptions¹). Starlin’s stated explicitly that one quirk is the absolute absence of contractions: you will find that Thanos always “does not” and never “doesn’t”. There’s more to it—he reads like someone with a dictionary in his head. This isn’t to be confused with the kind of person who carries a thesaurus and intentionally trades out a word based on syllable count (with little understanding of the nuanced differences between the two words in question), as it’s rarely, if ever, uncomfortable.

Hickman somewhat manages the latter, but fails distinctly at the former. And this is indicative of exactly what the problem is with almost everyone who writes the character and isn’t Jim Starlin: Thanos is on a different plane. While he’s most definitely not devoid of petty emotions (his jealousy, rage, and otherwise un-characteristically vulnerability-hiding arrogance in The Infinity Gauntlet, for instance), his over-arching motivations are not so simplistic. Vengeance as long-term plan for shows of brute force is not his nature. Everything he does is planned and schemed—he’s not an invading tyrant, he’s a strategist in the extreme.

And so we now watch numerous plot elements fail:

  • He has children scattered throughout the galaxy. Oddly, this end goal (the fact of his having offspring) is completely out of keeping with the character’s obsessions with death and “chaos” (when chaos was added to this mix, I’ve no idea, as chaos is the antithesis of what he seeks). Most confusingly of all, this description is the one that everyone else relies on to describe the character (up to and including his cameo appearance at the end of the Avengers movie). Why a character obsessed with death would do anything that risks the creation of life is unfathomable.
  • The implication, which, on reading the book, is extraordinarily unpleasant, is that his conquering involved rape. It carries the implication of warlord-like brutality, shows of power for their own sake, and a different kind of moral unpleasantness than even a willingness to kill half of all life with the snap of his fingers. It’s also somewhat more chaotic; the response of a person to being killed is never in question (they die). The risks of childbirth, vengeance—anything, are not in keeping with his “actual” character. It simply doesn’t make sense (in addition to being disgusting²).
  • His motivation is to kill his children, and he does so by demanding “tribute” of all possible lives in a given society that fit the age group. This is, again, a sloppy, violent action, a show of brute force with little to do in the way of scheme, plan, or intelligence.
  • He employs a core set of generals, who are all sociopaths and psychopaths of immense power. This is not a set of instruments or tools he can control—except via, again, shows of force. Contrast this (down to the origin story of Proxima Midnight) to that of Gamora: from child rescued as last survivor of the Zen-Whoberi, raised as his own adoptive daughter with whatever facsimiles of love and affection he can manage (enough that even a pre-pubescent Gamora moves to defend her foster “father” from an attack) to “child who watched him murder the child next to her.” Gamora was loyal to him because, in all honesty, he earned her loyalty. She abandoned him as a result of his final goals and their ties to death. But he knew he could rely on her up to that end. After that, his associates were used without their knowledge (see: most of Earth’s heroes) or with careful examination and understanding to assure that their goals were mutual enough that he could rely upon them and trust their actions and motivations. Any risks after a goal was achieved were planned for.

There are points here and there that Hickman manages better than others—the way Thanos is finally defeated is reasonable, in a sense: there’s no way to have acquired advance knowledge of how to deal with his son’s powers, when he had not yet undergone terrigenesis. But that’s contrasted with the absurd sloppiness of marauading around with an invasion force and just going “screw it, give me all of ‘em.”

That character is most definitely a threat, but that character is not interesting. The coldly manipulative nature of Starlin’s Thanos, coupled with his varied motivations and glimmers of remorse: he’s an actual sentient being in that.

To everyone else, he’s just an incredibly powerful and threatening warlord. That’s not creative or interesting. It’s not even the same kind of threat—really, it suffers from “Venom” syndrome: “What if we took them up against someone who’s just more powerful in all ways and has a counter for their most valuable skills?”

It’s boring. It’s an idea, with no realization behind it. Some yammer on about how the gauntlet is a “lazy plot device” or how “stupid” it is that Thanos is his own worst enemy, but that’s because they’re grafting the “Venom” approach onto the Starlin character. The point isn’t who can beat who, or who’s stronger—those are brought up, because it would be absurd to think Thanos would do anything he does and everyone would shrug and go “Really? Oh well.” And if they can’t do that, and they could beat him, then the explorations of power and his character would never be achieved. The idea of a character who seeks and can, even has, gained omnipotence and found it and himself wanting is fascinating. Someone who gets omnipotence and is beaten by the skin of the heroes’ teeth could be exciting, but not really fascinating. More to the point, that character exists in a thousand colours, shapes, names, and forms.

Galactus is most interesting because he is a cosmic force, a necessity, an inevitability, and simply above and beyond the insectoid life-forms that the rest of us are to him. If he cackled madly and joyously relished destroying worlds for fun, or even did so with menacing stoicism, he would be boring.

But, unfortunately, that’s the character that everyone wants Thanos to be—they cheer for his appearance in the Avengers in the way that everyone clamoured for Venom in Spider-Man movies. It’s not insincere, but it’s about an idea, and not a character, because there isn’t one there: “Oh boy! Thanos is the biggest, coolest threat!” Venom didn’t work (and likely wouldn’t work) because the story there is so thin. The most you can hope is that he looks “cool” and comes off “badass”—because that’s all people actually want out of him. Mostly because there isn’t anything else. And so they want the same from Thanos—but this becomes frustrating because that end result necessitates abdication from any attempt to realize the character that he is. Thanos the roving, power-mad, philosophizing curiosity is lost to “Thanos the really powerful, and totally rad badass”.

And that’s a real shame. Use another character. Make a new one. Use Thanos for Thanos—not because “badass”.

¹Those would be his infamously hilarious story in Spidey Super Stories (where he robs a bank and also has a bright yellow “Thanos Copter”) and the occasionally praised—for reasons I’m not sure of—backup feature in an issue of Logan’s Run, which was pretty terrible.

²There is, of course, inevitable debate about how one can create a hierarchy of moral awfulness once one reaches murder, rape, or mass forms of either. However, this is fiction: in much of fiction, death does not have the gravity of death by necessity. Death is inescapable, even in isolation. Even violent death is not sufficiently preventable, as it can occur without machination or voluntary action. Beyond this, much of fiction is built on conflict, and essentially the entirety of super hero comic-dom is built on power and force—some form of violence—as means to stop things. Soldiers, war, martial arts—fiction in such realms would become ludicrous with an excision of death, when physical conflict is central. And we would not particularly want to play games or read stories or watch them in cases where we are always led to hate or feel disgusted with all acts of violence perpetrated by all characters (there are exceptions, notable because they are exceptions—if the norm, well, it simply wouldn’t ever be the norm).

The Happy-Ever-After, It’s at the End of the Rainbow

Sometimes we–or at least, I–like to imagine a much more cosmic cause and effect than realistically exists. It’s silly, but when there’s no control present otherwise, it gives the illusion, so long as the imagined connection holds. Of course, human minds are more than capable of editing memory, expectation, and the nature of these connections to maintain that link.

I had planned, today, to wander out and pick up some more ingredients for the simplistic quesadillas I’ve been downing (also: burning regularly) lately, and struck upon the idea of hitting the grocery store near a Walgreens a few miles out. Why is a landmark likely irrelevant to you or any of this remotely important? Well, it was rumoured and then confirmed that Walgreens was going to be home to an exclusive Marvel Infinite figure, a character that was produced previously for the Select line as an exclusive for the Disney Store¹: the symbiote-laden Eugene “Flash” Thompson, aka “Agent” Venom.

What I decided was that I would read the issues of his series (as written by Rick Remender and then Cullen Bunn) that I’d finally built up² and that would magically be the move that placed his figure into one of my local Walgreens, and specifically the one I was going to visit. I plowed through 2-14 (I’d read 15 to the end, #42, a few weeks ago) and made my way out, but, alas, no dice.

The other thought I was left with, though, was to address a topic close to me after running into someone’s recommendations for Marvel comics to read from throughout the company’s history. The suggestion was the Michelinie/McFarlane run of Amazing Spider-Man, mostly because it contains the first appearance of Venom.

Michelinie’s run, though it contains both my favourite Amazing artist (Bagley) and many stories from my youth (again, with Bagley, rather than McFarlane) is not as impressive on revisiting it. Having read every core Spider-Man title up to around the beginning or middle of the Clone Saga, I discovered rapidly the weak points in any of the titles (Amazing, [Peter Parker the] Spectacular Spider-Man, [Peter Parker: ]Spider-Man, and Web of Spider-Man) and Michelinie’s suffered next to Conway and Buscema’s Spectacular, though admittedly not as much as Web, which spent its life bouncing between insufferably boring and random points of good-to-great.

It wasn’t bad, but none of that really addresses the real issue–which also isn’t my feeling that McFarlane’s art is hideously over-rated–but that Venom is a stupid character. This has been written many times–I forget who encapsulated it best, but it’s easily related to the sheer lack of creativity behind him. Now, we have the idea of the abandoned symbiote latching onto a new host, which is an interesting idea, but revolves around the symbiote, which existed long before Venom. But that host is nothing–Michelinie makes the foolish mistake of trying to tie Eddie Brock into one of the best Spider-Man stories (and my personal favourite): Peter David’s “The Death of Jean DeWolff” from Spectacular #107-110, and does so clumsily and stupidly, by taking the false confessions of Emil Gregg and shoehorning in unseen events with him. Why does Gregg come in to the Daily Bugle seeking JJJ (in the original issues), if he has a reporter for The Daily Globe listening to him (as Michelinie suggests)? Why does Eddie reveal his identity after Gregg is taken in by the police and revealed to be a copycat? Why is Eddie such a baffling sociopathic narcissist that he not only hides a spree murderer from the police for the sake of circulation, he then blames they guy who actually stopped the murders for revealing the murderer

Setting all that aside, the entire concept of Venom is both simple and stupid: “What if Spider-Man had to fight Spider-Man, only he was stronger and was invulnerable to Spider-Man’s powers???” It’s a lazy way of creating a challenge–unlike the interesting moral examinations of the Sin-Eater, the moral and personal dilemmas of the Green Goblins (who have far more subtle and disturbing “immunities”), the already-more-powerful-since ASM#3 Doc Ock (who completely kicked Spidey’s butt), or any variety of villains that came with personalities and tactics and powers that were not just “Spider-Man Plus”.

This only got worse when Michelinie created Carnage (whose original story was slightly before my time, by a few issues): Cletus Kasady is a non-entity, a face and name attached to a serial killer who kills “because”. In reality, this kind of thing is horrifying, because it’s a real person, who was living next to people and seemed normal and all of those things that remind us that we’re never completely sure what drives that kind of person, and how we missed it. Here, it’s a barely half-dimensional “character”–I won’t go so far as to accuse either Venom or Carnage of being creative-ethics bankruptcy (ie, cashing in on simplistic appeal), but that they’re just really badly written and created characters. And most of this, of course, centers on the fact that the two hosts–Brock and Kasady–are boring as all hell. We get a silly, lame explanation for Brock’s homicidal urges, but someone who would hide a murderer and hate someone who stops murderers, for some reason has a conscience about killing “innocents” (?!) which was eventually milked to the ends of the earth in a series of increasingly confusing moves toward violent anti-hero, which is, admittedly, exactly what a lot of us “tweens” and teens wanted then (see also: Punisher, Ghost Rider, Wolverine, almost all of early Image Comics…). Yeah, Michelinie later expanded a bit on what motivated Eddie to place so much stock in his failed exposé, but it just all rings out as silly. Even as a kid, I thought, “Really? How is that Spider-Man’s fault? How can he even think that?”

The point, in the end, is this: Remender’s (Agent) Venom proves that the symbiote-infused character isn’t a bad idea, and even builds on the history with Brock to create proper and meaningful conflict (easier when you have written stories to build from, and thus can gloss over the stupid origin). Having Flash, a character we already know, take on the symbiote brings something interesting, and allows us–much like Spider-Man originally–to see the contrast of before and after, the effects and the way the interactions occur. Interestingly, we even get to see Eddie Brock more interesting–side effects, I guess, of whenever he was turned into Anti-Venom. His motivations and character make more sense, because it’s reflection and reaction coming from the actions we’ve witnessed.

Perhaps it’s best compared to Hobgoblin–Roger Stern made a really emphatic mystery out of Hobgoblin’s identity, much as the original Green Goblin’s was teased (he appears in ASM #14, 17, 18 (if you count a single panel), 23 & 25 (more cameos, but as the unnamed Norman Osborn), 26, 27, 37, and 38. Stern’s original identity for Hobgoblin was Roderick Kingsley, but he left the book without resolving the mystery, and so between DeFalco’s denial of Kingsley and Stern’s exit, Peter David (him again!) decided it was one of the red herrings–Ned Leeds, husband of Betty Brant, and wrote ASM #289 to reflect this. In both cases, we didn’t have the, frankly, bullshit lead-in of a single out-of-panel appearance two years before the villain (or his civilian identity!) was revealed. Now, Michelinie wasn’t aiming for the identity of Venom to be a mystery we were led along for, but he still introduces a villain and his human-self in one issue, which would be fine–except it’s personal. It’s a bunch of retconned in nonsense that we have to pretend occurred somewhere in the original story (and avoid having us re-read it, because it’s going to make this story look really, really bad).

It’s all a fascinating web: one of Green Goblin’s old compatriots/competitors was the Crime-Master who, interestingly, appears in Remender’s Venom (and it gets even more convoluted-ly ‘incestuous’, but this story being way, way more recent, I’ll leave that spoiler alone).

Anyway, the point is that Venom was a character who grew on the backs of what he was–badly written, badly thought out, but directly driven into the veins of tastes at the time. Eventually it became accepted that Venom was a sweet-ass, totally rad character, because, well, we were all told it. And I don’t begrudge anyone who loves the character–but I’m so enthused about what Remender did with the symbiote that, for once, I appreciate a character named Venom. Because now we have a real, established person under the alien, holding that name. Flash had already changed much over the years–unlike those Goblins, he was established for himself, rather than as a new supporting character intended to be revealed as the secret identity that we’d had hinted to us, being loaded in prior to the reveal only so that the reveal meant something. There we are though: loaded in beforehand so the reveal meant something. We had at least some idea of Kingsley and Norman before they were revealed to be Goblins. Venom and Brock appear simultaneously in any meaningful sense.

We’ll see if it’s actually 2 out of 3 when I get around to Thunderbolts and the eventual presence of Mac Gargan’s version…

Title comes from Gang of Four’s “Ether” off the 1979 classic Entertainment! Buy it today, if you don’t already have a copy. Which you should. It’s a classic, remember?

 

¹I’ve mentioned this offline many a time, but that was a truly asshole maneouvre. Disney stores are not exactly a dime a dozen, or even a hundred. I’d probably need to drive at least an hour to see one. I’ve got three Walgreens within about five or six miles, and more beyond that. Weird choice, but not so ‘elitist’ about availability.

²I just got a water-damaged copy of the third printing of #1 that’s still perfectly readable and a nice clean 13.2, both of which are obnoxiously expensive, though the #1 was discounted to a perfectly reasonable $2.50 for its condition.

³Any of this can be addressed with “Eddie is a fucking moron, a shitty journalist, and mentally ill,” but no one ever addresses the probable mental illness, which is probably asking too much–except that we have people like DeMatteis and David on Spidey books in the same days, making far more ground in fascinating villains (this story is on the heels of not only the Return of the Sin-Eater, but less than ten issues after “Fearful Symmetry”, aka “Kraven’s Last Hunt”)

Guardians…

Well, I decided that perhaps I ought to see Guardians of the Galaxy. I had a number of issues with it: James Gunn is Troma alumni (watch out for the Lloyd Kaufman cameo, if you do see it!), but he also scripted the abysmal Dawn of the Dead remake (which failed mostly with regard to its script and its direction, so…). Anything surrounding it made explicitly clear that the nature of the characters–in all senses–was going to be ignored. Now, if you haven’t heard this before, let me address it clearly: I do not take issue with liberties taken with character history and storylines, so long as the reasons do not reek.¹ Something interesting has to be done to justify those changes–either it’s an absolute inability to address the history that brings a character to the modern incarnation (Rogue…) or it’s an expansion past a good ol’ Lee/Ditko/Kirby “This is how this guy got powers” explanation that doesn’t deal much with character. Making Max Dillon a humiliated loser nobody isn’t really out of range for 616 Electro (nevermind that it was crossed with 1610 anyway). But Lady Deathstrike’s rich motivation and background was traded for…well, literally nothing. In X2, she’s a cardboard bloody cutout–a nothing, a non-entity, and most obviously a stand-in for Sabretooth, as she doesn’t even retain anything of her factual origin. So, from here, we have some kind of trickle-through-the-cracks bits and pieces of SPOILERS. If you’re the kind of person that would be upset at someone telling you about how a movie opens, or about the nature of characters in it that don’t involve surprises or twists, or that kind of thing–stop reading. Accept that I think honestly the movie kind of sucks, and be annoyed or pleased or whatever reaction you may have to this news. So, seeing the obnoxious approach taken to Drax, Gamora, and Quill (to say nothing of Thanos–let’s not even get into what a shitty version of him this movie has) was just off-putting. Saldana and Bautista, to make matters worse, were not up to the characters they did have (poor shadows of their origins, or even current incarnations, that they are). The Deadliest Woman in the Galaxy is shockingly, miserably helpless at almost all turns, soft and sentimental in ways that it once took her a good bit of time to reach. Drax is some kind of weird amalgamation of the red-tattooed modern version and the post-second-resurrection doofus version. Milked for some really forced humour (“He doesn’t understand metaphors and takes everything completely literally.”), it just falls flat, and Bautista’s awful delivery does not help things. And of course there’s Quill. My first experience of Quill was when Giffen wrote him into the Kyln, for the post-Starlin latter half of the intended-to-be-ongoing Thanos series. He was a very interesting character, for his hinted history and his surly reluctance. Here, he’s no longer an ex-hero (or a still-hero), has no clarified reason for being, and is a colossal goof. The movie opens on him as an adult dancing through a mission stupidly. There are some real clunkers of dialogue in there, too (again, Saldana and Bautista make any weaknesses in the script uncomfortably glaring), and it just enforces the problems I have with the changes to the universe. The militaristic Kree disavow Ronan (you know, the Supreme Accuser, their judge, jury, and executioner) and sign peace treaties (!). The Nova Corps is bafflingly regarded: Quill insists they are the only ones to be trusted with dangerous things, but we see basically no reasons to justify this. They don’t have the Nova Force, the Worldmind (see also: Kree Supreme Intelligence) is nowhere to be found. They seem to be a bunch of more literal space cops. Guys in uniforms with guns trying to enforce the law. Huh? Why are they magically better at this than anyone else? Why should they be trusted to be capable of handling anything dangerous? And what the fuck was with Sanctuary? Once an enormous, technologically advanced ship, it’s now…a bunch of rocks. Thanos’s Metron-inspired chair is also now a bunch of rocks (what the hell?!) Thanos was ruined. Utterly ruined. Incompetent, power-backed bluster, rather than the brilliant and devious mind of The Thanos Quest, he’s not even interesting. He’s all threats and nothing interesting. It’s furthering the rather clear truth that he is wasted in these movies. There was no alternative, of course–anyone that thinks you can or should treat Thanos as a background villain doesn’t really get the character, at least as he appeared for his first 30-odd years (before Starlin’s absence allowed him to be stolen away for increasingly ridiculous and stupid plots that bear no resemblance to the characterization that precedes them). The reality is that Thanos should never have been inserted into the MCU. They are incapable of doing him justice–not as a knock against writers, directors, actors or others, but as a knock against the fact that Thanos stories are not Avengers stories. Not even when he appears in Avengers books. It is point 2 from a previous post on the subject of Thanos that elucidates why this movie is an affront to the character. Thanos has no control, no plan, no nothing in place for what transpires. Is it, as some say, “ridiculous” that Thanos is so powerful and devious that the Avengers or the Guardians or anyone else can’t stop it? Maybe. But the truth is that it’s because he’s significantly apart from the “core” of the Marvel universe. Chad Nevett addresses this most wonderfully in his Hello Cosmic blog entries, such as this on The Infinity Gauntlet:

As well, I’ve noted before how the regular Marvel heroes are useless in Starlin’s stories and here is no different. Issue four, as I said, is them getting slaughtered. Up until that point, they do nothing and after, at best, they distract Nebula. Starlin doesn’t just use Adam Warlock, he demonstrates why Warlock is better suited for these problems than the heroes we usually read, and why his stories are unique. Yes, Captain America is great, but having determination and grit means shit against Thanos, because Thanos is out of his league. In the same way, you wouldn’t have Adam Warlock fight the Red Skull, because the fight would last the amount of time it takes Warlock to use the soul gem on the Nazi bastard. Starlin uses stories like The Infinity Gauntlet to create a hierarchy of power within the Marvel universe and demonstrate that, yes, stories must be geared towards and come out of characters. You can’t just take a character and toss them into any story for the hell of it.

This is the reality. Thanos doesn’t belong in these movies, and I know I’m just going to be more and more depressed and/or irritated as this shit goes on, because they will not ever do him justice. Because, like most people, they don’t understand the above at all. Alas. Oh, and for anyone who hears Gamora’s speech to Quill in the movie about how Thanos treated her, I heartily recommend “Yule Memory”, a short story from the 1992 Marvel Holiday Special. It contains this panel, which should speak volumes about how fucking stupid that change was: ¹For instance, X2‘s conversion of Stryker reeks of cowardice. That the original story–God Loves, Man Kills–dealt with Claremont’s favourite approach to the discrimination the mutants faced (a religious facet) seems to have been too scary to write or film or whatever. So they sucked the scary possible zealotry and re-fashioned it into, “Well, he’s kind of nuts.” Boo. Stupid.

You know what I miss?

One of my absolute stylistic dream teams. Ron Wagner inked by Mike Witherby, coloured by Gregory Wright, lettered by Janice Chiang, and written by Len Kaminski

I was just poking around for more of Ron Wagner’s pencils, as I lost track of Morbius, The Living Vampire around issue 12 (mostly thanks to the “Midnight Massacre” crossover that made it problematic to collect with my super-limited allowance funds, at age 8-9), and have since discovered that I happened to catch the good parts and miss the bad. The series takes a turn for the worse almost immediately after 12, as Kaminski is lost, Wagner is co-penciling (to the extreme detriment of the series), Witherby is nowhere to be found (and replaced by a pair of inkers who don’t do Wagner’s remaining work justice). The series turns from one of the most successfully dark, edgy, gritty, pleasantly-unpleasant series I’ve read in the 90s (the kind that really rides that line of horror movie without delving into the camp aspects, intentionally or not), about a hero that pretty well openly murders his foes whether he likes it or not (leaving him to once let a foe fall in front of a train–said foe carefully un-dismembering himself post-haste…). It’s twisted and weird and totally unlike anything Marvel was doing otherwise (Ghost Rider was solid, but more like the grittier end of standing heroes, Darkhold was terrible and cheesy, Nightstalkers was in the vein of Ghost Rider, but the team dynamic could let it drift off into more “normal” territory…). Morbius, as a character, is outside so much of what came before or after–his costume was short-lived, returned to his original open-chested giant red collar for subsequent appearances.

The stability of the look, the feel, and the quality of the book was ridiculous, but apparently really short-lived.

There was a back-up feature in a few issues that I remember thinking looked like absolute garbage even then, and returning to it is still baffling in its awfulness:

wtf

 

 

Isaac Cordova, who drew that monstrosity of terrible was later tapped to draw the book regularly, sealing its fate as incredibly shitty.

It’s sad. There are teams I’ve loved the hell out of (Starlin/Lim, of course; Miller/Janson; Bendis/Maleev¹; Conway/Buscema²…), but this one had so little chance, being on a semi-obscure character in a certainly-now-thoroughly-obscure book, creating a story no one was paying attention to (or remembers!) that was, despite all that, amazing. The above teams (with the exception, perhaps, of the last) are actually known for their work, by name.

The only comment I could find on this team was some dipshit insisting Janice Chiang’s lettering is terrible, clearly the result of an unfortunate case of mutually exclusive cases of blindness and illiteracy.

 

¹Yeah, that’s two teams from Daredevil. One of the interesting parallels is that Morbius, too, required a very unique touch to function appropriately. Despite it’s relatively long-running nature, few Daredevil stories are ever referenced or remembered, except the ones from those teams. Go figure.

²Yeah, Buscema started drawing Spectacular with Peter David writing (returning to the Sin-Eater–never a bad time!–though good lord it had to follow Fearful Symmetry, something I envy for no one), but once he and Conway really hit their stride? Holy shit, the “secondary” Spider-book started beating the snot out of Amazing with its consistency and quality, not having to resort to bullshit like Venom and Carnage–it was almost a functionally separate universe, one where characters were not so x-treme, but reliable, consistent, creative, interesting, without clinging to the limitations of decades past as the characters and stories changed, but never lost their Spider-Man-ness.

Execution Is Mere Formality…

Image

I picked up a copy of Thanos: Infinity Abyss some weeks ago (I think it was from the Record Store Day run, but it’s not important), and took the occasion to read it tonight.

Oh, the frustration.

On the back: “Five classic costumed champions whose combined strength can move planets and change the course of time itself. What threat could be dire enough to bring these heroes together? Only the most feared villain in the entire cosmos: Thanos! For the vengeful Eternal seeks not only the death of his enemies–he seeks the eradication of life itself. If Thanos attains his goal, the entire universe will face complete Annihilation.”

No. Wrong. Entirely wrong. Given as wrong almost at the inception of the book. There is nothing whatsoever in the entire book to indicate any of this, because it is all totally, and completely, inaccurate. Poor Starlin’s own book can’t escape the mind-numbing oversimplification of his brilliant creation. “He worships death! He wants to exterminate life!” Seriously. The book repeatedly addresses this. This isn’t a twist, either. There’s no “Oh we thought he was bad but we were wrong oh shit our bad”. Because within the book, within Starlin’s writing, there was never a question, because we already knew this wasn’t the case. His prior writing made it clear.

And yet, in addition to the full blast of a Starlin cosmic story, we have some pretty great notes:

1) He addresses the bad writing of people who ignore Thanos. Some will call it a cop-out, but that’s because those people are wrong. When you start expanding, rounding and fully realizing a character, throwing that away to reduce them to a flimsy cardboard standup is bad. Period. It’s not interesting, unique–it’s just trashing something good in favour of repetitious stupidity. But it’s dealt with in a fashion that even lets him explicitly address the stupid-level motivations of those thought to be Thanos, referencing even the single-mindedness, as well as the middling plans. Which brings me to…

2) An excellent line, in contrast to a moronic comment I read recently, which questioned when Thanos was “ever about subtlety” (the answer: always!):

“But fortunately, Thanos’s most dangerous weapon is his mind. It is entirely in the planning. All battles are won or lost before ever the first blow is struck. Execution is mere formality.”

 

But it’s all still depressing: this is a new printing, and it’s almost guaranteed that whatever lazy asshole wrote the back of it wrote it with all of the stupid recent writings and, unfortunately, the upcoming film adapatations, in mind. Great…

It’s too late to turn back, here we go

I just finished Color Me Impressed: A Film about the Replacements and I don’t know what to think.

A lot of people are angry that it includes absolutely nothing of their music whatsoever (it really doesn’t) and that Paul, Tommy, Chris, Slim (I think this was filmed long enough ago?), even Peter Jesepersen does not appear at all. Not really even in photos or archival footage.

It works better than Gigantic: A Tale of Two Johns (perhaps the worst music documentary I’ve ever seen), but that isn’t saying much. It’s Colin Meloy and Legs McNeil and Robert Christgau waxing poetic on the band, which isn’t unwelcome, but occasionally crosses into the most grating parts of Gigantic-style music film-making: pointless, pretentious pontificating. We’ve got the advantage of random fans in some cases, and the disadvantage of the same in others. Letting someone ramble about how the members of the band were their imaginary friends as a kid is a bit odd and focused more on that person than the band.

We also get the eye-rollingly-expected “Everything after Let It Be is garbage” opinion from a bunch of people (cf. “When Bob left…”), which is baffling to me as a very discerning person recommended to me Tim before any others, and, fuck it, I like all of them (I do probably like Don’t Tell a Soul the least, to be honest, but not to the level of venom that is usually heaped upon it). It’s not useful, really. And I honestly don’t get the issues with production, except on Don’t, which is poured over with reverb unnecessarily (even where appropriate, it’s overdone). We do get the explanation for this, which is nice, but overall…

Talking about how the band was one of the greatest ever and dismissing half of their output¹ seems…disingenuous. Unhelpful. The opinions are balanced out, of course, even a “Fuck the production, that’s not what matters” opinion (whew).

Can’t recommend the movie in good faith, regardless, but I found a copy of Hot Snakes’ Suicide Invoice on vinyl today, so I can’t actually complain much.

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¹Yeah, I suppose if you think Bob leaving the band was the end of the band, it’s dismissing “that other band”, but I’ve discussed my bafflement at disregarding Paul’s solo albums before. It’s horseshit.

One more shot for you, iTunes…

One more shot for you, iTunes…

The notion of a set of thirty-eight bonus tracks, including b-sides (yay!) was enough to entice me. It didn’t have an analogue in any other digital stores (boo!), so I decided to suck it up and go to iTunes (which I installed once before, and it lasted about a day, tops). Oh, of course: UK only. Well, all right. I can just…oh.

I can’t legitimately purchase it without a UK billing address…

I don’t have these issue with Bandcamp. Or Amazon. 

Uninstalled.

Seriously, Apple. Fuck off.