Month: July 2007

Top and Bottom of the Pile: 7-25-2007

TOP: Mighty Avengers #4
It’s been a while since we last saw Mighty Avengers, and I can’t really say that it’s been worth the wait, but there’s a few things that this issue does to make its way to the top of the pile. For one, this marks the first time since issue 1 that the team does something besides stare at Ultron. Seriously, you could skip from the end of the first issue to this point and you’d only be scratching your head about one, maybe two things. Also, the surprise ending leaves the next issue quite appealing, as well as wondering where World War Hulk fits into all this. Finally, Ares using the bottom half of Iron Man armor to replace his destroyed gun is priceless. Fun read.

BOTTOM: Immortal Iron Fist #7
EDIT: After going back and reading the story, I somehow completely missed out on the context of the story. This was completely fitting with a character introduced in the first story, but still remains in this section because it breaks the momentum of the story. Damn.

Rest of the Pile: Cable & Deadpool #43, Supergirl & the Legion of Super-Heroes #32, Teen Titans #49, Walking Dead #39, X-Men #201, X-Men: First Class #2

Marvel doesn’t learn from mistakes, either.

Fans have grown somewhat weary of writers from outside the comic industry coming in and running the show. The excitement met with Kevin Smith’s arrival on Green Arrow has long since become a thing of the past.

So, when Marvel announces that writer/producer Mike Benson (Entourage, among others) is hopping onto Moon Knight with regular writer Charlie Huston, I can’t say that I was overly amused. After all, I’m a fan still waiting for the 22nd issue of Astonishing X-Men that was originally solicited for April. That was written by another such figure, Joss Whedon. Remember when he was exciting too? How about Kevin Smith (director of Clerks, Dogma)’s Spider-Man/Black Cat: The Evil that Men Do? That had an almost four year gap between the third and fourth issues that felt like an entirely different story!

Of course, this is being co-written by the title’s ongoing writer, right? Well, in the same interview, they say that Huston will be handing over full writing duties of Moon Knight to Benson after he gets the flow of writing. This doesn’t look good. Of course, to argue with myself, I could bring up the fact that director Richard Donner (Superman, The Goonies) teamed up with Geoff Johns on Action Comics and the two needed five issues between parts three and four of their five part story. Guess that one goes out the window.

But Newsarama was good enough to ask Benson of this trend, and he replied with a less than shining response:

I don’t want to make any promises I can’t keep but this project is really important to me. I want everyone—from new readers to the die-hard fans—to know that I’m not just coming in here and putting my thumbprint down on the character and then blasting back out. I understand what it’s like to be waiting for these books to come out—because you want to read them.

So color me skeptical, but I don’t see this book breaking the set in trend. So if you got frustrated by Whedon’s Runaways (which seems to be missing an extra month between each issue), Damon Lindelof (co-creator of Lost)’s Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk (which shipped two issues then promptly vanished, having passed the solicit date for the third issue in April of 2006), or Smith’s Daredevil/Bullseye: The Target (which has not shipped its second issue after being launched in late 2002), don’t single out Moon Knight as a book to fill the void. Save yourself the hurt and just pick up an ongoing you know you can appreciate…like New Avengers.

JLA: Walls (11)

It’s not often that you see a standalone issue these days, especially in a high profile book such as JLA. With the success of the trade paperback, stories are usually set to fit nicely by storyline within an easily-collectible volume. While it’s not as bad as it had been over the past three years, it’s still a rarity to get the issue that bridges between two story arcs.

And of course, when you do get one, it’s usually featuring at least one guest talent to let the regular team rest up for the upcoming story. The result is often a forgettable mesh looking to kill time.

But that’s not at all what’s found in this book.

With Gene Ha providing artwork, Brad Meltzer takes two of his lesser known cast members, Red Arrow and Vixen, and gives them an issue of dialog with one another. Really, that’s it. You have some random crowd noise in the beginning and end, but overall, it’s just dialog between the two, along with the inner monologue that has become commonplace in the title. The result is pure gold.

The basic story is that during a battle with Dr. Polaris, a building toppled over into the Potomac River with Red Arrow and Vixen buried inside. With tight panels with lots of space in between, Ha gives the reader the claustrophobic feel of the characters as they calm each other and make their escape out. It gives a feeling of tension usually saved for a movie thriller or particularly involved novel, as you really worry about both characters.

Meltzer takes the opportunity to make the reveal of Vixen’s abilities hinted throughout the last few issues, but in a way that suggests that more will come of this. The whole issue humanizes both characters and allows the readers to truly bond with them. They feel the fight for life and cheer when the ending comes. The twist (literally) at the end was quite unexpected as well.

This was a fantastic issue that really pushed both characters forward. A lesser team probably would have produced a lackluster thriller-wannabe, but Meltzer and Ha came through and made this book an exciting read. Definitely the best issue I’ve seen in months.

Ultimate Spider-Man: The Talk (111)

In the middle of the “Clone Saga” storyline, Peter finally revealed to Aunt May that he was Spider-Man. She promptly had a heart attack. After spending “Ultimate Knights” in a hospital bed, Aunt May finally comes home and has the opportunity to talk to Peter one on one about his dual-identity.

This issue is important for two major reasons. Number one, this is the ‘passing of the torch’ issue between outgoing penciler Mark Bagley and the incoming Stuart Immonen. Bagley has been on this title since the beginning without missing a single issue, breaking with writer Brian Bendis the record for longest ongoing title streak, previously held at 102 by Stan Lee and Jack Kirby on Fantastic Four. Now, with #111, Bagley shares the pencil duty with his successor, and the issue flows well with it.

The second reason is in the story itself. In mainstream Marvel continuity, Aunt May learned of Peter’s alter-ego several years ago. Since then, she has become a more central support member of the cast, able to give him advice for both lives he leads. The difference between there and here is that the original Peter is an adult, and May knows this. In Ultimate, Peter is still in high school, underage and still under May’s direct care. This makes a much different relationship between the two, as now May is likely going to be much more in the center of things.

It must also be taken into account the differences between the mainstream Aunt May and her Ultimate counterpart. While a grandmotherly figure for the adult Peter Parker, in Ultimate, she’s much more of a motherly figure, much younger than her counterpart. She greatly cares for Peter, but is often frustrated by his actions. It’s a much different relationship between the two, like an actual teenager/adult relationship, rather than the happy times that were frequent in 60s comics, when the original was in high school.

My only problem is that a plot point of “Clone Saga” – May knowing that Richard Parker was alive and telling Peter to get out – seems to be quietly forgotten with little mention. May dismisses that she ever told Peter to leave and that’s the end of that. As long as the whole Richard thing doesn’t come up again, who cares, right? I, for one, am not going to dwell on it.

The issue itself is good, with Bendis doing dialog like only he can. Bagley covers the conversation art, while Immonen takes the flashback action sequences. It’s really not the best example to show off Immonen to readers not familiar with him, since much of Ultimate Spider-Man takes place out of costume. But I’m familiar with his run on Ultimate X-Men, and I’m quite pleased with his new role.

So the title takes a turn in a new direction with a new artist. Perhaps it will be the breath of fresh air that this title seems to have been needing.

Top and Bottom of the Pile: 7-18-2007

TOP: Justice League of America #11
The concept of an issue of nothing but dialog between Red Arrow and Vixen may not be appealing at first, but with the level of drama created by Brad Meltzer and guest artist Gene Ha, this issue is without a doubt the best comic I’ve read in months. It adds appreciation to two overlooked characters (the only one more so would probably be Black Lightning) and makes a fantastic read of a bridging issue between two story arcs. For more, check out my comments on the issue coming this weekend.

BOTTOM: New X-Men #40
New X-Men continues through the grisly motions that have become disturbingly common for this book. Only this time, they’re in Limbo, so the kids and be killed multiple times, hopefully satisfying Craig Kyle and Chris Yost’s bloodlust enough for them to possibly make it through the next arc without killing anybody! It’s nice to see the other students getting the spotlight, but the ridiculously dark tone needs to lighten up and quick. Also, how many newer readers are going to remember Amanda Sefton, a character who really hasn’t been in mainstream focus since she was a side-character in Uncanny X-Men back in the 80s? Yeah, she was in late Excalibur stories, but it wasn’t canceled because a ton of people were reading it.

The Rest of the Pile: Ultimate Spider-Man #111, All Flash #1, World War Hulk #2, World War Hulk: X-Men #2

JSA: Indestructable (7)

It’s not often you see a standalone story nowadays, especially in a team book featuring about a dozen different characters. This, actually, is kind of an epilogue to the first storyline that saw the JSA take on the Fourth Reich in an effort to preserve the family lines of patriotic-themed heroes. During that story, the family of the original General Steel were massacred in one of the most disturbing scenes in a non-independent title (remember the meeting of Michone and the Governor in Walking Dead?). In the back stories, Dr. Mid-Nite and Mr. Terrific commented on the effects that Reichsmark regurgitating on the face of Nate Heywood, grandson of General Steel, regrowing his missing leg and changing him into a metallic-skinned being lacking the sense of touch.

This storyline should have been the follow-up to the first storyline, but unfortunately the title was tied up for two issues while the team was running around in the Lightning Saga. So here, we get back on track and find that Nate does indeed become the hero shown on the cover of issue 1 decked out in a variation of General Steel’s costume. But, of course, since Nate’s not in the military, Power Girl changes the name to ‘Citizen Steel’ and we have a new hero.

Nate is a very tragic character. His family murdered before his eyes, his constant pain from a football injury replaced by the numbness of his metallic skin, he’s definitely not the ray of sunshine that can be found with Cyclone or Stargirl. Also, he’s the team’s reluctant hero that would rather sit at home and do nothing than go out and fight crime. The only reason he got into the fray this issue is because it had to do with the Nazis that attacked his family. And, of course, when Nazis are involved, who doesn’t want to go in and beat the crap out of them? Don’t deny it.

The only problem here is that the JSA already has a tragic character in the form of Damage. Damage is a former reluctant hero who finally got into the act just in time for his face to be hideously scarred, forcing him to wear a mask. I suppose that a roster as big as the JSA’s has room for the two of them, and maybe the two will work well of each other, but it doesn’t seem to be the case at this point. If Geoff Johns leaves this title, I don’t see Citizen Steel getting much more time in the spotlight.

There’s also an afterthought to the Lightning Saga here as Superman visits the still-insane Starman in the mental hospital to ask about the Legion, but this seems to be just an opportunity to get Starman to say funny things. If there’s a point to this, it needs to be made because the incoherent rambling is getting old.