The World Cup! A time when America wakes up to the international love of football, thinks about it for a second, shrugs and goes back to sleep. But yesterday, when my dad – still in town, for those keeping track of my familial visits – told me that America had drawn in their match with Italy, I said as a joke, “Have Italy forgotten how to play football?” Little did I know that the answer actually was yes, and that America hadn’t actually scored the equalizing score themselves. In a week when Marvel get a massive amount of publicity for Spider-Man revealing his identity to the Marvel world-at-large and thereby ending one of the core parts of the Spider-Man concept, it seems fitting to start off reviews by thinking about that familiar concept called “the own goal,” doesn’t it? 4 #30: Call me a strange internet ghoul if you must, but for some reason, this final issue seemed like the perfect time for me to try out Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa’s version of the Fantastic Four for the first time. It’s something that I’d been meaning to do for awhile, mostly because Ed Cunard – a man of wealth and taste… Well, taste, anyway – has been a secret fan of this series and recommending it to me for months. Perhaps if I’d heeded his advice sooner, I would’ve provided the book with the one sale it needed to stay alive. Anyway, maybe it’s because I was so horrified by JMS’s version of the characters over in their main title the other month, but I kind of enjoyed Aguirre-Sacasa’s more traditional take on the team. The issue has lots of faults – not least of which a lack of actual plot, as it concentrates more on what seems to be revisiting past storylines from this series – but I liked seeing a Fantastic Four that felt like a family as opposed to the meanspirited characatures that seem to populate the other books these days, and the light tone (especially with Super Apes beating up Namor) was equally welcome. Okay, and enough to make me wish I’d paid attention to Ed earlier.
52 WEEK SIX: Wasn’t I complaining about the writers introducing too many plots last week? Well, the majority of this issue deals with not a new plot, but many new characters, whether new to the series (the Green Lanterns) or entirely new altogether (the Great Ten), which gives the same “Wait, get back to those stories you were telling before” feeling. That’s something that’s only amplified by the two returning plots in this issue, neither of which move forward a great deal but nonetheless play for time in a fascinating way – especially the Booster Gold plot, which suddenly becomes something much, much larger than what I’d been expecting. If it wasn’t for the fact that various DC writers have made comments to the effect of “Hypertime will never be mentioned again, ever,” I’d be counting the weeks until we had a return to Mark Waid’s semi-forgotten Kingdom mini-event… but that’s because I’m a big DC geek. I have to wonder what non-DC fans make of the series at this point, because with each step towards continuity nerd-dom that makes me enjoy it more, I’m convinced that more sane minds are deciding that it’s not worth the trouble. Good, with the admission that this kind of thing bypasses my critical faculties.
CIVIL WAR #2: So, wait, Spider-Man is Peter Parker? Why didn’t anyone tell me?!? Again, Marvel’s hype machine outdoes itself and removes all suspense and surprise from this issue: We knew that it was going to be Captain America versus Iron Man from the get-go, and thanks to the tidal wave of press midweek, even the castaways on the mysterious island in Lost know that Spider-Man unmasked himself at the end of the issue, so actually reading the story was somewhat underwhelming. Hopefully someone in Marvel’s press department is going to realize that they’re not helping matters by giving everything away ahead of time, and the next big shock reveals will actually stay big shocks until, you know, the comics actually come out. As far as the quality of this issue, eh. Mark Millar’s dialogue still sounds the same no matter who says it, his characters still act out of character for the sake of spectacle (Captain America throws a defenseless man out of a moving vehicle into oncoming traffic? What?) although that does help mask whether or not Iron Man is a Machiavellian bastard behind everything or just clueless, and the art is pretty but still kind of awkward. It hits all the points it wants to, I’m just not sure that I’m interested. I was probably more upset about the Spider-Man Unmasked idea before I read it, such are the anaesthetic effects this book had on me. Okay, but those who like it will probably love it to death.
EX MACHINA SPECIAL #2: Hey, Brian K. Vaughan? Can I nitpick with you about your definition of “Special”? Because this conclusion of your two-part story, that because Tony Harris didn’t draw it – Chris Sprouse did, and very well, I may add – gets shunted off into its own spin-off series, felt more like a fill-in inventory story that adds nothing to the main series whatsoever than anything I’ve read in years. Not that it was bad or anything (Just Eh, really), but it definitely wasn’t that special.
JLA CLASSIFIED #22: I admit it; I was a fan of the Detroit era Justice League. In my defense, I was about 11 at the time and didn’t know any better. Nonetheless, that old bastard Nostalgia saw the solicitation for this, months ago, and thought “Detroit era JLA? As written by Steve Englehart, the man who wrote my other guilty pleasure Millennium? I have to read that!” The reason that Nostalgia is a bastard, my friends, is because it blinds you to simple facts like “Steve Englehart was wonderful in his prime – and his prime lasted for a long time, way into the late eighties with things like West Coast Avengers and Green Lantern Corps – but he hasn’t written anything really great in quite some time, and anyway, that Detroit League? They were kind of sucky characters. Especially Vibe, with his accent-cum-speech impediment.” All those facts that flood into your mind when you read something like this, and spend the entire time wondering “What is the point?” and “How many other suckers bought this because they were 11 when the Detroit League and didn’t know any better?” Which is to say, Ass. And I’m sorry.
SUPERMARKET #3: My wife Kate’s sitting beside me as I write this, and when she saw me write “Supermarket”, she told me to write “Is good”. It’s her third favorite comic these days, next to Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, although she’s very disappointed in the main character for irresponsibly spending money on a hotel room and then acknowledging it in her narration. She does like the tattoos, though. Me, I liked it; it’s got Brian Wood merging the emotional core of Demo with the dumb-action of Couriers in a way that’s more successful than DMZ (although that may be me misreading the intent of DMZ, which may be more “Channel Zero but more thought through”), and Kristian Donaldson does some of the best art – specifically, some of the best coloring – in the business right now. Very Good, and not just because Kate and I agree.
(Kate’s just added that she’s glad that I said something nice about a book. Earlier, when I was writing about JLA Classified, she asked me how I’d feel if Steve Englehart jumped off the Golden Gate Bridge because I was mean about his book. When you put it like that, it does kind of make you think.)
UMBRA #1: Robson, you didn’t steer me wrong on this one. Without your convincing dulcet tones, I would’ve stayed thrown off by the mono-monicker of the writer (“Murphy”, although the copyright notice admits that he’s really called Stephen) and a cover that manages to be nicely colored but entirely unexciting, and missed out on this unusual and unusually enjoyable mystery. There’s something very Whiteout-esque about this book – perhaps the lesbian-detective-in-snowy-surroundings set-up, but more likely the narration, which reads like Rucka before he got his teeth into the DC Universe – but the central plot, about the apparent shooting of a neanderthal wearing modern clothing is something else entirely. The appeal of the series is confusing, as I found myself wishing that we could see more of the personal life of the lead character at the same time as wanting to read more about the central, seemingly time-travel-related, murder mystery, but nonetheless… I want more. Very Good.
PICK OF THE WEEK is probably Umbra, which turned out to be an unexpected pleasure, if reading about impossible murders can be called a “pleasure”, and PICK OF THE WEAK is easily JLA Classified, because… well. Just because. TRADE OF THE WEEK is a bit of a cheat, but I finally managed to get through THE FIVE FISTS OF SCIENCE this weekend, and even though it’s League of Extraordinary Gentlemen meets a History of Science in America textbook in many ways, it’s a lot of fun and enough to make you want a Matt Fraction-written ongoing “Adventures of Mark Twain” series each and every month – Instead, we get him doing Punisher War Journal (boo) and the as-fun-as-FFOS Casanova, which launches next week unless I’m misremembering. Something the lot of you should pick up, whenever it appears, though.
Next week: Less football talk, I promise.