Savage Symposium: FEAR ITSELF & FLASHPOINT (Part 1 of 3)

As part of the 10th anniversary of The Savage Critics on the internet, and in conjunction with the 4-part discussion of Chester Brown's PAYING FOR IT, a more mainstream-oriented "round-table" discussion of Marvel Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FEAR ITSELF and DC Comics's multi-title crossover headline series FLASHPOINT was conducted between April 11, 2011 and June 19, 2011, covering slightly less than the first halves of both series. As each issue of FEAR ITSELF #'s 1-3 & FLASHPOINT #'s 1-2 was released, a single question was posed.

Both FEAR ITSELF and FLASHPOINT represent the major status quo defining series for their respective companies in 2011.  FEAR ITSELF was created by Marvel "Architect" Matt Fraction and artist Stuart Immonen, FLASHPOINT by DC's Chief Creative Officer Geoff Johns and artist Andy Kubert.  Questions were written by Abhay, who has insisted that he be hereafter referred to as "King Shit of Fuck Mountain."

This first part of the round-table covers the questions asked after the release of FEAR ITSELF issues #1 and 2.  The second part on Wednesday will cover FLASHPOINT #1 and FEAR ITSELF #3, while the final part on Friday will conclude with FLASHPOINT #2 and a "Big Picture" question.  And of course, both crossovers were discussed elsewhere on the site in reviews contributed by Graeme McMillan, as well as in recent installments of the probably-award-winning OH, BEHAVE! podcast from Graeme & Jeff Lester.


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ABHAY:  The promotional materials for Marvel crossovers tend to highlight their "relevance"-- at least, that's certainly been the case with FEAR ITSELF. Here are excerpts from CBR's announcement of the comic:

Quesada acknowledged that the state of the economy was rough, and that a number of television pundits “are telling you what to be afraid of.  … It's a great time to be fearful.  The world has gotten smaller, and fear, above all else, seems to be a great motivator. There are no shortage of frauds, charlatans, and despots looking to fan the fire. ... It's undeniable that there's a certain... something in the air.”

So: how do you feel about the politics of FEAR ITSELF?  Or these crossovers generally?  I feel like they start out well-meaning, but that the "political messages" tend to become completely fucking nuts as these things go along.

Consider the last "trilogy" of crossovers-- the “Bush Trilogy.”  In Episode 1, CIVIL WAR, right-wing heroes use the fear of terrorist acts to squelch civil liberties, but... those opposing that squelching ultimately quit fighting once they realize that the American people hate their civil liberties and prefer security over freedom.  In Episode 2, SECRET INVASION, it turns out that we aren’t any more safe because our society was already infiltrated by foreign religious fanatics.  The Marvel heroes then begin the eradication of the foreigners, but in the process of that heroic genocide, an even more extreme right-wing despot (also a religious fundamentalist) becomes a hero to the media, and thus assumes control of the Marvel universe.  So, finally, in Episode 3, THE SIEGE, the Marvel heroes defeat this right-wing media despot (literally, by turning him off using a remote control)... but then realize that it's not enough to merely defeat the religious right’s figurehead.  The Marvel heroes can only create a Heroic Age by murdering the Old Testament God, suggesting to the audience that the only way that a meaningful peace can ever be achieved is the destruction of all religious belief of any kind...?

So, then we arrive on FEAR ITSELF #1, which I thought was just going to be a retread of Jon Stewart’s dopey rally.  But instead, Obama Iron Man’s trying to launch a job program and fix the economy, but is being derailed by violent protests over the Marvel universe version of the Ground Zero mosque.  Which-- it's a crossover where a jobs program is at stake?  I'm really worried that in issue two, the taxation of trade routes will cause the Trade Federation to create a blockade around the planet Naboo, you guys.  But then ... But then as the comic proceeds-- the comic ends with the Gods leaving the United States and then an image of Congress on fire, which-- for me, at least, calls to mind Pat Robertson, Jerry Falwell, Fred Phelps, one of those fucking guys who claim that their God has removed its "protection” of the United States in response to our sins...?

On the one hand, the audience is encouraged to think about these comics through a political lens, but on the other hand... am I the only one who gets made to feel like a crazy person when he does?  None of what I just wrote sounded sane!  Is this the kind of stuff you folks think about?  Is this something that gives you any pause?  Or are you just able to enjoy watching Odin yell at the Watcher, and avoid shoving your head up into your own rectum?

JOG: Well first off, let me just say I was more than able to enjoy the stylin’ Marvel Architects photo spread at the issue #1 center.  Like, where they’re all dressed in black and posing in front of a goofy blueprint pattern?

I think it’s got real potential to be a superhero equivalent of the immortal Lit Comics Bad Boys Rooftop Luncheon 2004 shot from days of legend.  In fact, I’m half-convinced Brubaker is actually trying to ‘do’ Chester Brown’s pose, although I guess Marvel wouldn’t allow Fraction a cigarette to complete the mirror effect.

But anyway, it’s interesting that you emphasize the departure of Gods from humankind; to me, issue #1 only showed disparity between the superpowered or superhuman-affiliated characters and the rabble of humanity, i.e. those balding local pride types prone to stargazing with adorable moppets that use Ds instead of THs -- prudently, Fraction declines to double down with the hazardous R-to-W maneuver, which has never worked for anyone besides Osamu Tezuka, and only then with the psychological distance afforded by translation -- or, y’know, participating in riots.  What I found revealing was Cap’s little comments during the latter, insisting that Democracy is in full effect and declining to adopt any specific political position, even though the action makes it very clear that it’s his job (and that of superheroes in general) to take charge in terms of keeping the peace.

In this way, it seems the superhero characters are metaphorically standing in for police officers or the military or something -- in a profoundly idealized state, mind you -- yet their positioning in the story is above humankind.  You need only go a few more pages for tacit confirmation, as we find Cap brooding at the front of this big wide heroic introductory panel, with everyone on top of Avengers Tower, literally looming over the concerns of the common folk. And while further on there’s an attempt made to level the field visually by having both the superheroes and assorted undistinguished non-superpowered onlookers beheld and verily spat upon by Odin before his Fuck Thou exchange with the Watcher, that only follows another wide heroic panel depicting Marvel’s finest assembled at a press conference, tense and sweatless, addressing the nation before a baker’s dozen of mics.

They’re elites, albeit not portrayed through any discernible political/cultural point of view; it seems like this mass characterization was only a result of the genre being the genre, and certain characters pinging off one another to best facilitate logical genre expectations. Like, yeah - it’s totally in character for Cap to get frowny over the state of America, and Iron Man would indeed have the in-story resources to launch a jobs program, but all the superheroes here are ultimately presented fundamentally apart from the shared ‘fear’ of humankind, and, at least in terms of allegory, I think that’s what marks the politics here as sort of decorative. Ultimately, it’s superheroes doing superhero things.  In contrast, you take something like CIVIL WAR, the central issue there -- political divisions in the U.S. post-9/11 ripping the country apart -- was big and broad enough to subsume the superhero characters into the mass of humanity, so that Cap and Iron Man could double for, say, folks in your office going a little more to the left and right, pulling a little harder.  And I think it’s telling that CIVIL WAR was the only one of these things fronted by Mark Millar, who, for whatever his faults, has a real gift for cooking up these pliable concepts.

And that’s a virtue for a tentpole crossover event to have, because they’re the most mechanical fucking things in the genre, they need to accommodate X number of supplements of varying plot importance, they need to officiate the direction of X number of superhero brands for however long a period, they have to feel big and crucial and extinction-level in a manner ideally broader than any of the provincial plot movements building up to them (most of which will have been headed by entirely different writers, or even editors) - it’s really tough.  So when I look at FEAR ITSELF #1, I mostly see superheroes in charge, paternalistically tackling (or, this being a contemporary superhero comic, considering the imminent tackling of) some world-killing threat that just doesn’t sync well with the kitchen table worries of Main Street America, as I think they still say, because the mechanics of superhero crossovers aren’t particularly conductive to much else without some real inspiration firing itself off.

Which isn’t to say I don’t recognize details in the allegory; I’d differ a little from you in that I see the story’s Gods as less religious forces than a separate elite from the superheroes, the inward-looking movers & shakers and ultra-rich of the world vs. the civic-minded leaders and philanthropic entrepreneurs of the spandex set that are gonna get sick with the word’s Fear - but, y’know, the latter are gonna get sick for our good.  This is a Great Men story, and it sure looks like it’s gonna be the “greatest” getting things done less as avatars for our potential as humans and citizens but on our behalf, because we humans can’t do it. Which admittedly is a potential appeal of the superhero concept, but the feint of FEAR ITSELF points us toward a more humanistic objective, even as the structural necessities of the crossover book set superheroes apart from Us, and Our problems.

Because of this, the on-page political stuff seems like a sop to sophistication, or a backdrop, or even just a more roundabout means of squeezing our sympathies for great heroes that suffer so much, which makes them awesome and mythic and cool, and I don’t see that as too many dozens of feet away from narrative captions and/or expository chatter directly alerting us to the soul-searing virtue of Hal Jordan or Barry Allen or whomever is most in the foreground.

JEFF:  I think Jog’s got a really good take on this so I guess all I can really do is come clean: I ignored the politics of CIVIL WAR, then ignored all of Marvel’s big events after I bailed on that mini.  (I’m not sure it’s done me any harm, although my understanding is I missed out on some neat-o stuff in WORLD WAR HULK.)

So, reading the first issue of FEAR ITSELF--the first big event I’ve bothered with in something like five years--my reaction to the political stuff was largely one of bewilderment: like, how closely are we supposed to map these things?  Like that opening scene with people rioting seemed as close to contextless as could be imagined, so how do I interpret it? Are those people freaking out because the God of Fear is manipulating them even though he doesn’t get freed until later on (provided the sickly dude freed by Sin is indeed the God of Fear)?  Or are they just freaking out for the same reason people in our America were, because mainstream news outlets were whipping them into a frenzy?  Then we’re told that they’re freaking out over jobs?  So...why isn’t the riot taking place in front of an unemployment office, or a Wal-Mart?

Are the Asgardians shown abandoning us supposed to represent the Republican Party turning their backs on any kind of deal with the Democrats? Are they supposed to represent the Tea Party, a generation of entitled Baby Boomers who after wrecking their own fucking magical city with a host of bad decisions, refuse to play nice with the rest of us? Or do they represent me, who at this point regards both Democrats and Republicans as two sides of one ugly, rigged piece of political theater that is either robbing us of our rights very slowly or terrifyingly quickly?  Because if you wanted to make a case that I’m a scared and pissed-off Asgardian god with regards to our political situation now, someone who just wants to cut out for a chilly Norwegian clime with good national healthcare and decent housing, rather than hang around to see the whole stupid fucking thing fall apart?  You probably could.

I dunno.  Maybe issue #2 will make the whole situation more clear, but I say: who cares?  Maybe Marvel lost the right to be the political chronicler of our times when it apologized to The Tea Party for offending it?

I mean, sadly, the cleanest way the whole situation maps for me is that Marvel Comics, like a lot of mainstream news organizations, is in the fear-mongering business, and for the same reasons: it’s a reliable way to make a buck. Just as a supposedly moderate organization like CNN makes all kinds of crazy cash by focusing on disaster, Marvel holds its own status quo hostage and floods the comics press with announcements about the coming deaths of its own heroes. Maybe the Asgardians are supposed to represent comics readers, walking away from comics’ biggest titles in droves of one to three percent per month?

Ultimately, I don’t know what to tell you (other than I am clearly turning into a hideous mutant hybrid of Noam Chomsky and Abe Simpson as I age). It seemed kinda dull, FEAR ITSELF #1--lovely art by Stuart Immonen, Wade von Grawbadger, and Laura Martin, to be sure, but kind of a snoozer. Ultimately, the politics were just frosting--hideous, hideous frosting--on a big ol’ heap of snoozy dullcake. I just hope issue #2 has more punching.

BRIAN: I’ve never been a fan of trying to put modern political analogy into superhero comics. If it comes out unintentionally, from the views of the authors, that’s a different thing, but consciously putting it in tends to be fairly embarrassing for all concerned -- everywhere from “you work for the blue skins, but what about the black skins”, to the Englehart era Captain America (I think Jeff and Graeme will hang me for that one), where a decade later it’s all so clunky and self-absorbed reading.

Millar would be, I think, the only one who actually made it work in a crossover, and that’s probably because he isn’t an American.

JEFF: You’re saying Millar made modern political analogies work in superhero comics but Steve Englehart didn’t? Oh, Hibbs...

CHRIS: I agree with everyone that direct political mappings are a fool's errand, both on the part of the creators and the readers. A lot of it stems from taking that whole "realistic Marvel heroes" thing too far: it's great that Hank Pym has an inferiority complex and Spider-Man has girl trouble, but classic Marvel never extended that to have Reed and Sue fighting about Goldwater's campaign platform and Daredevil tussle with tort reform.

Inasmuch as "people worry about their futures" informs Fear Itself, I didn't mind that serving as background flavor. It's understandable that Common Folk would look at the troubles of the Avengers and Asgardians as trifling distractions as best and abuse of power at worst, the same way they might the NFL Lockout or Goldman Sachs bonuses. But that should only be thematic resonance: when the books drill it down to involve the "Ground Zero Mosque" or something equally Ripped from the Headlines it forces readers, consciously or otherwise, to consider Super Heroes in the Real World, which given the relatively ground "world outside your door" status quo both Marvel and DC aspire to, becomes ridiculous. I do think the second issue did a decent job of backing off on that, for what it's worth.

DAVID: Abhay, I was with you on your Bush Trilogy until you got to the Old Testament God, at which point you made my brain explode with frustration. Long story short, I think equating the Sentry with Old Testament angry God outside of anything other than “they were both judgmental dicks” is barking up the wrong World Tree - I doubt that Bendis, the son of a Rabbi, was trying to make any kind of religious statement about the ascension of mankind against false gods who were basically the dude who iced Sodom and Gomorrah. I can’t really think of a way to put this other than that I think it’s so cynical and wrongheaded it makes me cry. I recognize the comparison Bendis makes Dark Avengers #13 regarding Siege and the Plagues of Egypt, but not only was it like two pages long, it’s never been mentioned again.

I don’t think the political relevance scenes in this issue work at all, largely because I think sticking political relevancy into this story was a gigantic mistake. There’s a time that had to come where a Marvel comic had to rely on more than just thinly-veiled metaphors for what’s on CNN, and that was now, and Fear Itself can’t decide whether it’s the future or the past.

It feels like Final Crisis had a really awkward college one-night stand with Civil War and this was the result. There’s an interesting comic about the dissolution of American optimism in here, and there’s also a totally separate, interesting comic about a dark secret at the root of the Asgardian pantheon that threatens to use humans against them. But it’s hard to think of the Asgardian Gods as Gods when they don’t have any worshippers, and it’s hard to equate their presence with any kind of actual religion.

ABHAY: I think you might be giving more weight to intent and the biography of the authors than I do-- though in this case, maybe that’s my fault; maybe that’s something I invited because I was unclear on what I was saying. Namely: by having political themes in the backgrounds of these stories, in a glib way, so that crossovers can be marketed as being “important for our times,” that what tends to result is that those themes tend to not be serviced with the same level of care as the Violent Men with Hammers in the foreground. And as a result, the stories inadvertently tend to seem unintentionally crazy when read in a way that ISN’T the enormously dull, surface-level way they were “intended” to have been read-- but which readings have nevertheless been invited by the marketing (of which, the authors are participants and complicit). Anyways, sometimes, even well-crafted stories have unintended meanings-- I don't put any weight on authorial intent, in general.

Setting aside intent: The Sentry was depicted as being responsible for the Biblical plagues at about the same exact time SIEGE came out, no? One of the two pages you reference from DARK AVENGERS issue #13, you can still find online-- the only words on the page are “there is only one true God” on it, with the art depicting the Sentry/Void about to open a can of Bible-story on some primitive peoples. That scene mirrors the finale of SIEGE-- Sentry/Void laying waste to another city. I don’t know why that scene’s place in continuity-- i.e. that it merely wasn’t mentioned again-- should trump its place in the publication history. I mean, I understand you don’t read that sequence the way I do, but... then how do read it? For me: I liked SIEGE more once I noticed it having that theme to it. Then, at least there was something to it. Otherwise, it was just a series of haphazard, random events. With that theme, it’s at least kind of neat in a weird kind of way. (Well, I still don’t get what was going on with Loki’s character but … Apparently, that’s a thing they’re answering now in Kieron Gillen’s THOR book, which … is helpful... I hope Gillen explains whatever winds up being nonsensical with FEAR ITSELF a year from now, too.)

DAVID: Actually, I’m pretty much with you with regards to Siege having a thematic void at its center (pun intended). It’s just hard for me to attach much actual weight to that original Sentry sequence in Dark Avengers, at least within Siege’s thematic framework, largely because it came off to me less as anything theological and more as Bendis just trying to make something that would look badass. Which was a lot of my problem with Siege, when it was all done - it was almost less a story and more a cathartic process for Marvel readers.

TUCKER: I have to skip to one part of Abhay’s original question here, that being the “kind of stuff you think about” part, to which I say: no, not really. I think it’s interesting in a conversational/bloggy interchange to discuss the broader strokes of what Marvel has tried to do with their event comics (or Fraction’s Israel stuff in Uncanny X-Men, or Millar’s proto-fascism in the Ultimates), but generally speaking, I don’t think about this stuff when I’m reading these because I don’t ever find that sort of thinking to be layered in that well. Like--great art notwithstanding, how horribly put together is that pre-riot scene? Steve and Sharon aren’t anywhere near the two sides of people who will soon be battling back and forth, and half the riot cops are standing around jawing away like it’s a regular day. It’s a crap layout, and while it has some real world relevance in a really earnest n’ dumb high school presentation on legalizing weed kind of way, all I can think about is how silly it is for a super-hero to be in that situation in the first place. Did Steve drive up, walk into the middle of that gigantic construction site, tell Sharon to turn around, and then proceed to speak in a normal tone of voice to a bunch of people on the other side of a barricade that’s far away from him? That’s what I’m thinking about. Why that happened. How that happened. I can’t even start caring when I’ve already been shown the door.

That being said, I get that the politics of these things are what matters to a certain kind of reader, but I feel like that’s a post-Millar type of thing, because Civil War had stuff that was cool to look at in terms of super-hero type of cool, like Captain America fighting a plane and Punisher shooting people in their pumpkin face. Then they went all the way into action and violence with World War Hulk, only to pull back to meandering “politics” and character-killing in Secret Invasion and Siege, because Bendis doesn’t like action comics. Now that it’s Fraction--I don’t know what his shtick is on these things, and that “not knowing” makes Fear Itself compelling in the same way it would be if Brubaker or Aaron wrote one of these things (as opposed to Bendis or Johns or Millar, where you already have an idea of what you’re going to get), although I don’t think Brubaker & Aaron in the same “time to prove it, can’t write Thor guy” as Fraction is. This is it for him, you know? He’s got that architect cred going, he still interviews better than the rest of Marvel, Casanova is good again, but he can’t seem to pull off super-hero comics the way the rest of the crew can. And based off of this issue, which seems to spend a massive amount of time building a concept (the “go make some jobs” idea) only to undercut that and dump it completely as an idea before the issue is over, I’m not sure what to think. Why couldn’t this issue’s content have been handled in the prequel comic? That Watcher confrontation is classic build-up-to-something stuff, and wouldn’t it have been more engaging for an event comic to begin with the bad guy characters IN action instead of being named? Its a truism dating back to elementary school that desperation makes the ugly even uglier, and I sort of wonder if that isn’t the case here, if I’m not looking at a comic that’s trying way too hard to deliver something that the key players involved (both Immonen and Fraction) just don’t have that much interest in, because their current status demands that they do so from time to time.

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ASKED ON MAY 6, 2011


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ABHAY: With FEAR ITSELF #2, what I guess I found myself thinking about is how the big crossovers have so rarely had great villains. CRISIS OF INFINITE EARTHS had the Anti-Monitor-- I don't really remember him much but I guess he was o-kay-ish. CIVIL WAR had Iron Man-- I thought that was pretty neat. Past those two, though...? ZERO HOUR (Extant), SECRET INVASION (the Skrull Queen), SIEGE (The Green Goblin), INVASION (aliens), ARMAGGEDON 2001 (Monarch), INFINITE CRISIS (Superboy)... for me, for my money, that is a lame bunch, right there. Not impressive. (We may have to agree to disagree which bucket you'd put FINAL CRISIS (Darkseid) in...)

So then: are you into the villains in FEAR ITSELF, two issues in? They seemed to be the focus of the second issue: (1) Odin tells us that they're scary, using all of his words; (2) familiar faces are transformed into a villain team called The Worthy; (3) Evil Fear God Guy rants and raves, and uses the word "vermin", and (4) villains blow some monuments up. Oh, also, (5) some weird thing about autism rates rising (?)...

Personally, I don't really understand what's cool about The Worthy. I guess the big news from issue #2 is that Juggernaut and the Hulk are now going to take a break from rampaging through the Marvel Universe to... rampage through the Marvel universe in a brand new set of clothes...? Hulk has Tron-dreadlocks now-- be afraid. "Hulk goes on a rampage" has been the premise of every Hulk comic ever, except for, like, three Peter David issues in the mid-1990's where Gray Hulk was a fluffer on the Bangbus. Why is it special for people now just because he has Tron-dreadlocks? And then at the end of the issue, after this incredibly long and drawn-out introduction of the Worthy, the entire issue ends with "Oh, by the way, Nazis totally have robot-suits now. Fuck you, America!" Where did that come from??  What happened to the guys with hammers?

So, what, all in all, the premise of FEAR ITSELF, if I understand it correctly, is the Marvel Universe takes on some God dude, super-strong villains wearing exciting new fashionz, Nazi mechs, FOX News, autism rates, the Tea Party, the economy, unicorns with herpes, naked old men in gym locker rooms, rich kids from the summer camp across the lake, Andy Dick on PCP, a guy on cocaine who wants to talk about The Who for a couple hours, whoever killed Biggie and Tupac, and Omarosa from the first season of The Apprentice.

Of course, that might be what we should expect, for crossovers to be weak on villains. Assembling all those superheros together-- how hard must it be to think of a threat that Wolverine or Superman can't solve in 5 minutes, let alone one that would take EVERY SINGLE hero assembled to defeat. That must be extremely difficult. Do you care? When it comes to mainstream superhero comics-- would you describe yourself as a sympathetic member of the audience or an unsympathetic member of the audience? What do you make of the villains?


JOG: As a matter of fact, the Bangbus was the villain of FIRE FROM HEAVEN. Alan Moore called it something else, obviously, but all the Wildstorm kids knew what was really cruising through Ideaspace in ‘96, or so I’ve read in my studies of library microfiche. I think Deathblow shot its tires out?

But anyway, now that we’re two issues in, I’m personally thinking less of CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS and more of its slightly older Marvel counterpart, MARVEL SUPER HEROES SECRET WARS, which was so ahead of the crossover curve it needed to assess you as to the presence of Marvel Super Heroes as a collective unit in the very title. Especially if you were just popping in from the toy store, since the whole thing was predicated on the development of a line of action figures, and, fittingly, the Beyonder functioned mostly as a means to the end of banging toys together, i.e. getting a whole lot of superheroes to fight a whole lot of villains, with some cool complications continuing into a few ongoing series. It contrasts quite a bit with the fallout from CRISIS -- the ‘model,’ more or less, for huge-ass crossovers to follow -- which had a vast threat that affected the whole of the DC universe, and thus every DC reader, which I think encourages a bit more fixation as to the particulars of the villain/threat, even if not a lot is actually on the page. In contrast, I suspect in the end the personality of the Beyonder wasn’t so much a necessity as the fact that tons of characters were coming together. Novelty!

I get the feeling that’s what FEAR ITSELF might be going for: a more nebulous threat hovering over a lot of character-on-character battles. Granted, I only have a feeling, since this is, again, a contemporary superhero production and I’m not reading any tie-ins, and it’s looking like we’ll be drawing perilously close to the main series’ halfway point before any big fights start up. Issue #2 is mostly about raising the stakes, and I liked parts of it - especially the Bryan Talbot/Chaykinesque news blips that intermittently assess us as to global calamities, or how the similar-looking location titles and introductory labels to the Hammered characters culminate in the BLITZKRIEG U.S.A.: designation for the double-page spread, which could either formally identify the Nazi mech squad or just give a special ‘oh shit’ ID for the image. Or both. That’s pretty cool. I’m a sympathetic reader to stuff like that, less so the specific implications of SKIRN BREAKER OF MEN, since I don’t read a lot of superhero comics, and I suspect I’m meant to fill in some of the space here with my preexisting attitudes toward these characters.

As a result the whole gathering process left the issue feeling both narratively dense and very content-light for me; mostly I wondered if Fraction is planning a long riff on Geoff Johns under the guise of tying elements of the project into a certain motion picture in theaters now, which is totally the toy line of today. I haven’t read a whole lot of GREEN LANTERN, so I might wind up out at sea with that, but it might still be more fruitful subtext than pursuing the political stuff from issue #1, which might be congealing already into a miscellaneous OH FUCK SHIT SHIT SUPERHEROES SAVE US!! Those thankless peons.

Brian: More broadly, I’d say the best antagonist-in-a-crossover would probably be Thanos in INFINITY GAUNTLET. I understood what Thanos wanted, and how he would logically achieve his goal, and that gave the story much greater weight to me than created-for-the-series antagonists like the Anti-Monitor.

To a large extent, I’d say that these kinds of big stories CAN’T work unless the players “have skin in the game”. Oh, sure you can do “well it doesn’t matter, because the entire POINT is to smash the action figures together” kind of stories like MARVEL SUPERHEROES SECRET WARS or, even more prototypically, CONTEST OF CHAMPIONS where the specific antagonist is rather beside the point. On the DC side, INVASION would fall into that bucket, probably, or the not-a-crossover of SUPERMAN VERSUS MUHAMMED ALI (Seriously, can anyone remember anything about the alien race of the McGuffins, except maybe Hunya?) – but I tend to think that the crossovers that really “work” (INFINTY GAUNTLET, CIVIL WAR on the Marvel side; possibly FINAL CRISIS and BLACKEST NIGHT on the DC side) stem from long-standing character’s long standing motivation.

The PROBLEM with doing that, however, is that crossovers tend to remove the antagonist from the Board for a long period of time – sometimes from “after you’ve killed half the universe you can’t rob banks” or just from sheer overexposure (who wants to ever see the Beyonder again, and that was 30 something years ago!). It isn’t entirely impossible to reverse that – Fraction destroyed and rebuilt Tony Stark’s mind in order to make him reasonably palatable again – but Thanos had to “go away” for nigh on 20 years because by the end of the THIRD “Infinity” crossover-thingy, who wanted to see HIM again for awhile?

FEAR ITSELF seems to be trying to walk a thin line here, with making… well do we call her The Red Skull now, or just Sin? godpowered. Presumably, they can un-God her at the end, and still have a viable antagonist (though, dunno, Nazism is pretty played out these days, ain’t it?), but my problem here is more that it took a continuity implant to get her godpowered in the first place.

With regards to The Worthy themselves, there’s something about them that rub me the wrong way. Part of it is the somewhat illogical notion of these magic hammers that need a specific and exact character to wield them (Absorbing Man can’t touch the hammer, but Titania can?), which seems slightly off for a species of gods tens of thousands of years old, and there’s also some weird duplication there. I kind of get “breaker of earth” and “breaker of oceans”, but doesn’t “breaker of worlds” INCLUDE “earth” and “oceans”. We’ll see how the crossovers themselves shake out, but it almost feels like lazy do-what-thou-wilt storytelling, and it wouldn’t shock me if we eventually get a “breaker of [something for plot convenience]” in some book at some point.

I may be wrong, but I think I think that the best crossover stories are ones that have very very specific Big Beats, and every crossover is in specific relationship to those beats – the more specific instances there are, the more the crossover issues themselves can drift into other directions, the less successful the event, as a whole, becomes.

Again, like INFINITY GAUNTLET, maybe – there’s like only one tiny bit of it that takes place “on earth”, and the rest is off and cosmic and not able to be derailed/diluted by other stories.

Take the crossover issue FEAR ITSELF: YOUTH IN REVOLT #1, where, if I read it correctly Steve Rogers finds a leader for, and has him recruit a super team made up of characters from ALL FIFTY of the “state-based initiative” teams from the last cycle of crossovers. They appear to accomplish this between the first hammer’s landing, and the attack on DC, which appears to be, dunno, an hour or so max? This weakens the main story, in my mind.

Also: we never ever ever EVER need to see Washington DC being attacked in another comic ever again. Especially in the DC and Marvel universes where you HAVE to assume they have access to KirbyTech or better. The US government can build a helicarrier for Shield, and Life Model Decoys, and they can’t protect the Washington mall from nazi robot rockets? Really?

Anyway, “The Worthy” seem to me less examples of strong antagonists as an attempt to get a few more action figures released somewhere.

TUCKER: Aw shit, I gotta be that guy on this one? I think I gotta be that guy.

Invasion was the way to do it right, no shit. I can tell this is a Marvel room here, so why not become a sympathetic audience member and let me play this out right now: the thing that makes the bad guys in Invasion work is that they’re all a part of one really sudsy melodrama, and that melodrama is put together in a way that’s engaging even if you separate it from the super-hero stuff that surrounds it, which is something I don’t think that a lot of these comics we’re talking about can claim as well. The creative excitement I find in most of these comics isn’t usually tied into what the villains do, it’s in how the super-heroes react to those villains, and in Invasion, that’s all reversed. All the alien species are teamed up in the face of the common enemy, and they’re wiling to ignore some longstanding grudges with one another because they just hate the hell out of Earth, and wish to see it brought low.

There’s a decent bit of palace intrigue, none of which ever gets as boring or convoluted as that sort of thing usually gets, and it ends up dovetailing right into the conclusion of the series, when the agreements fall apart and people start switching sides. Since we’re dealing with a strength-in-numbers type of bad guy, there’s no reason why they can’t show up again and again, although I’m not sure how often they do outside of REBELS or Lobo comics. Dominators and Khunds can still be baddies in one-shots, they can still randomly team up, and while I hope it never happens, they could still conceivably unite and form a world-threat all over again if they wanted to.

CHRIS: At least the Nazis in Fear Itself mostly spent the past seven decades on ice -- I prefer Unfrozen Nazi Menace to People Who Would've Grown Up Watching The Cosby Show and Are Now Nazi Stormtroopers you often get.

Sometimes just having a Dangerous Force is enough. Secret Wars was a perfectly nice Everybody Fights Everybody event where the Beyonder was a disembodied voice commanding everyone to fight. When it came time to flesh his character out, you got Secret Wars II, where God gave himself parachute pants and a Jheri Curl and Spider-Man had to teach him how to poop.

The important thing for Big Crossover Villain is to establish their goals. The Serpent presumably wants to Wreck Shit and Enslave or Exterminate Humanity, which is something he has in common with Darkseid, the Skrulls, the Alien Alliance in Invasion, the demons in Inferno, etc. I'll also accept the motive of Kill Everything Ever, a la Thanos or Nekron in Blackest Night. Where the Big Crossover Villain often fails is when you really don't know what their endgame is. Can anyone explain what Sinestro and his posse was going for in Sinestro Corps War? Was there a scenario where Superboy Prime would just tire himself out killing nobodies and take a nap? What did Norman Osborn think was going to happen after he goes crazy and commits treason and kills a bunch of people on global television?

And two issues in, I'm still not really sure what The Serpent's plan is, beyond Do Bad Things. It's *probably* to take over the world, but why does he need a crew of seven Hammer Guys to do that? Why is he enlisting Nazi Robots, if he's as fantastically powered as he seems to be? Couldn't he just make more hammers? Is he mind-controlling the non-Hammered villains who are shown tearing up cities? It'd be great, even if it was Geoff Johns style Arbitrary Fart Machine Rules, to know what the Big Crossover Villain is working with.

DAVID: I thought this issue was kind of a mess. There just wasn’t any real gravitas to the Worthy - they had some cool designs, sure, but none of them were particularly surprising and the main plot didn’t really move itself in any meaningful way past what we already saw in the teasers at the end of last issue. We knew Thor would get locked up, the Worthy would get their hammers and Washington, D.C. would be attacked; this isn’t even a matter of reading solicitations, this was all shown in the teaser that ended #1. I was expecting the issue to go past those points and give us something more; something to make the Serpent a remotely compelling villain. But so far, not only is he not walking the walk, he barely talks the talk. Fraction seems like he’s going for one of those grand poetic Shakespearean avatars of evil, the Darkseid take, but the Serpent’s threats seem really hollow. Make them fear us, make them pay, bla, bla, bla. He’s got zero charisma, and his design is just an old suit with a fur cape and a cane. He looks like a lost fucking hobo-pimp, not the God of Evil.

I get that he wants to usurp Odin and take his place as the Allfather again (how the fuck does that work, anyway?) but I can’t really care about whether he succeeds or not. There’s nothing really personal here, except against Odin, who’s acting like a gigantic fucking douchebag anyway. And as for Sin, she’s barely gotten any lines in the book so far, and seems considerably less bloodthirsty and well-defined than she was (even though I hated her character) when she was the jailbait half of Nazi Bonnie and Clyde with Crossbones in Brubaker’s Captain America. I realize this is supposed to feel like a huge threat from the pasts of both Cap and Thor, but so far neither major antagonist has really interested me at all. A Loki/Johann Schmidt Red Skull team-up would be even more boring, so kudos to Fraction to trying to create some new characters and add to the mythology, but so far he’s been spending too much time on montages of dudes picking up hammers and taking up mystifying names (is Absorbing Man going to be “Breaker of Women” with a Kirby-circuit dick like Titania’s fallopian tube pattern?). Stop pulling back from the exposition and make me give a shit.

JEFF: I’m gonna punt on this one, in part because I spent wayyyyy too many words on the next question, and also because I think FEAR ITSELF #2 was too crappy for me to want to think about it very much. On the final page when some transmission is caterwauling “Where are the super heroes? Who’s coming to save us--?” and you realize that the super heroes haven’t gone anywhere, they’re transit or something? That’s when you realize how badly shit has been bungled. I mean, really, the only “heroes” whose absences are accounted for in the issue itself are Hulk and Thor (and Red She-Hulk, whatever they’re calling her); I could almost see if all of The Worthy had been heroes whose compulsion to grab those hammers came at crucial moments of the heroes’ response to mecha-Nazis, but....nah, apparently not.

The villains are flat, the heroes have very little to say, the story beats are repetitive and without impact. It’s bad in a very different way from, I dunno, ZERO HOUR (where all the superheroes talk only to introduce one another, and the crisis only appears to be endangering a status quo, and the reader’s hand is held from one boring event to the next) but it’s equally bad, if not worse. FEAR ITSELF #2 seems to me to be such a profound failure of craft, it’s almost impossible to use it to analyze anything other than the importance of not putting a two page ad for Thor Slurpees immediately after the climax of a five page sequence about Thor and the Asgardians. Even Miller and Mazzuchelli’s BATMAN: YEAR ONE wouldn’t have survived that.

End of Part OnePart Two resumes on Wednesday.

David Loses His Shit on Justice League: Cry For Justice #7

[This is a reconstructed post from Google Cache; originally posted by David!] “Cry for Justice is a singular work,” said James Robinson in the backup prose section of the sixth issue. I can only hope this will forever be the case.

This series has been getting negative reviews from the beginning, for a bunch of reasons – stiff art, stiff dialogue, a somewhat cliched premise – all of which made for a fairly silly comic that could be accurately titled Hal Jordan and Oliver Queen’s Act Like Jack Bauer Day. Still, it was buoyed by Robinson’s enthusiasm for its self-aware campiness, and while it wasn’t anything I’d call high art it was at least entertaining.

And then, the conclusion came out this morning. SPOILERS behind the jump.

From a pure technical standpoint, there’s a lot wrong with “Cry for Justice” #7. It’s got three inconsistent artists – up and coming DC/Marvel artist Ibraim Roberson (who’s got the Second Coming issues of “New Mutants” coming up), regular miniseries artist/painter Mauro Cascioli and the rather awful Scott Clark, who combines an incongruous chickenscratch style alongside a complete inability to write a comprehensible double-page spread (check out these pages from the preview to see an example). And on top of that, a character says “we’re loosing” instead of “we’re losing,” once again demonstrating DC’s mystifying inability to properly spell-, grammar- and logic-check a title’s lettering. Or at least, if they do, I’d hate to see the first pass before their corrections.

The real problem here, though, is a story. This continues the Identity Crisis paradigm of cheerfully sacrificing civilians and supporting characters on the pyre of cheap, maudlin drama. For those of you who haven’t read this comic, and I don’t blame you: the villain Prometheus, from Grant Morrison’s JLA run, has basically tricked Ira “I.Q.” Quimby into building a machine that’ll ostensibly transport the area around it (in Prometheus’s design, a city) to an unknown location in spacetime. His big master plan is that he’s going to send all the heroes’ cities to these unknown locations, and therefore TORTURE THEIR SOULS by forcing them to forever comb space and time for their loved ones! MUA HA HA! This was revealed around issue #6, and while it’s still throwing civilians onto the sacrificial pyre, it’s at least comic book supervillain ridiculous rather than real world mass murderer ridiculous, and it leaves the option open for them to come back.

And then I read #7.

You see, the device malfunctions, and a few panels later we end up with people carrying Lian Harper – the, like, eight-year-old, adorable daughter of Red Arrow/Arsenal -’s bloody corpse out of the ruins of Ollie’s house. We end up with tons of panels of people carrying bloody bodies out of wreckage, and once again a cityload of civilians are mercilessly slaughtered just to send two characters down the tired, boring, cliched THEY’RE TURNING INTO DARK KILLERS path.

Robinson then goes on to render the heroes in this story completely ineffectual, if not downright accomplices to Prometheus, by having them completely give in and let Prometheus go in exchange for not blowing up the similar devices he has in every other city. This allows Prometheus to… I don’t know what, make a point that the Justice League won’t sacrifice people over a grudge? They don’t foil him, they aren’t useful in any way, they’re just a reason for Prometheus to commit an epic case of domestic terrorism.

In the end, the only person who does anything proactive is Green Arrow, who, in the last few pages, just straight-up murders Prometheus in his Phantom Zone crib. FOR JUSTICE. (Which he says, after shooting an arrow through his head.)

Now, I don’t know whether to throw all the blame on James Robinson for this. It was long ago referenced that the book would have a shocking ending, one suggested by Dan DiDio and Eddie Berganza. But the fact remains that this comic destroyed a city, cynically slaughtered a young girl, maimed a hero and ruined the moral track record of another just to… I don’t know, to turn Ollie back into the ruthless street vigilante of the Mike Grell run, maybe? To break up the “Arrow Family”? To… God, I don’t know.

I guess all of this comes back to a question: why does THIS bother me? I didn’t really have a problem with the mass murder in Siege, or in Civil War, or with Superboy-Prime ripping peoples’ arms off, or the Sentry opening Ares up like a kid with no hand-eye coordination getting frustrated with a pinata. Those were casualties in stories that could only be told in a superhero universe; they were instigating elements, not finales, and the heroes had some sort of win at the end.

Cry for Justice, though? It’s just a really shitty season of 24. Let me rephrase the entire series’ plot this way:

Some terrorist makes a call to the President, saying he’s going to blow up six different cities. One blows up in the first two-hour premiere episode, just to make his point that the bombs are real. The President calls on CTU to save America – but it turns out the terrorist has actually already infiltrated that organization! When he’s finally found out, he says he’ll give them the deactivation codes for the other bombs if they let him go, which they do. Then, in the last episode, Jack finds him at his house and shoots him in the head.

Does that sound like a superhero comic you want to read?


An Open Letter to DC Comics: Creators Matter

Okay, this is going to be fairly short and a bit soapboxy and business-related. I know this is usually Brian's wheelhouse, but I'm just so annoyed that this keeps happening. I find that most weekends, scanned covers (with trade dress) of the upcoming week's books show up on eBay. I was flipping through them this week, and saw that YET AGAIN DC completely changed the creative team from soup to nuts on a comic without making even a token effort to inform the audience. I don't know if retailers were informed, since the DC Direct Channel mailer never seems to show up online anymore, but a Google search shows nothing and DC's website still has the old creative team (Fabian Nicieza & Julian Lopez, for the record - and Guillem March as cover artist, when that's clearly an Adam Hughes piece).

The offending cover:

Now, I understand that sometimes creative teams change - people get busy, scripts don't work out as well as the pitches, illnesses happen. That's all fine. But 95% of the time, Marvel Comics has the common courtesy to tell people about it through Diamond's Product Changes site. It's a useful resource to let me know what I'm going to be paying money for.

But DC? I've ranted about this before, but there's a serious trend of total creative team changes on titles going completely unannounced. I don't know the reasons behind this, but it leads to the impression that DC treats creators (and feels their readers do as well) interchangeably other than their frontline talent. Fabian Nicieza and Tony Bedard have both written stuff I've liked, for very different reasons, because they're TWO DIFFERENT PEOPLE. To treat their involvement in a project as irrelevant to its market appeal is foolish and both underestimates the readers' savvy and dehumanizes the creators' effort. I'm sure that there aren't any sinister motives behind this, but this is the effect it has.

I realize that these books are returnable due to this, but isn't that a gigantic pain in the ass? I don't want to have to check my pull bag every time I go to the store and grab it, I don't want to have to go back later to return a comic, and my retailer sure as hell doesn't want to have to strip and mail covers and pay for it. They must have known about this creative switch long enough ago to announce it before the FOC date - why not just tell readers and retailers and let them adjust their orders accordingly? I realize this is just three times in the past few years, but that's still a worrying enough pattern, and I'm not even going into the INCREDIBLY frequent unannounced penciller switch-outs between solicitation and release. It's like a guessing game as to who's going to be doing any given DC Comic, since none of the information is reliable.

So please, please, please, DC: Just let us know.

David's 2009: This Has Nothing To Do With The Zeitgeist

This current trending topic, about how 2009 was a lame year for comics (especially superhero/mainstream/adventure comics), just doesn't resonate with me at all. I enjoyed a huge amount of comics this year, many of which were from creators I really didn't expect to become such an ardent fan of, and while most of my non-superheroes comic reading was either manga or stuff released previous to 2009, it all still coalesced into a year of reading really fantastic comics.

First off, Achewood reached a relative high again this year, with the Williams-Sonoma/Return of Cartilage Head mega-arc just exploding with avant-garde symbolism and hilarious vagina jokes. Onstad's work continues to single-handedly justify the existence of the Internet, so while it's admittedly an acquired taste and the series takes a while to rev up, it's also developed the characters and world to the point where it's one of the most richly rewarding reading experiences I have on a... well, on a whenever-Onstad-updates schedule.

The other major thing about this year for me, and it seems for a bunch of other people this year, is that I discovered manga, and Naoki Urasawa in particular. 20th Century Boys was the gateway drug, and then Monster and Pluto had me hooked to the Urasawa crackpipe - and got me to spread outward and discover Yazawa, Azuma, Umezu and a host of others I'm excited to get to, much to my pocketbook's dismay. Pluto and Yotsuba&!, the second finally reprinted and continued with volumes 6 and 7 this year, would both make any end-of-the-year top-ten list I'd want to produce.

I also branched out more into indie comics, but I can't place much of what I read under the "released in 2009" banner. Asterios Polyp blew me, like seemingly most people, away; while it's really hard to give an elevator pitch on with regards to story content (I think I have to wipe the drool off peoples' snoring faces five seconds after I hit "goes out to discover small town America"), it's really about the relationship between function, form and emotion, a multilayered meta-treatise involving a range of sometimes conflicting allusions to Greek mythology, Bolshevik country-punk and some pretty funny dick jokes. I've seen the accusation leveled against it that it's "too pretentious", recently from the venerable Ed Brubaker of all people, and that's just not at all how I perceived the comic - yeah, certainly Asterios the CHARACTER is amazingly pretentious, that's part of the point, but I thought the work was equally effective on both a page-turner entertainment level and as a semiotic treasure trove of references, clues and literary porn. It was certainly my favorite comic this year.

I read a lot of other indie stuff in 2009, but most of it was stuff like old issues of Love & Rockets or Cerebus, so that's really besides the point. I just recently got Johnny Ryan's Prison Pit, though, which I'm really looking forward to reading once I polish off this gigantic Cerebus man-tome. Oh, and Scott Pilgrim 5 was fantastic, but I couldn't comment on that as well as Abhay did. Sometimes Abhay pieces drive me absolutely crazy, and sometimes I love them; this was the latter.

So, comics! Even outside of my wheelhouse of superheroes, I had a really great year pushing my boundaries past the stuff I usually read. But this is what people are complaining about, isn't it: that the shared-universe superhero comics aren't holding their interest anymore, that they're going to MOME or Prince Valiant reprints or Johnny Ryan or Daniel Clowes or Naoki Urasawa or Kate Beaton or whatever for their fix.

And I don't get that at all.

2009 was, for me, a banner year for superhero comics. I read a metric truckload of stuff, all of which lacked any sort of childhood-nostalgia pull for me - I was a DC kid, not Marvel, and now Marvel accounts for a solid 75% of my cape pull. I might be a Grant Morrison devotee, and the year started off kicking to me with the conclusion of Final Crisis; while I know there's a whole bevy of criticisms leveled against it, some fair (inconsistent art, somewhat inaccessible, released in the wrong order by the publisher) and some unfair (IT DOESNT MAKE ANY SENSE MORRISON IS ON DRUGS WHAT A FUCKING HACK SOMEONE FIRE HIM UGGGGGGGGGGGH). What really struck me about that comic was the last issue, where Nix Uotan gives Mandrakk a sonning, and for all intents and purposes Morrison himself walked onstage in the comic and told creators to go for broke with all the wacky, outlandish, fun shit available in the superhero milieu and comic medium.

It was a message, like most of Morrison's, that I didn't expect to see followed; the fact that DC continued the year into Emotional Abuse Theater (more on that later) certainly didn't seem to indicate that anyone over there was paying attention, even though I actually enjoyed a decent portion of Messrs. Johns, Rucka and Robinson's output. No, where it actually got heard was at Marvel, which spent the year in the final act of its "Marvel Universe as super-espionage game board" meganarrative that's been ongoing since Bendis and Dell'otto's 2004 Secret War.

In books like Ghost Rider and Punisher and Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter - and exemplified by Hickman's gloriously insane Fantastic Four, my current favorite monthly superhero comic, which debuted in the latter half of the year - a new crop of Marvel writers embraced the promise of expanded scope, of returning to "the business of blowing minds." Jason Aaron, Rick Remender, Jonathan Hickman, Kieron Gillen - these are all guys who put out absolutely superlative superhero work in 2009, the kind of big-idea, allegorical brain candy that made me fall in love with superheroes in the first place. And even within Marvel's old paradigm, Bendis and Fraction still put out some career-high material, from Ultimate Comics Spider-Man and certain issues of Dark Avengers (especially #9) to the entire "World's Most Wanted" epic in Invincible Iron Man. Marvel Comics honestly gave me a solid year of (admittedly somewhat overpriced) high quality entertainment, and I'm glad I tried out these lower-tier books (like Beta Ray Bill) which ended up impressing me so much.

And then: that other company. The one with the rape. Detective Comics Comics had a thoroughly bizarre year, punctuated largely by baffling editorial decisions and the continuation of the mindboggling trend of adding MORE titles to franchises already failing. This year saw Justice Society of America go from being a Johns-driven top-selling ensemble book to a two-book B-list franchise freefalling in sales. It saw Andrew Kreisberg's Green Arrow/Black Canary unironically introduce a creepy, obsessed, ex-battered-woman antagonist sexually obsessed with Oliver Queen. It saw James Robinson return to the DC Universe in full force, and put out some pretty damn good Mon-El stories in Superman and some puzzlingly atrocious Justice League work. Tony Bedard's R.E.B.E.L.S. took most people by surprise, and most people were dazzled by Greg Rucka and J.H. Williams III's Detective Comics and the first three Quitely-drawn issues, at least, of Grant Morrison's Batman and Robin.

And then there was Blackest Night, the world's first superhero event crossover where the central gimmick is desiccated corpses dishing out emotional abuse on characters. The formula became simple and predictable: dead character's flashback as corpse's memory downloads to Black Lantern ring; dead character's corpse shows up and reminds everyone how shitty they are; some character discovers light powers and kills the Black Lanterns. It's how almost all of the tie-ins, and a significant chunk of the main story, have gone, and you know what? Seeing Lightrape the New God of Light Rape go on and on for the fifteenth time about how awesome rape is, seeing a dead baby bite his mother, that kind of shit gets really, really old. It doesn't have much shock value for anyone over the age of twelve, and there's so MUCH of it that any narrative purpose it may have had is completely diluted. It's like watching one of those high school educational tapes, where they explain the same concept with fifteen different metaphors until you want to shoot yourself in the face: NEKRON IS TRYING TO GET A RISE OUT OF PEOPLE. I GET IT. Him and Eric Cartman, and Nekron isn't as funny.

The parts of Blackest Night that are working, that are resonating, are the gee-whiz space opera parts; that's why you've got people buying books they'd never touch otherwise for plastic rings, why Green Lantern sells about the same amount as its event mothership, and why the two Green Lantern titles are absolutely the best part of this entire crossover. Goofy rainbow shit in space will win over yet another corpse going I NEVER LOVED YOU, ALSO I MOLESTED A CHILD, HAHAHAHA for the fortieth time. Much like Skrull appearances in Secret Invasion, Blackest Night has suffered simply by being an eight-issue event miniseries requiring eight months of tie-ins to accompany it.

Meanwhile, over at Marvel... other than the Scions of Morrison I mentioned above, there was still a ton of good stuff: Abnett and Lanning have basically crafted their own little cosmic continuum, a subdivision of the Marvel Universe represented in four monthly titles that effectively serve as a weekly series. Honestly, I don't understand what Johns's Green Lantern material really has over Marvel's cosmic sector that makes it so much more popular - they both deal with the same universe-shattering threats and stuff, except Abnett/Lanning's epic is far more diverse in content and focused in scope.

There's a lot of stuff here I've been reading I haven't even touched on yet, but this has gone over long enough - the current state of the X-Men franchise (and how useless Ellis's Astonishing has become), the Bendis/Maleev motion comics "experiment"... but suffice to say: I had a huge amount of fun reading, and following, comics this year. From Seaguy to Scalped, from the end of Young Liars to the return of Powers, from annotating and commenting on Batman and Robin to gawking and J.H. Williams's art to Detective Comics - I didn't even come close to feeling that things were in a lull. If 2010 is anything like 2009: bring it on.

A Review of Batwoman in Detective Comics Focusing Mostly on the Writing

A while ago, my boy Pedro at Funnybook Babylon talked about how sometimes bad art can obscure a less-than-wonderful script, since bad art is easier to bitch about and more easily apparent. I'm here to talk about the inverse, especially as it relates to Greg Rucka's inadvertent (I'm pretty sure he originally thought this was going to be a solo miniseries or ongoing) return to Detective Comics.

Because, let's be fair: everyone's talking about how gorgeous and brilliant and formally inventive J.H. Williams III is, but I just haven't seen people talk about the story all that much. I reread "Elegy" before reading Detective Comics #858 this week, and the entire story works incredibly well as a continuous whole, with Williams's chameleonic layouts perfectly complementing the very diverse locations and settings that Rucka's building into this.

But even completely ignoring the art side, there's a lot going on here. It's difficult to discuss the story without discussing Kate's relationship to the Bat-symbol; she's absolutely taking up the aegis of a concept larger than herself, but that's a logical decision for someone ingrained with a military mindset, something that's absolutely integral to Kate's character.

There's a joke, and a criticism, somewhere about how Batwoman combines Rucka's two favorite concepts as a writer - the military and tough but flawed female heroes - into a single company-owned franchise, but while that might be true the military angle DOES do a great deal to distinguish her from the other people rocking the Bat - and a traumatic past is pretty much the prerequisite to join that club in the first place. Just look at what happened to poor ol' Tim Drake.

The hook that's driving this series as of the beginning of GO - and SPOILER SHADES on, kids, I'm about to ruin the end of the last arc - is that Batwoman's character is really one half of a yin/yang thing, a character who's largely dedicated to order and discipline, although the ballroom scenes with Maggie Sawyer betray a streak of mischievousness. The other half would, of course, have to be dedicated to chaos with a streak of order and community - and that's her sister Beth, heading up the Religion of Crime while being driven by her ordered obsession to emulate Alice Liddell.

Rucka teases this duality for the first three issues, but it's really in #857 that Williams's art starts reflecting the nature of Batwoman and Alice's relationship - an artistic theme I will, perhaps incorrectly, attribute to Rucka's plot over Williams's layout and design. At the end of the issue, the overall theme is clear, and then with #858, the first part of "Go," Rucka switches gears completely to writing what may be his strongest subject: parents and their children.

From Batman: Death and the Maidens to his Montoya Family scenes in Gotham Central, Rucka is superb at writing family dynamics, and this is HUGELY to his advantage when dealing with the material presented by the Kanes. What's impressive about the way Rucka portrays Kate and Beth's relationship with their mother isn't just the immediate portrayal in the flashbacks, but how thoroughly it informs Kate's indifference to her STEPmother in the present-day situation of the first arc. Greg Rucka mothers are creatures of great insight and tough love, and Gabi Kane is no exception to that rule - while the current stepmother is, at this point, just a disapproving, misunderstanding cypher. In Rucka's world, real (not necessarily biological, but committed) parents don't just love their kids, they UNDERSTAND them, more than the children would ever like to believe or admit.

This level of parental insight heavily informed Rucka's writing of Bruce and Alfred in his first Detective run, and it applies very accurately to Kate and her father here. It's a very similar relationship without being a carbon-copy: both father figures understand their kids' obsessions and the tragedy that drives them, while also wishing for them a healthier emotional balance. However, Colonel Kane makes judgments about Kate that Alfred just doesn't with Bruce; the Colonel is certainly not Kate's servant in any way, and his support is neither monetarily reimbursed nor unconditional - in short, he has a far greater influence. Kate looks up to her dad more than Bruce admires Alfred, and this makes for a totally different, while still similar, dynamic.

Of course, then you have Kate and Beth: Rucka goes a long way to portray these two as almost identical in #858, having them equal out each other's mistakes and pretend to be each other in school. When the tragic Joe Chill/Crime Alley equivalent moment occurs at the end of the issue, it's even worse that we know Beth's fate, and how easily there could have been Beth Kane, Batwoman and Kate Kane, High Madame of the Dark Faith. Even more than Bruce's, Kate's existence is based purely on chance, a straight up fifty-fifty split. Survivor's guilt can be a powerful motivator, and although we're only one issue into "Go" I don't think I'd be out of line saying it heavily informs Kate's actions.

Even completely ignoring Williams's more than considerable contributions, Greg Rucka has built an incredibly compelling character, driven by believable personal demons, in Kate Kane. There's a solid argument to be made that this comic is the pinnacle of Rucka's superhero career so far, combining the detail-obsessiveness of Queen & Country and Checkmate with the familial drama and character work of Gotham Central and Wonder Woman. Kate Kane is a character that's uniquely informed by his sensibilities and style, while also providing a ton of springboards for future writers to jump off of - which is pretty much the definition of a quality toy placed into a superhero universe sandbox. Without a doubt, Detective Comics featuring Batwoman is Greg Rucka's most EXCELLENT contribution to superhero comics to date.


Recently CBR's Tim Callahan referred to the Question backup as "lesser Greg Rucka, lesser Cully Hamner, and not worth your time." While I'd certainly never go that far - it's a perfectly entertaining street-level detective story - it just feels like a bit of a letdown after Montoya's recent appearances in Final Crisis. We saw her team up with the Huntress, save the Spectre, take down the Biblical Cain (who was also Vandal Savage) and then get offered the role of building Jack Kirby's Future That's Coming. Oh, and then she traveled on the Bleedfaring sausage party known as Zillo Valla's Ultima Thule with 52 Supermen.

So to see her taking down border-crossing human traffickers: while it's really nice to see Montoya in her element and beating the shit out of random thugs again, I want to see the next step in her evolution, not a standard detective story with Renee Montoya as the Question slotted in. And while Rucka can do standard detective stories better than most people in the business, he can do character work better, and character work with his pets like Montoya best. So while it's almost definite that future installments will bring me Montoya stories that delve into the character rather than use her to drive a relatively unrelated story, these first five installments left me somewhat cold, and I really felt "Pipeline: Chapter One" was just OKAY - but that's largely because it wasn't what I wanted it to be, more than any specific faults in the writing or art.


The Brave and the Bold #28: Welcome to Where Your Soul Dies

I read a lot of comics.

As a general rule, I at least keep up with most of the Big Two shared-universe titles, and I'm not utterly averse to J. Michael Straczynski as a writer. The first half of his Amazing Spider-Man run, Supreme Power, Thor - he's written comics I enjoyed thoroughly and am glad I paid money for.

He also wrote this.

I'm used to, and have a certain respect for, well-intentioned, interesting or ambitious failures. It's why I'm still spending money for Dark Wolverine, after all. To really earn my ire, a comic has to be completely fucked up not just in the execution, but all the way back to the project's creative germ. This is one of those comics.

Told with all the excitement and wit of a PSA capping off a Saturday morning cartoon from 1995, The Brave and the Bold #28 is a stupendous exercise in the time-honored field of insulting your audience. It's astonishing that just twelve issues ago this entire book's premise was based on fun team-ups; this is just about the least fun Barry Allen time travel story you'll ever read, as Straczynski somehow manages to turn a story about a time-travelling forensics cop shooting up Nazis into a completely banal morality play about -- I don't know what. Support Our Troops? America Is Complicated? Killing In War Sure Is Ugly But It Is Necessary? Anyone past the age of five doesn't need a fucking superhero comic to beat that into their brains, especially when said superhero comic doesn't even bother using metaphors and instead just places the main character smack in the middle of World War II.

While there, he meets up with the Inglourious BasterdsBlackhawks, who are not flying planes for bullshit handwaved reasons and don't take very well to Barry Allen's "not grinning like an idiot while perforating holes in scores of Nazis" mentality. So what does Barry Allen do, stuck in this time period with a broken leg but still able to use the entirety of the rest of his power set? He lets the Blackhawks call him a pussy, and then -- I am not making this up -- steals a uniform from a dead American soldier and rolls with the Blackhawks for a period of weeks. This period, by the way, is depicted in a single splash page, as the rest of the comic is needed for all the insipid moralizing.

So then, after pretending to be an American soldier for a matter of weeks and not using his powers to save lives in the war, his leg heals and he goes back through the time rift to the present - but not before providing a speech to Blackhawk about how this isn't the war to end all wars, but America survives, and its principles are intact, and they can't never take down Old Glory dagnabbit not while the goshdarn American spirit survives, by golly!

In conclusion - I guess that if you're the type of person who was moved and entertained by Amazing Spider-Man #36, the 9/11 tribute issue, then you might find something of worth in this. On the other hand, if you have read a history book before in your life, are capable of making moral decisions on your own, or just don't like being preached to in the least subtle manner possible - then you will probably feel, as I did, that this comic is the most astonishingly, pretentiously intelligence-insulting exaggeration of all of the preachiest, most insufferable aspects of JMS's writing.

This comic is like being lectured to by your grandfather. This comic is like a video they put on in history class during a substitute session. This comic is buying a story for $2.99 and instead getting a poorly-written polemic combined with an emotionally manipulative guilt factory. This comic is CRAP, saved only by Jesus Saiz's appealing but not especially noteworthy art. So if you didn't know what kind of comic this was -- now you know.

And knowing is half the battle.

Some Indie Shit and Manga David Done Read

Yeah, so I haven't written about superhero comics for a while largely because - not to go all David Brothers in this piece - while I've been enjoying a lot of stuff coming out, I haven't been driven to write much about a lot of it. So instead, I've been dipping my uncultured, pervert-suit-loving self into the world of INDEPENDENT SMALL PRESS COMICS, not to mention the dangerous and exotic Orient of sequential art they call "man-ga."

Joking aside, here's some pretty great shit I read recently, and what I thought about it. (Obviously, there is more after the jump.)

Asterios Polyp by David Mazzucchelli, Pantheon Press

Yeah, I'm hardly the first person to come out and say that this is a pretty stunning artistic achievement. I've been putting off writing about it basically for that reason - after guys like Wolk and Mautner weighed in, what good is there in a schlub like me throwing his opinion horseshoe onto the post?

The thing is, I think it's easy to get lost in Polyp's shadow. The book is unmistakably a formalist masterpiece on first skim-through; Mazzucchelli's virtuosity with almost every aspect of sequential art is immediately evident. It's easy to get lost in symbolism and allusion with this book, since every single image seems weighted down with meaning, but there's a reason all of this symbolism and allusion is captivating in the first place: it's a good story, told astonishingly well. Yeah, Mazzucchelli's providing some incredibly stunning images and sometimes forcing you to read a comic in a way you're not used to, but it's all stunningly intuitive - Polyp somehow manages to be incredibly deep without being overwhelmingly challenging. It's not just this big stylistic monolith; it's also an engaging, emotional and entertaining story about two fully realized characters with dialogue that makes them easy to care about.

It's remarkable the balance Mazzucchelli was able to achieve here. It rewards each successive reading without requiring it; it can be a breezy, entertaining read if you want it to be and an annotator's dream if that's your thing too. It really is the kind of book you could hand to pretty much anybody. I've seen the comparisons to Ulysses thrown around, and considering the experimental storytelling on display combined with the penchant for alluding to Greek mythology, I can see where it comes from. But Ulysses is commonly seen as an undertaking or even a chore, while this is just a pure joy. Needless to say, utterly EXCELLENT.

I Killed Adolf Hitler by Jason, Fantagraphics Books

I grabbed this one largely due to the strength of Jason's fantastic contribution to Marvel's Strange Tales, which is probably the least hip reason ever to pick up an indie cartoonist, but hey, whatever. The result: I really enjoyed it! I'd read strong reviews of this around earlier, and I was expecting something offbeat and madcap (and certainly wasn't disappointed in that regard), but I was also surprised by just how emotional Jason was able to make a story about an Anthro-dog murder society and time travelling hitmen. Yeah, the entire thing is patently absurd on every level - self-consciously and humorously so - but it's also a story about the impermanence of rage and the importance of forgiveness, alongside what a goddamn twat Adolf Hitler can be when all you want to do is shoot the bastard. The description on the back describes the book as "deadpan," and that pretty much nails almost every aspect of its execution, from the anthropomorphic characters' frequently emotionless expressions to the unexclamatory dialogue to, well, the entire concept of the book. It's a quick read and very rewarding, and something I imagine I'll come back to from time to time for a while. Smart, funny and surprisingly poignant, this was VERY GOOD.

Pluto v.1-5 by Naoki Urasawa with Takashi Nagasaki, Viz Signature

Yeah, so I really lied when I said no superhero comics, because Pluto is basically a far more talented creative mind attempting the "maturation" of traditionally kids' comics characters exemplified by the spandex rape celebration known colloquially as Identity Crisis. What separates the two? As far as I can tell, where half of the American comics industry and Naoki Urasawa split up is the topic of sensationalism. When something terrible happens in a Brad Meltzer comic, the record stops, everyone stands around and the buckets come out for ten pages of superhero weeping. When something awful happens in a Naoki Urasawa comic, the characters react in various ways and the plot moves on without fetishized close-up spreads of a dead body or rape victim.

On top of that, Urasawa is essentially - like Grant Morrison or Alan Moore - a humanist at heart, and his stories are all about the necessity of holding the high road and respecting the sanctity of life, even when shit gets tough. They're also about the idea that redemption's always out there, and the virtue of forgiveness. It's difficult to find a pure villain in an Urasawa story; even in Monster, where he most explicitly dealt with the concept of pure, unmitigated, unexplainable evil, there was always stress placed on the importance of believing in change. This absolutely extends to Pluto, a gorgeously drawn and masterfully paced murder mystery that reinterprets "children's entertainment" through the lens of adulthood and nostalgia to create a sci-fi whodunnit bereft of moral judgments, just people (and robots) pushed to emotional extremes by unexpected events.

Every character in an Urasawa story is fully fleshed out, and Pluto is no different; seeming bit characters always have considerable background, and every action a character makes is placed into context by the life experiences that drove him or her towards it. Urasawa might be one of the tightest plotters in comics today, with a supernatural skill for creating a fully-realized character even through the broadest of strokes, without resorting to base sentimentality.

In short, everybody working on Big Two shared-universe superhero comics should have this as required reading. This is how you fucking do it. EXCELLENT.

Yotsuba&! Vol. 1 by Kiyohiko Azuma, Yen Press

I got this at the recommendation of David Brothers, and it did not disappoint: this book is basically an elaborate creation developed by research scientists to make even the most cynical person smile. The titular Yotsuba, whose exploits form the book's content, manages to be the rarest of fictional children: precocious without being obnoxious. It functions more like an episodic sitcom than any sort of continuous narrative, although the episodes (at least in this first volume) definitely follow a loose thread - a girl who behaves very strangely has moved into a new town and house with her long-suffering father, and now each episode features her "tackling" a certain subject (hence the title - Yotsuba&Moving, Yotsuba&Global Warming, etc.), usually by taking something symbolic literally or misinterpreting a piece of advice. Her antics are always amusing because they're not random; there's always a piece of logic, no matter how twisted, that justifies her behavior, so the laughs, while considerable, never seem cheap. The end result is a comic that makes me smile every time I read a chapter, no matter what kind of mood I'm in, and that's assuredly VERY GOOD.

Casanova Vol. 1 by Matt Fraction and Gabriel Ba, Image Comics

Man, I feel like a moron for not getting into this earlier, since it has pretty much everything I enjoy in a comic: parallel universes, time travel, hilarious use of the word "fuck", and the absence of the overwhelming distaste for humanity that seems to, for me, infect all the Warren Ellis stories that meet the first three criteria. Casanova manages to channel the far-out wackiness of a Nextwave and combine it with real characterization and something resembling a point, and as one of the five people on the Internet who didn't like Nextwave I'm incredibly grateful for that. Other than that: incredibly imaginative, gorgeously drawn, took me a second read to grab a lot of the basic plot structure (it's QUITE complex) but that second read was rewarding enough I can't complain too hard. I've heard that as good as this is, volume 2 is a significant improvement, and I would greatly appreciate it if Image Comics and Mr. Fraction could see to the publication of a hardcover of those issues so that I can read them without rooting through back issue bins. Is there somewhere between GOOD and VERY GOOD? Because that's where this is.

JUSTIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIIICE! Capsules for 7/2/2009 (We operate on Canadian time up in here)

This was certainly a week of high-profile titles, although uncharacteristically dominated by DC in that regard (if not in OVERALL output). DC had two A-list releases this week: the second issue of Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely's nearly-universally-praised Batman and Robin, and the first issue of James Robinson and Mauro Cascioli's seven-issue Justice League: Cry for Justice miniseries, a book DC's seriously promoting (unquestionably to the detriment of the regular Justice League of America title) as one of their major event books of the year. A review of Cascioli's art is pretty short: if you're the kind of person who enjoys the stiff realism of Alex Ross, this is your thing. If the stylish, partially cartoonish fluidity of a Frank Quitely comic rings more of a note with you, I'd recommend Batman and Robin, which has been praised enough everywhere and will soon be annotated by me on Funnybook Babylon.


I think Justice League calls for some special attention. There've been a number of reviews that fairly accurately point out its flaws with considerable accuracy - Wolk was able to masterfully criticize it from this single issue alone, even though it took me a while to get the reference due to the fact that it's been a while since I read Promethea.


Anyways! Justice League: Cry for Justice #1: From the start: this isn't a very good comic, although I very much enjoy Robinson's work both on Starman and the Superman franchise. The thing is, you have to realize this comic was written over a year ago: first it was an ongoing series, then it disappeared for a while, and now it's back as a mini that's going to feed into the ongoing series. It's pretty clear not only why this sort of mercurial narrative ground would drive the incredibly talented (and more than familiar with these characters' natures and dynamics, he proved he was able to write some pretty great Justice League stories on TV) Dwayne McDuffie to frustration, but also why the fans have developed such a cynical attitude towards the book - an attitude Robinson directly addresses in the text piece following the main story.

The problem is: the book reads like what me and my university buddies would come up with as a parody of Brad Meltzer's comic-writing style. It's hilariously maudlin, with such REPETITION of THEMES that it's about as subtle as a Michael Jackson impersonator kicking you in the taint. It's almost impossible to judge the book on a plotting rather than scripting level because Robinson's script obscures the plot to such a great degree that we don't know anything about it - supposedly Prometheus is involved, and he's attacking some Z-list heroes that were chosen by James Robinson and Dan Didio throwing darts at a George Perez spread in a con hotel room. These z-list heroes then cry, sometimes figuratively, sometimes literally, for justice, or vengeance, or revenge, or justification, or vindication, or pie, or whatever the fuck they seem to think is fair. The fact that they charge an extra dollar for six pages of text and a two-page origin already posted on the DC Comics website is just the icing on the taint-kick cake.

Robinson mentions in this text afterword that the book's conclusion was changed considerably by editorial fiat (seemingly, in his mind, to the story's benefit), but the issue's most noticeable and technical problems are all script: questionable characterization (Ray Palmer doing his impression of his wife's tapdance on Sue Dibny's parietal lobe in an attempt to look edgy and willing to torture), overly continuity-conscious dialogue ("remember that time I became a liberal?"), and a plethora of Identity Crisis-esque shock deaths that exist purely to provoke insincere emotional reactions from the main cast. Not to mention the completely disjointed pacing that leads to a first issue with very little of a driving hook at all.
The thing is, all of this reminds me a lot of Robinson's first arc of Superman upon his return to comics - "The Coming of Atlas" - and the considerable narrative flaws therein that were very much corrected over coming issues. The dialogue went from stilted to James Robinson stilted, the plotting became tighter and less manipulative (Robinson's entire first issue of Superman being dedicated to doomed Science Police members was a pretty big misstep)... the time period backs this up too: I really think James Robinson was just rusty as hell when he wrote this comic, and I don't really expect the book to maintain this amateur-hour quality level in the long term. But as an atomic unit? This was a pretty fucking AWFUL comic.
Captain America Reborn #1: I feel bad for Brubaker here, because when he plotted all this shit out like two and a half years ago there was no way he could have known how repetitive his planned resurrection method for Steve Rogers would seem - not only did the "unstuck in time" time travel methodology become a major focal point of the next few seasons of notoriously comic-related sci-fi interpersonal drama Lost, but 2008's Final Crisis also featured a time bullet and an iconic nonpowered hero being rocketed to the past (albeit with a totally different method). So he's getting a lot of flack for this, as well as what seems to me to be his deliberate choice to exposit the time travel physics to the reader by using terminology lifted from not only Lost (which was "stolen" from, uh, math in the first place) but Kurt Vonnegut's Slaughterhouse-Five, a book which featured a war veteran undergoing a metaphysical and temporal journey very similar to that of Steve Rogers.
The thing is, I don't think he's ripping off the ideas as much as using them as shorthand to explain the basic concepts to the reader. "Dude's consciousness pingpongs around in the life of his body" really isn't that unique, and having Arnim Zola say Steve Rogers is unstuck in time might evoke S-5 a little bit too directly, but it also prevents Brubaker from having to write, and us having to read, like five or six dialogue balloons from Arnim Zola carefully explaining what they did to Steve Rogers. "Well, you see, Norman, his body is in one place, but now his consciousness is inhabiting different time periods of his body in..." etc. Man, nobody wants to read that - "yo, Norman, it's like Vonnegut" gets the point across just as damn well. Unless you're a reader who hasn't seen Lost or read Vonnegut, in which case fuck you, and I applaud Brubaker for assuming superhero readership has a basic level of functional cultural literacy.
Other than that: it's the best Hitch has looked in years thanks to Guice's inks, even though a number of panels are WAY too evocative of his work on Ultimates and there's a pretty good photoshop "ruin the moment" opportunity replacing the last page with the infamous "letter on my head stands for France" image. And it's certainly a relief to read an issue of Brubaker's Cap that doesn't have Frank D'Armata's distinctive but incredibly muddy coloring.
But enough about that, how is the story? Well, it's a whole lot of exposition. It's well-written exposition, excitingly drawn and skillfully laid out, and I can't imagine new readers being in the dark after reading this issue - it pretty much recaps the important plot points from the last 25 issues of Cap without drawing the book's narrative to a complete and total halt, although longtime readers will, like me, probably feel at least a little bit unsatisfied due to how much of this comic is going over familiar ground. Still, though, it features Hitch drawing Bucky punching people and the first non-shiver-inducing Hank Pym appearance since Secret Invasion, and "it didn't have enough new shocks for me wahh wahh" really isn't a good reason to dislike a comic. It was pretty goddamn GOOD, and I expect the series will hit great to excellent before it's through.
Batman and Robin #2: Is there even anything new to say about this? Godawful background colors aside (welcome to Gotham City, where the skies come from a fucking Amiga game!) this is pretty close to the perfect superhero comic, other than a single confusing point (the final panel) on the second to last page where the fact that the location changes for that panel isn't made incredibly obvious. There's a whole lot to love here, and I'll be annotating it this weekend (I wasn't able to block off Wednesday for it like I usually do thanks to Canadian holidays) in more detail, but in short this comic was EXCELLENT.
Uncanny X-Men #513: I'm hearing a lot of grousing over this "Utopia" storyline, some of it deserved - for instance, the Humanity Now! coalition is a lot more difficult to consider as an effective metaphor for a real-world group since Fred Phelps isn't a robot who convinces totally normal people to follow his lead via nanobots. The whole idea of Humanity Now! being a bunch of humans trying to fight obsolescence is totally blown out of the water when their leader switches from using standard coercion tactics to silly sci-fi bullshit, but other than that I thought there was a lot to enjoy about this issue. Terry Dodson's art is certainly far more aesthetically pleasing than the effort put forward last week by Marc Silvestri and his Legion of Super-Embellishers (seriously, I'd love to see Silvestri's "pencils" for Utopia - I bet they're just faceless figure drawings on panel grids with arrows pointing to characters saying CYCLOPS and WOLVERINE), and the reactions of the mutants, as well as the continually escalating violence, all make sense. We've all stayed late at the bar and then gone out and done something stupid with people we probably shouldn't have followed at some point; this shit happens, and I don't think it's at all unrealistic for characters who should usually know better to get drawn into doing retarded things out of peer pressure, it's just how social groups work.
Other than that, it's pretty boilerplate Fraction, which is still better than most other superhero comics out there today - clever, self-aware dialogue; jump-cut scene changes; scientific geniuses being written as sarcastic douchebags. It's a fun, entertaining superhero comic, and I'm loving the ambiguity as to whether Scott and Emma are aware of each others' plans or not, but part of me wishes Fraction hadn't thrown away the one thing that really made this story seem real-world relevant. Still, this book was pretty OK as a whole.
Invincible Iron Man #15: This issue, on the other hand, is Fraction at the top of his game, with the driving "World's Most Wanted" premise of Tony slowly losing his intelligence (and therefore, practically, his individuality) finally kicking into high gear, leading to some insanely sad and well-written moments between Tony and Pepper where he just can't remember some of the most important events and people in his life. This story's interesting because while "Hey, let's take everything away from Tony Stark" is hardly a unique premise, I don't think anybody's taken it so far as to actually effectively lobotomize him as well as remove his worldly possessions and assets. He's got no money, no credibility, very few friends and now he's losing his mind too. Even after half of the Marvel writing staff seemed hell-bent on portraying him as a heel for the past few years, watching a man who's essentially altruistic (if sometimes incredibly arrogant) pay such an immense price is affecting, and new.
Also, like Larroca's art or not: this book has been coming out for fifteen monthly issues now without a single change in the creative team, other than the pages of the first issue Stephane Peru colored before his extremely untimely passing. That means the writer, artist, colorist, letterer and editor have stayed static for fifteen issues, and they've been almost all perfectly on time. That's worth praising in today's market. VERY GOOD.
And finally... Fantastic Four #568 must win some kind of award for the flattest climax in comics history. After fourteen high-octane issues of Mark Millar setup, we get a scripting assist by Joe Ahearne here and - I'm not sure if anyone else is reading Fantastic Force, but his panel transitions are incredibly disjointed there with tons of missing information, and as a result it's led to a comic that really feels more like a progression of random images rather than a story. This problem rears its ugly head pretty early here, with one page ending on the Thing about to make out with his lady and the next starting with his back on fire and Deb freaking out. Something like, I dunno, a panel where a flaming bottle is thrown through the window, or a look at whoever did it across the street, or something could have made this far less confusing, and this basic amateur-hour comics storytelling mistake is one of many in this issue.
The problem is, this isn't just two issues of Millar's FF, they're the climax of not only that run but also the events of Marvel 1985 and Wolverine: Old Man Logan. The guy's entire superhero output for something like two years now has rested on the character of Clyde Wyncham and his story as the Marquis of Death, and while I know Millar and Hitch's reasons for not working on this issue are both valid and personal (hospital visits for one, dead mother for the other), it's still incredibly disappointing to finally hit the big villain reveal and have it delivered so... matter-of-factly. We've been seeing this guy from the shadows for months, and now that he's appeared Ahearne just can't pull off that kind of over-the-top ridiculous villiany that Millar can. The guy just isn't scary, or even intimidating; he just looks ugly and talks a lot, and presents Reed with some pretty obvious moral conundrums. It's not a terrible comic, but it's really hard to read it without wondering what it could have been if Millar and Hitch had been able to give it their full attention, and it's certainly a disappointing climax to this entire story. EH.

Batman Didn’t Tap: David Reviews Detective #853 and the State of DC Comics

"Well, it definitely wasn't going to be called Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader? at that point. That was what some people at DC Comics started out calling it, and eventually it stuck, but the title did take me slightly by surprise." - Neil Gaiman

I had some of this review prepared before this little piece of news hit, but first I just want to address the recent Mark Waid interview posted at Ain't It Cool News, which is pretty much the balls-out closet-opening light-shining festival on the perceived insanity behind DiDio's DC that I've been waiting for, also containing a few incredibly choice (and very humorously put) words for Crossgen's Mark Alessi and former Marvel head honcho Bill Jemas. I think it's must-reading for anyone with an interest in the superhero comics industry at all, and especially for anyone who enjoys Waid's work. What's striking from it, though, is just how callously it seems the current DiDio office at DC treats its star talent - and make no mistake, Waid is star talent - when they don't fall in lockstep with their agenda. Some of the cirumstances around Waid's recent tenure at DC didn't fall into place due to the Siegel lawsuit, like reuniting Superman with the Legion of Super-Heroes, but there's no denying that Waid's account of his recent tenure, especially with Legion of Super-Heroes and Superman: Birthright, paints it as going something like this:

(Image courteously provided from my joking suggestion by the incredibly talented Adam Rosenlund)

So it's pretty interesting when DC actually pulls out a creator-driven comic that doesn't involve an almost-forgotten property (R.E.B.E.L.S. (I realize it's not completely off to the side), War That Time Forgot, Warlord). Thus, the second half of the much-reviewed, on this site and others, Neil Gaiman/Andy Kubert/Scott Williams/Alex Sinclair ostensible magnum opus "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?", named, as the starting quote indicates, largely by editorial.

So what we get here is DC somehow managing to turn even a title that's billed as being creator-driven into an editorial mandate, which was basically "hey, popular British dude, write something as timeless as that Alan Moore story about Superman so we can make it really clear that we are turning. the. fucking. page. on this era of Batman." Which isn't very creator-driven at all, and it sure as hell shows in the final product, since the only thing I can imagine producing this comic is pure, unbridled perseverence to get through this assignment. Gaiman didn't give up, and even though near the end he fairly clearly just went for broke and started asking Andy Kubert to draw crazy shit that he layered boilerplate Gaiman narration about the cyclical nature of stories over, he turned in this assignment. And that, apparently, is what he admires most about Batman.

I'm not especially versed in mixed martial arts, but even after watching a little bit you tend to notice some of the background details - like the clothing guys come out with before they get into the ring, especially the label and credo of a lot of the more religious Christian fighters - "Jesus Didn't Tap." Reading Detective Comics #853, all I could imagine in my head was Neil Gaiman, walking up to the UFC cage of wrassling ridiculously-conceived work for hire assignments, clad in a sweaty black hoodie featuring the motto "BATMAN DIDN'T TAP."

I enjoyed the supernatural detective story Gaiman was setting up in the first chapter a hell of a lot more than this denouement for a number of reasons. I realize this is going to be the third review for this thing in a row, after Brian and Graeme, but for some reason I still really want to talk about it since more than anything I’m bothered by just how unimaginably trite the resolution was - it turns out that the common thread between all of the stories of Batman's death is the fact that - surprise! - he doesn't give up! Batman does not tap out, he gets up and goes forward and solves the mystery and does his job, or he dies trying. But really, not only was this aspect of the character just illustrated in a far more interesting (if perhaps apparently less easily digestible) manner in Grant Morrison's recent Batman R.I.P., but despite his superhuman amounts of resolve, focusing on it as the character's most important driving force doesn't really make him all that different from the regular world's everyday heroes, and certainly doesn't provide anything near the sort of encapsulating vision of a character that Alan Moore's story this is so clearly based on did.

I realize that comparing this to one of the most well-constructed and popularly affecting Superman stories may seem unfair, but this is what everybody involved in this production set themselves up for with the title and placement in the character's career. And really, to be honest, there was no way this was going to work - Alan Moore's story was pitched to Julie Schwartz fairly passionately as a story he very much wanted to tell (ref. the introduction to the collected edition), while Gaiman's is, as previously stated, an offered assignment with a very specific editorial goal and some sort of grand, delusional plan that if you hire good talent and give something the right title you'll get a classic o' the medium and genre. The fact of the matter is, though, you won't.

Instead, you'll get Gaiman wrestling the concept down to the mat and not giving up, producing a 60 (I think?)-page brilliantly-drawn mystical meditation about how Batman doesn't give up and can't die and keeps coming back as a baby with a huge bellybutton after being delivered by a doctor whose hands are formed out of a Bat-Signal in space, shortly after a grown man reads "Goodnight Moon" with his mother to the gigantic underground proverbial treehouse he built underneath his mansion. It's suitably ridiculous, and on first read tugs the heartstrings and kind of reminds you of all the juxtaposition of the deadly serious and utterly ludicrous that defines Batman stories so much, but subsequent investigations just show that past "BATMAN DOESN'T TAP," there just isn't much there. So while there's something to be said for Gaiman giving this assignment his all and seeing it through, I just don't see anything remotely novel on subsequent readings and as a result I've regrettably got to give this fairly cynical cash-and-Eisner-grab an EH.

Patterns of Patterning: David Takes a Look at Irredeemable #1 (With Capsule Comments on Other Stuff From This Week)

In Grant Morrison's afterword to Irredeemable #1, he discusses an email exchange he had with the book's writer Mark Waid regarding patterning, or the practice of essentially permanently categorizing and cubbyholing a person's potential and MO. Morrison goes on to relate this to himself being "patterned" as a factory of insane gobbledygook - and while that's an opinion of him that may be held by many, I'd hardly call it a complete majority, so I was surprised at how defensively that came off - and of Waid being "patterned" as a dude who writes Silver Age throwback stories, which, well, is pretty true. A lot of people don't remember Empire.

And it's difficult not to compare Irredeemable with its seeming spiritual predecessor - they're both stories where Mark Waid, Biggest Superman Fan Alive, writes about really nasty people doing shitty things to each other, so some people seem to initially view it as a sort of novelty thing, like Avenue Q or that YouTube video with Bert & Ernie performing M.O.P.'s "Ante Up" - hey, Mark Waid's writing about bad people! Empire succeeded creatively, though, because it relied on more than shock value - Waid's a superb character writer, and all of his skills in that arena were on full display. So it's disappointing that Irredeemable #1 seems to sidestep the issue of character entirely so that Mark Waid can try to break his pattern.

I'm not saying it's a bad comic, not by any means, but the Plutonian (the I'm-sick-of-being-called-of-a-fag-so-fuck-you-guys spiteful, homicidal Superman analogue that drives the action of the book) isn't really a character yet, he's a just a guy flying around blowing shit up while people panic - something which takes up a decent chunk of the issue's bulk. It's a lot of shock and sadism, and it's certainly well-executed (and, I must admit, not overly gory or fetishistic in any way - credit to artist Peter Krause on the opening sequence especially), but throughout the issue we're only teased with a glimmer of the "why" for all this. It's certainly Waid breaking out of his pattern, but a part of me wonders if it isn't going too far in the other direction - if it's trying so hard to be mean that it loses sight of that human element that marks the best of Waid's work. Or maybe I'm just patterning the guy.

Peter Krause does a great job with the art - it reminds me a lot of Steve Epting in Captain America, except with a far more varied and vibrant color palette courtesy of Andrew Dalhouse, just the right mix of mythological iconography and creepy stalker faces for a book that's all about perverting the supposedly incorruptible.

None of this is to say that it isn't a Good comic - it is, and I'm fairly confident that my complaints about the book's lack of a human hook won't last long, since this is an ongoing series and I doubt he'll stay away from that for long. I think it's going to make for a really good ongoing series, and I'm incredibly happy Waid's finally in the position where he can give himself a canvas like this. But taken as a hermetically sealed first issue, I'm still going to be buying the second issue more on my trust in Mark Waid as a creator than in me being hooked into the story so far.

Also, if you ever wanted to see what a two-page four-star verbal blowjob was like, Grant Morrison's afterword sure is something.

On to some other stuff - it's a shame Geoff Johns's run on Justice Society of America is ending with such a whimper, since the first few issues of this run were superb and really seemed to be showing a ton of promise, but the endless droning of the Kingdom Come storyline killed so much momentum that I can really see why Johns chose to leave the book. It just doesn't have as much energy as his other work, and has that same plodding, co-written feeling that his late issues of Teen Titans did, where the car was just running out of gas. I think next month's Eaglesham-drawn Stargirl spotlight will probably be a winner, but other than that this issue and run overall have been fairly disappointing. Okay.

In terms of superhero fun, I'm really enjoying the "Messiah War" storyline crossing over between Cable and X-Force - this week's Cable #13 is the second part, sort of rearranging all the pieces of the stuff I remember loving as a kid (Cable! Deadpool being funny! Wolverine slicing shit up! Archangel flying! Stryfe's awesome blade armor! Copious time travel!) into a story that actually has some degree of forethought and coherence, unlike the flying-by-the-seat-of-the-pants plotting of the Liefeld/Nicieza/Lobdell stuff I inexplicably loved as a kid. I really wish Olivetti would draw his own backgrounds instead of using 3D models and Quake II screenshots, but Duane Swierczynski writes quite a Good comic here.

Lastly, I've got to admit I've really turned around on Daniel Way recently - I thought a lot of his early Wolverine: Origins work was fairly awful, horribly paced stuff, so I'm really surprised by how much I'm enjoying not only that book these days (the focus provided by Dark Reign certainly helps, though) but also his Deadpool, which pushes out its eighth issue this week, the third part of the "Magnum Opus" crossover with Andy Diggle's Thunderbolts. It's a fun madcamp romp more than any sort of high art to be sure, but for God's sake the story is titled "Magnum Opus" in full self-awareness, and as a superhero comedy that manages to stay within the bounds of seriousness I can pretty much say that I laughed a lot and was genuinely surprised by a number of the plot turns, so that's a pretty Good comic to me.

I've also got quite a lot to say about the first issues of Flash: Rebirth and Seaguy: The Slaves of Mickey Eye, one in review form and one in a sort of annotation-esque form (I'm not sure yet), but I owe some love to my homies at Funnybook Babylon so make sure to keep an eye out there for those and other great articles.

Hey, Kids! Comics! Reviews for March 25

Yeah, OK, so I lied to both you and myself about my scheduling. I'll be better in the future, I promise. I'll also try to be more... savage... in my criticisms, hopefully regarding some books that aren't *too* obvious of whipping boys. (What's the point of making fun of Ultimatum at this point?)

So yeah, comics!

I read some good comics! And some mediocre comics, and even one utterly, completely, fucking terrible comic, which I will review since there were complaints last time I wasn't "savage" enough. Let's see how we roll now, bitches.

New Avengers #51 Daaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaaayamn! First: Billy Tan really isn't very good at all, I'm sorry, and he needs to be put on a book more suited to big whiz-bang action sequences than this. It's the same problem David Finch had with working with Bendis (although then again David Finch found a new home with Jeph Loeb) - he just isn't very good at anything other than stuff that's supposed to make you go, "Damn! That shit is BADASS!" If it's not supposed to be badass - they can't draw it. So it's funny that the most BADASS sequences of this issue went to the immensely talented Chris Bachalo, while Billy Tan got to basically draw the Avengers version of chillin' at your bro's crib smoking a spliff and watching the Battlestar finale. But at least we don't have any blatantly repeated panels, so we're a step above last issue.

That said, the writing - I've talked a while ago on FBB about how I feel like Bendis really works better with long-term plotting, where he can drop shit out of nowhere in an issue where you're expecting standard decompression that just surprises the shit out of you. I won't spoil it for obvious reasons, but there's absolutely one of those moments in this issue, and it was unexpected and genuine and really well-done on Bendis's part. As flawed as the art is, I love these characters and Bendis's plans on them so much that I'd honestly pay $3.99 just for a printed copy of the script if I had to. In the grand scheme of things it's a Very Good chapter of a Good comic.

Amazing Spider-Man #589 Welcome to the Web-Heads, Fred Van Lente! HOPE YOU SURVIVE THE EXPERIENCE (of thousands of dorks emailing you asking when One More Day will be undone)

Siqueira does a good job on the art - he's solid but the dude needs to continue developing his own distinctive style - but it's Van Lente who's the star here, rehabilitating the Spot (from the place he left him in the Super-Villain Team-Up: M.O.D.O.K.'s 11 miniseries) and making a certain joke I won't spoil work that absolutely, positively, definitely should have been the dumbest, nerdiest, most unnecessary reference ever. But in the script - it works, and it works really well, especially with Cory Petit's assistance. Other than that, it's another Good issue of Amazing Spider-Man, which has done a pretty admirable job not being a shitty comic despite having so many chefs in the pot, especially considering the lineup of relative winners they've had since "New Ways to Die."

Immortal Iron Fist #24 Another oneshot interrupting the main story that'll probably be collected in a separate trade, but I don't really care, because the book is just brimming with ideas. I've never read D-Swyz's prose work, but I was a fan of his since I read his first issue of Cable - not because it was especially good, but because all of its problems were symptomatic of getting your brain around the medium, not of a lack of talent in the first place. The potential that I saw has been completely fulfilled since, and his work on Iron Fist - perhaps Marvel's most fertile idea-soil of a franchise in a long time - is what's done that. I mean, a pacifist Iron Fist - when Fraction and Brubaker rebooted the character in 2006, they came up with ideas like Iron Fists with guns and stuff, but the... simple complexity... of a pacifist Iron Fist could lead to any number of stories, one of which is told here and perfectly fits in to the recently-established history of K'un-Lun. Very Good.

Incredible Hercules #127, Captain America #48, Daredevil #117 Do you really need me to tell you these books are pretty great?

Oracle: The Cure #1 So, uh, yeah. This was... a comic? Kevin VanHook said he got this assignment "primarily because [he's] a computer geek." Look, I'm used to some technical inaccuracies in comics like this, I can accept them - when you're dealing with macroscale technology like Ultron or a Mother Box, I'm fully willing to accept some sort of superintelligent or divine variable that I can't fathom. But I work dealing with programming and computer logic, and this is some serious bullshit from both mathematical and logical perspectives. The Anti-Life Equation represented as a set of numerical constants transformed into diamonds that when combined blow someone's head off? Are you fucking serious? Kevin VanHook's script is internally consistent and his dialogue is relatively grounded, but there's a certain fetishistic quality to the book - especially in the shower segment drawn by Julian Lopez - that makes it fail on both the personal/microscale and big-ideas/macroscale levels. Awful.

Hello! I'm Here to Talk About the Comics. Those Shitty, Amazing Comics.

I'm David Uzumeri, from Funnybook Babylon, and I'm pretty honored to be invited to this pretty elite crew. I'm probably most famous on InterNET for my work annotating Final Crisis and Batman R.I.P., but what you might not know is that I read comics that aren't by Grant Morrison! Hell, I read comics that aren't published by DC - or even by the Big Two! So I'm pretty happy to be here at Savage Critics, and I plan on reviewing my weekly titles (along with other items of interest) fairly regularly. If I seem a bit superhero/genre-centric, that's not because I'm averse to "indie"/mainstream stuff, but more because I'm still reading classics like Love & Rockets and I doubt I'll be contributing much with insightful revelations like "Wow, this Scott Pilgrim book is pretty good!", and I'm still building a reviewer's knowledge base to be able to insightfully criticize that stuff at the level I'd like. But superhero comics? I know those. So let's go.

Batman #686: It's kind of hard not to compare this to Grant Morrison's take, even though they're incredibly different stories; while Gaiman's working at a completely different tone and pace, they share certain idiosyncratic sensibilities that lead to a more supernatural yet methodical, empirical, almost scientific take on the character. Morrison and Gaiman's stories are, behind all of the devils and post-hypnotic suggestions and prismatic funerals (All the Jokers! All the Catwomen!), detective mysteries. And that's what Gaiman's doing here, holding a big fat prismatic funeral for the uber-Platonic-form of the avenging crusader, through the lens of our culture's iteration, Batman. I can't really comment on the ongoing mystery until the next issue, but this certainly raises and holds my interest. I certainly can't let this review go by without mentioning the art - Andy Kubert joins Jim Lee's embellishment team of Scott Williams and Alex Sinclair to do the work of his career, traversing through seventy years of Batman's artistic history and continuity with grace, style and ease. It's not an especially progressive story, nor is it at all high-octane, but it's clever and intelligent and, as sappy as it sounds, it feels like it came from a lot of love on Gaiman's part. More important than all of that, it's in no way a mirror or derivation of Alan Moore's similarly-named ode to the Man of Tomorrow - Gaiman's created his own beast here, a paean to the history and concept of the tortured masked vigilante. It won't change the world, but it's a VERY GOOD Batman story.

The only big caveat I have - and to the book's credit, it's something I didn't even realize until I was in the middle of the article, hanging out with friends about to watch Battlestar, talking about the issue and Gaiman - it's YET ANOTHER goddamn story where a bunch of people stand around telling stories! That was, like, half of Sandman, and utterly killed the pace of Miracleman when Gaiman took over. He gets a lot of mileage out of it, but it's still the same old trick, even though it's done really well - make no bones about it, Neil Gaiman likes to tell stories about people telling stories.

Action Comics #874: First, the art - I've always liked Pablo Raimondi, but I've also never seen him without Brian Reber. Hi-Fi do what would be a fine job on a normal Superman comic, bright colors and clear delineations between objects, but Raimondi's shadowy style acts in complete opposition to that, leading to what looks like, well, kind of ugly art despite what were probably the best intentions of all involved. It's an OKAY comic, certainly better than Robinson's earlier work in the Atlas arc in Superman, but it's far more effective as a section of Geoff Johns's Master Superman Plan than as a single issue. So if you're already invested in that stuff, don't miss this - it's the next episode of the ongoing Superman narrative, and some cool stuff happens. But it's certainly not a jumping-on point or a brilliant piece of work on its own, a byproduct of the nature of serial storytelling.

Thor #600: This is, as Brian's said, probably the best value you'll get in superhero comics for a long-ass time. There's about 42 pages of main story material here, plus about (I haven't counted precisely) eight pages of a backup by Stan Lee and David Aja and then another few pages of Mini Marvels from Chris Giarrusso, who turns in his strongest and funniest iteration of his Mini Marvels concept to date, combining just the right amount of reverence and irreverence for a both funny and accurate recap of Thor's status quo in the Marvel Universe. If this were a shorter book, I'd have qualms with the pacing in the main story - it's a lot of wordless fighting and punching and car-throwing and all that EPIC stuff, but I really can't argue with using the space like this when you have so damn much of it. Straczynski continues his celebrated run here, which has improved much since the first arc of Thor Vs. Real World Issues (did you know Katrina and Darfur are horrible?), and really makes fantastic use of both Norse mythology and the personality of Loki to bring twelve issues of scheming and Asgardian puppeteer-chess to a quick and total climax, changing the status quo of the book. I'm sort of mystified that it didn't get a Dark Reign banner, though, since it's actually a very important chapter in the mega-story of the Marvel Universe and draws a lot from its new status quo. VERY GOOD.

Batman and the Outsiders Special: Really Outsiders #14.5, this is the first issue of Peter J. Tomasi's run on the title and features what's likely Adam Kubert's last DC work, using an all-double-page-spreads (except for the first and final pages) layout style that moves the entire bulk of the advertisements to the back. I'm not entirely sure that the story required this - sometimes the panels even break right in the middle of the page, so it's difficult to tell if you're supposed to read it left to right (you are) or stop at the page fold - but it's strong work, and Dell's inks work better here than the did on his portions of DC Universe: Last Will and Testament.

The story, though... Tomasi's a longtime editor at DC, and he's worked with some of the greats on truly complex storylines (Seven Soldiers, for one). He clearly knows all these characters, but he assumes a little bit too much that you do too, and his Katana scenes skirt dreadfully close to Claremontian cultural simplification where the Japanese are all about RITUALS and HONOR and shit. He doesn't really set up the threat, either - they appear at the end, but there's no real menace, instead they're just slightly creepy generic Hills Have Eyes cannibal monster zombie whatever types. It reads like a book about B-list characters for people who care about those B-list characters and want to see them come back, and while it's alright at that I can't imagine people who picked this up for the Adam Kubert art draw compelled enough to continue following this in the main title with Lee Garbett (who can actually reach a deadline). EH.

Captain Britain and MI: 13 #10: I thought the last arc of this title kind of dragged, but this was just a really, really fun 22 pages, completely embracing the silliness of every concept within - I'm sure everyone's seen the Dr. Doom and Dracula on the Moon teaser by now but it only ramps up from there. In the wake of the recent cancellation rumors, this issue especially leaves me VERY glad that the title is continuing, since Cornell is undoubtedly one of the smartest and most imaginative writers Marvel's employing right now and this issue really found the title's feet in my opinion. It switches from character moments to high-concept insanity basically every scene, and it all flows together remarkably well; additionally, this issue is practically an object lesson to Batman and the Outsiders on how to present characters that the audience doesn't give a shit about and, well, actually provoke some shits being given. I always liked Blade as a cool-looking dude with some sweet swords who stabbed vampires and shit, but I never thought I'd actually start digging him as a real character until Cornell got his hands on him. A VERY GOOD classically Marvel comic.

Young Liars #12: Straight up - I love this comic. I think, with all due respect to Jason Aaron's justifiably-widely-lauded Scalped, it is the best thing Vertigo's putting out right now, full stop. I barely even miss Stray Bullets anymore. I haven't even reread the whole series yet - and when I do, I'm sure I'll have something to say - but I have absolutely no idea what I'm going to read every time I open this comic, yet absolute trust in Lapham that it'll fit into his broader picture. He's a superb storyteller at the top of his game, and this is the dirtiest, sleaziest, funniest, sometimes most touching and definitely most unpredictable comic out there. If you enjoyed the punk-rock viscera of the Amy Racecar scenes in Stray Bullets, or just comics in general that start at an insane tempo and don't let up and thrive off of fucking with reader expectations, then this is really a must-read. I know this is more of a review of the series as a while, but this issue - #12 - really just acts as yet another story that redefines what comes before it; it feels like every issue of Young Liars changes every issue preceding, like the whole structure morphs every time it's informed by an upcoming issue. Completely EXCELLENT.