Monday, April 30, 2012

Direct Message 02: Sleeper Part Two

[Alec Berry and I have finally returned for another discussion in our Direct Message series. This time, we're discussing Sleeper by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. Part one is available on Alec's blog.]

Chad Nevett: I love the way Sean Phillips approaches page compositions in Sleeper. I think that’s what I love most about the comic. The way he stacks panels on top of a page-large shot. That’s not a hard and fast rule, of course; he switches to straight linear compositions for the ‘origins game’ and some flashbacks. But, that approach to layouts is so different, such a unique way to build the visual look of the series. A bunch of small details that obscure the big picture. You can see glimpses of what lays beyond, just not the whole thing. It’s not a perfect analogy for the series, but it’s still inventive and shows a bit more effort and thought that you usually see in comics like this. He really works those pages. It doesn’t always work since there are three or four times the way he stacks the panels leaves it unclear about what order to read the panels in. If there’s any part of Phillips’s post-Sleeper art I don’t like, it’s that he’s stuck to a very grid-based approach to page compositions since then. That straight ahead linear approach is good for clarity, sure; I just like to see ambition and pushing things. He did that in Sleeper.

That new enough for you?

Alec Berry: I think so. Of course, I’m typing this response months later, so I’m pretty sure little of this is new at this point. But, hey, I’m back! 

Phillip’s page designs were also something I considered when reading, and like you, I noticed how they play into the story, which, like you said, came off as a nice switch from Phillip’s usual orthodox layouts. I’d also agree with what you wrote - that the pages can sometimes inhibit reading - but for the most part I found them unique and functional rather than pointless. They really complement what Brubaker’s doing in terms of what I mentioned before … that the story sort of acts like this jam band song, twisting and turning and all of that. They’re also Phillip’s most notable contribution to the comic, other than his actual style, and they show he really took charge on his end and found ways to push the story forward rather than just show the script. You mentioned that there wasn’t much to push you through Sleeper … that nothing, besides characters, was really pushing the story. I kind of think Phillip’s page designs were his way of picking up some of that slack, but more importantly, the designs emphasize the series’ attention to attitude by providing the comic some flash and a visual hook. His pages here almost resemble the visual of a dossier - like someone threw a manila envelope full of shit onto a table and the possessions inside of it landed randomly in a pile. Which would back up the idea you mentioned … random bits of info lying beneath the surface.

If anything though, the pages are dynamic, and that goes hand-in-hand with the pulpy tone Sleeper presents, which, oddly, is something I missed the first time around. Originally, this was such an espionage story to me with all of its shadows and grimy marks, but now all I can see are the adventure qualities and almost cartoon-like expressions. Don’t get me wrong - there are certainly some twisted elements to the story, and the subtext holds some substance, but at it’s heart Sleeper really is this celebration of genre fiction, blending spies with super heroes. The duo wouldn’t really return to such a project until Incognito where they took the idea even a bit further.

CN: I’d argue that the two are pretty different and I’ve never really seen Incognito as an extension of Sleeper. Maybe I should... but I don’t. Then again, I’m not really high on Incognito, so...

Something that always bugged me about Sleeper to a certain extent was Tao. I rather like that character and I never quite got past how base Brubaker eventually made him (the whole thing being his attempt to get back at his ‘father’). I can understand why Brubaker would go in that direction, because, unless the character is brought down a bit, he basically stands there, invincible, outthinking everyone all of the time... and, yet, that’s part of the appeal of the character. A ‘superior’ being fucking up the world, because there’s nothing else to do is much more interesting to me than ‘superior’ being fucking up the world to get back at some guy he decided is his ‘father’ because that guy signed a piece of paper authorizing his creation. It seems like a stretch to me, like there was no other way for Brubaker to make Tao vulnerable so he went with this just because.

AB: Incognito always struck me as a blatant Sleeper sequel. I wouldn’t make it out to be a must read, as it’s just some run of the mill Brubaker/Phillips project with a terrible lead character, but a lot of the ideas running in that comic propose the opposite scenario to Carver’s situation in Sleeper (especially volume two). There’s even a character in volume two who basically shows what would have happened to Carver if he had lost his shit, and Phillips pulls out the Sleeper page layout whenever he shows up. I don’t know, from that standpoint, Incognito’s interesting, other than that though, I’d agree in that it’s really not worth checking out.

Although, Incognito probably has some of my favorite Val Staples color work with all the garish neons and pale pinks.

The Tao point is a good one, though, and on a re-read his ending did annoy me in that it seemed like a weak conclusion for a character who really seemed above it all. A cheap shot, more or less, pulling the daddy issues card. You could argue, though, the event serves a purpose as Tao against Lynch in a father-son relationship sort of continues the origin motif sprawled throughout the comic and takes it to a combative level, having a cast member actually fight where he comes from. Which, I guess, lines up with Carver’s conflict, fighting the idea of who he may be.

That may be a stretch, though, but I could see it. Ultimately, Tao’s demise comes off as a poor example of humanization, and it takes, as you said, a particularly interesting scenario and dulls it a bit. Tao fucking shit up for no real reason suggests no sides taken, in a way, kind of fucking with the whole black versus white concept of the series and even suggesting something bigger a.k.a. chaos. The line “nothing is true; everything is permitted” runs nicely with that.

What do you think of Sleeper being a pulp, though, versus just a seedy espionage tale?

CN: I forgot all about the explicit Sleeper references in the second mini. Then again, I didn’t think they really went anywhere at the time, so maybe that’s why they slipped my mind. Or it’s because I’m getting old and I’ve finally hit my mental limit on ‘useless shit’ I can retain at any given moment. Either way, yeah, the second Incognito series directly references Sleeper. I suck.

I’m not sure I quite understand your question. Can’t a ‘seedy espionage tale’ be a ‘pulp?’ What the fuck does ‘pulp’ even mean here? Is that a genre? I thought it was, you know, a reference point for a bunch of cheap magazines printed during a specific time period. I’m not trying to be a dick, but what is a ‘pulp’ in this day and age, and what separates it from any other genre descriptor? (At least in your mind for the purposes of this conversation...)

AB: Fair enough. You’re right. ‘Pulp’ does refer to a long, lost form of publishing and really doesn’t make up a genre, per say, but I think someone could make a case that the idea of pulps have transcended shitty magazines and moved on up to something similar to a state of mind or general aesthetic or vibe. Sleeper possesses that vibe of exploitation and melodrama, and there’s something about that feeding Sleeper this, I don’t know, almost cartoonish tone, in some ways.

I’m not trying to make a case for pulps being a genre, but I do feel pulps were made up of certain qualities and those qualities can be passed on, almost in a genre type of way. Pulp was a format containing multiple genres, yes, but the format seemed to have textual traits beyond the physical package, like sensationalism and exaggeration. So by ‘pulp,’ I mean offbeat or fantastical (but, of course, taking that into consideration, I guess you could classify all genre comic books as pulps, so maybe I’m just completely out of my wheelhouse).

The real point of my question was to say that I tend to find Sleeper more of an offbeat story now versus this realist commentary, which was the reaction I had to it reading the thing when I was sixteen. It’s certainly still a seedy espionage story, but to me, it’s no longer just that. Sleeper has a light-hearted adventure drive to it. It’s not just some outright serious story, although it does contain some interesting subtext which can get pretty deep.

Do you want to talk about that in any way, shape or form? I mean, there is a subtext we haven’t really touched on.

CN: I see what you’re saying about ‘pulp’ and that’s what I thought you were getting at to a degree. But, yeah, considering how much of comics came out of the pulps, it’s hard, for me, to look at one comic and say that it’s more ‘pulp’ than another. I wonder if we do that because Brubaker references the pulps more vocally than other writers. Were people using that word when Sleeper was coming out or is it something we say now because of Criminal and Incognito? Questions that require no answers...

Sleeper is a serious book, sure. It’s got some silly moments, but most serious works do. I don’t think genre limits that. It’s a book that questions the difference between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ what self-identity means and how fluid it can be, the use of power... There’s a lot in the book. I always latched onto the good/evil stuff the most, because I think there’s something there. I mean, Carver is acting like a ‘bad’ person and the only thing that makes it ‘good’ is that he’s supposedly doing it for the ‘good guys.’ His actions would be the exact same whether or not he was actually undercover, so do his motives really change anything? I don’t think they do -- and I don’t think that he does either. That choice at the end of issue twelve seems to be one where he accepts that he’s always been a ‘bad person’ because he’s always done ‘bad’ things and used an easy justification to convince himself otherwise. He’s always been a hired thug and killer, and he’s finally realised it. But, maybe that says more about me than the book and character...

What I don’t entirely understand is why you’re backing away from what this comic is, man. What makes it less serious to you now?

AB: It’s not that I think Sleeper’s suddenly now a joke or bad. Very much the opposite. It’s just no longer some sacred cow for me, as the above discussion shows. As for being “less serious,” I still see Sleeper as a great story about the grey area and feel it contains a strong universal core. It’s just not some straight as fuck drama, anymore, as I can see the lighter elements in it now.

But, yeah, the book.

Sleeper does illustrate a common ground between ‘good’ and ‘evil,’ and it even goes as far as to sort of destroy the idea of ‘good’ entirely, or at least make a joke of it. I like what you point out - about the lack of difference between Carver working for Lynch or Tao - but I feel volume 2, as Carver goes from sadly accepting that truth you mention to obtaining a very “burn everything,” self-focused attitude, drives shit home. The dude goes from caring about the bigger picture to simply living for his own survival, and all of this becomes so because he realizes the bigger picture’s a joke, more or less. ‘Good’ and ‘evil’ don’t exist but rather the agendas of men and what makes agendas so different from one another when all they simply are are desires and beliefs?

Lynch and Tao both desire to shape the world a specific way, and they both implement violent, backstabbing techniques to meet the goal. Supposedly, one of these goals makes things a little better, but as Carver may tell you, casualties arises still the same. Any scenes with the alien sell this thought. Or, hell, any scenes of Carver under the interrogation of the ‘good guys’ works just as well.

The work gathers a cynical tone from this choice, bringing in the noir influence, but simultaneously it’s not so cynical in which it makes the work seem unbelievable. If anything, you could consider something like Guantanamo Bay and see this comic as sensible.

While the core of the book goes to big places, I like that a thug stands trapped in the middle of it. Granted, he’s a trained operative - a smart one at that - but, for the most part, I feel Carver could be any of us. He’s a working man simply trying to do his job, go home and be happy, but, because of the world he lives in, finds himself sucked into scenarios which cause him to ask the big questions. We’ve all been there, and I think in this age of people versus corporations, Carver’s story gains this new light. He’s a guy working for an entity and eventually realizes this entity may have intentions of its own rather be on the look out for his own best interests or the peoples’.

Also, as an aside, Carver’s a total blueprint for Tracy Lawless.

CN: I get what you mean (and, really, got it before, but felt like being a bit of a jerk). Things that seem groundbreaking and life-altering when you’re younger usually seem less so as you get older and come into contact with more and more things. If you want disappointing, try rereading the Millar/Quitely Authority sometime...

Is there anything left to say? Probably, in the sense that you can always find more things to say about a work. But, do we have anything left to say? I think I’m good. This conversation has been going on far too long, mon ami. Any final thoughts/words?

AB: This has been a long one. We’ve been writing since November, I think … (delays are on me).

Could we say more? Probably. In some ways, I feel we only scratched the surface on this one, and I’m sure someone reading this has sludged through what we’ve written and feels we’ve missed shit, but at this point, I feel it’s best we move on and tackle something else. If anything, this has been a nice exercise of you and I butting heads. We did a lot of that.

To sum it all up, though, Sleeper still holds a spot on my must read list. Out of all the Brubaker/Phillips collaborations, it’s the one of the more interesting for its structure, and thematically, Sleeper goes to some places which can only leave you thinking, whether they’re real world scenarios or comments on comic books themselves (a point I didn’t even touch on).

Ok. I’m done. Next time I promise a quicker turn around with less burnout. Oh. And more Moon Knight.

Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 04 (AVX: VS #1, Uncanny X-Men #11, New Avengers #25, and Secret Avengers #26)

The most capable and consistent method of telling a story through violence right now is professional wrestling. Action movies have their moments, but the focus there is more on something that will look cool. Wrestling, on the other hand, attempts to further narratives through matches. A fantastic recent example is the Hell in a Cell match from WrestleMania XXVIII between the Undertaker and Triple H. That was a master class in telling a story in a match. While Marvel has promoted AVX: VS as a series that's simply expansions of fights teased in the main series with all of the story taken out, that's a bit of a lie. Even if there isn't a a broad story being told, there's still the story of the fight itself being told. Basic concepts of who these characters are, how they relate to one another, and what they ultimately want can be viewed through how they fight one another. How vicious are they? Do they fight clean or dirty? What strategies do they employ? A lot of information can be communicated through violence, something that even the most basic wrestling matches tend to do.

Take the dark match (pre-show match put on for the benefit of the live crowd and usually featuring wrestlers who either aren't high profile enough to make the main show or a new talent learning how to wrestle in the style of that company) that I saw on Monday night at the taping for WWE Monday Night Raw: Antonio Cesaro vs. JTG. JTG has been with the company for years and never progressed beyond the midcard, beginning as one half of a popular tag team Cryme Tyme. His gimmick is 'urban toublemaker,' which can shift between face (good guy) and heel (bad guy) pretty easily depending on how mean he acts. Antonio Cesaro is a wrestler with lots of experience on the independent circuit as Claudio Castagnoli and, after signing a developmental deal with the WWE, has been working in Florida Championship wrestling as Antonio Cesaro. Recently called up, his gimmick is that he's a former European rugby player that, according to a very brief pre-match promo he cut, broke too many of his opponents, so he's come to the WWE where it's encouraged that he break his opponents. The match was maybe three minutes long and, yet, you could see the basics of each man's character on display. Cesara used mostly striking moves and did so aggressively, like he was legitimately trying to hurt JTG. JTG, on the other hand, was more flashy in his moves, relying less on power than speed and agility, doing moves that would draw notice to himself. This is a fairly standard concept in wrestling: heels don't do 'cool' moves, because that will make people want to cheer them. This division was kept up throughout the match where Cesaro kept relying on power/striking moves and JTG did inventive, flashy counters. More than that, at times, Cesaro seemed like he didn't know what next to do, showing inexperience that JTG capitalised upon. But, JTG could never keep things going because Cesaro was too overpowering -- too strong, too aggressive, just too much. As far as matches go, it was dead simple and didn't tell a broader story beyond who these two were and how they related to one another.

Neither of the two fights in AVX: VS #1 manage to even accomplish that, but they come close in a few areas.

Match #1: Iron Man vs. Magneto

The idea here are two familiar opponents who know each other's abilities and have planned accordingly. Iron Man immediately counters Magneto's magnetic powers, so Magneto hits a big power move. Right there, the pacing is awful. They go from zero to two thousand in no time. Partly a limitation of the page count, but also a sign of not knowing how to structure something as simple as the comic book equivalent of a three-minute match. Of course, part of the problem is that they're sticking Iron Man vs. Magneto in a three-minute match. Watching this fight is like watching the first few minutes of the Undertaker/Triple H match from WrestleMania XXVII where they immediately tried to end things and it didn't work: there's a reason why they're called 'finishers.' They need a solid base to build upon and this match doesn't have that. Instead, it's a couple of quick punches, a big power move, a counter, Iron Man hitting Magneto's finisher on him, Magneto kicking out, Magneto stealing some of Iron Man's moves, that not working too well, so we get into one of those 'punching back and forth' bits that spills to the outside before Iron Man jumps back in the ring to squeek by with a countout win. Lame. It's a filler match that prolongs the feud until the big showdown on PPV. Whose bright idea was to book this match?

Winner: Iron Man via countout [1/2*]

Match #2: Underwater Cage Match - The Thing vs. Namor

Marvel takes a page out of TNA's playbook and books a bigtime stipulation match too early, so it winds up meaning nothing. They begin brawling outside of the underwater cage and, immediately after entering the cage, they begin using weapons. I did like the Thing countering Namor's initial strike, but the use of weapons so early lacks in build. The giant fish is the underwater cage equivalent of a steel chair, I imagine. Namor introduces the weapon, but the Thing counters and uses it against him, pinning him down to escape the cage the winner at 2:37. Namor getting right back up shows how unsatisfying a victory for the Thing this was and, like, the Magneto/Iron Man match, this was simply a transition match that left things open-ended. Except the use of the stipulation and weapons drag it down since they come off as meaningless and ineffective.

Winner: The Thing via escaping the cage [DUD]

Two matches in and AVX: VS is already looking like a complete disaster card with the wasting of stipulation, reliance on big, flashy moves... it's like Vince Russo booked this shit. In future matches, look for the big swerve finishes where allies turn on one another. Also, notice how everyone is sarcastic and kind of jerky: no faces or heels, just a bunch of 'cool tweeners,' because everyone wants to cheat, but no one wants to get booed. Weak. (Also, those 'fun facts' are like the most annoying play-by-play commentary ever.)


Uncanny X-Men #11 doesn't attempt to show violence in the same way, preferring to step back a little and expand upon moments we've seen already in Avengers vs. X-Men from a perspective unique to this title. The closest thing we get to a 'match' is Red Hulk vs. Colossus, which is sort of like watching two surprisingly inept big men go at it. It's just punches and no real strategy -- funny given the Red Hulk's role as a strategist on the Avengers. Just two big men trying to outpower one another, like the Undertaker vs. Giant Gonzales or the Undertaker vs. King Kong Bundy or the Undertaker vs. Mark Henry or the Undertaker vs. Kane... goddamn, the Undertaker had a lot of shitty WrestleMania matches... But, there is an interesting element here in the way that Colossus's character is one where he is strong and is afraid of losing control. When he does, he freaks out after a while and the Red Hulk takes advantage. Nice bit of storytelling there. I am disappointed that the Red Hulk's big finishing move is the Big Show's Knockout Punch. He always struck me as a Powerbomb sort of guy...

The other glimpses of fights are unremarkable in that regard, getting by on some clever narration by Kieron Gillen. The end of the issue (Cyclops sending out a press release) is a little underwhelming.

New Avengers #25 and Secret Avengers #26 each tell stories that have little to do with one-on-one fights that I can compare to wrestling matches. As such, I don't care about them this week. They're also in their beginning stages and don't offer a lot. It is nice to see that the tie-ins will do more than simply expand upon the main series. We knew that Secret Avengers would be fairly independent in its approach, but how independent New Avengers will be is hard to say for sure yet.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #3 and, possibly, Avengers Academy #29 (it may simply come down to the ability to buy a rack copy determining if I begin buying tie-in books beyond my existing pull list).

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of April 25, 2012

No work today, so I actually managed to hit the shop just after it opened at noon. That means almost immediate reactions to the (non-Avengers vs. X-Men) comics I bought today. Lucky you!

Captain America #10: What a terribly convenient end. Codename: Bravo (awful fucking name) has Captain America beaten and, then, gets a phone call and has to split. It's like Ed Brubaker called him up and said, "Yo, Bravo, you need to leave right fucking now, because you might actually kill that guy if you stick around and, guess what, the comic isn't titled Codename: Bravo, it's Captain Fucking America, and if he dies, then you're out of work." So, he left. Also, Steve was made weak by extra-sciencey nanothings that Tony Stark couldn't detect. You just know he's going to be asking whatever high price call girl he enjoys that night to hit him in the face extra hard. The best part of this issue is the Falcon screaming like a crazy man and making more sense than he has in years. [***]

Daredevil #11: Hey, everybody, it's official: this is the worst issue of Daredevil so far. Really. Except for when Mark Waid does a big rant on Geoff Johns for thinking heroes need tragic, blood-filled stories to be good heroes. I liked that part. Seriously: I have no idea what the fuck this crossover story was actually about and this issue was pretty goddamn terrible for its complete lack of plot, motivation, and reason why I should care. What was accomplished? [*1/2]

The Mighty Thor #13: Oh, it's like "For the Man Who Has Everything" but, instead of your greatest desire, it's just lame Lovecraft-inspired statue dudes. Oh, and Donald Blake (who may or may not be an actual human being) is... um... upset that he's not an actual human being... I think... Look, man, no one cares about Don Blake. We all like to pretend like we do, but we don't. There's a reason why he can disappear for a dozen issues and no one notices. Less Blake, more Thor fighting Lovecraft creatures. [**1/2]

Moon Knight #12: Well, that's a bit anticlimactic. It's always great to see the hero of the book need to call in back-up to beat the bad guy he's been trying to bring down for a year. Wait. No. No, it is not. I did love the awkward moment when Nefaria burst into the police station and starting bitching to the police chief about how he paid bribes to not have to deal with cops and WHY THE FUCK ARE THERE COPS AT HIS HOUSE RIGHT NOW? More comics need bad guys complaining about not getting good value for their bribes. Listen, man, it's LA... what did you expect? Also, are the voices in Moon Knight's head now Echo, Wolverine, and Iron Man? Spider-Man and Captain America are going to be so bummed out... Anyway, this series is over now and I'll miss it. Not so much the final couple of issues, but right around issues five through nine where it became this fun little hang out book where I'd stop by every month to chill with some characters I liked. This comic deserved a better ending. [***1/4]

Spaceman #6: Why this comic feel like it's running in place? [***1/2]

The Ultimates #9: Jesus... there's just so much going on here. It took a couple of passes by to realise what happend with Zorn, the nuclear weapons, and Dynamos. But, what's fantastic is that, after the threat is neutralised, we cut back to congress and everyone debating the use of nuclear weapons. Black comedy. And that ending... by the time Hickman leaves this comic, I'm wondering how there will even be a comic. Also: the People vs. the Children wasn't much of a fight, was it? Not that you necessarily expected it to be... Every new issue is something different from what I expect it to be. And pity every art team that isn't Esad Ribic and Dean White. [****]


Tuesday, April 24, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 03 (Avengers vs. X-Men #2, Avengers #25, and Wolverine and the X-Men #9)

One of the first things I noticed about Avengers vs. X-Men #2 is how the opening scene doesn't match up with what we saw last week in New Avengers #24. Here, Colossus is 'thrown' at the SHIELD helicarrier by Magneto and the fight with the Avengers begins that way. Last week, the Avengers jumped out of the helicarrier while the Red Hulk yelled a pump up speech about fighting smart and not taking on anyone too powerful one-on-one. Three weeks into this crossover and the utter lack of planning and control is already apparent, even between comics written by the five writers behind the event. What, do the 'Architects' not compare notes? Is Tom Brevoort only capable of remembering one script at a time -- or incapable of actually telling one of his 'star writers' that, hey, maybe everyone should get on the same page and not begin this event looking like rank amateurs?

And the sad thing is that this is a minor difference. It's something that most people will ignore. But, if this sort of thing is happening in two of the first three comics released as part of this event, what will be happening, oh, four months from now when we're a few dozen comics deep and no one can keep track of the main plot let alone minor details? If this is any indication, expect this to be an event where we will be able to fashion our own individual versions of what actually 'happened.' An event with optional canon and apocrypha. Events always have that to a degree -- just not involving comics written by the main series writer(s). There's a reason why Absolute Final Crisis collects everything related to that event that Grant Morrison wrote and why Secret Invasion reading order includes everything Brian Michael Bendis wrote. With five main writers, Avengers vs. X-Men could cast a fairly wide net as far as tie-ins go -- though, right now, the only titles involved in that respect are Avengers, New Avengers, and Wolverine and the X-Men. The other regular tie-ins aren't written by one of the five main series writers.


This week, we're still in the core 'Architects' group with Jason Aaron writing the second issue of Avengers vs. X-Men and Wolverine and the X-Men #9, and Brian Michael Bendis contributing Avengers #25. I'll begin with Bendis, not having a lot to say. Avengers #25 is a similar tie-in issue to New Avengers #24: brief moments of connectivity, but, really, it's a bridge between the most recent storyarc and the event. Unlike New Avengers #24, it's less satisfying and, conceptually, doesn't show the same eye towards series pacing. New Avengers #24 took a step back to focus on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, something that packs an emotional punch and changes things up from one action-driven story before heading into another. Avengers #25 is an action issue. So, the breather/transition issue is more of the same...? An odd choice to say the least and one that falls flat. There's no emotional hook and the writing flounders. It's a comic that washes over you and leaves no trace aside from memories of Walt Simonson drawing pages well. In an abstract way, it's the same comic as New Avengers #24, but does everything wrong with that abstract concept that that issue did right. These two comics juxtaposed side-by-side illustrates just how inconsistent Bendis can be as a writer, swinging wildly from one extreme of quality to the other without varying what he's doing too much. It's like, sometimes, he doesn't understand why people like some of his comics and not others, and just throws things out there, hoping they'll land, and never entirely confident or sure that they will. I do the same thing when I'm trying to be funny. I don't quite know what other people will laugh at, so, until they react, I never know if what I'm saying is indeed funny to other people. I can't judge that and I get the feeling that Bendis's time on the Avengers book has been very much the same thing.


After a couple of weeks of Bendis being the central writer of this event, Jason Aaron takes centre stage this week and we get our first big shift in writing styles on Avengers vs. X-Men. The approach of having five writers trade off scripting duties makes this an event book that's almost like a collection of tie-ins that form one 'coherent' story. It reminds me a bit of those Marvel summer crossovers that would take place over annuals written by a whole bunch of people. Or even the Superman comics for almost the entire '90s. Except, here, it's one core series that is supposed to, ideally, read somewhat smoothly issue to issue. It's hard to judge just how well they are accomplishing that goal after two issues. But, there is a noticeable shift.

It's hard not to look at issues of this series and what the story beats are and wonder if another writer would have been 'better suited.' This issue was one of chaos and bits and pieces of violence with a little bit of debate thrown in. It's a hodgepodge feeling out issue. Last issue was the basic introduction where Bendis was the best choice, because he can do that sort of thing directly and clearly. Here, I'm torn between Aaron and Matt Fraction as the writer best suited for this sort of thing. Aaron juggles chaos well in Scalped and Wolverine and the X-Men. However, Scalped is usually a mixture of violent chaos and quiet chaos, and Wolverine and the X-Men has a much more lighthearted approach. He can write good fight scenes, though none of the fights we see here are even remotely developed. The closest we get is the talky fight between Captain America and Cyclops that would have read much the same if they were just standing around.

There's a sense that Aaron's identity as a writer isn't really here. This is a comic written in a fairly generic manner despite the bits and pieces of overblown poetic narration. It's like Aaron was striving for a style that wouldn't stand out. I wonder if other writers will do the same. Out of the five, Brian Michael Bendis has the most distinct dialogue and Jonathan Hickman has the most distinct style. Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction have co-written together and seem to adapt well to the 'generic Marvel style' well. Aaron shows here that he can as well. Maybe this won't be a choppy ride too much, aside from those moments where Bendis and Hickman can't suppress their natural style.


Two issues into Avengers vs. X-Men and the obvious problem is that it's hard to see twelve issues of story here. How long can you stretch out fights? Given Hope's display of the Phoenix Force and her taking off, the story seems to be shifting, growing beyond the simple fight. Or, adding to it at least. Is this story about what we think it is or will is get partway through and change?


Wolverine and the X-Men #9 is similar to the Bendis Avengers tie-ins we've seen so far: an establishing issue that transitions from where the book was to the event. Cap recruits Wolverine and Beast to the cause, those touched by the Phoenix feel its approach, and, well, the school keeps on keeping on. However, it integrates the coming of the Phoenix better and seems to be carving out its own subplots that may or may not be reflected in the main series, namely Gladiator coming to Earth to make sure his son doesn't die. It's more entrenched than the Bendis issues and it happens very naturally. If this wasn't a big event, the only part of the issue that stands out is the role Captain America plays. The rest feels like a natural 'next logical step' for the series to go. Partly because the title has kept one foot in the 'cosmic' realm and partly because the Phoenix is an X-title plot point.

(How do any of the characters know about Quentin Quire's connection to the Phoenix since that happened, for us, in Morrison's final arc and in a panel no other character would be privy to?)


Three weeks in and there's a mixture of good tie-ins, bad ones, and a general lack of coordination before we've even gone beyond the central writers of the event. (I'm going to experiment with format week to week as I struggle to learn how to write about this event, particularly with variations in the number of related comics that come out each week. I'll probably figure it out in the second-last week.)

Next week (aka tomorrow): AVX: VS #1, New Avengers #25, Secret Avengers #26, and Uncanny X-Men #11.

Thursday, April 19, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of April 18, 2012

Things conspire against me today. First, there's the Sickness that makes sitting up and writing problematic (so this week's "Riding the Gravy Train" post will be delayed somewhat). Then, there's Blogger changing its layout from something simple that I knew well having used it for many, many years to something that I'll probably learn to love but hate right now. I hate how nothing online can just stay the same. Especially when most of the time it seems like change for change sake -- which I don't mind when it's someone's site that I'm simply getting content from, but, when it's a site I use for my own purposes, it's annoying. Ah well. Let's get to the very brief EXCLUSIVE! mini-reviews and star ratings so I can go back to the couch or the bed... whichever one seems more appealing.

Batman #8: "Night of the Owls" begins and it's not exactly a story I've made any secret about not loving the premise of. The execution has been good so far, it's more my immediate distaste for 'hidden threats from the past' and that always seeming like a lazy way to establish someone or something. Hell, I would have preferred it if this organisation had only been around for a couple of years and hadn't revealed itself, because it had been stalking Batman, learning Gotham's secrets, etc. A subtle change, but one that is less distasteful than the 'I never knew my city at all' melodrama we're forced to deal with. Ignore that and this is a fun, entertaining comic. I'm not sure what you do with a city whose major public figures have all been killed -- then again, people die in Gotham all of the time and it always returns to the same old place. The back-up piece was a nice addition to the story. [***1/4]

Batman: Odyssey #13: That was all kinds of fucked up. The pages of the Rogues Gallery reacting to Batman gunning someone down was worth the entire series. It was like Neal Adams showed the gunshot page to some hardcore Batman fans, took pictures of their faces, and used those to draw the bad guys. I need to reread this entire series. SWOOP![****]

The Defenders #5: "The ocean's too big for police." Okay, Namor doesn't say that, but... you suck, Namor. Also, where's my translation of the bottom of the page text? Internet, you owe me that! [***3/4]

The Manhattan Projects #2: I'm surprised at how much I just enjoy reading this series. Two issues in and I have had a blast with each issue. I love this shit. [****]

Prophet #24: Last week, I accidentally bought a second printing of issue 22 thinking that this issue had come out a week early (it was in my pull file!) and, this week, they also stuck a copy of the second printing of issue 23 in my file with this issue. I think my shop is trying to trick me... Anyway, an unexpected 'twist' for the story, but one that makes a lot of sense. I love the subtle aging of this John Prophet. Given that my major experience with Dalrymple's art is Omega the Unknown, it seems fitting he's drawing another comic with weird doppelgangers. [****]

The Shadow #1: Because I'll give almost anything Garth Ennis writes a try... (And because there were no rack copies of the new issue of Punisher, so I didn't feel like I was 'losing' money...) This was alright. Nothing special, but I did like the opening quite a bit. From there, I grew less engaged. If I see issue two in my shop next month, I may give it a shot.

Wonder Woman #8: Not that I wanted to see Diana shooting off those guns, but that cover is a total lie. A lying cover! I really enjoyed how this issue continued the idea of Diana learning that assumptions or things she thinks to be true aren't necessarily so -- this time with the role of those in the underworld. The end of the issue was one of those cliffhanger/twists that genuinely hit me. When that bullet goes through... jesus. [****]

As I said at the beginning, no timeline on this week's "Riding the Gravy Train." I'd expect it sometime during the weekend or Monday most likely.


Monday, April 16, 2012

Best of 2011: The Top Ten

Finally, only four months late... If the blurbs seem a little brief it's because I just want this done. And because it's hard to capture the feelings I had when I made this list back in early January -- and to separate some of the books from what's happened in them in 2012. As far as credits go, they'll vary from title to title how detailed I get. And, of course, this list draws upon the comics I read in 2011. I almost surely missed out on tons of great stuff, but, alas, I am but one man with one wallet and one pull list. Let's get to it...

10. Secret Avengers #16-20 by Warren Ellis, Jamie McKelvie, Kev Walker, David, Aja, Michael Lark, Alex Maleev, and others.
I'm amazed it took this long for a comic like this to pop up: Warren Ellis doing Global Frequency with Marvel characters. He took a title that never quite hooked me (and one I would have dropped if he hadn't come aboard) and made it a vibrant, energetic, inventive, must read every month. Each month, it was him and a fantastic artist telling a single story of crazy superhero espionage, usually with a few moments that stopped me dead in my tracks. Ellis has hit the point where he can play to artists' strengths better than almost any writer in mainstream comics. He can mix big expository scenes and KICKSPLODE! I would gladly read a comic like this every month forever.

9. Daredevil by Mark Waid, Paolo Rivera, Marcos Martin, and others.
I admire the approach Mark Waid took with this relaunch. It was thoughtful and smart, aimed at taking the book in a different direction than it's been for... well, years (decades?). And, paired with two incredibly talented artists, it was a great pop superhero comic this past year.

8. Holy Terror by Frank Miller.
Not to be too simplistic, but it's a graphic novel drawn by Frank Miller. Forget the story, the characters, everything. It's a big book of new Frank Miller art. It may be Batman pastiche, it may get a little sloppy in parts, it may feature some of his weakest writing (goddamn, that ending is lame), but this is a book that I can flip to any page and find something to stare at, to pour over, to love completely. Most of the books on this list have some great art, but this is the only one that made it here almost solely on the art.

7. Ultimates by Jonathan Hickman, Esad Ribic, Dean White, and others.
Speaking of great art... Esad Ribic and Dean White became one of my favourite art teams this past year thanks to their works on Ultimates. Stunning, gorgeous, lush pages that manage to show a strange, foreign world that's large and insane, while still filled with these small, human moments. Thor's beard dripping with beer... Nick Fury looking completely fucked... the Black Widow's streaky mascara... the City in all its glory... the Children killing Asgard... this book lives in the extremes. Jonathan Hickman took all of two issues to completely hook me, to make me think that this is a comic that may live up to its potential and go completely batshit crazy. It was the best blockbuster comic of the year bar none.

6. Punishermax by Jason Aaron, Steve Dillon, Matt Hollingsworth, and others.
I have said this many times, but I am astonished that someone could follow Garth Ennis on this title. Ennis's run was so fucking good, such a definitive take, that the idea of others trying to write 'mature' Punisher stories in this little universe seemed destined to fail. And it did for a time after Ennis left the title. Under Jason Aaron and Steve Dillon, though, Punishermax has thrived, managing to add to and equal Ennis's run. Aaron's take on Frank Castle after he returned from Vietnam is chilling, especially with how he relates to his family. And, what's worse, is that it doesn't feel like a wrong approach to the character. It feels natural and that's insane. I don't think this title will make next year's list, so let's just pretend that the final two issues came out at the end of 2011 and remember this as one great comic. That final battle with Fisk and the final issue were both brilliant (though I still don't like the last couple of pages...). It brought Frank Castle's story to a fitting end. I still can't believe the balls in getting Steve Dillon to be the artist on the follow-up to Ennis's run, either. Awesome.

5. Batman, Incorporated by Grant Morrison, Yanick Paquette, Chris Burnham, Cameron Stewart, Scott Clark, and others.
Originally, this didn't make my CBR list of the top ten comics of 2011. That was a mistake. By the time December rolled around, this series was woefully behind and the last issue we'd gotten was that putrid Internet 3.0 issue. You can understand why, when it came to make that list, I passed Batman, Incorporated over. And, then, I talked to Tim and thought about it and Leviathan Strikes came out and reread the series and... well, here we are with it going from 'not on the list' to number five. That's because it's a damn entertaining comic. Thoughtful, energetic, crazy, layered, nuanced... and with great art by everyone not named Scott Clark. It's the next step in Grant Morrison's Batman and it genuinely comes off as something new and exciting -- something more than just a regular Batman comic. To me anyway.

4. Deadpool MAX by David Lapham, Kyle Baker, Shawn Crystal, and others.
Damn, this comic made me laugh. It was subversive and absurd, never going where you thought it would. The approach Kyle Baker brought to this comic was a combination of 'not giving a fuck' and pure straight man. Everything looks so serious that it adds to the absurd comedy. His Cable blows my mind with how it captures the over-the-top Rob Liefeld design while undercutting it with the monocle and sense that this is some prissy old dandy underneath it all. Every issue that this series went on, I was surprised that Marvel was still publishing it. I'm just sorry they never got around to using Captain America somehow...

3. Vengeance by Joe Casey, Nick Dragotta, and others.
These lists are always subjective, but this entry strikes me as more subjective than usual. Vengeance, from beginning to end, felt like a comic that Joe Casey wrote for me. He didn't obviously, but it's a comic that's so steeped in his work at Marvel that it feels that way. This is a comic so perfectly aimed at me, filled with allusions and references, starring characters that I haven't read about in years... Beyond that, it's a damn entertaining comic -- epic in scope, wonderful in its humanity, and filled with some of Nick Dragotta's best work of his career. He's quite adept at switching up his style in subtle ways. But, really, this is the comic I've been waiting years to read and it makes it this high on the list because... well, how often do you get something that seems so squarely aimed at you and only you?

2. Butcher Baker, the Righteous Maker by Joe Casey, Mike Huddleston, and others.
I agree that the Eisners didn't need to nominate anything for the "Best New Series in 2011" category -- because they should have just given the award to the goddamn Righteous Maker. If Vengeance was the comic my inner Joe Casey obsessive fan was waiting for, Butcher Baker was the comic that the Automatic Kafka fan inside was waiting for. An all-out look at superheroes that wasn't afraid to shy away from the 'adult' stuff without simply putting it out there for the sake of it. A hero comes out of retirement to kill all of his villains, except some survive and he pisses off a highway patrol man... Mike Huddleston is channeling Ashley Wood to a degree, except you can understand everything he draws. Everything about this screams thematic sequel to Kafka and, yet, it also manages to be its own thing.

1. Scalped by Jason Aaron, RM Guéra, and others.
And Scalped finally makes it to the top of the list after how many years of coming oh so close... Actually, it hit the top this time by a wide margin. When I make my lists, I tend to write down all of the comics I bought that year and begin putting contenders in a separate list. Once I do that, I begin eliminating things that I don't think make the top ten while also putting ones that will for sure make it near the top. There was a lot of movement this year for every spot, except the number one spot. Nothing else I read this year could challenge Scalped for the best comic of the year. Constantly surprising, moving, and just damned impressive... I don't know what to say. It's a book that gets better every year and, as it moves towards its end, it was at its peak in 2011. Maybe it will top itself in the first half of 2012.


Friday, April 13, 2012

Some Brief Thoughts on Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth's Mightiest Heroes

After ordering it a few weeks back, I got Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth's Mightiest Heroes by Brian Michael Bendis this week. It's a book collecting the "Oral History of the Avengers" back-up feature that ran through Avengers #1-9, 11-12, and New Avengers #1-11 (the book says it also collects material from Avengers #10, but the back-up feature didn't run in that issue). For whatever reason, the feature stopped after Avengers #12 after covering "The Korvac Saga," and Bendis used the idea of an oral history as a narrative framing device for both titles' Fear Itself tie-in issues. Judging by reactions at the time, the feature could have been cancelled because, well, no one seemed to like it (except me and a few others). Or maybe it was most cost effective to lose those pages and keep the price the same. I don't know. But, surprisingly, Marvel has released a collection of that material, including some new material.

The new material isn't much: an additional chapter covering the Scarlet Witch's possession by a demon and a very brief epilogue. All told, the "Oral History" doesn't even reach The Avengers #200 before stopping, which makes the concept a little half-baked if we're to read this as a book published in the Marvel Universe. I understand the project ended at this point (I'm somewhat surprised given Bendis's habit of writing ahead that he wasn't up to The Crossing already), but, then, why publish the collection?

The carryover to book format isn't a smooth one either. While it's common practice to simply collect issues of comics without making changes of any kind, this isn't a comic. This is a prose book and the 'copy and paste' method left many parts of this book reading awkward. One big carryover is the reintroduction of titles/roles of characters in parantheses whenever a new chapter begins; or, in the case of the first chapter, which was split across Avengers and New Avengers #1, at the point where that chapter was split. You go from simply having "Dr. Henry Pym" to "Dr. Henry Pym, Ph.D. (Ant-Man, Giant-Man, Avengers founder)" partway though a chapter. This isn't a big problem, but even the continued reuse of titles every time a new chapter begins is unnecessary and doesn't necessarily reflect how a book of this nature would be presented. If this was a conscious choice, it would be easier to overlook, but, judging from other awkward moments that carryover from the serialised chapters, I don't think it was.

Chapter six was another chapter that was spread over two individual comics and, when brought together here, no one seemed to notice that the 'teaser' for the end of the first half of the chapter and 'intro' of the second half were both included and both basically said the same thing:
The two super-powered people who did decide the next chapter of their lives could be as Avengers would be the most unlikely pair one could ever imagine. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, better known as the Scarlet Witch and Quicksilver, were known the world over as members of the mutant terrorist organization known as the Brotherhood. They had decided that their only chance at redemption was in the hands of the founding Avengers.

The Avengers found themselves faced with their first recruitment drive. After many false starts, two people who would eventually become the most controversial members of the team contacted the heroes. Wanda and Pietro Maximoff, Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, were only known to the public as allies of the mutant terrorist Magneto and members of his mutant terrorism organization: the Botherhood.

That's how those two paragraphs appear in the book. How did that slip past the editors aside from sheer laziness? And that's not even getting into the complete lack of editing of the writing itself (who let through the sentence with the word 'known' in it three times or mentioning the codenames of Wanda and Pietro in the opposite order of their names?). Even including these introductions at the beginnings of chapters create a choppier reading experience than it should. Often, they restate what we just read rather than acting as proper introductions or bridges between chapters. That those parts of the text weren't reworked is incredibly sloppy and makes me wonder if anyone actually considered the difference between serialisation and collection, and how each reading experience is different.

Looking at the book and the original serialised chapters, I did notice a few odd things:

* In the original serialisation, chapters 10 and 12 were originally labelled chapters 12 and 14 for some reason.

* Chapter 13 in the serialisation covered the entire Kree-Skrull War over four issues, making for the biggest chapter of the "Oral History," while, in the book, the first two parts of chapter 13 are split into two separate chapters, while the final two parts make up a third separate chapter. Oddly, this choice to break things up over three chapters doesn't make for a better reading experience. If anything, it seems like an odd choice for this large story to be broken up over multiple chapter like that, especially when the original kept it as one big chapter.

* In chapter 6, a Scott Kollins illustration from Avengers: Earth's Mightiest Heroes showing the Wasp shot is replaced with a Khoi Pham drawing whose origin I can't place, but centres around Ant-Man and the Wasp.

* The physical book is slightly larger than a trade paperback prose book, but small than comic dimensions.

* One of the biggest complaints people had about this project when it was in serialisation was Bendis's dialogue style not lending itself to an oral history. He has a very specific voice that overwhelms the voices of characters to a degree, giving them all a similar tone. That didn't bother me as much here as it did originally (and, then, it didn't bother me as much as it did others), because you get into a rhythm more. It's not a start-and-stop experience like reading it in serialisation. By the time you got used to Bendis's style in the serialised chapters, they would end. Here, you can just keep going and the differences in characters' voices become easier to see. It's really a matter of adjustment.

* The actual constuction/structure doesn't always work. In some spots, Bendis goes for cute call and response bits with dialogue that wouldn't work unless the two characters were interviewed at the same time for the book. Or, even something like the inclusion of Nick Fury here doesn't necessarily ring true given his role in the Marvel Universe. Actually, that raises a question never answered: when were these interviews meant to have been conducted? In the Fear Itself tie-in issues, characters are interviewed after that event, seemingly as part of the ongoing project. But, since we don't know when this book would have been published in the Marvel Universe, we don't have any idea of when these characters were interviewed and that would add some necessary context, I think. Basically, this is a fictional book that's meant to be a non-fictional book in the Marvel Universe and it doesn't always seem like that concept was thought through as much.

Ultimately, Avengers Assemble: An Oral History of Earth's Mightiest Heroes is an intriguing idea that suffers from a lot of small lapses that become increasingly annoying as they accumulate. The editing shows no sign of existing, the book stops only partway through the history of the group, and it sometimes takes convenient shortcuts for the simple reason that it can. Ignore these things and it's an enjoyable read that does humanise the Avengers and brings an interesting perspective to stories we all know well by this point.

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 02 (New Avengers #24)

One of the things Brian Michael Bendis does best around events is use tie-in issues of regular series to check in on characters. In New Avengers, he almost always focuses on Luke Cage and Jessica Jones, and those issues where he does are almost always better than the average issue. If you look at New Avengers over its two volumes, you'll see that it's really a comic about Luke and Jessica with all of the Avengers and Marvel Universe crap piled on top. They are the heart of this book -- the core that it keeps returning to. Every other member of the team can be cast aside, usually because they have their own comics out there somewhere; identities separate from New Avengers. Since the end of The Pulse, Luke and Jessica haven't had that and, since then, this has been a comic about them.

Usually, events or big status quo changes are marked by us getting to see how this affects Luke and Jessica. When Civil War ended, they took charge of the team; when Secret Invasion ended, the focus was getting their baby back; when Siege ended, it was them getting the Mansion and finally having a home; now that Fear Itself and the ensuing fall-out with Norman Osborn has ended, Bendis takes a moment to catch up with the two and where they stand. The attack on the Mansion during Fear Itself put their daughter Danielle directly in danger and Osborn threatening Jessica and Danielle directly caused her to leave the Mansion during that story. Here, she returns as Luke makes a frantic plea on live television for her to come back.

In this respect, New Avengers #24 isn't the 'best' tie-in issue to Avengers vs. X-Men. There's some scenes that show what's going on a bit in issue one of that series, but, for the most part, it's the Luke and Jessica Show. And that's exactly what this should be. Bendis doesn't always deliver the best tie-ins. I found Secret Invasion's issues of New Avengers and Mighty Avengers to be mostly worthless. But, even those did something that you need to do with tie-in issues: they told stories that enhanced the main narrative in some way. Now, I didn't really care about the Spider-Woman Skrull's problems when she was hiding out in the Avengers, but that doesn't mean that others didn't or that those stories didn't add background to that character if you wanted some.

New Avengers #24 does that and goes further: it introduces the big event to readers of New Avengers and makes it mean something. Luke joining Captain America's quest to stop the Phoenix Force from reaching Earth means something more than just another superhero brawl, because of his discussion with Jessica where she made it apparent that she can't live at the Mansion anymore because it's not safe enough for Danielle. There's a parallel there between her calling him on his statement that she and the baby are his top priority and Cap calling Cyclops on protecting the world being his in Uncanny X-Men #10 this week (and there's why I should have included it here). Cyclops is choosing his people -- his family -- over everyone else, while Luke is choosing the world over his family. And, yet, in both cases, we want to say that each man is making the wrong choice. Is there a right one?

The background material on the Avengers' involvement in Avengers vs. X-Men #1 is important, particularly their goal to get Hope off planet and the Red Hulk's speeches about what's required here. He seems to be Captain America's right-hand man in strategy and, as the Avengers jump out of the Helicarrier to Utopia, he's the one reminding them on their jobs, giving the pump up speech. It's not flowery, it's direct and to the point. And it may hint at the Red Hulk's role in this event a little.

This event will have a lot of tie-ins and I'll try to spend time figuring out what role they play and if it's an effective one. New Avengers #24 is in a strange place, following up a big story in New Avengers (and Avengers) that followed directly from Marvel's last event. The title needed a breather to check in on its characters (meaning Luke and Jessica), but it also needed to lead into Avengers vs. X-Men. And it had to do so without showing us anything beyond the first issue of that series. That's a lot to work around and Bendis does a great job. He sets a high standard for what a tie-in issue should be in this event, and how he balances the needs of the comic he's writing and the event itself. The parallel between Luke and Cyclops is a nice touch that I would love to see expanded a little.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #2, Avengers #25, and Wolverine and the X-Men #9.

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of April 11, 2012

Another week, another stack of comics, another set of EXCLUSIVE! mini-reviews and star ratings.

Avengers Assemble #2: I liked this issue more than the first. Like many modern first and second issues, I hit the end of this and thought "Hey, this is where the first issue should have ended..." Double-sized first issues were great and allowed for a stronger introduction, one that this comic definitely would have benefitted from. [***]

Avenging Spider-Man #6: Yeah, I broke down and bought this and I'll probably buy Punisher next week, because I am a sucker. A giant sucker. Particularly because this comic wasn't good. It introduced the story and then sort of fumbled around with what to do. Pages of characters arguing over what to do, none of them with anything approaching an actual idea. And the only guy with something that resembles a clear plan is dismissed as a psychopath. I get that these three characters are linked, but it always comes off as stupid to read every single time about Spider-Man and Daredevil bitching out the Punisher because of their different moral takes on crime. Then again, if I could never read a comic where Spider-Man ever has to confront the idea of someone killing someone else again, I would be quite happy, because he always sounds like a simpleminded child in that conversation. [**]

Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #8: Walden Wong's inking continues... It cleans up Ponticelli's pencils too much. I love the roughness of them. The art still looks good, mind you; just not as good. And this was a strong issue. The Frankenstein/Lady Frankenstein relationship hasn't been touched on much and to see why they broke up, where that emotional fracture occurred and why was good. It was also a little underwhelming in a way that a lot of the stories in this comic have been: something may seem like a big threat until it's actually encountered and, then, there's a more lowkey solution than you expected. You almost expect their son to be an unstoppable monster when he's really a freaky little manic thing... And that's not a complaint. The stuff with Father Time was handled quite well, too. Strong issue. [****]

Haunt #23: A breather issue of sorts... and, unlike most breather issues, we don't learn a lot. We learn that Daniel was in the Second Church without realising it. I guess that explains why he was such a creepy perv of a priest. Well, not necessarily... I like how this series both has the frantic energy of a radical reboot and the slow burn of gradual change. It's difficult to pull that off, to move in two directions like that. And Nathan Fox's ability to go from crystal clarity to insane chaos is remarkable. [****]

Journey into Mystery #636: A fun conclusion to this storyarc. The board game bit was cute. As was the end scene. Bring on the crossover! Wait... another one? Fuck you, Marvel. [***1/4]

The Mighty Thor #12.1: Partway through this issue, I realised that the best Matt Fraction Thor stories are the ones where we're told of some past deed or accomplishment. In fact, a lot of the best Thor stories are of stories that don't take place in the present, but at some point in the character's long, cyclical life. That makes sense: the character is mythology. He almost needs to exist in a weird 'story telling the story...' world where we can view him at a distance, where the stories have a simple and direct point to them. There needs to be a message gleaned from the character and his world. Some explanation of human behaviour or emotion. By taking that 'epic' mythological approach and applying it to direct stories featuring the character, something is lost. He's too close to us and there isn't that essential message to be gleaned. So, what do we learn here? Stand up for your friends and family no matter what. Good message. Decent comic. [***1/2]

Secret #1: Intriguing start. I like Ryan Bodenheim's art. [***1/4]

Secret Avengers #25: I couldn't get into this arc. Gorgeous art, though. A story that left me cold. Bring on the event! [***]

Uncanny X-Men #10: I'm tempted to stick this in my Riding the Gravy Train post for this week with New Avengers #24 since this (and the previous issue) is very much a prologue to Avengers vs. X-Men. Captain America's line about Cyclops's first priority was great. The stuff with Unit and Hope doesn't excite me as much -- if only because I'm not a fan of the 'young confused person is manipulated by the older confident trickster douchebag' cliche. With any luck, Gillen will do something cool with it. Also, Emma's frustration that Cyclops wasn't pissed over the Namor making out was interesting. Ideally, you'd think a guy who recognises that being hit with excessive pheremones that cause you to jump on the nearest guy isn't a reason to get pissed off would be a good thing... except Cyclops is the King of Repression, so who knows if he's 'enlightened' or simply ignoring it... [***1/2]

The Unwritten #36: After issue 35.5, I'm not sure this title needed another 'breather' issue following issue 35. I was a little let down that we weren't jumping into What Happens Next. Without 35.5, I'd see the wisdom in a quick break, but... It doesn't help that this issue didn't interest me particularly. I assume the Wave has to do with the death of Pullman and the Cabal being destroyed... or does it? The weird subreality of fiction in this book is so mysterious and unexplained that it's hard to tell what any of it means in the larger picture besides Some Shit That Happens. [**1/2]

Winter Soldier #4: A decent action comic. [***1/4]


Thursday, April 05, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of April 4, 2012

Since I'm no longer 'sketching' for the actual things, in the long-standing GraphiContent tradition, I've once again retitled my brief thoughts on comics I've gotten. I think this is the most accurate title yet. And sure to be a hit getter... I expected to have this up earlier today, but the Toronto Blue Jays' opening game against the Cleveland Indians went 16 innings and almost five-and-a-half hours. Which was awesome. Fantastic way to start the season. Especially since they won. Well, let's get to this because there are too many fucking comics here...

Action Comics #8: There are two things I rather liked about this comic: 1. Lex Luthor being Clark Kent's secret source. 2. Superman won ultimately by being smarter, not stronger. I guess I also liked how it poked fun at the fact that he went from public enemy #1 to everyone's favourite son in no time flat. I'm still struggling with my personal conception of Superman and Grant Morrison's conception of Superman not meshing entirely. That and the art that manages to only look attractive maybe one of twenty-three panels. [***1/4]

Age of Apocalypse #2: There's a big problem in this comic: I don't remember who any of the humans are. Nor do I care. Moving past this, this is has some nice sick moments of dark cynicism, some surprisingly strong moments of bright optimism, some good art, and, of course, alternate versions of characters we know. [***1/2]

Animal Man #8: "It's my fault that the red is in my sperm!" Just so you know, old lady, when you wish your daughter never married that guy, you're also wishing that your grandchildren had never been born, and you're pretty much ensuring that they'll kind of hate you as they get older. Sorry... that's... uh... a little too personal a reading of this comic, right? Steve Pugh's art doesn't wow me as much as Travel Foreman's spectacular work on this comic, but it's pretty good. [***1/2]

The Boys #65: This issue had the first genuine "Marshal Law moment" of the series for me. People compare the two a lot, but the tone is actually pretty different. But, when the Black Noir stood on the White House lawn, half dead, naked, his guts spilling out, and chunks of him missing... well, that made me think "This is like something I'd see in a Marshal Law comic." I like what Garth Ennis was going for here -- a bit too exposition heavy. From the end of issue 64, I figured we'd learn that the Black Noir was behind it all somehow. I didn't expect this, though. That was pretty fucked up. As was Butcher's revenge. One more big story left and where do you go from here? [***3/4]

Casanova: Avaritia #3: Christ, now I'm going to have to put up with people going "Let's. Get. Fucked." on Twitter or in blog posts for a while now, aren't I? "It's not the band I hate, it's their fans..." Always the case. Always. That said, I'm not sure this holds together completely. It may have crossed that chaos line that this comic always gets right on top of... Maybe. We'll see in June, won't we? [***3/4]

Daredevil #10.1: It's weird to watch an artist try very hard to fit in with the visual tone of a comic like this and it become apparent almost immediately that he doesn't. The art never comes together how it should, always looking unfinished... The story almost felt the same way. It's funny that Daredevil would show up and mock the bad guys, but why not take them out one by one? Why insist that they all come at him as one? There's a certain logic there... but it seems mostly fucked to me. I'm probably not getting it. That happens sometimes. [***]

Fatale #4: Gorgeous art and writing that's so relaxed, so geared towards chapters of a novel pacing that I'm tempted to set each new issue aside until the whole series is out and THEN read it. [***1/2]

Green Arrow #8: I found the seventh issue charming in the way it bounded ahead, carried by a way of banter and energy... This issue didn't have that so much. Instead of being carried away, I had to fight my way through a bit. I guess we'll use issue nine as the tie-breaker then. [*3/4]

Hell Yeah #2: This issue was an improvement over the first issue in both writing and art, but both areas can still be improved upon. I think my biggest issue with the writing is that this comic seems to (and those two words are key) want to be wild and energetic and crazy... almost like Casanova. But it's paced like something Brian Michael Bendis wrote. And I like Bendis's writing quite a bit. But, chaotic and energetic in a way that mimics what it's like to be young and full of mad, crazy ideas... that's not what he does. And this comic seems to try to do that, but doesn't give us enough and feels slight for it. It's almost like what happened in this issue and the first needed to be the first issue to really get the tone and feeling right. If what they're aiming for is what I think they are. As always, I'm probably wrong. I do like this, just not as much as I'd like to. Or they'd like me to. [***1/4]

OMAC #8: A mirror of sort of the first issue... appropriate and leaves the door open to the future. About as good as we were going to get... I'll miss this book. [***1/2]

Wolverine and the X-Men #8: I'm not entirely sure the time jumping worked, but another fun issue with some heart. And I do like some Chris Bachalo art... [***3/4]

Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #4: I don't like Quentin Quire as much when he grows as a character. There. I said it. [***1/4]


Tuesday, April 03, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 01 (Avengers vs. X-Men #1)

I already knew all of this. The biggest Marvel press promotion ever with the biggest individual issues sales of the year and what did they deliver? A comic that pretty much retells everything that the hype and press that drove the sales up already told us. I'm almost at a loss over what I can possibly say about this comic. The Phoenix is coming, the Avengers think it's coming for Hope, they want to stop that, Cyclops has gone all crazy cult leader, and... fight! Seriously, I knew all of that going in. That's the premise. The first issue tells me the premise. Again. In comic book form. And guess what? It's not significantly better that way. It's not such a vast improvement over simply hearing the premise that it's worth this comic being the largest selling issue of the year.

It's not even that Avengers vs. X-Men #1 is a bad comic. It lays out the premise clearly and gets to the tipping point quickly enough. I'm also a John Romita, Jr. fan, so him doing art is always welcomed. If you'd never heard of this comic or what it's about, you'd most likely enjoy it more than everyone who is even vaguely aware of what this event is about and that's the problem.

Brian Michael Bendis has acknowledged this problem: to sell the comic, you pretty much have to give the first issue away ahead of time. If that's the case, how do you even begin to judge the first issue? I can't say that it's worth the money spent on it since it's not. It's hard to even say if it's 'good' when all it does it deliver the premise of the story. It's an introduction. How the fuck do you rate an introduction that you've already been given? I had the same problem with Siege #1. I guess we should all be grateful that this is issue one of a twelve-issue story rather than issue one of four. This is only 8.3333% of the story rather than 25%.

Is there a solution to this? Obviously, to sell the comic, you need to tell people something about what it's about. But, when the first issue establishes that premise, what are you to do with the first issue other than suck it up and sell people a comic you've already told them all about as often as you've could for months? Especially when, let's be honst, the title of this comic gives away the premise. It's almost like they need to skip to the second issue, throw in some clunky narration or recap that covers the events of the first issue. Is that better?

I honestly wish there were more to talk about with this issue. There isn't. If you've read anything about this event, you've read this comic. Marvel manages to make the title of this series of posts seem like cynical and jerky and more like the reality of the situation, sadly. Hopefully issue two will be something new and different.

Next week: New Avengers #24 is the first of the tie-ins to the event and the first comic relating to this event after the first issue. It should be interesting for establishing a tone or at least hinting at what else is going on beyond the basic premise. Hopefully.