Friday, June 29, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 13 (Wolverine and the X-Men #12 and X-Men: Legacy #269)

First, go read Tim O'Neil's post on Avengers vs. X-Men and notice that his take isn't too far away from mine. His perspective, though, is a little different and it's interesting that, despite that, we both come to very similar conclusions about the event. The only big difference is his praise of AVX: VS, but, honestly, my approach to that title is purposefully different from the one most people would take. His post is a good read.

One of the things he spends a lot of time focusing on is the idea that the X-Men are the villains of Avengers vs. X-Men. For the first act, Marvel did its best to undercut this by trying to turn the Avengers into facists and racists. It went a little further than the X-Men simply saying they were -- the debate within the Avengers of those ideas, every mutant siding with Cyclops and turning on Wolverine, the lack of tie-ins showing the Avengers' perspectives, and a few other things all happened to make the X-Men more of 'perspective' characters and underdogs. From an objective standpoint, they were clearly the misguided bad guys (some might say batshit insane cult), but, through the way that the story was told, that objectivity was clouded enough so that it wasn't a simple case of right (Avengers) vs. wrong (X-Men).

But, that stage of the story has passed and, now, we can clearly see that the X-Men are the bad guys once again. The power balance has shifted with the Phoenix Force inhabiting Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magick, and Cyclops asserting that there will be "No more Avengers." The X-Men are the dominant force and the Avengers are the underdog group on the run. This is meant to be a shift in the dynamics of the story, but it's a false shift, because the Avengers were always the good guys. The X-Men were never the persecuted minority in this story, because them being mutants were never a motivating factor for the Avengers -- hell, it didn't factor into it at all. It was the X-Men that made it about mutants vs. the world. And it's still about that. They haven't made the world better for mutantkind (and wasn't that what they thought the Phoenix would do?) by 'resurrecting' the race. They've tried to make the world better and, when questioned, decided that it could be because the Avengers (Wolverine included) hate mutants, not because every time someone with incredible powers try to remake the world, they always prove themselves corrupt and unworthy of those powers (aka something that the X-Men have encountered many times).

Last week, I bemoaned this obvious storytelling path as lazy and obvious and this week's Avengers vs. X-Men tie-ins only proved me right. X-Men: Legacy #269 is nothing but a big "THE PHOENIX FIVE ARE CORRUPT!" sign with a 'Yeah, Rogue is an awful person' lead-in. Rogue's mutant powers are hard to portray in a heroic fashion, because they're not powers that do something 'good.' They can be used in very specific situations to accomplish positive things, but, most of the time, they're used to violate people in a horrible, cruel, unforgivable way. One of Rogue's earliest victims was Ms. Marvel and, here, she tries to use her powers on Ms. Marvel again. This happens only a couple of issues after she did the same to She-Hulk, Falcon, and Moon Knight. Basically, her powers are to mindrape people and we're supposed to pretend that it's okay, because... um, she is a good person?

Rogue's use of her powers in these conflicts illustrates how far gone the X-Men are and also just how far gone superhumans in this world are. Most people probably don't even blink an eye at her trying to steal someone's entire being anymore, even when she's fighting other heroes. Why? Because, ever since Civil War, the entire direction of the Marvel Universe has been to undercut the idea that any of these characters are moral beings (aside from Captain America, perhaps, who has become the patron saint of Always Right). It's just perspective, just point of views, no right, no wrong -- just beat the shit out of anyone who disagrees. Civil War began that when a disagreement over how superhumans function in the United States had people go from best friends to trying to kill one another. No discussion, no attempt at reasoning, just zero to scorched Earth. And it's never stopped. Every big event from that point on has been designed to break down the heroes more and more, put them in positions where their actions and image don't clearly differentiate them from the so-called bad guys.

After all, there's a segment of people who probably still think that the X-Men are good guys here. That they have a point. It's not helped by Marvel crafting a story that lends some credibility to their perspective when none should be there. This is a story where a giant cosmic fire bird somehow cares about mutants on Earth because they're oh so special to 'cosmic balance,' but thinks nothing of destroying every planet in its path, thereby fucking with any notion of 'cosmic balance.' How does that make sense? It's part the usual 'Earth-centric' storytelling you find in anything that takes place in a universe that goes beyond this shitty little mudball we're on (because humans are sooooooooooooooooooo special compared to every other lifeform) and part giving credence to the idea a crazy cult has about a cosmic fire bird coming out of the sky to save them.

That is the Marvel universe as it stands now. So, of course, Rogue trying to steal the very essence of Carol Danvers again doesn't stand out. Why would it? But, make no mistake, this character is a villain and a bad person. The last time she touched Carol Danvers, she stole her powers and her memories -- she killed her, leaving a blank human shell alive that, eventually, became a person again. She tries to do the same again and, yet, we're supposed to be put off by Magick bringing a portion of Limbo to Earth to act as a prison for superhumans? That is the sign that the 'Phoenix Five' are corrupt and it's Rogue, paradigm of morality, that's shocked by it. Really.


Nice to see Bleeding Cool finally join the party of pointing out the inconsistencies in Avengers vs. X-Men.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #7 and Uncanny X-Men #15.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of June 27, 2012

If you didn't notice, Random Thoughts! return this week after five weeks off (only four of which were planned). I've also decided that, going forward, comments will be turned off for that post every week. They're not something I'm interested in when it comes to that weekly column anymore.

Batman, Incorporated #2: An issue that basically gives us the life of Talia and shows how she got to where she is. Part existing material, part new -- what impresses me most about an issue like this is how good Morrison is at crafting a narrative out of, most, one-off panels that sum up an experience or moment so well. Being paired with Chris Burnham doesn't hurt in that regard. Excellent use of communication. [****]

Fatale #6: I already like this arc more than the first one. The tone is more to my liking and works better with the setting. It builds on the first arc, obviously, but also feels more comfortable and more confident in the way it comes across. That Brubaker mentions that this arc has been informed about research he's had for a while no doubt plays a big part in that. This story seems like it's been a long time coming with him. I still can't get enough of the way Phillips draws Josephine. [****]

Hell Yeah #4: Each issue grows a little more confident in style and technique. I still find the pacing a little too brisk in places, but it's falling into a nice rhythm and adding on little mysteries as it goes. The opening was pretty damn good. [***1/2]

The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen: Century: 2009: I really loved the exploration of how living forever (or damn near it) can fuck you up. That's, by far, the most interesting thing about this to me. The fictional games are fun, but there's not much to them. Nor is the nostalgia/dislike of the modernity that seems to crop up a lot. The journey of these characters, even just across the three books that make up Century, though, is really engaging and where I connect. The Malcolm Tucker and Bond gags where the only ones that really made an impact on me. Kevin O'Neill remains amazing. I have all of the other books out and think I should reread the whole thing now. [****1/4]

The Manhattan Projects #4: Well, there's a twist that left me completely underwhelmed. Three issues after revealing Oppenheimer to be an evil twin, we get Mirror Mirror Einstein. That's... disappointing. [***]

The Mighty Thor #16: It's difficult to express how underwhelmed and apathetic I am towards this story. Are you sure there isn't a Mare on me? [Zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz]

Prophet #26: I can't wait to see what all of this is building to. We've had a few issues of dancing around what's happening, preparing for something, and Brandon Graham drawing this issue himself was a nice treat. It was surprising to see that the focus wasn't a John Prophet and that choice played into Graham's strength well. He draws rather cool looking robots. The Emma Rios back-up was another surprise in that it played into Graham's ongoing narrative a bit. I never know what to expect with this series and that's really great. [****]

Scalped #59: It all builds to that final page... [****1/4]

Spaceman #7: The cuts between Earth and Mars worked better in this issue than any before because, in both locations/times, the focus was on Orson and Carter, and showing that not much has changed necessarily. I've always enjoyed both times/locations, but this is the first issue where they really connected and made the whole issue seem very cohesive. [****]

Spider-Men #2: I wish this was the first issue. This is a much better place to start the story. Take the final few pages of the first issue and put them in front of this and, yeah, you have a much stronger beginning to this story. I enjoyed this issue. Peter freaking out a bit at the different world around him was good -- as was the way that he eventually calmed down and used his brain. I'd like to think that, with all that he's experienced, it would have happened a little quicker, but, still... [***1/2]

The Ultimates #12: Look, let's not kid ourselves: we always knew that Reed Richards was going down. He was the 'villain' of this comic and he was always going to lose. He was. And we knew that. But, that doesn't make it any better to see, especially when it's at the hands of a tumor. In someone else's head. Yeah. That's the second big swing and miss from Hickman for me this week. Hell of a way to say goodbye. [sigh]

X-Men #30: Hey, my shop finally had some copies of this. I didn't see any copies of issue 31, though. Weird. It was okay. This reminded me a little of Warren Ellis's work on Astonishing X-Men and has potential. It didn't really engage me, though. I read it, understood it, put it down, and kind of forgot it. Not a good sign. [**3/4]


Saturday, June 23, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 12 (Avengers vs. X-Men #6, New Avengers #27, Secret Avengers #28, Uncanny X-Men #14, and Avengers Academy #32)

That's what I want to see. Avengers vs. X-Men #6 wasn't perfect and it will only lead to disappointment on my part, of that I'm sure, but... damn, that's what I want to see in my superhero comics. Characters with extraordinary powers using those powers in extraordinary ways beyond just hitting one another. And, let's face it, this has been a story that just wallows in how stunted these characters are, how incapable they are of responding to any sort of disagreement or challenge without punching someone in the face. It's been five issues (and many, many tie-ins) reminding us that these are horrible people that we should pity, because they're trapped in their ugly little world where the solution to every problem is violence. I mean, the logical solution to the argument at the end of issue one would have been the X-Men and Avengers taking Hope off planet, well away from Earth, and waiting to see what happens when the Phoenix arrives, prepared to kill her if things went wrong, but also prepared for the possibility that it would work out fine. It's kind of like that What If? comic Marvel published about Civil War where Captain America and Iron Man stopped for a moment and talked about the problem at hand, and came up with a solution that made everyone happy without all of the fighting and bloodshed. It may have been the most subversive comic Marvel published that year -- and surprisingly so, because it showed just how stupid and pointless that story was and how stupid and awful their 'heroes' are. For much of Avengers vs. X-Men, I've had that on my mind as people who have worked together to save the world suddenly decided they hate each other ("They're racists and facists!" "They're a crazy cult!") And, here, we have some characters actually doing things to make the world better and that's always nice to see.



Except, there's the problem that always crops up in stories where heroes are given extraordinary powers and decide to use them to make the world better: everyone else has a shitfit and decides that they must be stopped. How dare those uppity mutants try to end war?!? How dare they talk to the bad guys instead of crushing their skulls!?! How dare they do anything except fight and fight and fight and fight and fight...

So, of course, they fight. And they just showed up a little. And they'll overreact and prove that, yeah, maybe power corrupts and they need to be stopped. And the lesson at the end of the day is that a real hero shuts up, colours inside of the lines, and doesn't try to actually do anything except punch problems away.

Maybe I'll be wrong. God, I hope I'm wrong. I would love it if I were wrong. Normally, I'm a guy who will fight tooth and nail to prove I'm right, but, this time, let me be wrong. Because, for a big part of this comic, I saw something I love to read about: the actual effect superhumans would have on a world (the flipside of that is the effect a superhuman lifestyle would have on a person leading it). It wasn't revolutionary or new, but it was nice to see, because of the tease that there may be more. I usually only get to see this part of that story before what I predicted above happens. That's why this is the same as other comics where this sort of thing has happened: they all begin the same way and there's a moment where they could do something great... I don't know, man, any comic where the hero talks some bad guys into stopping their destructive behaviour and helping make things better is a comic I want to read and see played out without the usual 'power corrupts so let's keep the status quo' bullshit.

Because there are other conflicts than physical ones. There are other ways to be interesting and exciting than by spilling blood.


In my ongoing thought process of how to order the entire Avengers vs. X-Men event, I guess we now put New Avengers #25-27 after Avengers vs. X-Men #6. Somehow, I didn't see that coming.


Secret Avengers #26-28 is an odd little story within this larger story, isn't it? Beginning as a group of Space Avengers try to stop the Phoenix from progressing, it becomes a story about the Kree bringing back Captain Mar-Vell and brainwashing anyone related to the Kree into thinking that the Phoenix Force coming to their planet is the Best Thing Ever, including Ms. Marvel and Protector, two of the Space Avengers. Bringing back Mar-Vell was another move in this event that seemed like a mix of Civil War and Secret Invasion. In Civil War, Mar-Vell returned, not from the dead, but from the Negative Zone, presumably taken from sometime in the past before he died. Later, it was revealed that he was actually a Skrull posing as Mar-Vell, but the deception was so real that the Skrull couldn't help but act like he was Mar-Vell, going so far as to sacrifice his life in Secret Invasion... seemingly for the sole purpose of showing Noh-Varr that, while carving giant flaming swear words into cities is cool, being a protector of humanity is what's really tops.

Here, he's back again, this time really from the dead. It never really makes sense considering the way that Mar-Vell was viewed by the Kree (a traitor who deserved worse than the painful death he had) until the final issue where we get a lovely speech by the villain (Mar-Vell's nephew) explaining how Mar-Vell brought down his family's name and, now, this guy is getting it back, implying that the idea of using the resurrected Mar-Vell as a pawn just makes it more poetic and fitting. In the end, Mar-Vell sacrifices his life to save the planet from the Phoenix, inspiring Noh-Varr in Avengers #26 to betray the Space Avengers and steal a piece of the Phoenix Force so the Kree can... uh, do what the crazy guy in Secret Avengers #26-28 wanted to do?

Yeah, this story makes no sense when you put it before what Brian Michael Bendis is doing in Avengers, which I've discussed before. Since then, I've wondered which story should take precedence. Which one is 'right' and which one is 'wrong?' My first instinct was to choose Secret Avengers as the 'true' Space Avengers story because it takes place first and it has Mar-Vell. And, well, Bendis has a history of writing comics that contradict other comics, seemingly with little care of what's going on elsewhere in the Marvel Universe, because, fuck you, he's an Architect. But, now, I'm leaning the other way. After all, one of these writers is part of the five-headed beast leading this whole big crossover story event. Surely, those comics should be the ones we pay attention to first and foremost, right? Isn't that the rule of events? The order of importance goes: event series, comics written by event series writer(s), everything else. Seems pretty clearcut to me...

And, I guess, part of me is disappointed with this three-issue story. I read somewhere that Rick Remender reread Jim Starlin's work on Captain Marvel to get the character right and it seems somehow wasted and futile. This is a nothing of a story that seems to set up a premise only to knock it down right away before a big 'heroic' finish that feels hollow given that the hero just came back from the dead and spent most of that time brainwashed. It feels unearned somehow -- more joke than sincere.


I'm not sure if I can put up with Avengers Academy anymore as this event progresses. Look, I get that the kid loves his pet robot, but it can't change. It will always want to destroy all mutants and, now, an extremely powerful mutant has shown up, demanding to destroy it -- or, erase its memory so the part of its programming that demands it destroy all mutants can be eliminated. The kid somehow believes that the robot will overcome that bit of programming and I can understand why. In the Marvel Universe, every robot seems to rise above whatever they were programmed to do, gaining free will, and a desire to have sex with redheads. But, there's something so frustrating in seeing a comic devoted to the idea that leading kids into a fight with a superemely powerful being who's really annoyed when all that's at stake is a formerly genocidal robot is a good idea. Part of me wants to see Emma Frost slaughter everyone except for Hank Pym next issue just so we can have another moment of "Hank Pym is the dumbest genius in comics." But, yeah yeah yeah, little boy loves pet robot, let's all get mushy inside and pretend like that gives him the right to allow a possibly genoicidal robot that, knowing the world he lives in, would kill at least one mutant at some point in the future and have to be destroyed to exist until that time comes. Who the fuck left Hank Pym in charge?

Next week: Wolverine and the X-Men #12 and X-Men: Legacy #269.

Thursday, June 21, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of June 20, 2012

The third "...And the Superhuman Review" where Brian and I discuss Before Watchmen: Comedian #1 is up. No contribution to Spandexless Reads this week, because my internet was down for a couple of days -- same reason why Random Thoughts didn't return this week. Ah well. The world survived somehow.

Casanova: Avaritia #4: I reread the first three issues on Tuesday and... I don't know, man. It feels like running away. Because it is running away. First, he sends his mom and sister away. Then, he almost saves them all by unmaking himself. Now, he runs away... In some ways, Avaritia has been a mess, spinning out from a single concept/mood towards this ending that seems like it should be big and mean something like the two before it and... it doesn't. It doesn't feel like much, man. It feels like running away. Then again, from a certain angle, that's what this series has always felt like to an extent, except the best moments came when characters didn't try to escape, didn't try to leave, they just stood and took it. I don't know, man. [Great art, though, of course]

Daredevil #14: Great-looking comic and... I... don't care...? That's how it feels when a new issue of this comes out. That whole Omega Drive bullshit just dragged me down. What began as a series that felt a little special quickly became like the rest... not really fair or anything, because this is an enjoyable comic. I loved the final page. Chris Samnee draws very, very well. Mark Waid's writing is clever. But! But but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but  but but but but but but but but but but but but  but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but but... [But]

Journey into Mystery #640: The finish seemed obvious a mile off, but some clever writing here nonetheless. I like the idea of old gods vs. new gods, especially when it's not about simple destruction/replacement or the idea that the new gods are somehow worse than the old ones. Neil Gaiman has done some nice work on the matter and I like this take, too. [***1/2]

The Unwritten #38: Still unsure about the new 'season' of the title. Some of the underlying bits are nice, especially Tom being kept off-panel, but it also feels like... spinning wheels somehow? Like there isn't a clear idea yet of what this book is about. It could be about the idea of Leviathan dying and what that means... but that's not there yet. Odds are the whole arc will lay things out, but this is what I'm stuck with right now. [**3/4]

Winter Soldier #7: As far as car chases/highway action scenes go in comics, this was pretty well done. [***3/4]

Wonder Woman #10: There's a part of me trying not to laugh about this comic being about Wonder Woman and the gang teaching Hades to love himself. That's... so fucking weird, man. But, Diana's "I love everyone!" was fantastic. Gotta just embrace it, y'know? Consistently good comic. [***3/4]


Saturday, June 16, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 11 (AVX: Vs #3, Avengers #27, and X-Men: Legacy #268)

Let's get the fights out of the way...

Match #5: The Thing vs. Colossus

Wait... is this a tournament of some kind? Both the Thing and Colossus have been involved in matches already -- and both won (or, they won according to the comic -- I still call that Colossus/Spider-Man match a time limit draw). I know this card isn't structured like a tournament, but wouldn't it be cool if it was? An unannounced tournament to determine who is the best out of all of the Avengers and X-Men... Then again, if you count fights outside of AVX: VS, we've already seen Colossus lose to the Red Hulk and the Thing have a rematch with Namor that ended with the Thing winning via Namor being embarrassed that wrestling involves two half-naked dudes rolling around and grabbing one another, and decided that walking away and losing again on a technicality is a lot better than someone thinking you're gay (that was the point of that fight, right?). So... here we are with the Thing's record of 2-0-0 and Colossus standing at 0-1-1, sort of. This match only confirms my idea that the Avengers are being portrayed as the villains in this story and the X-Men as the underdogs based on the pre-match attack by the Red Hulk as Colossus makes his way down to the ring. Clear heel faction tactic. He beats on Colossus and, then, throws him into the ring so the Thing can begin hammering on him in a weakened state. As does the Thing's response to Colossus's first attempt at offence: throwing what looks to be a piece of his rocky hide down the Russian's throat in a clearly illegal attempt at a choke. So, when Colossus takes the fight outside of the ring and uses that environment to his advantage, it's not cheating, it's giving the heel his proper comeuppance. While Colossus doesn't technically win as he never gets back in the ring, his beatdown of the Thing makes the double countout finish seem like a win. It's a moral win for the good guy underdog. Some solid storytelling on the card finally with a finish that wouldn't seem quite so bad if every other match wasn't booked with a similar sort of cheap non-finish finish. Still, a clear standout so far -- kudos to Loeb and McGuinness.

Result: Double countout [**3/4]

Match #6: No Disqualification/Falls Count Anywhere Match - Black Widow vs. Magick

In the ongoing 'card' that is the match line-up of AVX: VS, we finally had our first 'Divas' match. Okay, calling it that is somewhat dismissive. Three issues in and we see our first fight involving women (with two more next issue; though, those will be intergender matches). Nice to see that Marvel isn't afraid to show that women can fight just as well, if not better than, the men. And, surprisingly, it's the second fight of this issue to feature one of the Rasputin siblings. This match ranges all over the place, which isn't surprising given the obvious stipulation. They fight on the moon, in Limbo, and, surprisingly, finish back on the moon. Personally, I'm not a fan of Falls Count Anywhere matches that finish back in the ring after fighting all over -- nor ones that end with the Roll-Up victory. Both women gave it their all, but Black Widow had this thing won until BOOM! Roll-Up pin by Magick for the surprise win. It felt like a cheap win and undercut everything that came before. We all know that Limbo is where Magick is at home and no one has beaten her there before, but the Black Widow bested her there before putting her back in the ring to end things and booking things so she loses then... Well, why waste Magick not dominating in Limbo? For a swerve finish? That's bullshit, man. May as well had Colossus run in after leaving the Thing beaten...

Winner: Magick [*1/2]

Next up on the card looks to be Daredevil vs. Psylocke and Thor vs. Emma Frost in her first match since joining the Phoenix Force.


I'm not entirely sure what I think of Avengers #27 where Noh-Varr has betrayed the Avengers, then discovers that the Kree are fine with the Phoenix destroying Earth, decides that he kind of likes Earth and betrays the Kree (just like Mar-Vell did!) only for the Avengers to threaten him with death and give him the biggest backhand I've seen in a while before the Kree take away his Nega-Bands and we get one panel of him in his old costume.

I mean, no one is more excited to see that Protector bullshit dropped even though I had made my peace with it. To follow up on that narrative, Noh-Varr was basically put in a situation where his family's business made him steal company secrets from his job and, when he did it, he discovered that they were going to use those secrets to, like, kill baby seals or something, so he panicked. Instead of that making things better, he was fired from his job and his familar disowned him. We see him in the end wearing the shitty clothes he wore as a teenager, because... well, what else is there? He tried to be an adult and was put in a situation where he was going to either lose his job or his family and wound up losing both. Clearly, he will save the Earth from the Phoenix.

I don't know...

I did like seeing the old costume drawn by Walt Simonson. Even if it was for only one panel and kind of tiny.


X-Men: Legacy #268 is only superficially connected to Avengers vs. X-Men. It's basically a Frenzy solo story that happens because of the actions of the Phoenix Five. I found it heavyhanded and obvious. Fans of Frenzy might have liked it. Dunno.

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #6, New Avengers #27, Uncanny X-Men #14, Secret Avengers #28, and Avengers Academy #32.

Thursday, June 14, 2012

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of June 13, 2012

The second "...And the Superhuman Review" is up at Comics Should be Good. It was amusing to watch the comments section of the first one devolve into a bunch of idiots saying stupid things. My favourites were the comments that basically said "Contracts are too hard to understand, so Alan Moore was screwed" and "DC fucked Alan Moore by not forcing him to hire a lawyer to make sure he understood what he was signing." And I say that those are stupid things to say in the broadest sense, looking at ANY situation, not the DC/Alan Moore one specifically. I wonder how long it will take before the comments sections for those posts are dead, because no one wants to talk about the situation surrounding Before Watchmen... My bet is never.

Avengers Assemble #4: Why the fuck did they get rid of Star-Lord's helmet? That helmet was badass. Not as badass as Thanos, though. Bendis comes pretty close to getting the character right here -- much better than the Dr. Strange attempt from Avengers. Of course, Bendis doesn't have to get it right, because this Thanos is a clone. Obviously. [***1/2]

Batman #10: Thomas Wayne, Jr. It was at that reveal that I officially decided that this was a little too similar to Grant Morrison's Black Glove/Dr. Hurt story. It's like the mainstream movie adaptation of that story. Something a bit more easy to swallow by the masses. Something that doesn't quite hold together as well. After all, halfway through this issue, Batman suddenly solves the mystery and we all collectively went "Wait... there was a mystery?" Not that there's something inherently bad about a story recalling a previous one; it's just that... "Batman RIP" is only, what, three years old? Part of me wonders how long it will be before we get a resurrected Dr. Hurt teaming with undead Thomas Wayne, Jr... (Also, if you JUST read Batman, the Court of Owls was a group with a lot of build-up and almost no payoff.) [***]

Captain America #13: The panel where Henry Gyrich screams "I'm the hero here! Me!" as he's arrested sums up that character in the most profound way that I can imagine. [***1/2]

Frankenstein, Agent of SHADE #10: I forgot when Matt Kindt was taking off (and so did the person who proofread the credits on the cover) and I'm glad that I stuck around. This was a good start to his run -- not radically different, but definitely a shift in storytelling. I love the flashback/hallucination stuff. AND(!) that final page...! Awesome. Glad to see Ponticelli sticking around, too. [***3/4]

The Massive #1: This was Brian Wood Week at the shop or something with this series kicking off on the same week that he took over Ultimate X-Men and X-Men. Unfortunately, my shop didn't have any rack copies of X-Men, so I only got two-thirds of the experience. This was a decent first issue. It didn't quite address the central idea of the series, but it laid a lot of groundwork. Definitely a good enough hook for me to stick around -- and I do dig that art. [***1/2]

The Mighty Thor #15: I wish this were nothing but Amora and Don Blake. I'm kind of putting in times right now until the crossover with Journey into Mystery, I guess. [**1/4]

Spider-Men #1: A total impulse purchase. I was curious. This was your typical first issue where you get to see the premise you already knew played out. But, I do enjoy the way that Bendis writes Spider-Man -- and once the comic has him fighting Mysterio, it hums along nicely. The ending was a nice, especially the "Thanks, but that costume is in bad taste..." scene. And the comic looks pretty, pretty good, too. I'm a sucker for stories where alternate versions of characters meet. AND where they're not zombies or vampires. Wait -- is Miles Morales a vampire or zombie? [***1/4]

Ultimate X-Men #13: It's funny jumping into this book as a reader of The Ultimates where the southern states seceding doesn't seem like an anti-mutant Sentinels thing -- it seems like a nation panicked over Washington getting blown to bits thing. For the first 2/3s of this issue, I had little interest in buying issue 14, but I like the way it built at the end there, making those first 2/3s seem necessary and worthwhile. You don't see that too often and Wood pulled it off. This could be an interesting little book. [***1/4]

Untold Tales of the Punisher MAX #1: I said that there need be no more Frank Castle stories, but this isn't a Frank Castle story. Like most of these one-shots (and this feels like a one-shot that got put into this mini-series) featuring the Punisher (MAX or otherwise), he appears at the beginning and the end only long enough to kill folks. Otherwise, it's someone else's story. I dug this. I like Roland Boschi's art -- especially when he's working with Dan Brown on colours. The writing was solid. I wasn't sure if I was going to buy this and, then, it was in my pull file, so... And I have to admit, they've got a decent set of creators lined up for this title so far. I guess I'll ride it out... [***1/2]


Friday, June 08, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 10 (Avengers vs. X-Men #5, Uncanny X-Men #13, and Avengers Academy #31)

I'll give Marvel one thing: no one saw that coming.

Of course, that doesn't make the ending of Avengers vs. X-Men #5 good or anything. I'm not sure what it is. It's one of those swerves where you're both "I want to see what happens as a result of this" and "That's really fucking stupid. They pay you guys, right?" The Phoenix Force arrives and, because Iron Man is a total cockblock, winds up possessing...

Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik. None of whom are redheads.

My disappointment was almost guaranteed, I must admit. Marvel had only a limited number options with the direction of this story, none of them particularly great on the surface:

1. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses Hope, and she resurrects the mutant race, proving Cyclops's crazy cult fanaticism right and Captain America's logic wrong.

2. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses Hope, and she goes batshit crazy and must be killed, proving Cyclops's crazy cult fanaticism wrong and Captain America's logic right.

3/4. The Phoenix Force arrives, possesses someone not Hope, and either resurrects the mutant race or goes batshit crazy.

5. The Phoenix Force is stopped from reaching Earth, negating the reason for the central conflict of this story and leaving seven issues of characters fighting because the title says they should.

6. The Phoenix Force passes by Earth the way that it's passed by many worlds.

7. The Phoenix Force destroys Earth the way that it's destroyed many worlds.

I think that covers all of the variations. We were given option 3/4. We don't know if it's a 'resurrect the mutant race' or 'go batshit crazy' variation on that particularl idea yet, but that's where we are. Looking at the above options, do any inspire much excitement? It's almost like, upon reaching this point in the story, we're coming face-to-face with the fact that the Phoenix is a pretty limiting/stupid plot device. It coming to Earth leaves seven options, three of which won't be used no matter what. So, there are four options that we can expect to see and there isn't much variance in them.


Something I really liked about Avengers vs. X-Men #5 is that Matt Fraction made it feel like a 'big' issue. Good use of narration, good pacing, good reliance on John Romita, Jr. to sell some of the moments. In many ways, it felt like the first issue of this series that was successful, which is shocking given that this is the man who, last year, wrote Fear Itself.

The question then: has Fraction improved (learned from Fear Itself), or have the other issues been so poor that he just stands out by default?

After all, we've now seen all five of these writes take the lead, all working with the same artist. I haven't gone back to reread the first five issues to see how they work, but I can't imagine a smooth reading experience. Going off memory, I'd probably rank them: Matt Fraction (#5), Jason Aaron (#2), Brian Michael Bendis (#1), Ed Brubaker (#3), and Jonathan Hickman (#4). Part of that comes from what they had to work with in their particular issues, granted.

Next issue, Olivier Coipel takes over on art and we experience another shift in how this comic presents itself. I've touched on John Romita, Jr.'s art a little so far, but it has been the one constant of Avengers vs. X-Men as we've cycled through five writers.

His work on this series has been inconsistent and not his best. There have been a lot of panels where characters look slapped down with little care or thought. Barely formed blobs that are only recognisable because of the colouring. There have been far too many panels like that.

Thankfully, I can't spot any in issue five. Romita may have had some rough patches in the first four issues, but he brought it in his finale on this series. Flipping through, he's so damn good at clarity and focus. Panels that pop because what you're looking at is almost thrown in your face. His art makes this fight on the moon look epic, look big. When Cyclops makes his final speech about Hope and the Phoenix before Iron Man fucks it all up, he looks crazed in his restrained way. We can't see his eyes, but Romita still communicates the desperate faith on display.

Romita's strengths on display here: big action. The characters are more limited than they have been in past issues, avoiding a cluttered look, and the setting is wide open. They play to his ability to focus on one bit of action and showcase it for a panel. In previous issues, he couldn't do that as much. His thicker line work doesn't always look as good when used to draw background characters and there's very little of that here. This is the first issue that seems designed to let Romita look as good as he possibly can.


And, yes, Tigra, I'm sure Captain America will be fine with two longtime Avengers and teachers at the Academy being beaten up by a bunch of teenagers. That's so much better than simply letting them go. In one instance, you made a personal moral choice that Cap may not agree with, but would probably respect. In the other, you proved yourself bad at what you do for a living.

...this is the part where I throw in "#comicbooklogic" right?

Next week: AVX: VS #3, Avengers #27, and X-Men: Legacy #268.

Thursday, June 07, 2012

Because "Riding the Gravy Train" was already taken...

Over at Comics Should be Good, the first "...And the Superhuman Review" on Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 is up. Every week, Brian Cronin and I will briefly review/discuss new issues of Before Watchmen. The title is Brian's and I like it. I was leaning more towards something a bit more childish involving the term "scab comics" or something. But, Brian is more mature than I --and less willing to be an asshole for the sake of it. Thank god.

And, over at Spandexless, I wrote about the first part of "The Curse of the Crimson Corsair" for Alec Berry's Spandexless Reads column. Alec's a good guy and, as his intro says, he's not thrilled to have Before Watchmen content in the column, but he's also on board with me writing about the strip there every week. Me, I'm looking at it as a challenge: how do you write about a serialised story that comes out every week in two pages? It's similar to writing about Wednesday Comics to a degree, I suppose; except, there, I was writing about it with Tim Callahan and we weren't limited to just one of the strips.

So, look for those every week.

EXCLUSIVE! Chad Nevett's Comic Book Mini-Reviews and Star Ratings for the Week of June 6, 2012

Giant week. At least by my standards. 16 comics, though only 12 are discussed below. Three Avengers vs. X-Men comics will be discussed in this week's "Riding the Gravy Train" post and Before Watchmen: Minutemen #1 will be discussed, possibly, on two different sites. If Brian Cronin and I can get our shit together and begin our weekly discussion series on the project, look for that on Comics Should be Good. And, depending on what happens, some brief words on the pirate back-up will appear elsewhere. Because why not? (UPDATE: That capsule review is up in this week's Spandexless Reads, written/compiled by friend of the blog Alec Berry.) Still. 12 comics is plenty.

Action Comics #10: People went crazy over issue nine (and it was good), but I think this might have been my favourite issue of the series yet. Strong lead that touched on a few different aspects of Superman's life and has a pretty big twist. Even the back-up strip was strong, which is a change of pace as far as I'm concerned. That bit with Superman busting in on the child murderer was fantastic... [****]

Age of Apocalypse #4: There's a danger in this comic of making the human resistance too good at what they're doing. This issue felt a little over-the-top in that regard. At least Lapham is playing into their advantage -- surprise and being able to plan out an attack without the enemy having any recourse but to react as it happens. Still, mutants are so dominant that the resistance needs to suffer a big loss soon, I think. Otherwise, it's less 'underdogs fighting against tyranny' than 'awesome people beating up a bunch of fucking goofs that you can't believe took over the world in the first place.' You know, just like Star Wars. [***]

Animal Man #10: Just... just get to the fucking point, won't you? [Please?]

The Boys #67: Four things. 1) My cover says that this is issue 66. It is not. 2) That stuff with the Legend screaming at his dead, unseen artist at the beginning of this issue is some of the funniest, most cynical comic book metafiction that Garth Ennis has written in this series. The best quote is "Soldier Boy! Stormfront! Webweaver! Starboard! All were mine! Thou didst no more than scrawl thy doodles at my bidding!" Or... the lawsuit bit. He may look like Jack Kirby, but he says fuck you, Kirby. Oh ho ho. 3) "Did I just... pull a Butcher?" HA! 4) I'm not entirely sure what Butcher's endgame is, but... Christ. This is getting big and crazy and... yes, Legend, it will have blood. [****1/2]

The Defenders #7: I rather enjoyed this issue. Fantastic tone, the art was a perfect fit, and the story is really taking shape. I loved the next issue teaser of "MCKELVIE!" [****]

Dial H #2: At some point, this issue lost me a bit. Some fun ideas, but a combination of art that turns me off every chance it gets and storytelling that doesn't really engage makes for a rather lacklustre comic. I may get issue three. I may not. [**]

Fury MAX #3: That ending is chilling. Perfect writing and perfect art. Just looking at the cover right now, it bothers me a little... damn fucking good comic. [****1/2]

Green Arrow #10: This... is not a comic that wants to keep me as a reader. There's just nothing to latch onto here. Maybe, somewhere underneath, there's a good idea, but the execution is just so grating, so slippery and deflective, that I find myself moving forward more out of duty than because I give a fuck. [DONE]

Journey into Mystery #639: Once you get past the first four pages, this is a fairly enjoyable comic. It's not that I dislike lots of narration/prose in my comics, it's that I don't especially enjoy the way that Kieron Gillen writes narration in this comic. It's always on the verge of making me close the book, put it down, and never pick it up again. Thankfully, there's plenty of other stuff he does very well in this comic -- enough for me to press on and try my best to absorb the necessary details. Still... dreary, dull, bad fucking writing. But, hey, the rest of the issue has some nice bits and I love Loki's enthusiasm. [***]

The Mighty Thor Annual #1: I'm currently on hold in my reading of the Clone Saga. I finished volume three the other day and am waiting for to send me volume four. Once that arrives, I can read up through volume four of the Ben Reilly stuff. And, then, it's just waiting for Marvel to release the remaining books. But, anyway, Scrier is a mysterious figure in those comics; an associate of Judas Traveller who also appears to Kane. Why he does anything is unknown. Apparently, he (and Traveller) was the creation of JM DeMatteis, who also wrote this annual, which features... Scrier...? I mean, that's what he's called, but he doesn't look anything like the Scrier of the Clone Saga. This title is on my pull list, so I got the annual and it's actually decent. Some weird bits of dialogue and a plot that's oddly simple and confusing at the same time -- mostly because it's so big that it doesn't actually matter at all. I'm mostly thrown by Scrier being in it. Also, it marks the second Richard Elson-drawn comic of the week. Though, judging by the Thor stuff here, this seems like an inventory issue released now, because... uh... why not? [***]

Secret #2: I... uh... what happened in the first issue again? No. Really. I remember some of what happened, but nothing about characters. Why is it that the comics with the more intricate stories, the one that require you pay close attention and remember a lot are also the ones that come out less frequently? Nonetheless, I like the tone of this comic -- the mood it creates. And that opening was killer. [***1/2]

Winter Soldier #6: I'm a little disappointed that Leonid shaved his beard at the end. I prefer my Russians to have beards. This issue does make me wonder about the future of this book. Once we deal with the third sleeper, what next? Will this always be a comic about cleaning up the Winter Soldier's past or will it also look forward? Will it always look back? Also, another Bucky replacement dies. Being Bucky is a worse gig than being Robin. [***1/2]


Friday, June 01, 2012

Riding the Gravy Train 09 (Wolverine and the X-Men #11 and X-Men: Legacy #267)

Avengers vs. X-Men has finished its second month, producing 23 comics to date. While reading this week's additional to the event, I noticed something: we haven't seen much of the Avengers' perspective on what's been happening. It seems like all we see of the Avengers comes from the main series, while the Avengers-centric tie-ins tell stories about everything surrounding the main story but never touch on it. Conversely, the X-Men tie-ins all seem to comment directly in some way on the idea of the Avengers and X-Men fighting -- and from the X-Men's perspective. I've previously discussed how Marvel seems to be skewing things to make the Avengers seem less like the good guys and the X-Men seem less like a crazy cult, first by showing the Avengers as facists and, then, as racists. This week, it occurred to me that there's a third way: by simply not presenting them as perspective characters. If much of what we read is from the X-Men's perspective in some way, they seem more sympathetic by default -- the Avengers are made into the Others.

If you break down the 23 Avengers vs. X-Men comics that have come out, seven have been 'neutral' comics (Avengers vs. X-Men and AVX: VS), nine have been 'Avengers' comics (Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, and Avengers Academy), and seven have been 'X-Men' comics (Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, and X-Men: Legacy). The Avengers have more individual series and more tie-ins than the X-Men, yet their presence seems muted. If you actually look at the issues, only two of the Avengers tie-ins have actually seemed to show what's happening in the main narrative (New Avengers #24 and Avengers #25) and those only show brief glimpses, acting more as bridges between their crossover story involving Norman Osborn and Avengers vs. X-Men. The following issues of New Avengers have focused on K'un L'un in the past, while Avengers has begun telling the same story (sort of) as Secret Avengers -- about the team the Avengers sent into space to try to stop the Phoenix Force from ever reaching Earth. Both stories are related to the event, but separated from the core idea of the Avengers fighting the X-Men. Avengers Academy is more closely related, examining the consequences of the Avengers dumping the students from Utopia at the Academy, but, in that story, Christos Gage is more interested in exploring whether or not the X-students should be shunted off like that, imprisoned, and tends to sympathise more with the X-characters. Out of the nine 'Avengers' tie-ins, only two seem to show anything from the conflict between the Avengers and X-Men directly.

The 'X-Men' tie-ins, on the other hand, all address that conflict directly, either by showing characters at Wolverine's school struggle with the decision of fighting or staying at the school, or by showing the fighting directly, making it a gap of seven complete issues to two issues with a scene or two that ties in (and that's being generous to Avengers #25). The two 'neutral' titles tend to divide somewhat evenly in perspective (though AVX: VS currently has the Avengers winning 3-1), so that leaves an event with a strong X-Men perspective and little to no Avengers perspective.

Sorry, 'perspective' may not be the right word -- protagonists? The X-Men are protagonists in more comics where they fight the Avengers than the Avengers are. Hell, since the very outset of the fight at Utopia, we've seen no Avengers tie-in with those characters as protagonists that expands on the fights hinted at in Avengers vs. X-Men. In that respect, the X-Men have slowly been put in the position of being the event's protagonists. While we see the Avengers' perspective in Avengers vs. X-Men, that's always balanced with the X-Men; the tie-ins of events is where characters are given room to breathe and provide an entry point into the plot-heavy main series. And we haven't gotten any of that for the Avengers.

It could simply be that the writers of the Avengers tie-ins have certain stories they want to tell, which don't happen to expand on Avengers vs. X-Men in as direct a fashion as the writers of the X-tie-ins. Brian Michael Bendis writes both Avengers and New Avengers, and is one of the five writers of Avengers vs. X-Men, so he seems to be attempting to tell as broad a story as possible. In some respects, he seems to be attempting to write tie-ins that are less dependent on the main series for this event than the X-writers. But, it is odd that one set of writers is working around Avengers vs. X-Men, while another set is working in it. Is it a coincidence, of different writers having different approaches, or is it an attempt to make the X-Men seem more sympathetic, more like protagonists?

That seems to have been the goal so far and, with upcoming issues seemingly about the X-Men dominating the Avengers ("No more Avengers" being the tagline of choice), it could make for some interesting dramatic tension. Going into this event, the Avengers seemed more in the right and the X-Men like some crazy cult convinced their space god was coming to save them -- but, over the past two months, the X-Men have been our point of view characters in a much larger way, the characters we sympathise with and relate to, turning the Avengers into antagonists. But, if the X-Men suddenly 'won' and became the persecutors, that shift back to the Avengers as protagonists, fighting as underdogs against the X-Men could be a very energetic shift in the story.

And who says tie-ins don't matter?


X-Men: Legacy #267 may be an 'X-Men' tie-in issue and present a fight between X-Men and Avengers from a decidedly X-Man perspective (Rogue is the narrator of the issue), but I'm not sure it actually presents the X-Men as protagonists, particularly Rogue. In fighting the small group of Avengers sent to watch the Jean Grey School and ensure that it stays out of the fight, she decides to use her powers to absorb the powers and minds of She-Hulk, Falcon, and Moon Knight (though, Moon Knight causes it to happen, hoping his multiple personalities will overwhelm her and leave her unable to function). That's a fairly deplorable way for a 'hero' to behave, no? I read that issue, horrified that not only was Rogue doing that, but that her fellow X-Men seemed to have no problem with her doing something so invasion and cruel to people that, at their core, are having a disagreement over whether or not a giant cosmic bird will be a good or bad thing for the planet. It's such an extreme moment, a moment that reminds us that, yes, these characters are, in many ways, deplorable and to be looked down upon. They resort to violence at the drop of a hat, attack one another with the goal of putting each other down despite both groups knowing that the other is filled with (supposedly) good and well-meaning people. It's rather shocking.

So... maybe the X-Men aren't protagonists? Maybe none of these characters are...

Next week: Avengers vs. X-Men #5, Avengers Academy #31, and Uncanny X-Men #13.