Last Week’s Comics In Twenty-One Panels

The internet’s most opinionated (and Greek) comics column, now finally back on regular schedule, from Dr Manolis V

It’s three weeks of Marvel NOW launches, so I’m looking through every new major Marvel book, from All-New X-Men, X-Men Legacy and Ultimate X-Men to FF, Fantastic Four, Cap, Hulk and Thor, as well as Bendis’ Last Avengers Stories. Plus, THAT issue of CHEW and Amazing Spidey. You know the one.

These past few weeks in Panels:

“FACEBOOK OF THE DEAD”

“Gee, where could that go wrong?”

I’m starting off this week with a special hype piece, pushing Ilias Kyriazis’ ELYSIUM ONLINE, a crowd-funded comics project. http://www.indiegogo.com/elysiumonline Now, Ilias’ managed to complete his funding goal last week, but there’s still 4 days left till his indiegogo funding deadline and pledging an amount now is probably your last chance to get this book (there are currently no plans for it getting any distribution outside Greece).

The concept itself is “catchy” and innovative. In the very near future, developers unveil “Elysium Online”, a social network/MMORPG platform where you can log on and visit your, um, dead loved ones, whose brain patterns, their essence or soul, have been uploaded onto the virtual world’s (or afterlife’s) server. The only thing they didn’t count on was the “dearly departed” not being too keen on seeing how everyone has moved on without them and attempting to piggyback their newfound online-ness to take control of the entire technology-obsessed future world and bring about, well, the end of civilisation. The zombie apocalypse will be youtubed.

I’ve had the benefit of reading the first two “chapters” of the book, the first half essentially, and I was floored by Ilias’ knack for world-building (a “near future” where the technology and lifestyle evolution MAKE SENSE and feel organic to the story and our relevant to our reality), mood-setting and, well, seer existential horror. The art is pretty too, with Ilias’ exquisite talent in storytelling and using colour palettes to elicit emotion.

We’ve shown this book to pros like Mike Carey, Christos Gage, Mike Allred, Gail Simone, Mark Waid and Scott Lobdell, and they’ve all been amazed with Ilias’ work and helped us push this project. I’m just saying, you’re gonna be pissed if you miss out on this ;). You can preorder your copy here http://www.indiegogo.com/elysiumonline

Now onto our Marvel NOW launches!

MY NEW SECONDARY MUTATION IS INCESSANT FORESHADOWING

Going into ALL-NEW X-MEN #1-2 I had serious trepidations, not knowing what Bendis I was going to get. Clever, witty, characters-first, drama master ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN and POWERS Bendis who can send shivers down my spine and make me break in tears at the turn of a page, or… you know: AVENGERS Bendis!?

Well, Bendis actually sat down and did his homework here, giving us one of his best first issues since ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #1! He has delved into the characters’ history, what makes them tick, what gets them through the day… Sure, it’s slow moving, but it takes the time to reintroduce every single main character before rushing to the past to take care of the book’s status quo: the return of the original X-five to the present.

The big bet is telling this story from the viewpoint of these young characters, make this feel as if we are in the 60s reading a CRAZY story where Beast’s future self transports everyone into a future filled with unbelievable plot twists and insane new characters. The original trepidation (nay, hate) I had for this premise has now turned into anxious anticipation.

IT’S THAT KIND OF THING, MR. LANG

Mike Allred is drawing the FF! Seriously, how awesome is that? There’s some fun Kirby-isms, lots of reglaness, many many cute kids, a variety of crazy fun layouts and… is that character-appropriate body-types?

Hickman has saddled Fraction with a boatload of ill-defined student-types but Fraction does not seem afraid of the challenge and even spends this issue pushing all of them back into the frontlines.The first issue is all character introductions, through Fraction’s favourite “interview” format (back from the short-lived Order series) for the kids and twist-my-arm recruitment drives for the new “new FF”: She-Hulk, Ant-Man, Medusa and… Johnny’s latest fling.

QUICK ROUND

So many new books to cover, so little time:

JOHNNY STORM, NEVER CHANGE!

FANTASTIC FOUR #1 takes a look at the startlingly current cast of the “Future Foundation” and reestablishes the sense of family bringing all these crazy smart and bizarre creatures and adventurers together, under Sue’s darling “super-mom” role that Fraction captures so eloquently. Reed and Sue pack up all their family and the kids under their protection and set the entire Foundation on a course through uncharted, unknown dimensions. It really shouldn’t take a super-genius to figure out how this badly is going to play out (and Fraction does away with the pretense from the very first page).

INTERIOR MIND DESIGN

A solo series for Legion, son Professor X? I see the new relevance of the title of the also newly relaunched X-MEN LEGACY #1-2, but the book itself is closer to Vertigo or Marvel Knights than any X-book we’ve seen before. A grand-staged “prison break” action/drama race for one boy’s sanity, set inside the psychic landscape of his own mind. It’s densely written and high-concept without bothering to dumb it down too much for the masses, so it may prove a hard sell in the long run. Tan Eng Huat with Jose Villarrubia on colours are an unbeatable art combo, really grounding the oddity of it all (and finally making that crazy-ass Sienkiewicz haircut work)!

BRUCE BANNER, SOURPUSS

But seriously, I’m all for poor, until VERY recently criminally insane* Bruce Banner getting his act together and reclaiming his good name as a major brain and hero in the Marvel U in Mark Waid and Leinil Yu’s INDESTRUCTIBLE HULK #1. Not so sure about the agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. angle yet, but only because it’s been to death, even within this Marvel NOW reboot (DEADPOOL?!?).

*(was I the only one reading Jason Aaron’s great run? Banner should be incarcerated indefinitely after the crazy Dr Moreau/Nuclear Armageddon stuff he pulled there)

OH, CAPTAIN…

Remender is a cruel bitch to tease us with this level of fun, smart and character-rich flirty banter, only to whisk CAPTAIN AMERICA off to whatever bland alien dimension for what looks to be the following months (years? think about that cover). Well played! Taking Captain America outside America, heck, outside Earth, where he no longer has any cultural importance or relevance as a symbol is a risky move but it could open up possibilities to examine the man inside the flag, as this first issue already does.

YOU KNOW IT’S TOUGH, FOR A GOD

Jason Aaron’s THOR GOD OF THUNDER #1-2 takes a look at the past, present and future of Thor and introduces a deadly new enemy (with more hype than bite) who strikes at all three stages of the Thunder God’s life, in an ambitious if a bit unwieldy parallel narrative device. He’s reexamining and reintroducing some of the core aspects of Thor’s mythology: the Norseman and the God – with the very literal understanding of the concept and the way Gods interact and influence humans, in both times long gone and current.

NO MORE “NO MORE…”S

I *might* admit I was being a bit prematurely harsh on Remender with the previous issue of UNCANNY AVENGERS. #2 illuminates the crazy fertile connections between the characters of this book (the Rogue-Scarlet Witch dynamic is delicious) and serves the first real moment of recognition for the profound emotional loss from Xavier’s death, all through a predictable yet incredibly potent flashback moment for Rogue.

HULK TRYING TOO HARD

AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #9, Sue DeConnick’s first issue on the book tried a bit too hard to be, well, the same as its predecessor, but the banter is just… not there right now. A bit more, well, substantive, sure, but nowhere near as natural and, um, banter-y. I see how a certain Avengers movie would warm someone up to the concept of Banner and Stark suddenly being all bro-ey and antagonistic, but a full-fledged whiteboard score-system hero-off? Meh.

(p.s. Stefano Caselli? More brilliant than ever)

HOLY H’ECK

I’m digging the new interconnectedness of the Super-family books, giving the books cohesion and individual direction. SUPERGIRL #14 and SUPERMAN #14 are a great example of that, with the Kryptonian Emo Teen sensation, “H’El” stalking over the entire Super-family and setting the ground for next month’s crossover. There’s a real sense of constructive continuity among these books without making them too co-dependant.

NO FOURTH WALLS WERE HARMED IN THE MAKING OF UNCANNY X-FORCE #34

It was all pretty much still crumbling rumble after the end of DEADPOOL KILLS THE MARVEL UNIVERSE anyway…

MAXIMUM CLONAGE

Juan Jose RYP has really stepped up his game in Image’s CLONE #1. The new way he approaches textures puts him on a whole new artistic level. And these layouts! The story itself takes a token sci-fi premise and puts an insane high-octane action spin to it. A man (and his 8-month pregnant wife) whose life is suddenly invaded by multiple versions of himself, who either want to hunt him down or save him.

I’M THE BEST AT WHAT I DO, AND WHAT I DO…

…is making people laugh, indeed. Second best Marvel clown since Hulk’s Obnoxio in Avengers #1. Is there maybe a hint of a crossover opportunity here? WOLVERINE AND THE X-MEN #21 took Claremont nostalgia a bit too far, feeling like an extended (yet irrationally fun) rehash of the original “X-circus freaks” Mesmero story from the Byrne era.

LOW ON WEB WISECRACK FLUID

Sure, the wisecracks and the banters in AVENGERS #34 smelled of desperation, the plot itself was a bit drawn out, and the final great villain for Bendis’ historic LAST ISSUE OF THE AVENGERS was, well, a bit of a generic tired horse. Still, hate him or love him, his two-page letter page sign-off after his historic long run on the books that did define the face of Marvel comics for a decade, is a very interesting read that closes this chapter of the franchise better than any one story could.

DID THAT REALLY JUST HAPPEN?

My beloved Lucy Knisley actually drew a page of NEW AVENGERS #34? Along with Dalrymple… Cloonan… Chuck BB? It’s Dr Strange versus the New Avengers under the influence of Brother of Brother Voodoo (for lack of a catchier nickname) in the last issue of the series. As you’d assume it’s all about Cage and Jessica in the end, with Bendis also finding time to pay tribute to some fallen comrades and repay a certain Injustice Supreme.

MIND THE SPOILERS

You’ve been warned!

ULTIMATE ULTIMATE KITTY PRYDE

Brian Wood’s ULTIMATE X-MEN #18.1and #19 is where his big plan for the book really takes shape. Kitty has evolved remarkably into the leader of a decimated mutant race comprised of lost, confused and upstart kids going up against the establishment.

This is now a very different, very edgy and political, “real-world” book. Kids growing up too fast, teen suicide bombers, political games and compromises and a take on the mutant cure that is more daring than anything that could have been done inside the confines of the “real” Marvel U and a true DECIMATION with the mutant race being reduced to TWENTY kids, not necessarily marquee names, who are now forced to set up their own sovereign nation in the middle of the barren desert. This title is finally as exciting, fresh and full of possibilities as it was when the UItimate line of books first launched!

WHERE NO WRITER HAS GONE BEFORE

Now imagine this same single panel, as a full issue written by Mark Millar. In X-FACTOR #247, Madrox and Layla get hitched (!) in Las Vegas. Noone dies.

OUT DAMN’D SPOT

What Mark Waid has done with (my childhood favourite Spidey villain) The Spot a.k.a. “Coyote” in DAREDEVIL #20 is nothing short of vicious and brilliant. This is on the same level as “Mysterio in Guardian Angel”, only even more off-putting and gut-wrenching in its setting.

ACTUALLY, NO ASM #698 SPOILERS HERE…

… though, is there really a comic book geek who has not had his mind blown by this issue yet? I’ll say this. It’s a BALLSY move, and I applaud Dan Slott for handling this with such class and Marvel for going through with it. We all know it’s hardly permanent change, but (knowing Slott’s talent and love for this character) it will certainly give us a year or two of SUPERIOR stories.

NO YOU KNOW WHAT, F**K ASM #698!!

I mean, you KNOW whatever went on there is eventually going to revert to the status quo. CHEW #30 on the other hand. I have no words. The events in there — I was left GAWKING at the page in utter disbelief… TWICE in the same issue.

This is what Marvel and DC have lost with their never-ending senseless deaths and pointless resurrections, the true precious bond between reader and character and the real concern for their well-being. These characters that still matter. I’ll still argue that what Layman does here is GRUESOME and PROVOCATIVE (heck it makes Kirkman look like the Mother Teresa of character writers), but also COWARDLY in that he does not ultimately dare to examine the unbelievable ramifications of his actions on his characters – he takes the weasel’s way out, even if it hurts more.

THE TALLY

I tried to feature some more DC books this week (WONDER WOMAN, GREEN LANTERN CORPS, BATMAN all had great issues) but I just couldn’t leave out any new Marvel launches (or, you know, panels with Wolverine dressed as a clown and mutant threesomes). It’s all about Marvel, NOW, this week.

Out of the Marvel NOW releases, ALL-NEW X-MEN and Fraction’s FF are the clear stand-outs. One is book I dreaded reading, fearing Bendis’ track record with team books (consider me thoroughly schooled), and the other one was the one I was most looking forward to. This is the guy who created the ultimate nostalgic fun superhero adventure series of the 90s (Madman and the Atomics!) and the guy who wrote the book on insane dimension-hopping and rockstar conceptual comics fantasy for the 00s. On one book! Then again, there’s ULTIMATE X-MEN that did not relaunch, but has released a jumping-on point that is the most exciting and approachable than anything else done on the book in 100 issues.

CAP, THOR and HULK all had great first issues, and you can tell how much pressure has been placed on each book’s unique “hook”. Whereas Joe Q and Jemas’ original Marvel overhaul had relied on taking each book back to its “core concept”, here we see an effort to take each book as far away from its safe zone as possible, find a new twist, turn it upside down, put the hero in the a foreign environment, etc. It makes for a fresh read, but it does not give off the sense of the start of “the next classic run” as they have been trumpeting.

My top ten picks from the past few weeks:

  1. CHEW #30
  2. ALL-NEW X-MEN #1-2
  3. ULTIMATE X-MEN #18.1 – 19
  4. FF #1
  5. AMAZING SPIDER-MAN #698
  6. DAREDEVIL #20
  7. UNCANNY AVENGERS #2
  8. FANTASTIC FOUR #1
  9. SUPERMAN #14
  10. X-MEN LEGACY #1-2