Last Week’s Comics In Twenty Panels

Dr Manolis V writes;

The internet’s most opinionated (and Greek) comics column!

This week: decrypting Hickman’s secret handshake code, surviving the Rapture in style, pitting Spinach against Mars Attacks and observing way too much nakedness and/or gore. NEW AVENGERS, SAVAGE WOLVERINE, LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE, THE END TIMES OF BRAM AND BEN, SAGA, MARS ATTACKS POPEYE, BATMAN DEATH OF THE FAMILY and more!

It’s been a quiet few past weeks in the comics publishing world so I’ve taken the time off the column to prepare an extra special year-end retrospective that should follow next weekend.In the meantime, let’s have a look at the past three weeks’ worth of comics haul!

I’M THE GODDAMN BLACK PANTHER

I always found the concept of the “Illuminati” ill-thought-through and kind of flimsy, making these well-established characters look like egomaniacal fools. NEW AVENGERS #1-2 manages to present them with a threat that is indeed bigger than their individual “factions” and which necessitates their clandestine get-togethers. There gathering is no longer a privilege, here, but a real burden as the fates of entire worlds hang on their whims. It’s brilliant stuff, but it may require some degree in quantum physics to fully grasp as Hickman gets a bit too carried away in his multiversal pseudo-science babble. Some recap filling us in on recent events (like Black Panther’s un-wiki-able new status quo) would have been welcome, considering how ultimately unwelcoming to new readers this book’s relaunch is.

PINKIE PROMISE ILLUMINATI

It’s fun to compare Hickman’s NEW AVENGERS #2 cover (the two digit star trust of the Illuminati) with his *other* illuminati, Truman’s deranged circle of conspiracy luminaries in THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS #8 and their hilariously eeky pinkie swear star promise. Oh Hickman, you sneaky little critter!

JEAN GREY REMEMBER(ED)

Well played, Bendis. ALL-NEW X-MEN #5 was an emotional tour-de-force, with Bendis writing the best damn Jean Grey we’ve seen in years, a teenage girl coping with the knowledge of the grisly (and convoluted) fate that awaits her in one of the year’s most masterful montages. Bendis is writing all these kids as, well, kids in a way we have never enjoyed before, not even in the adorable First Class series. And the interaction between them and their older counterparts… The friendship and connection forged through the years makes all of this so “real”. In #6 Kitty gets to really shine in her new “Professor X”-esque role. It’s amazing how this feels like a natural progression from her “Xavier is a jerk” days. Can we do something about that costume though? Whoever heard of a Headmistress still wearing a variation of the standard school uniform?

P.S. I’m not crazy about the new Beast design, either.

HURRAH HURRAH APOCALYPSE

So, the rapture has come and gone. The Righteous have been whisked off to heaven for their eternal reward while the Wicked, well, they sort of stay back on Earth and continue on with business as usual. Neat deal. At least until the AntiChrist and his army of zombies show up… I guess. Image’s newest launch, THE END TIMES OF BRAM AND BEN #1 examines life in just this offbeat world of not-quite-saints, sinners and, well, non-believers. The story follows Ben and his flatmate Bram who kind of gets sent to Heaven due to a clerical error and then gets unraptured back to Earth to tell everyone about what’s what.

I won’t pussyfoot around it: this book is AWESOME! It’s been a while since we’ve seen an original concept like this and executed so brilliantly, with this level of great writing and the barrage of quality lines (I often found myself laughing out loud at my tablet) and dialogue. So enjoyable, it’s guaranteed to get you banned from the pearly gates for (after)life.

MARS ATTACKS POPEYE

No, seriously, that’s exactly it. MARS ATTACKS POPEYE. The first in a long series of planned crossover books from IDW that will make those silly Pride and Prejudice and Zombies books look like AVX (unfortunately only amongst IDW’s existing properties, yet giving us glimpses at what could have been with variant covers for Mars Attacks: Madman, Chew and OHMYGAWD Strangers in Paradise)!

It’s not the ridiculousness of the concept but how it’s so beautifully and organically woven into the universe of the spinach-loving sailor and his cast of characters, along with the quality of the art and the colouring, this reads and feels like an actual reprint from original run of the book! Now if only we could get Mars Attacks Bone (or Walking Dead!)

SHANNA HONEY, YOU GO PUT SOME BLOODY CLOTHES ON

SAVAGE WOLVERINE #1 plays out exactly as you’d expect from the premise and cover (Wolvie and Shanna’s adventures in the Savage Land). Frank Cho’s (gorgeous) Shanna is a bit too distracting here and kind of takes over the book. This pin-up level of self-parodying babe-sploitation feels weirdly… icky in a setting where every other civilised character is clothed from head to toe. Off to a rather tame start story-wise and nothing inside to justify this launch other than “let’s produce a Frank Cho SHANNA book that actually sells”.

LUTHER STRODE, YOU… NEVER MIND ;)

THE LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #1-2, the sequel to 2011’s blood-tastic ripping-guys-apart to age story, is more cohesive, more directed and more mature than its origin story – and it really suits it. Whereas in the first series the (really satisfyingly entertaining) gore was an end to itself and more of a blunt overbearing shock to the system, here it is focused and directed into building up the kind of merciless force this once meek teenager has been transformed into. I still can’t get over how gorgeously over the top Tradd Moore’s figure work and storytelling is.

LIGHTNING ROUND

So many books, so little time…

AVENGERS DISROBE

More nakedness! See, this is actually a real character-defining moment for Tony Stark, that he’s willing to walk down a busy public street stark (couldn’t resist) naked, next to the Hulk! I mean, just think of the comparisons… Any “lesser” man… AVENGERS ASSEMBLE #11 had its fun moments, surely.

BEER POND

Amy Pond doing the Lucky Edition thing during the great Beer Flood of London? I gotta say I love my buddy Ilias Kyriazis’ rendition of Amy and he made for a very well-chosen fill-in, meshing well with Philip Bond’s “Boys’ Night Out on the Moon” section of DOCTOR WHO #4. There were enough tidbits in this two-parter to make for a rather memorable episode of the TV show.

NEVER BEEN KISSED

Between this unexpected romantic possibility and Chamber getting called a “cockney pillock with incendiary halitosis”, X-MEN LEGACY #4 just plain old delivered. I woulda bought it just for the covers tho, tbh. What a great, well-rounded book. Vertigo standards on a Marvel X-monthly.

OUR FORUMS’ FAVOURITE NEW SUPERHERO

Hey kids, it’s Flame War! Learn more about him and the “Foul-Mouthed Five” in DIAL H #8. Mieville just NEVER runs out of wacky ideas. Morrison must be quite cross.

THE BOOK OF LARFREEZE

Giffen is having more fun writing Larfreeze’s sardonic new slave/butler than the Orange Lantern himself in his new set of backup (shhhhh don’t let him know he doesn’t own the book) stories in THRESHOLD #1. Giffen knows his way through quality sitcom dialogue and these two feed great off each other.

ROCK, PAPER, SCISSORS…

Bless you, Fraction, it’s the little touches that make me look the other way while Reed and Sue are gearing up for Worst Parents of Infinity award, as they continue to recklessly endanger their underage kids at every. possible. turn. in FANTASTIC FOUR #3.

MIND THE SPOILERS

You’ve been warned!

DD DEALS WITH THE BIG C

The next year in DAREDEVIL is going to be very interesting. Poor Foggy. I enjoyed the issue, notsomuch for the cheeky interaction with the “Superior” Spidey (surely DD could have been able to see SOME difference in the heartbeat or posture of one of his best friends when they’re possessed by another!) but for the honest look at a financially “struggling” superhero.

INFINITE HOMECOMINGS

It took exactly two years for Nick Spencer’s INFINITE VACATION to come to its (literally) worlds-shattering conclusion and it stands as the writer’s most impressive and ambitious undertaking yet – even if it only stacks up to 5 issues! Spencer has combined modern personal and relationship drama with quantum physics and parallel reality theory in a way that will make your head spin for hours. He has branched out to incredibly far-fetched suppositions (that surprisingly do make sense when posited) yet eventually scales back (or rather collapses) to an intensely personal and heart-felt conclusion.

THE WAR WILL BE WAFFLED

In GLORY #31 the warrior woman and her upstart (and slightly sociopath) sister ambush their demon lord father in his home base… only to be greeted by him in his robe preparing… waffles for everyone. It was such an oddbeat scene, underlining the nature of the familial bonds that run between these -essentially- godly (or at least mythical) creatures.

DONNA TROY GRADUATE!

The Nu Fury in EARTH 2 #8 is introduced as “Wonder Woman’s daughter”. Could this be the latest in a long line of Donna Troy retoolings that will be impossible to reconcile in the inevitable restoration of previous continuities?

SICK MOTHER OF F—

Tomasi and Gleason’s Joker from BATMAN AND ROBIN #16 actually gave me nightmares. What a horrifying rendition of the villain, and a grueling ordeal for poor Damian this issue. :( The fan in me feels for the boy, the reader and critic keeps applauding for an encore. This has been a defining encounter.

LIVING TESTAMENT TO EXAGGERATION

Snyder’s BATMAN #16 on the other hand, tries a bit too much to establish the Joker as a “big deal”, but overshooting and degrading him into a remorseless sociopathic monster of such an unthinkable scale that he eclipses every other killer in history and ends up taking him off the reader’s scale of reference, completely dehumanizing him and ruining him for future writers. There is no turning back from gutting dozens of innocents, hanging them upside down, pulling tubes through their guts and then stitching their still breathing, suffering bodies together as a living tapestry. This is just plain old too sick for a Batman comic of any rating. Heck, this would make Saw himself cringe and look at Snyder suspiciously.

Oh dear. I REALLY don’t wanna see what’s in that god-awful platter in BATMAN #17. I have an inkling it will ruin Batman comics for me for good.

THAT’S FIVE FOR FIVE NOW

Oracle (getting the use of her legs), Xavier (didn’t work out great there), Niles Caulder (relaunched as a virile, agile young man in DCNu), Flash Thompson (via Venom) and now U.S. Agent -the last remaining handicapped active superhero) gets his arms and legs back in DARK AVENGERS #185. Was there an edict saying “No More Wheels” at the Big Two’s headquarters. Unless I missed someone?

BKV YOU CRUEL BASTARD

You thought the ******’s death was a cruel story twist from BKV? Wait until you see the inhumane slight of hands he pulls in SAGA #9 as he pulls at the reader’s (yeah, ok, and the Will’s) heartstrings. Ouch, man. We really felt that :(

THE TALLY

It’s been a quiet few weeks for the big two, allowing the indie books from Image and IDW to deservedly grab the spotlight. The conclusion of INFINITE VACTION, the launch of LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE, the MARS ATTACKS CROSSOVERS and THE END OF TIMES OF BRAM AND BEN, along with new strong issues for everyone’s current darlings SAGA, THE MANHATTAN PROJECTS, THE WALKING DEAD and the sleeper hit GLORY.

Marvel only had one significant launch for its Marvel NOW initiative, NEW AVENGERS, which feels poised to become the hidden flagship book of the new era that will shape the future of the company’s continuity. The rest of Marvel NOW continues to rush through their cache of issues, most of them coming out twice a month, but I find it just serves to burn out readers’ interest in them. I initially applauded Marvel’s decision to get these #1s slowly out of the gate in groups of 4 or 8 instead of DC’s flooding of the market, but they’re now negating their own good will.

DC seems to have every single one of its titles involved in some crossover or another. DEATH OF THE FAMILY is a moderate creative success, with certain highs and lows (BATGIRL, BATMAN and BATMAN AND ROBIN were great reads) but I fear it might end up completely destroying the Joker for the following generations of writers. It’s just an onversaturation of over-the-top villainy for one character in such a contained timeframe. I’m curious to see Snyder’s chart planner for this crossover when all this is over. Lobdell’s SUPERMAN/BOY/GIRL crossover is much tidier and reminiscent of classics like the X-Tinction Agenda, each book leading organically into the next one and every chapter being important in the overarching plot.

My ten favourite books from the past few weeks:

1 INFINITE VACATION #5
2 THE END TIMES OF BRAM AND BEN #1
3 MARS ATTACKS POPEYE
4 ALL-NEW X-MEN #5
5 SAGA #9
6 BATMAN AND ROBIN #16
7 NEW AVENGERS #2
8 GLORY #31
9 LEGEND OF LUTHER STRODE #2
10 X-MEN LEGACY #4

Chime in the comments section with your picks of the month, your thoughts of NEW AVENGERS and SAVAGE WOLVERINE and if anyone knows, the answer to what the hell is going on in Snyder’s head!