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CIVIL WAR #4
NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. HC
THE WALKING DEAD #31
ASTONISHING X-MEN #17
Big Eyes For the Cape Guy presents DRAGON HEAD VOL 3
CIVIL WAR #4
Writer: Mark Millar
WHAT THE *censored for the poor little kiddies* ! MOTHER *censored for the faint at heart*!!!!! BUUUUUURRRRNNNNN MARVEL, BURN!!!!!
- e-mail excerpt from Superhero
Artists: Steve McNiven (pencils)/Dexter Vines (inker)
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewer: Prof. Challenger
If I was not reviewing comics for AICN, I would not have read this comic.
I thought that needed to be said because it bears on the fact that, like it or not, where Marvel and DC go, so goes the comic book field. And when these two do big "events," it really is the responsibility of a serious reviewing team to go ahead and at least look at it. I mean, I am sure that most movie reviewers went and saw PEARL HARBOR even though they would have preferred to just avoid it. But they "had" to.
Now, after the distasteful experience of DC's INFINITE CRISIS, I personally chose to just completely avoid Marvel's CIVIL WAR. My interest in the more current Marvel Universe is so tepid compared to the days when I literally bought anything with Marvel on the cover. I have not, however, been able to avoid the events that have made up CW, because they have been headline-grabbers like Spider-Man revealing his identity publicly. But up till now, the most I've done is skim through the issues on the stands to get a feel for how the "events" have been executed. My take on it up to this point has been that the book "looks" good and the writing seems competent.
Press releases from the days prior to last Wednesday built up CW#4 as an "event" so important that it must not be missed. In the wake of Spidey's revelation, I decided then that I would go ahead and pick up this issue and see what the big hoo-ha is all about. Technically, the comic feels like it was produced by automatons. The writing is technically competent, except that every character speaks with the same "voice." There is nothing to distinguish whether it's Sue Richards, Tony Stark, or Peter Parker other than typeface or word balloon placement. The art is solid, but completely devoid of any emotion other than anger. It seems like everyone is angry at all times which is just depressing to look at. The only good thing I can say is that it appears that Dagger doesn't wear panties and the paper stock is nice.
I'm not angry though, like a bunch of my fellow reviewers, but I am disturbed on many levels. Before I address the specifics, let me give an overall impression I've got. INFINITE CRISIS pissed me off not so much because of the things that happened in the story. I'm more willing than many longtime fans to buy into changes and events so long as they happen logically within the story and in character. The thing that pissed me off with IC was that it smacked of massive editorial and production incompetence. Within IC, I could see writers and artists striving to do something better than what the final product turned out to be. My problems with CW are much deeper than my problems with IC because it is a highly competent product, but insidious and deplorable in its goals.
I picture the Three Stooges running around the DC offices as editors constantly imposing themselves into the production of IC and turning it into a laughable 3-ring circus of nonsense by the end. But at Marvel, I picture a cabal of enormously overweight pompous politicians circa 1920 sitting in a cigar smoke-filled, darkened room wearing their neckties so tight that their necks look like muffin tops, all the while plotting and planning and chuckling to themselves about how much smarter and better they are than the sheep that voted them into office.
And the stench of those cheap cigars permeates every page of this turdpile of a comic "event."
CIVIL WAR just literally smacks of the arrogance of short-term thinking and nihilism. There was a time when Marvel comic books were about characters. Plots were simply tools to tell stories about characters. Now, characters are simply tools to serve the plot, or rather, "event." One way you can tell is that the life-changing events for these characters now occur in "give-us-money" books like CW rather than the characters' respective eponymous titles. After 40 years, the most status quo changing event in Spider-Man's development as a character - a decision that changes everything, contradicts everything he's ever said and done before, and affects everyone who has ever known him - happened in CW with the Spidey titles stuck having to deal with the fallout. Another way you can tell is that the manner in which characters, I mean "cannon fodder," are slaughtered is so detached and calculated that it really just disgusts me. Again, I can totally envision the "meeting" between the editors and the writer where they start throwing character names around, maybe putting them up on a board on note cards, and then deciding whether to kill them or not (the New Warriors in CW#1 for example.) No thought given to any rational reason why the character should die or whether there are any other moral considerations as to their responsibilities as the "gods" in charge of these fictional lives or the readers out there who invest emotion and concern for these characters. You know--those readers who keep voting the incumbents into office--I mean buying these insultingly jaded and disgusting comic books produced by this current editorial team? In fact, if any thought was given at all, it was probably a self-indulgent snigger back and forth over how the fanboys are gonna "love/hate" it.
Now, in CW#4 we have 3 major "events," one which fills the bill for the "life-changing" event; one which fills the bill for the pointless death; and one which is just indicative of the overly calculated manner in which this series has been put together.
The pointless death is that of Bill Foster/Goliath. In the course of this comic, we watched what appeared for all intents and purposes to be an utterly cold, angry, and evil Thor just tearing into Captain America's team of anti-establishment heroes. Goliath, completely unarmed, advances toward Thor, a god with a powerful deadly weapon, who proceeds to blast a bloody hole through Goliath's chest. Most likely, Foster died instantly. There was no point to this other than to advance an idiotic plot thread the writer/editors wanted to advance. So, they picked another "lame" character and threw him in front of the bus. In spite of the cheesy dialogue/narration that CRISIS ON INFINITE EARTHS gets nailed on sometimes, at least when you had a character like, say, Ultra-Man get killed, Marv Wolfman took it upon himself to give the character a final chance to be heroic - thus making his death instantly poignant rather than pointless. Here, Goliath's last words are insipidly "Get ready for the shortest comeback in history, Thor." And next he's on the ground with smoke billowing from his chest.
So, what was the plot that Mark Millar so desperately wanted to advance with Goliath's death? The one on the third "plot" card on his computer-generated outline for this series: (3) Sue Richards, shocked by the death of lame character to named later decides to leave Reed and join Captain America's anti-establishment team of heroes.
For this event to have occurred, the suspension of belief that Millar and the editorial team required of me was just too high. They took the father figure of the entire Marvel Universe and turned him into a murderer. No way around it. The Thor here was not really Thor but a clone created by Reed and controlled by Reed. He recklessly sent Thor into this battle knowing full well what was likely to happen. It may not rise to the level of premeditated first-degree murder, but it certainly rises to the level of second-degree murder. Thor here was nothing more than a dangerous weapon and Reed acted recklessly and with wanton disregard for others when he sent Thor into this battle. Reed is a murderer. He also is playing God in the manner in which he cloned Thor in the first place and then subjecting him to mind-control manipulation. Basically, this plot required Millar to "advance" the character of Reed Richards to the point that he is morally indistinguishable from Dr. Doom. There's a difference between arrogance and hubris. Both Reed and Doom have now crossed that line and there's really no rational way for Marvel to undo this unless they pull a deus ex machina that puts Reed under some sort of mind-control or they use Franklin or Scarlet Witch to rewind continuity in some way--both of which are Bobby Ewing-style cop-outs that are likely to even further damage Marvel's credibility with the fans.
There is such a coldness and unemotional aspect to the storytelling here that it almost reads like a computer wrote it. After murdering a longtime friend, Reed has sex with his wife and relaxes for a good night's sleep. During his sleep, Sue gets up and leaves him and drops off a note explaining why. The next day, Reed is utterly distraught by the realization of what he has done and tells Tony Stark he's out of this because he has got to find Susan and make things right! Well…if a writer who actually wrote these characters properly were writing it, that would've been what happened. Instead, the next day Reed and Tony are discussing clinically the fact that the balance has tipped in Capt. America's favor after the death of Goliath. No regrets. No mention of Sue. Hell, no mention of the fact that he has to explain to his son and daughter that Mommy has left them. Nope. It's simply, robotic advance the plot time again as we lead up to the stupid, I mean "big," reveal at the end.
Which is the other "event" I mentioned. Reed and Tony have organized a brand-new iteration of The Thunderbolts made up of utterly insane psychopathic costumed villains like Bullseye, Venom, and Jack-O-Lantern. There they go again, pulling out their character note cards and grabbing out the villains that all the fanboys go orgasmic over and throw them into the mix here as a DIRTY DOZEN-style taskforce put together by Reed Richards and Tony Stark. Well, if the Dirty Dozen had been made up of people like John Wayne Gacy, Ed Gein, the Son of Sam, Ted Bundy, and serial killers like that. It's like Millar and company are just pouring more and more grease on their fire of character disintegration. But what is one to expect from a comic where Capt. America delivers a stupid line like "You really think I'm going down - to some pampered punk like you?" This whole schism between Iron Man and Cap is so utterly forced and irrational that I cannot for the life of me understand how something so profoundly wrong could see print like this. It demonstrates first that Millar has no knowledge at all of the fact that prior to the Super-Soldier experiment, Steve Rogers was one of those scrawny little picked-on kids who grew up in the Bronx in the 20s and 30s. He was not a scrappy little gang kid. He also is not the type of person who harbors the type of immature class bias that this comment bespeaks. Cap is Marvel's embodiment of all that is best in the American ideal, which means he rises above petty biases and prejudices. Well, except in the dystopic worldview of Mark Nietzsche, I mean Millar.
The stench of that cigar-filled war room has apparently filled the entire Marvel Universe with cardboard cutouts rather than characters. If they aren't raging hate-filled narcissists, they are unemotional, detached, and completely amoral sociopaths. This is not the sort of world that engenders any sort of long-term commitment by the readers/buyers of the product. If every character is imminently unlikable and unrelatable, the reader is pushed away. No emotional connection to the characters means no commitment and that will, over time, result in an increasingly diminished fan base. This is an "event" that I can't stomach because it is utterly insulting to the characters, to the history, and especially to the comic-buying public at large. It's Marvel's big spit-in-the-eye to everybody who's ever given a damn about these Marvel characters.
Writer: Bill Willingham
"Well, it's a bit hard to explain, but the short version is: it's magic."
Art: Steve Scott (pencils), Wayne Faucher (inks)
Publisher: DC Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
-- The Enchantress, SHADOWPACT #5
By page two of this comic, the same page which sports the above quote, I was pretty annoyed. All it took was this simple, "Ha, right in your face!" arrogant type of quote to really piss me off. You see, I've stayed away from most comics which center on magic, for the most part. I always thought that too many times, (*cough*chaos magic*cough*) magic is another word for lazy writing. A writer has a direction he wants to take. He has an end that he wants to reach. A writer starts out with an interesting problem, the problem is dealt with, and a solution to that problem (either good or bad) is come to. And that, my friends, is what we call a story. The introduction of the problem is key and the solution is evident, but it's the here to the there that separates a good story from the bad. How the problem is taken care of is the most interesting part of a story.
But when it's explained away with a phrase like "It's that kooky magic again." Shrug shoulders. Hands on hips. Tilt head back for a big finale He-Man laugh. And…end scene. When something like this happens, that tells me that how the magic works and how it fits within the logic of the story is far from being an important factor in the writer's mind. It's telling me that a writer is saying, "Listen, I'm going to do whatever the hell I want, have my characters act however I deem fit for them, take you in directions that make no sense at all, and in the end, if you don't follow me, or don't understand what's going on, I can explain it all away with a simple cheap phrase like: It's magic, and you're going to take it like a newbie at Rykers, bunky.”
Willingham's logic doesn't even hold up on its own. It's explained that the Shadowpact have been saving the town of Riverrock from a team of mystical villains. The team was trapped inside a Blood Dome for what seemed to be a few days, but actually turned out to be a year. So it's only been a few days for the Shadowpact while the world moved on and they come out one year later. Explain to me then, why the hell are all of the men sporting long beards as if a year had gone on inside the dome and a few days had passed outside?
"Well, it's magic!"
And why, if for some magical reason all of the men's facial hair grew at unnatural lengths or that their bodies caught up with the lapse in time immediately after leaving the dome, are Nightshades legs still cleanly shaven? Shouldn't she be able to part that shit down the middle and braid it like Pippy Longstocking if, for some reason, being in the Blood Dome causes such hair growth? She should be lookin’ like Detective Chimp’s taller, hotter sister from the waist down, shouldn’t she?
And I still don't understand how if Detective Chimp was gone for one year he showed up in 52 a week or two ago.
Bullshit? Yes, bullshit.
The thing is, I'd forgive this lack of exertion towards making sense if the story was strong, but since the get go, this comic isn't really much more than another super team book that tackles magical problems in superheroic ways. But doesn't every other JLA deal with some sort of magical menace? What makes this team special? I like the obscure characters, but so far, Willingham has yet to impress me with what he's doing with them. The story lacks imagination, it lacks flair, it lacks (dare I say it) that certain magic that is required to keep my interest.
I understand explaining the scientific blueprints of magic is impossible. But if I can believe a cosmic entity with an appetite for earths or a last survivor of Krypton that can fly and leap tall buildings can exist within the parameters of a story, I could get behind this whole magic thing. But this series lacks the grounding for me to suspend my disbelief. This "new age of magic" everyone is gabbing about doesn't seem to be planned out at all. It seems more like Willingham is making shit up as he goes along and I'm not really interested in that type of half-@$$ed storytelling.
So I think SHADOWPACT is going to disappear from my pull list. And if the above review doesn't explain why this is happening…well how about this for an explanation…
"No bullshit, it's magic!"
NEXTWAVE: AGENTS OF H.A.T.E. HC
Writer: Warren Ellis
The Beyond Corporation is product testing Unusual Weapons of Mass
Destruction on the American public and the only thing that stands
between them and us is Nextwave, a team of renegade super-heroes made up almost exclusively of characters that regularly get new code-names and costumes in the vain hope that they will miraculously stop sucking so hard.
Artist: Stuart Immonen
God help us all.
This is easily the most enjoyable book centering around a team of never-beens since Giffen’s legendary run on JUSTICE LEAGUE a couple of decades back. As such, all of these characters now have a bright future of being killed dramatically in Company-Wide Cross-Over Events, perhaps even having their dead body cradled by an agonized Captain America on the cover as the rest of the Marvel Universe spends the entire issue tearfully contemplating their incredibly noble sacrifice, as opposed to being the unnamed super-hero Doctor Doom ripped the arms off of on page 12, panel 4, which was probably their eventual fate before Warren Ellis and Stuart Immonen got their dirty little mitts on them.
Still, that’s the future and this is now, and now we have the hard cover collecting the first three tales of wonder, as they face off against a giant lizard wearing purple pants (despite having no genitals), a corrupt cop wearing a few dozen Buicks who wants to dine on children, and a fiendish assortment of killer koala bears & homicide crabs, all the while being chased by government sponsored flying submarines. Six issues of insanity whose corrupting influence can probably be retroactively blamed for Iron Man turning to drink, Mr. Fantastic creating homicidal clones of Norse gods, and the Green Goblin throwing away perfectly good blonde girls.
I simply can’t put the joy of NEXTWAVE into words. It’s far, far easier to simply co-opt its style and say a bunch of pithy, disrespectful things that, hopefully, convey its off-kilter humor and attitude than it is to say something coherent about it. But every month, this book never fails to make me laugh, and I still laughed at most of the same gags re-reading it. It just imprints these strange moments onto my fragile psyche, that has me wanting to scream “die Fleshy Ones” at people just to marvel at their utter incomprehension. How can you not like a comic that reminds its readers that “dragging insane, corrupt police officers who change into giant killer robots into an alleyway and shooting them a lot is very bad and not the Marvel way, and also still illegal in most states”?
And, as a special bonus, you get the sheet music for the NEXTWAVE theme song and the original pitch, which takes special care to remind people that it’s about THINGS BLOWING UP and PEOPLE GETTING KICKED, which may not sound like a lot, but if you buy it, girls will stop thinking you’re a smelly, repulsive loser and get to know the “real” you.
THE WALKING DEAD #31
Writer: Robert Kirkman
When THE WALKING DEAD first came out, I read a review or two here and there giving it the big thumbs up. I always loved a good zombie story, but was not interested enough in diving into another ongoing series. Then one lazy afternoon I strolled to my favorite comic shop because I had read everything in my stack that week. I found the first WALKING DEAD trade and said what the hell. After the first issue of that trade, I was hooked and quickly devoured the entire trade in one sitting. The next day I went back and did the same with the second trade. I can't quite explain how great it was; this story, these characters, this situation that has been performed many times in the zombie genre, but somehow seemed fresh and interesting. All I know is that after eating up those trades, THE WALKING DEAD had a new fan and I started buying the monthlies.
Artist: Charlie Adlard
Publisher: Image Comics
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Now, I'm one of those people who buy from the rack. I don't wait for trade. I have no patience for that. I see the book, out there, on the shelf, looking at me, sometimes mocking me, swirling its little staples like a seductive belly dancer, and I give in every time. I understand the appeal of reading something in one sitting, but the temptation to just buy the single issue is too great for me and I break every damn time.
But as I've read the last few issues of THE WALKING DEAD, I think I may try to break my addiction to buying single issues, if only for this one title. You see, as much as each issue provides entertainment in the form of drama, horror, characterization, plot, and action, I can't help but feel frustrated every time I put an issue down that I have to wait a few weeks for another issue. It's like crack. I want to sit and read it all.
The story itself is proceeding nicely. There are some who may wince at the horrors and tortures that have been going on in recent issues, but I think this is just Kirkman's way of showing us how humanity’s downfall during the zombie plague is a slowly descending slippery slope. Humankind is losing everything that modern society has taught them in just a very short while. They are becoming brutal, tribal, and primitive. It's what happens when there is no leadership, no media, no authority to tell us what to do and how to feel. It's a sad commentary that this city, which is not far from the peaceful solitude of the penitentiary Rick and the rest of the survivors are in, exists. This city where human suffering is sport and things like murder and rape are commonplace.
The last few issues have been slow, but the intensity has been rising. Michonne has been brutally raped and beaten by the town's appointed leader. Rick has lost his hand and is being observed by the compassionate doctor of the camp. And just a few miles away, the rest of the camp is moving on dreading that they may have lost Rick and Michonne and are oblivious to the horrors that are happening to them. The proximity of this horrible town to the prison is the underlying danger that is the real threat of this arc. It's only a matter of time until the two population's paths are going to cross.
And that's the thing. The drama Kirkman sets up and lets unfold is riveting. He's in no hurry to tell this story. He's patiently inching these two worlds together. This book is filled with the usual tender moments in times of horror and some really brutal action resulting in a line from a mother that is all together funny and sad and an accurate commentary on how fucked up parenting is these days.
But again, when I put this one down, I couldn't help but feel as if I NEEDED to see what happens next. Kirkman is great with the cliffhangers. Every issue sinks its teeth in you and refuses to let go until the next one comes out. I don't think I have the strength to get this one in trade, folks. I'm going to try, but after an arc or two of stagnation, this story is really rolling along. We'll see what happens when the next issue hits the stands and it's swinging those seductive staples at me. Wish me luck.
ASTONISHING X-MEN #17
Writer: Joss Whedon
So, uh, yea, I think this is about the first time in about eleven issues or so that I've been genuinely impressed with this title again.
Penciler: John Cassaday
Publisher: Marvel Comics
Reviewed by Humphrey Lee
Don't get me wrong, usually this title is entertaining enough. I've said it once, twice, a dozen times and I'll say it again, Whedon knows these characters very well and typically fills each issue with enough quality character moments that I never really feel bad for dropping three bills on it in that aspect. But after setting a very high bar with the opening arc the plotting has fallen a bit. The "Dangerous" storyline lacked a lot of oomph and felt a bit on the old "decompressed" side, and honestly, the start to this particular arc didn't really draw me in very well either. But right now things are starting to click more. Last issue did very well towards that, but I wasn't really buying the reveal of "White Queen Part Deux" as the traitor so much. But this issue here has done a lot to redeem this run.
The best parts of this issue are, again, the big character moments. I absolutely love the beginning of this book and the mind-game played on Kitty in order get her to open up the "Box of Doom!" containing Cassandra Nova's shell deep in the X-Mansion basement. Kitty may be a smart cookie, but she's also the heart of the team, and that's exactly how the new Hellfire Club gets her to commit an act that might be the end of, well, everything. The reveal of the S.W.O.R.D organization’s mole inside the team is also another thing that made me very pleased about this issue. Honestly, I think I should have seen it coming, but I'm glad I didn't. And also, you can't really beat more of "fraidy-cat" Wolverine, and the scene where he comes to his senses is as priceless as the cliffhanger this issues ends on is intriguing.
I honestly am glad this book is back to making me actually look forward to it again whenever it comes out. This book hasn't always exactly been what you would call "revolutionary" or tried to be terribly innovative, but it's typically a lot of fun. It was just a shame to see such fun parallel some pretty mediocre storytelling for the past arc and a half. But things are coming back together in the storytelling department and, oh hey, look, John Cassaday is still drawing it so definitely still looks pretty. Now I just need a good payoff to this arc and all will be right with the world. Come on, Joss, I know you have it in you.
DRAGON HEAD VOL. 3
Story and art: Minetaro Mochizuki
Publisher: Tokyo Pop
Reviewer: Ambush Bug
Ok, now that I have your attention, I want you to really open your mind.Â There's an entire genre of books out there that you're missing. I know, I was one of you.Â\ I looked at manga and thought about those SPEED RACER anime cartoons and all of their uncomfortable editing and long "Ahhh's" and "Oooooo's" and said "Noipe! (I've trademarked that word by the way) Not for me!" I was happy with my small-eyed super hero books. I would sit in the corner embracing them and we all would laugh at the manga. Those damn manga characters with their long arms and legs and big eyes. Those kooky manga books with their backwards panels and thick volumes. Damn them. Damn them all to hell. C'mere, mainstream book. Gimme some sugar. That's right. That's roiiiight! *smooch*grope*fondle*repeat with greater vigor*
Yeah you, Mainstream Lad!
Look down here and read this!
Yeah you, Mainstream Lad!
Look down here and read this!
But unlike many of you, I don't scroll past the “Big Eyes For the Cape Guy” section of this here SWEET @$$ column of ours. I like to read through all of the reviews because I know a book one of my fellow @$$Holes likes is probably something up my alley as well no matter if the people in it have Big Eyes or not.
The story behind me picking up DRAGON HEAD is a selfish one. After reading the review here in the Big Eyes section, I noticed a similarity between the story description and a story I had been working on myself. So for selfish reasons, I decided to pick up the book and give it a look-see. After reading the book I felt both relieved and caught off guard. Turns out my story idea is very different from DRAGON HEAD's, so a sigh of relief was breathed. But what I didn't expect was that I became completely wrapped up in this tale of three children who survive a devastating train wreck in a tunnel. Cut off from the rest of the world, hungry, and alone, these three children must work together to make it out alive. But the confines of the tunnel and the fact that they are surrounded by the decaying corpses of their classmates begin to take its toll on the childrens’ sanity. By volume two, these three children have lost all child-like aspects. They are literally tearing each other apart and one has slipped so far into madness that return does not seem possible. The danger is all around them. It's getting hotter for some reason. The tunnel is starting to crumble and a cave in is imminent. There is no contact with the outside world. Before entering the cave, radio reports indicated something odd was happening, but that's about all of the news these children have of what's going on outside. But up until this volume, what's going on outside is the least of these kids’ problems. They have to survive the tunnel first.
In this volume, the children find out that once out of the tunnel, the answers they sought are not as simple or clear. In fact, nothing is answered and that's what I love about this book. You don't actually know what the real threat is. Is it a meteor? A nuclear bomb? A zombie plague? Or maybe it's an actual dragon (as the title of the book implies) that destroyed all of civilization. I don't know, but I do know that I love this book. I love the ambiguity of the threat and how these children react to the mystery.
One of the things I have noticed in my limited experience of reading Manga is how these books treat kids as adults and put them through some pretty sophisticated and mature situations. I'm not talking about the Speilbergian dangers and antics that kids in American comics take part in. I'm talking about serious horrors. The kind of stuff that really makes you wince because stuff like that just shouldn't happen to children. I guess this is just a difference in cultural perspective at play here, but at times, this book shocks me at how graphic and brutal the story really is involving these three school children. And I like that shock. It's the type of shock that lets you know that you can't expect anything. It keeps you on your toes and guessing. This book has consistently done that to me in three volumes.
DRAGON HEAD is tops. It is one of those books that has a story strong enough to work in any genre. It takes a simple catastrophic situation, adds mystery and horror, and plops three children firmly into the danger with no guarantee that they will make it out alive. Don't go into DRAGON HEAD expecting much and I promise you'll be blown away because nothing can be expected with this story. So, Mainstream Lad, my friend. Put down the funny book just for a bit and give some manga a look see. I promise it won't hurt.
Be brave, Mainstream Lad.
Gaze at some manga with your little eyes!
Gaze at some manga with your little eyes!