Ambush Bug interviews MOON KNIGHT and ENTOURAGE's Mike Benson & Marvel Editor Axel Alonso
Plus a 10 page preview of MOON KNIGHT #14
Hey folks, Ambush Bug here with another Q & A. Mike Benson was a writer for the hit HBO miniseries ENTOURAGE when Alex Alonso met him and not soon after it was announced that Benson would be taking over MOON KNIGHT. I've had the privilege of reading the scripts for Benson's first three issues and I think fans will be enjoying what Mr. Benson has to offer. Throughout the interview, click on the images for AICN COMICS EXCLUSIVE preview art of the first ten pages of MOON KNIGHT #14 (Benson's writing debut with art by the classic GHOST RIDER art team of Javier Saltares and Mark Texeira). Mr. Benson and Marvel Editor Axel Alonso were kind enough to take the time to answer some of my questions. And being a huge fan of MOON KNIGHT, I had plenty.
Mike Benson (MB): Reggie Hudlin is a friend of mine and he was working with Axel Alonso on the BLACK PANTHER. Reggie knew my desire to write comics and made the introduction. Axel and I hit it off and from there it was just a matter of finding the right project.
Ambush Bug: So, how does a writer of a hit show like HBO's ENTOURAGE come to write a comic like MOON KNIGHT?
Bug: Your first few issues of MOON KNIGHT are co-plotted with Charlie Huston. What was it like to collaborate with him?MB: I was already reading and enjoying Huston’s MOON KNIGHT before I was in contention to write it, so when we met for the first time it was very easy. I told Charlie what I liked about the book and what I would like to do and he thought it sounded cool and decided to stay on. Our collaboration has been great. We get together for some food every couple of weeks, shoot the shit, and then jump into the plotting. It doesn’t feel like work, I’ll tell you that.
Bug: Question for Axel. How do you wrangle in such talented writers to take on these characters? Did Mike come to you or do you seek out people in other mediums to write for Marvel?Axel Alonso (AA): I usually go out and find them, but in this case it was Reggie Hudlin that introduced me to Mike. Mike told me he was very interested in writing comics, and I was very intrigued by the notion -- I’m a big fan of ENTOURAGE. We were actually in the process of developing a Marvel Knights limited series when it occurred to me: MOON KNIGHT. I knew Charlie was going to be stepping away from the title, and I knew Mike was a fan of the book. So I mentioned it, and he swooped.
It’s worth noting that Charlie was originally not going to be involved at all in the book. But after I sent him Mike’s first script and outline for his first arc, Charlie said he wouldn’t mind staying on as a consultant. A couple of Arnold Palmers with Mike later, Charlie signed on to co-plot.
Bug: Back to Mike, how much of the first arc is Huston's and how much is yours?MB: It’s a combination. Charlie already had some ideas where he would have taken the arc and so we discussed them. We also talked over some new ideas and what we eventually landed on was a combination of the two.
Bug: There's been a lot of work done on the character of Moon Knight to distinguish him from his DC counterpart, Batman. How is your version of Moon Knight different from the Dark Knight?MB: Moon Knight is downright nuts. Batman beats people up. Moon Knight beats you to the edge of death or over. Batman's got issues. Moon Knight's barely clinging to any semblance of sanity. Simple as that.
Bug: What's your take on supporting cast members Frenchie and Marlene? In the past Frenchie has been the noble chauffeur/confidante and Marlene the nagging girlfriend. Are they going to evolve as characters?MB: I think they already have evolved in Huston’s arcs. Marlene is no longer the annoying girlfriend who just lounges around Grant’s mansion in a bikini. And Frenchie is now openly gay and basically living his life as a civilian. Clearly his relationship with Marc has been strained. I look at Moon Knight as a team book and each of these characters will have significant roles in Spector’s life, and hopefully will continue to evolve.
Bug: Any chance of seeing Tigra, Moon Knight's furry ex-squeeze from WEST COAST AVENGERS, pop up for a little bit of a love triangle?MB: Let’s just say there’s a little nod to her, but Tigra doesn’t make an appearance in the initial arc.
Bug: Another one for Axel. To me, the title of comic book editor is a malleable and enigmatic one. The role of editor seems to change from one editor to the next and even one series to the next with the same editor seems to be different. Can you describe your role as editor on this MOON KNIGHT series?AA: My first role as editor was finding a writer who agreed with me on the central premise of the launch: That Mark Spector was ape-shit mad. Not sullen or misunderstood -- fucking crazy. The kind of guy who destroys the lives of everyone around him, and has an off-the-charts bloodlust. If you pull a gun on Spider-Man, he’ll take it from you and knock you out. Pull one on Moon Knight, and he’ll take it from you, shoot you in the leg, then beat you into the ICU with the gun butt.
Over the course of a year or two, I fielded a couple of proposals from writers who ostensibly agreed with me about the protagonist -- until it came down to putting it on paper when he became just another grim warrior cut from the same cloth as Batman or Wolverine. Then Charlie (Huston) came along, and we started talking, and it all fell into place. Charlie knew exactly what he wanted to do with the character. When he said, “Moon Knight wears white because he wants you to see him coming,” the hairs on the back of my neck stood up. I was like, ‘Hell yeah!’
Bug: To Axel, do you have a clear long-term path that you want Marc Spector to travel down or are you more open to deviating from that path from one writer to the next depending on quality of story?AA: There are certain touchpoints that are etched in stone -- details that Mike helped sculpt and is totally down with. The rest is very flexible, very organic. There is an overall plan for Marc Spector, but there are no rules.
BUG: Very interesting about there being an overall plan for Moon Knight. Is this the same with all of the Marvel Universe's characters?AA: Depends on the character or characters. In the case of Moon Knight, we have a very solid idea what we’re going to be doing for the next year, and a few developments that might happen over the next 2-3 years. But stuff happens when you’re writing, of course. Sometimes you need to travel down a path you hadn’t expected.
Bug: Very interesting indeed. Back to Mike, the latest incarnation of Moon Knight is indeed pretty hardcore when it comes to dealing with criminals. Are you afraid of pushing him so far off the deep end and making him so brutal that it may make readers stop thinking of him as a hero? I mean, once you've ripped off your arch-nemesis' face, you can guarantee we won't be seeing Moon Knight on any lunch boxes.MB: Personally, I think that’s the character the fans want to see. It’s sure the character I want to see. Moon Knight is brutal and I love pushing the envelope as far as I can. Half the fun is coming up with inventive ways for Moon Knight to dispense pain and as long as he’s not literally cannibalizing anyone I don’t see it as an issue.
Bug: In the preview I got to read, there's some pretty demented stuff going on towards the end of issue #15. Without giving too much away, how are you able to get away with some of the more brutal and twisted behavior from Moon Knight and his foes?MB: Moon Knight for the most part isn’t going after street thugs. He’s going after people who have little if any respect for human life. People who have done really bad things. And as far as getting away with anything, Marvel never gave me any boundaries, what I could do and what I couldn’t with the character. At the end of the day, Spector’s a head case. That’s what makes him so interesting to write.
Bug: In the past, Marc Spector's multiple personalities have been a highlight in the book. Recently, the character of Bushman has been acting as a sort of demented Jiminy Cricket towards Moon Knight. He's been an imaginary friend of sorts doing a pretty good job of driving Marc mad. Is the Bushman a type of multiple personality, a Tyler Durden character to Marc's Edward Norton, or something more insidious?MB: That’s open to interpretation. I’m not trying to dodge the question as much as I don’t want to say something that might not turn out to be true when more is revealed.
Bug: Another multiple personality question. There hasn't been much use of Jake Lockley, Marc's streetwise persona. Will we be seeing him pop up in the future?MB: Yes. With out saying too much, Lockley and Grant are in the cards in the not so distant future.
Bug: One of the things that really impressed me about the pages I got to read was your understanding of Moon Knight's moves and weaponry. You really seem to have a good handle on the character as far as his abilities and arsenal are concerned. Are you a MOON KNIGHT fan of old or are you new to the character?MB: That’s really nice to hear. Thanks. I’m old school. In fact, the only MOON KNIGHT series I read before Huston’s was Doug Moench’s series. Growing up, my brother and I were martial arts fanatics. We watched all those old school Shaw Brother movies on channel five, Sunday afternoons. I always loved the more outlandish weapons, like the Flying Guillotine. And because it’s established that Spector knew martial arts, I wanted to incorporate some of those cool Shaw Brother type devices.
Bug: There have been many different incarnations of the character of Moon Knight. Some of them cast him as simply a powerless man who utilizes weapons and gadgets to take down foes. Others have hinted that he does in fact have powers that are tied to Khonshu or the phases of the moon itself. In your mind, where does your Moon Knight draw his power from?MB: Well, if Marc had any powers, they certainly do come from Khonshu. The million-dollar question, of course, is, ‘does Khonshu exist?’
Bug: One of the things I have noticed with writers who make the leap from other media to comics is that they often try to write a comic as if it were a prose book, a television show, or a film -- not taking into account that there is a different type of storytelling technique altogether at play when it comes to making comics. I've seen prose writers overwrite and state the obvious not acknowledging that comics is a medium with both text AND images. I've also read work from screenwriters who have difficulty in mastering the all important panel to panel transition in comics, losing something in between. Have you taken the above observations into consideration when writing this comic?MB: A 100%. I’m a big script whore so I read a bunch of comic scripts of people I really respect and it played into how I approached writing MOON KNIGHT. I was lucky to have written the PUNISHER MAX book before jumping onto MOON KNIGHT, and I was conscious of not falling into any of the pitfalls you mentioned above.
Bug: What's been the greatest challenge making the transition from TV to comics?MB: First, I’ll state the obvious. It’s a different type of writing than I’m used to. The rhythms are different. Not to mention, I’m scripting tons of action. But the greatest challenge is to continue telling stories at the level Huston did. Stories that feel fresh, stories where the stakes continue to escalate.
Bug: Question for Axel, how do you work with writers new to comics to help them understand the transition from one medium to another?AA: It takes a little longer with novelists because they aren’t as used to thinking in spot visuals. For writers who are familiar with writing movie or TV screenplays -- like Mike -- the transition is usually easier. The key thing is teaching them how to pace a story -- how much can fit on a page, where you want to open up the story, etc. In a screenplay, for instance, any scene can go on for as long as you need it to; in comics, you have to consider exactly how much space that scene is going to take up in your 22-page issue, how you’re going to break it up into beats, and then into pages.
Bug: Back to Mike. Both sides of the CIVIL WAR approached Moon Knight recently. Moon Knight has been pretty clear that he wants nothing to do with either side. Will Moon Knight's new brutal mentality be raising the eyebrows of other heroes?MB: Yes. That will be a big part of my next arc. Moon Knight is a character that never played by rules. Now he’s part of the Initiative and he’s being forced to do exactly that.
Bug: Moon Knight first appeared in WEREWOLF BY NIGHT. Any chance of seeing Jack Russell pop up some time soon?MB: Actually, yes. This is a very recent development and Jack Russell kind of fell right into my hands and played into what was being set up. It’s going to be very cool.
Bug: I always liked the character of Morpheus, the man who couldn't sleep, from the old MOON KNIGHT series. He always scared the shit out of me. Any chance of seeing him return?MB: I like Morpheus too, but as of now, no.
Bug: The team of artists that made GHOST RIDER so popular, Mark Texeira and Javier Saltares, are teaming up again with you on MOON KNIGHT. The preview pages I've seen look great. What's it been like working with those guys?MB: Truth is, I already finished my first arc when Texeira and Saltares came aboard. I’ve seen pages and I couldn’t be happier. They’re amazing.
Bug: How long do you plan on writing MOON KNIGHT?MB: I’ll stay on MOON KNIGHT as long as I feel I have something to contribute and as long I’m having fun doing it.
Bug: Is there another comic book character you'd like to take a stab at?MB: Maybe, MASTER OF KUNG FU. I’d love to shoot a b-12 shot into the book like Brubaker and Fraction did with the IMMORTAL IRON FIST. I also have an Iron Man story I’d like to co write with Huston.
Bug: Any MOON KNIGHT teasers or tidbits you'd like to drop? What is the issue you've had the most fun writing and which ones should we be looking out for?MB: The entire first arc has been a blast, but the one I’m really excited about is the one with Jack Russell. I’m writing it now and it’s really out there and I think people are going to really get a kick out of it. I’ll leave it at that.
Can't wait to see that one. Thanks for taking the time to answer these questions.MB: Thank you.
Written by Peter David Art by Shawn Moll and Victor Olazaba Published by Marvel Reviewed by Stones ThrowIt’s always a thorny issue when a writer or team comes off a truly seminal run. I mean, has there been any point in publishing another issue of SWAMP THING since Alan Moore left? Or even FANTASTIC FOUR after Lee and Kirby, intermittently good runs aside? In fact, I remember similar discussions taking place a few years back when this title first launched. Some people thought that John Byrne’s anarchic, fourth-wall breaking take on Shulkie couldn’t be beaten and chose to write Dan Slott’s efforts off immediately.
Well, eat it, negative three-years-ago guys, cause here we are again. That’s not to say I think Slott’s two volumes and 33 issues of SHE-HULK stand up along the stuff I’ve already mentioned, or that She-Hulk’s exhausted as a character. Not at all. But, if you compare it to the other stuff Marvel’s put out in that period… do you start to see my point? I thought so. Dan “Onslaught” Slott took a truly fresh and original approach and did something that I thought was a long lost art at the House of Ideas: took hold of a lower tier character and developed her in new and interesting ways. I lost interest towards the end of volume two, but his work on Jennifer Walters really is admirable and appreciated.
Of course, between all the obscure continuity nods, madcap humor and genius use of the Marvel universe, it was also something uniquely Slott. So now that he’s departed in order to sort out the messed up life of Peter Parker, new writer Peter David is faced with a pickle of a predicament of a puzzle – continuing in the same vein will read, like he says in the letter page, as “watered-down Slott”, while going in a new direction runs the risk of alienating the fan base he built up over the last few years.
So what did David do? Turns out the answer is surprisingly simple: he just writes one @$$ kicker of a comic book.
The first thing that strikes me is that this isn’t what you’d typically call a “Peter David comic”. There’s no shticky humor in sight. Nope, this is a high-octane, mighty Marvel thrill ride of the sort that I’d like to be seeing in the Hulk’s own book (of course, what we really want to see is Hercules and Amadeus Cho while the Hulk does his best to continue the already-played out superhero civil war, don’t we, Marvel?). While it could have seemed that PAD’s taking a step backwards after his great run on INCREDIBLE HULK, it looks to me like he’s really stretching himself to write as exciting a story as possible. Which he succeeds in. I counted three “ah, cool” moments, a bevy of twists and mysteries and one dynamic, extended slugfest, capped off by the return of a favorite Shulkie villain and a neat cliffhanger. I was impressed with David’s pacing, starting off with a seemingly unrelated piece of action building up to the startling reintroduction of our main character, and then on to twist everything else from under us into the meat of the story. Writers take note, this is how you pace a first issue to give the reader substance, plot and action beyond set-up, while leaving some juicy threads dangling. It was quick, punchy and couldn’t have left me more pumped for where the book can go from here.
While in some ways this couldn’t be further removed from what Dan Slott was doing, I am also pleased to report that it fits right in and figuratively sprints with what he’s set up. One of my favorite things about Slott’s run was the way it had that essence of Marvel, the way only Ed Brubaker’s and BKV’s books at Marvel (and Slott’s THING, natch) have matched in the same period and which I’d expect to be natural for comics with the Marvel name-tag. PAD definitely doesn’t fumble the ball there. This book is still firmly planted within the Marvel universe and manages to continue the same kind of meeting between the “real world” and the way that life there would be utterly fucking different from our own that Slott did so well. He’s come up with an equally entertaining and self-renewing concept as Slott did with the idea of “superhuman law” (and which I’m gonna spoil here), developing it so that Jen Walters is now a bail bondswoman, or bounty hunter, working for the same law firm. Looks like we’re in for MIDNIGHT RUN with super powers for a while, and yep, I think it’s as cool as that sounds. This idea has a load of potential.
PAD’s pulled something of a “One Year Later” trick, jumping forward a few months to tease us with this new status quo. While I can understand that a few Slott-heads might be annoyed that there was nothing of the old supporting cast here, it makes sense for David to plant his feet and then flesh out where Jen’s been in the interim. Moving on from a great run and all that.
The art…well, all I can say is imagine if this guy had been drawing PLANET WITHOUT A HULK, Slott’s last full arc on the book. If I pretend I know what I’m talking about for a minute, the inking didn’t seem particularly polished, but Shawn Moll seems to have a good grasp of anatomy and dynamism, and his action scenes really sizzle. All good.
In fact, I can’t think of anything negative to say. At first I was surprised how quick it read and thought I’d have a decompression soapbox to hitch myself onto after Slott’s uber-packed issues, but then I went through it a second time and realized the speediness of the read was just down to how flippin’ exhilarating it was. So yeah. SHE-HULK’s back to the top of my pull list. And I’m excited.
Writer: Brandon Thomas Artist: Freddie E. Williams II Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoWhy am I reviewing this comic book? There are many reasons why I shouldn’t, and one or two real reasons I should.
The story is good enough, a classic theme that defines many heroes: guilt over the death of a loved one, and trying not to allow that guilt to translate into depression or blind rage. Timothy Drake is one of the latest heirs to this lineage, since his father died in 2004. So a classic storyline visited here, as I said. What’s not to like?
First off, it’s a fill-in issue. Adam Beechen just finished his run, and next issue begins the Peter Milligan-penned seven part crossover as Ra’s al Ghul returns from the dead for the fourteen billionth time. I mean, really: the death of any superhero or super-villain is practically a joke even in the superhero community (let alone for us readers.) Is there any reason I should give a wide-stance dump about the resurrection of a super-villain whose power is resurrection?!? So why should I be concerned with this fill-in?
I didn’t care for the cover, either, though it looked pretty cool. Robin’s arms and legs do not get riddled with bullets, nor does he get skewered with a shard of shrapnel. I know iconic covers may have scenes that don’t appear in the comic, but this was a bit misleading. Probably the result of a poorly worded editorial order, and not Patrick Gleason’s fault, so I can’t hold it against him. And damn, it was eye-catching.
I probably can’t fault the lack of coordination between writer Thomas and artist Williams. Writers and artists take some time to get on the same page (no pun intended), and a writer has to be able to trust his artist to convey things visually, else the comic is overwritten. Thomas could easily have done that; instead, he let Williams’ pencils tell the story. But when a villain is identified as 100 pounds heavier than Tim and covered with armor, and drawn about 250 pounds heavier with bare arms, it’s a little distracting. And when Tim is nearly electrocuted and I can’t tell why—or nearly blown up and I can’t tell if it was the villain or if he accidentally did it to himself—it’s a little distracting.
The bottom line is this: I like the way the story, classic or not, played out. I like the way this new guy, Thomas, captured the internal voice of Tim Drake on his first (and only) try. Lest we forget, Tim Drake is the best and most complex Robin. He’s dark enough to get the job done, but he won’t become Bruce Wayne. He’s secure enough in his own identity that he doesn’t have to run away, either. If you don’t like the character, then you don’t. I do, and Thomas did him justice.
And the bottom, bottom line, the real reason I had to do this review is…well, the last couple pages got me misty-eyed. Wasn’t expecting that. Granted, I probably have some father issues (and what man doesn’t? Okay, now the rest of you losers ‘fess up, too.) But he got me. He got me. And any other complaints from me seemed kind of silly when I found myself physically responding to a comic book I didn’t even think I wanted to read.
Writer: Gregg Hurwitz Art: Lan Medina Publisher: Marvel MAX Reviewer: Ambush BugOK, I’m really getting sick of reading the same issue over and over when it comes to first issue Marvel comics. I’m sick of seeing a name on the cover, with a picture of the so-called star of the book, only to open said cover and read a story that dances around a character as if we didn’t know what story we were reading for 21 pages only to have a giant, SHOCKING splash page of the main character standing there as if it were some surprise that the guy who’s name is on the cover actually shows up in his own book. That’s what we get here, folks.
It’s as if the guy who wrote that god-awful Silver Surfer as an alien visitor series (you know the one from a few years back, where everyone talked about seeing an alien and then at the end, the Silver Surfer shows up on a splash page…I tell you, my tits are still tingling from that shockeroo) mapped out a template and afterwards every Tom, Dick, and Joey at Marvel has to follow the exact same path when it comes to first issues.
This issue is a prime example of the tired method of decompressed storytelling that we are all sick to death of by now. It doesn’t help that this is a character that I hold pretty close to heart given the fact that Gerber’s fantastic FOOLKILLER miniseries from the early nineties was probably one of my favorite miniseries of all time. This issue features tiny glimpses of the Foolkiller’s arm or sword as a nobody down-on-his-luck-er tries to do what the cops and the mob can’t do and track down this new vigilante. Like Batman, the myth of the Foolkiller is different to those who break the law from those who choose to uphold it. Hero to the right and true. Villain to the fools. Like the Punisher, he kills without abandon. Only since this is a MAX title and geared towards grown-ups the fashion with which he does so is all the more gruesome. There is absolutely nothing to distinguish this Foolkiller from the Punisher other than the fact that he chooses to use a sword and his fists rather than automatic weapons.
The references to past Foolkillers were appreciated, although how this one ties to the one who Spidey and Man-Thing fought years ago and the one from the aforementioned miniseries is not explained. The miniseries Foolkiller showed up in last month’s NEW AVENGERS as a throwaway cameo, but since continuity is a naughty word outside of books written by Bendis, it doesn’t surprise me that that fact slipped by unnoticed. I got the Burger Clown reference, which was a surprising nod and may be indicative that the author of all of this actually may have done a little research and read my favorite miniseries, but in the end, the construction of this first issue and lack of actual originality and story is what made me so pissed that it was ever produced.
The art, though, it quite good. Although it’s stiff at times in certain panels, Lan Medina’s textured imagery is reminiscent of Glen Fabry when it comes to facial detail and dramatic angles. And I guess the design of the new Foolkiller is pretty cool and even somewhat original. There’s A CLOCKWORK ORANGE/FIGHT CLUB vibe to the book that, if expanded upon, could prove interesting. But I doubt I’ll be around to see it. Some may think it harsh to judge this book by its first issue alone, but I say that in this day and age when hundreds of first issues are out there to choose from, someone at Marvel needs to wake up and stop trying to skid by on name recognition alone and actually make a strong first issue to ensure that a second issue is even considered to be purchased.
In the end, this was another example of how not to do a first issue. It is an exercise in futility in that nothing by way of story really happens. Foolkiller doesn’t show up until the last page. The story follows a no name that simply experiences the true main character of the book. I guess this GREAT GATSBY-esque way of storytelling is an ok method to introduce the reader to someone for the first time, but since we’ve seen this method of cut-and-paste first issue construction before, it failed to entertain on every level. We @$$Holes have been lobbing spears at the decompression dinosaur for about six years now and with books like NEXTWAVE, AGENTS OF ATLAS, UMBRELLA ACADEMY, and the like out there, we thought we were making a bit of progress. But every time a book like FOOLKILLER comes out, it reeks of amateur and lazy writing and a story that has to be stretched to make a miniseries from the get-go and I feel as if we’re back to square one with the fight against decompression. Find a new format, Marvel. This first issue path is worn and old. Take some chances. Start the story in the middle and work out. Tell a differing tale. Start us in the middle of the action. Hell, at least have the character show up for more than a few panels in the first issue. Anything but this type of first issue pap that we’ve been bored to death by so many, many times now.
TALES OF THE SINESTRO CORPS PRESENTS SUPERMAN-PRIME #1
Writer: Geoff Johns Artists: Pete Woods & Jerry Ordway Publisher: DC Comics Reviewer: Stones ThrowA note from Squashua: Hey, Stones Throw, remember to link to the free online”Origin of Superboy Prime” from DC COMICS PRESNTS #87 in your review.
Yes, for your information, I am still buying these things. No, I don’t feel silly because this one is actually pretty damn good. But then Geoff Johns’ name in the credits would have tipped you off on that, right? He gets his INFINITE CRISIS meta-textual hat on for this great look inside Superman-Prime’s head.
Let’s see, he’s a boy who grew up reading about comic book heroes and devoted his life to them, only to end up hating them as they became unlike the characters he knew and loved, leading him to lash out in a potentially self-destructive way? This is getting a little close for comfort, GJ! He’s also a character we can relate to in that he’s a geek who gets put in a situation where he doesn’t have to be a geek. This was a good example of artistic voice and really getting inside the mind of a character. Told from his perspective, Superboy-Prime’s mindset starts to become understandable and even empathetic, and the action, with almost every DC hero taking him on (why do Batman and Robin always show up in these situations? All Bats ever does is state the obvious, like “he gets his energy from his armor!”) is exhilarating but also disturbing, particularly when all the adult heroes pile on this kid to rip his armor off. This was a convincing use of superheroes that was ambiguous yet entertaining in the way CIVIL WAR or HOUSE OF M weren’t.
I’ll also say it is probably one of the very best drawn issues of the year too, featuring star turns from my new favorite superhero guy Pete Woods (seriously, check this out, his stuff is amazing) and old pro Jerry Ordway. Brad Anderson’s colors are vibrant without being overbearing.
Yup, this was another whomp-@$$ of a book. Cool SINESTRO CORPS back-up as well, and I’m really starting to like the image of the Anti-Monitor striding through New York Harbor. Risk gets his other arm ripped off too. And Krypto gets to be a badass. Does that dog ever lose a fight?
X-MEN - DIE BY THE SWORD #2
Writer: Chris Claremont Artist: Juan Santacruz Publisher: Marvel Comics Reviewer: Rock-Me AmodeoIt is my sincerest hope that Chris has already made millions off his many endeavors over the years. I really hope so, because this review is not going to sell any books.
But this review will move with a grace and speed that belies its massive bulk. This review will be a battle, with no quarter asked, and none given. It is the focused totality of my psychic power. It is the selfsame…oh, let’s get on with it.
Storyline: plausible. The EXILES return to Earth 616 and unite with the recently cancelled EXCALIBER crew, making possible a reunion between Nocturne and her former teammates (including her paramour, Thunderbird) and the Braddock siblings, among others.
Art: passable. Santacruz has a good eye for action but not so much for anatomy (of course, that never stopped Liefield on any of his X-CREMENT back in the day.) Most of his women have breasts that look like publicity shots for “Really Awful Plastic Surgery” dot com. His pencils border on cartoony, more suited for MARVEL ADVENTURE titles, and he would probably benefit from tighter inks.
Narrative execution: never have two words deserved each other more. A female heavy says stuff like “You’ve had your shot, now it’s my turn” (sound familiar?) and “You would draw a gun against the likes of me?” Why is a gun particularly insulting? I mean, is her other code-name “38 Special” or something?
Betsy fights alone for three pages and is overwhelmed by sheer numbers before Sage finally steps in. A page or two later, Thunderbird eventually jumps in. So much for teamwork. They get zapped to the Crystal Palace, where reunions abound. We got two pages of Roma weeping that she can’t sense Braddock, but oddly, there’s not enough pages for Nocturne and Thunderbird to talk about, oh, the fact that she was pregnant the last time her saw her? (When asked by a fan about this, Claremont berated the fan and said the conversation was private and inappropriate. For real!) Meanwhile, Dazzler does some soul searching (in her underwear and a shirt she can’t remember to button up) and is encouraged by some guy she’s never met. Yet this guy somehow has huge insights into her very soul. Didn’t Claremont just pull that trick with Spidey 2099 in the EXILES book? I saw an Uzi reading this book and it said, “Even I don’t repeat myself this much.”
Other things happen before some bad guy shows up, but all the struggles are so generic. It’s as if, despite all the different skin colors, accents and genders, all the characters only have one personality. And that may be exactly the problem.
In fact, I’m sure that’s the problem, because this review is the best at what it does…and what it does isn’t very nice. Didn’t like me blasting Claremont? Then take your best shot. I’m nigh-invulnerable while I’m blasting.
But we should expect more of this. After all, most of these characters live because of Claremont. And those that live by the Claremont…
THE MIDDLEMAN: THE THIRD VOLUME INESCAPABILITY (TPB)
Writer: Javier Grillo-Marxuach Artist: Les McClaine Publisher: Viper Comics Reviewer: Prof. ChallengerWendy: We have an arch-nemesis? Middleman: Kanimang Kang. Head of the world’s most notorious league of criminals and evildoers…The Federated Agents of Tyranny, Betrayal, and Oppression’s Yoke. Wendy: “F.A.T.B.O.Y.”? Our arch-nemesis is F.A.T.B.O.Y.? Did they get in last at the acronym line?
**Disclaimer time. Anything I write further in this review must be taken in the context of somebody who got such a kick out of the original MIDDLEMAN series that he wound up becoming friends with the creator and even contributed a gallery illustration to the first trade collection. So, anything positive I write might be slanted that way because Javier Grillo-Marxuach is a fine fellow (cue the trumpets) and anything negative I say might be slanted that way because I’m pissed off that I didn’t get the gig to draw the “Alternate Ending” for this volume (grrr). Either way…here’s my take on the book.**
The first two volumes of MIDDLEMAN were very light and silly without being stupid or just a series of repetitive setups for groan-inducing gags. And, while this volume does not lose the hilarious dialogue or playfully clever use of words, the overall tone is much more somber. It begins with death, veers sharply into betrayal, another death, and then a shocking change in the status quo. Yet, amidst all this incongruous seriousness, Javier Grillo-Marxuach and Les McClaine pack in so much adventure, pop culture esoterica, and just plain fun that I believe they’ve successfully accomplished something that’s very hard to do – dramatically shift the premise and scope of a series yet maintain the same tone to the storytelling. I’m sure a good part of that is attributable to McClaine’s brilliant art in black and white with zip-a-tone shading that I absolutely love!
Marxuach made Mexican wrestling and the cliché of an Asian sensei as trainer of the titular hero in the second volume. This time out, finally, the satirical scope is squarely trained on the James Bond movie series. For those of us who are fans of this series, it is a blast to see Middleman and Wendy placed into dangerous situations that are, at first glance, quite familiar and then veer them off into unexpectedly absurd directions as befits a Middleman story.
All good heroes need an arch-villain and, finally, Marxuach introduces the reader to Kanimang Kang who serves that role for Middleman. The book kicks off with a flashback prologue, very reminiscent of well-known events surrounding Marvel’s Captain America and Bucky. In this case, Middleman’s spunky little sidekick, Middleboy, is dramatically killed by Kanimang Kang. So, with the return of Kang, Middleman becomes a more brooding sort burdened by his perceived failure. He’s still his weird, squinty-eyed surly self, but he’s also….different.
There are illiterate, deaf, mute ninja assassins, beautiful seductresses with paralyzing poisons, giant shark monsters (a concept I can claim credit for), an elephant polo match, bizarre henchmen, and even a touching character arc with Wendy forced to choose between her old life and her new life. Oh yeah and, of course, a STAR TREK II: THE WRATH OF KHAN reference – as all good pop-culture-enmeshed comedies are required to do by law. In fact, if I were to find anything to really fault this volume with it would be that it may be too densely packed with stuff and that the ending hits rather sharply or abruptly. However, the ending is also one that can be satisfactorily interpreted as an end to the series or…a new beginning. I’m sure sales on this volume (and the success of the upcoming MIDDLEMAN tv series) will dictate which. I can say that I thoroughly enjoyed it and have already read through it more than once. THE MIDDLEMAN series truly is one of those that holds up to repeated readings because it seems that I always encounter something I missed before.
It has been tradition in THE MIDDLEMAN volumes to include extra treats after the main story. In the first volume, there was a sketchbook feature and gallery. The second volume included various TALES OF THE MIDDLEMAN stories about Middlemen from years past. This third volume is no exception. Viper Comics ran a talent contest to find a guest-artist to come in and illustrate an “Alternate Ending” chapter for THE THIRD VOLUME INESCAPABILITY.
Chad Thomas, the winner of Viper’s talent search, does a fine job illustrating a “possible” future for Wendy. Set 15 years into the future, Wendy has assumed her lonely destiny as MIDDLEMAN and gets to duke it out with evil Soviet Time Traveling Bears. Chad’s angular cartooning style nicely suited this peek into the potential future of a jaded and isolated, eye-patched Wendy as Middleman.
Without reservation, I recommend THE MIDDLEMAN: THE THIRD VOLUME INESCAPABILITY. I mean, this series was named one of 2007’s “Great Graphic Novels for Teens” by the American Library Association! You don’t think I can argue with that, do you? In fact, if you’ve never read the series at all, go get the whole trilogy and entertain the hell out of yourself . . . in a good way.
THE EVIL INSIDE # 1
Written by: Bart A. Thompson Illustrated by: Paul Schultz, Jake Sumbing, Giovanni P. Timpano
AMOUR # 1
Written by: Bart A. Thompson Illustrated by: Ezequiel Pineda Published by: Approbation Comics Reviewed by: superheroFrom Approbation comics and writer Bart A. Thompson come two ambitious anthology books. I say ambitious because both THE EVIL INSIDE and AMOUR seem to be emulating a type of comic book that barely even exists any more: the horror and romance anthology comic. While there was a time in American history where anthology books of this mold sold like hotcakes, these days the multi-tale comic is a much harder sell. As a matter of fact, in the modern comic world the publishing of an anthology book is seen as a bad idea. Unfortunately, THE EVIL INSIDE and AMOUR aren’t going to do anything to dissuade the general notion this type of comic book is a hard sell.
I’ll start with THE EVIL INSIDE since it’s the one of the two books that I enjoyed the most. If you can’t tell, THE EVIL INSIDE is the horror comic of the two and it’s actually a really, really good attempt at emulating the classic EC brand of horror storytelling made famous by titles such as TALES FROM THE CRYPT and SHOCK SUSPENSTORIES. THE EVIL INSIDE consists of three separate horror tales that are both entertaining and intriguing in their own ways. There’s an old school horror quality that Thompson is able to capture that brings an interesting charm to each of the stories as well as a solid storytelling narrative that brings an element of creepiness to each of the tales presented here. THE EVIL INSIDE didn’t make my spine crawl with the heebie jeebies but it did make me smile in a way that the aforementioned EC comic line was able to back when I first read them. Despite the fact that the third and final story was weakened by its ambiguousness, THE EVIL INSIDE presents an eerie enough package that I was able to appreciate it for what it was.
I had more of a problem with AMOUR, Thompson’s romance comic. First of all, let’s just start with the cover. When I first got the book I literally thought this was a Witchblade knockoff. I mean, look at that cover. Does that look like a romance comic to you? It didn’t to me, so I was surprised as hell to discover that what I was reading ended up being an attempt at a romance comic. What surprised me even more was how off base the whole thing ended up being.
In the first place, there’s no romance in the book whatsoever. If anything AMOUR should have been called HOOK-UP because that’s what it’s all about. Three separate tales of guy meets girl stories. There’s no real romance here. It’s mostly about how two attractive people meet each other on an anonymous internet date or at a nightclub or at a diner the morning before the San Diego Comic-Con. There’s no real challenge on the part of either participant of the encounters in any way. So it ends up being that the two meet, like each other, and begin a perfectly happy relationship with each other. Just like that. There’s no dramatic tension in these stories at all. It’s mostly, “Hey, I like you. You like me too? Cool. Let’s hook up.” And I’m sorry to say that it’s just boring.
The other thing I have a problem with here is, well, who is this book marketed to? I mean if you look at how the women in this book are drawn they all look like, well, Top Cow comic wannabe super heroines. Every single woman in this book is drawn as some sort of model type. So do the creators of this book actually think that guys are going to be interested in reading a romance book because it’s filled with “who wants to be the next Witchblade” contestants? Not likely. I mean I understand that this seems to be a romance book told from the guy’s perspective but let’s be honest…is a guy really going to pick up a book called AMOUR? I don’t think so. I mean, if you’re going to do a romance book that you want male comic book readers to read at least put Spider-Man in it! I mean, that’s what Sean McKeever did in the pages of SPIDER-MAN LOVES MARY JANE, after all.
Despite the fact that I have a problem with AMOUR I do think that Bart A. Thompson has some real potential as a comic writer. THE EVIL INSIDE showed some imaginative takes on the horror genre that I enjoyed. While AMOUR was a pretty dry read Thompson did display a gift for natural sounding dialog in his characters interactions with each other. Given some time I think Thompson could develop into a really good comic writer. My biggest issue with these books, however, was with the art. On both books the art was amateurish at best. Many of the pages seemed rushed and problems with perspective and composition abound. The art certainly isn’t the worst that I’ve ever seen but it could be much, much better. I’m not saying that there is no talent here. There is. I just think that it’ll be a little while before many of the artists here are ready for prime-time. As it is, it’s Thompson’s writing that made these books worth reading. It’s just too bad he couldn’t find a team of artists that could match his vision.