David Gallaher and Steve Ellis' Kickstarter project, a four-volume series of graphic novels called 'The Only Living Boy', has reached its total and will now be funded! Having raised over $16000 in just one month, the story - which sees a young boy wake up to find he's the only human left on an Earth which is now overrun with all kinds of monsters - will be launched at San Diego Comiccon. Comics Vanguard will be getting our hands on an early copy, so expect a full review at some point in the near future.
Saturday, 31 March 2012
David Gallaher and Steve Ellis' Kickstarter project, a four-volume series of graphic novels called 'The Only Living Boy', has reached its total and will now be funded! Having raised over $16000 in just one month, the story - which sees a young boy wake up to find he's the only human left on an Earth which is now overrun with all kinds of monsters - will be launched at San Diego Comiccon. Comics Vanguard will be getting our hands on an early copy, so expect a full review at some point in the near future.
Justice League Dark kicks off the crossover, as we finally get to see the team forced into working together. Peter Milligan spent a long time slowly building up the creation of the group, and here they finally jump into action and proactively take on a threat. But Milligan is careful not to sacrifice any character in the process, with Constantine and Deadman seemingly the two big personalities on the team, and most dominant forces. Zatanna has yet to really make anything of herself, while Shade's involvement seems rather perfunctory now we know that he'll be leaving after the crossover ends. In fact, the imminent arrival of Jeff Lemire to the book means that the issue has a strange, sad feeling to it. Peter Milligan put effort into forming the tone and team, and only gets this one opportunity to throw them into action before he's being taken off the book. Everything feels a little predetermined for the title, with Constantine's overshadowing presence looking to be a sad reflection of how things will turn once Lemire is in charge, and makes the character his centre.
Mikel Janin takes a break from the book for two issues, and artists Admira Wijaya and Daniel Sampere manage to do a decent job emulating the art whilst retaining their own style. The action seems genuinely chaotic and riotous, which aids the story no end. Milligan enjoys himself with the dialogue, doesn't bother much with the idea of creating a surprising story, but focuses on the characters and set-pieces. And frankly, that works fine. Also, Batgirl shows up, unexpectedly, and Milligan shows an unlikely affinity for the character. Curious.
I, Vampire tells the second part of the story, and is an even stronger title. Joshua Hale Fialkov managed to set up the crossover with a crazy twist in last month's issue, and spends most of his time here exploring the ramifications of that. New readers may be a little confused by lead character Andrew's current predicament, but Fialkov switches perspective to look at the villain from the previous arc, whose attempt to take over Gotham has now been overshadowed by the new, more powerful villain's attempt to take over Gotham. Her irritation is gloriously fun, and Fialkov takes every opportunity to throw in some glib one-liners that distance the series in tone from any other vampire story. The Justice League Dark team show up briefly, but here we're very much dealing with the story of the characters Fialkov has so carefully built up since the relaunch. It's tempting to say that readers don't actually need to pick up both titles in order to understand the crossover, but it's certainly more entertaining if they do.
Also, Andrea Sorrentino's artwork is absolutely phenomenal. Dark and gothic but scratchy and contemporary, he manages to capture the tone and style of Fialkov's story with ease, forming one of the New 52's most in-sync creative teams. Sorrentino's art is experimental in layout and style, but almost always works for the better. In one of the most fun touches, Batman's dark cape means he is barely distinguishable from the marauding mass of vampires, and truly becomes a dark knight. I, Vampire is such an incredibly underrated book at the moment, and we can only hope that this crossover provides the series with the boost in readership that it needs. The creative team have really gone for broke with the book, and the energy both titles throw into the crossover is utterly infectious. We're only halfway through Rise of the Vampires, but it's already looking to be a great success.
Friday, 30 March 2012
Thursday, 29 March 2012
Under Geoff Johns, Aquaman has made a resurgence which parallels that of the Green Lantern/Hal Jordon push of a few years ago. He’s become a sterling member of the Justice League, given a sense of irony and allowed to be interesting, and been promoted constantly. He’s gaining a supporting cast, led by the amazing Mera, and fans have been coming to the book AND staying with it. The problem is that the timeline of the book isn’t going to sync up with the timeline of Justice League. While Justice League sees Aquaman join the first lineup of the team, stabbing Darkseid in the face and showboating heroically… the solo series is obsessed with the idea that everybody thinks Aquaman is a joke character. Now that works as a metatextual idea, as real-world fans have tended to regard Aquaman as such in the past. But within the DC Universe, we’ve seen Aquaman fight alongside Superman and Batman and Wonder Woman, without making a fool of himself. Once the Justice League book jumps forward in time to show the current-day adventures of the character, Johns is left with two options. He either lets the books run out-of-sync, or he writes a story in Justice League which makes Aquaman look like an idiot. Neither one of those is going to gain readers.
While Wonder Woman and Batman have been controversial, edgy, popular and brilliant reads, the solo Superman title has been almost entirely forgotten about by fans. At first, interest was high, with the idea that Superman would be single, more aggressive, and get to live his life again for fans. We’d get to see him join the Daily Planet, meet Lois Lane and Jimmy Olson, and grow into the DC Universe’s greatest hero. Instead, we had a fumbled issue #1 which was overwritten and uninteresting. That then continued with the book for the rest of the first arc, at which point a new creative team were brought onboard. But have you heard fans talk about it? No, not like they talk about the Amazons or the Court of Owls. Grant Morrison’s Action Comics run is the real Superman title, but has also seen a fade in reader interest. Critics have enjoyed the book, but nothing dynamic has happened – Morrison is essentially rewriting an origin story we’ve seen countless times before, and the changes aren’t big enough to warrant controversy. Simply put, Superman is now the weakest member of the DC Trinity (a role which previously went to Wonder Woman).
3: Martian Manhunter
Heard anything from him recently? No, you haven’t.
Which is because his role in the Justice League has been taken by a character formerly of the Teen Titans. Not that there’s anything wrong with this – Cyborg’s origin has been one of the better parts of Johns’ story in the book. The problem is that Justice League is the only book that features Cyborg as a character in any way, and that means he’s going to be constantly fighting for attention alongside all the other big DC characters. Unless he can take a leading role in the stories, or have his personality developed into something distinct and impressive by the creative team, he will always exist as the token African-American. Again, at least DC have put an African-American character into their team. But every other member of the team has at least one title of their own, where they can be developed and showcased individually. The Wonder Woman of the solo series is vastly different to the one we see in the JL team, for example. Cyborg only exists as part of the team, and considering DC have recently been forced to cancel several of their minority-led solo titles, it seems like madness that they aren’t trying to push him more.
Barbara Gordon is a problem for DC at the moment. And the problem actually leads into something bigger, as a whole, for the company. Gail Simone’s reboot of the series saw Barbara leave her wheelchair behind and start soaring across the Gotham skyline once more, but it also saw the reintroduction of The Killing Joke to her life. Every issue has contained a least a fleeting reference to the storyline, in which Barbara was shot and paralysed from the waist down by Joker. Despite every new arc being solicited as an answer to how Barbara recovered from the wound, we’ve still yet to see anything to explain it. It’s an ongoing mystery, but a mystery which is showing no signs of revelation. Readers are waiting for this to be answered not because it’s a good story, but because they want the character to get past being a victim and start doing something with herself – to stop revelling in an Alan Moore story from twenty-odd years ago and start telling some new definitive Barbara Gordon stories. At the moment, Batgirl is trapped by this storyline, and doesn’t seem to be progressing whatsoever.
6: The Joker
Speaking of, DC have had a real problem with their Batman villains. Almost every book in the line has been guilty of it, too. Snyder started off the main book by having all the villains captured and in Arkham, getting beaten up by Batman and Nightwing. So already, the villains were all cast as losers and rejects in the minds of the readership. At the same time, David Finch’s ‘Batman: The Dark Knight’ series has also been using various villains as punching-bags, from Killer Croc to Bane. We’re not seeing any of the villains start fresh, or be woven into the tapestry of the Batman mythos. Poor old Joe Chill – the guy who killed Batman’s parents – has been removed from existence! But the biggest absence has been the Joker. Tony Daniel is responsible for this one. For the past seven months, Joker has hardly appeared in any comics. That’s because in Detective Comics #1 he agreed to have his face surgically removed, and hasn’t showed up since. He can’t turn up in Batgirl because he has no face and hasn’t been revealed yet. Harley Quinn, weirdly enough, is now the owner of the face, and is running around with it over in Suicide Squad. Through this strange turn of events, no book in the New 52 can use Joker until Suicide Squad and Detective Comics allow it!
7: Green Lantern
While most characters were rebooted and started new, or fresh; Green Lantern basically continued on from where Geoff Johns left him. Kyle Rayner had been kicked aside in favour of Hal Jordan, and Sinestro had been announced as the new Green Lantern for the solo title. All the other books allow new readers to come onboard and get a story which explains the character, but the Green Lantern line has two titles incomprehensible for anybody but fans, and as Sinestro/Hal Jordan team-up title. Not Green Lantern and Sinestro – Hal Jordan and Sinestro. It’s not exactly a winning formula in the long-run.
8: Amanda Waller
She’s not a wall if she’s so thin that she’s virtually transparent!
The wave of feminist writers who took issue with the New 52 weren’t without merit: the takedown of the new depiction of Starfire was spot-on, and has seemingly led to a newly-solicited storyline where she is given some more depth (and clothes). The big victim of this criticism, however, was Ron Marz’s relaunch of a Wildstorm property, called Voodoo. The central character is a stripper, and a hoarde of people jumped on this as a sign of anti-feminism of DC’s part. Strippers aren’t people! Declared a number of writers. They are a sign of male domination! Heaven forbid they read the first book, in which Voodoo kills the man leering at her and goes on to have what was essentially a sci-fi chase narrative. That initial criticism looks to have all-but killed the long-term prospects for the book, leaving DC with yet another alt-Universe character getting cancelled and even less reason for the Flashpoint reveal that every DC imprint were going to be bundled together as part of the New 52.
10: Cliff (Animal Man’s son)
Still rocking the Mohawk. Ugh.
Wednesday, 28 March 2012
Generation Hope is over. The cast, or what remains of it, are to be whisked away for a supporting role in Avengers Vs X-Men, and Hope herself is looking into a dark abyss of a future, as the prophesies finally start to come to a head and bring everything crashing down or rising up. Like a Phoenix.
The series had so much going against it that it was perhaps doomed to failure. A main character who annoyed Jean Grey fans because she dared to have ginger hair and enigmatic powers, a cast of non-Americas, a then-indie writer called Kieron Gillen whose previous story was about blueberry muffins and interplanetary strife, in that order, and a focus on young mutant characters at a time when Generation X, the New X-Men, and the Young X-Men were all striving for attention elsewhere, anywhere. That the book was good didn’t come as much of a surprise. That is managed to last over a year was magnificent.
James Asmus brought the book to a close last week, in the process killing off Kenji and destroying the psychic thrall Hope had over the rest of her team. Sebastian Shaw joined, seemingly for the purpose of slowly closing shut a subplot Matt Fraction created years ago. The cast were largely developed into refreshing, different people whose reactions to becoming the newest wave of mutants were unusual and interesting. Idie became convinced that she was evil, therefore anything she did was simply part of God’s plan for her as a discarded, subhuman thing. Teon’s powers seemed to have him as a clichéd feral attacker, but subverted and proved him to be completely instinctual, and able to flip on the turn of a coin. Kenji was the point of view character, believe it or not, and his slip out of his own mind became the central story of the series.
Not everything worked. There was an issue halfway through which attempted to address the topic of gay suicide, a terrible thing which has become increasingly noticed and played into by the media. The motives of the issue were sound, the storytelling less enthralling. As three trades, the run will seem layered and intelligent. As seventeen single issues released monthly, the run sometimes seemed to plod, and beat a few ideas too often into the minds of readers. But overall, Generation Hope managed to move on from the gloom of New X-Men and energy of Young X-Men to create a new, invigorated take on young characters which kept the line buoyant. Generation Hope was aligned with Cyclops after Schism, and proved to be the only ‘blue side’ title to really have an idea of itself. While Uncanny was busy with the biggest-picture, and New Mutants/X-Men both seemed lost, Generation Hope strode on as the only X-Men book to deal with the idea of being a hero for a world that hates and fears you.
We got seventeen issues out of this. It may have been divisive, and clever, and subtextual, and difficult. But Generation Hope proved that Marvel can still go for the left-field when they want to, and take stories and characters into places nobody would’ve expected. Most importantly, it was entertaining, and silly, and funny. Nobody can tell what AvX will lead us to. But let’s hope it’s more stories like this one. The X-Men could do with some intricacy.
Tuesday, 27 March 2012
Chris Roberson and Rich Ellis’ six-issue series for IDW hit the fourth part this last week, and with that came a few reveals and a lot more world-building. With lead character Em established now (although not delved into particularly, so as to better keep her mysterious), Roberson is heading full-on into creating the strange and curioser lands of Memorial, where different Imaginary Kingdoms stand alongside each other and attempt to establish themselves. Each is ruled by a different Queen, although two have recently gone missing and the third is hiding out by herself. One rules over the land of Is, where things exist. One rules over Was, which is where things that no longer exist go. And the third is Maybe, where things which might or might not exist live. The worst thing you can do is go from Is to Maybe to Was.
Based on the map we get to see in issue #4, Is and Was are rather largeplaces, with the tiny Maybe Realm an island inbetween. There’s also a small isle to the far side, which I’m assuming is where the Court of Shadows are based. This may be wrong, and the middle island may actually be the Everlands, where Em is currently wandering, lost. I haven’t quite pieced together everything yet, but Roberson is slowly starting to show off the whole of his small Kingdom.
If I remember correctly the three sisters who rule as Queens, and quarrel bitterly with one another, are called Moment, Memory, and Maybe. Moment is the only one around at the, uh, moment. The other two have been fighting one another, and one of them, because of this, has sent a group of assassins to capture Em, and gather the key around her neck which leads to the real world. Luckily for her, the Everlands are where people who might exist (actually this suggests that the Everlands are part of Maybe, doesn’t it? Ah, this is all getting confusing. Vintage Comics Vanguard!) have banded together to fight back. People like Robin Hood, Sinbad and Mulan are all here - did they ever actually exist, or were they created from myth? - and ready to help Em in his slightly vague mission.
The series has slowed down a little with this issue, as Roberson clearly wants to make his World more defined and fill things with new characters. Memorial is planned to be a group of miniseries which build on one another to create a full, Kingdom-spanning epic (in the style of Locke & Key), so we have to invest some time in creating the world that future stories will also take part in. It’s unlikely we’ll see resolutions to many of the dangling plots currently hanging from the pages - the warring Queens, the villains, the consequences of having so many fictional and non-fictional people knocking around - and will see focus snap back to Em for the last two issues.
There are a lot of things going on here which’ll probably make most sense once the first miniseries has wrapped up. And even more which probably won’t be rounded out until the entire story, however long that might be, concludes. But when the World is crafted so intricately as Ellis colourist Grace Allison (who does a simply fantastic job every issue, and especially seems to enjoy colouring in sunsets), that’s not really much of a problem. Memorial remains one of the most entertaining, engrossing stories available right now, and every new issue digs up something strange for readers to pore over. The big reveal at the end isn’t actually that big, in and of itself. But because everybody else seems to be so shocked by it, there are hints that even more mythology is going to be woven into the storyline. And that couldn’t be more fun to anticipate.
Friday, 23 March 2012
Dan Slott began his second big event storyline of the 'Big Time' era for Spider-Man, following on from last year's massively successful Spider-Island story. Ends of the Earth is another six-part story, but this time with Stefano Caselli bookends. Caselli will draw the first two issues and the last two issues, with Humberto Ramos nipping in to do the middle section of the tale. This is going to be the grand swansong for Doctor Octopus, and Slott's main question here is: who is the hero?
While Peter Parker uses his newfound scientist job to make gadgets that can stop the Secret Six (and any other villain who wanders in), that results in an opening attack on a villain which sees Spidey riding a hoverboard and throwing Spidey-bombs. Very much akin to Green Goblin, but also very much a nod to the rest of the story, and what may well be the theme of this event. J. Jonah Jameson has always said that Spider-Man is a threat, but Ends of the Earth has made several hints that, this time, he's right.
Doctor Octopus is dying, and wants to leave a last mark on humanity. To that extent, he plans to reverse global warming... but he says he wants help. After showing humanity that Global Warming is real by blocking the ozone layer for a few minutes, he then offers them a chance to help him permanantly reverse the problem. Humanity seems to accept the offer. Not Peter Parker.
And so while humans bicker over what this all means for them, Peter Parker is the only one to stand up and make immediate plans to stop Octavius. The question is: does Peter's concern come from a genuine desire to save the world, or is he flailing against his old enemy because he wants to continually define himself as a hero? Dr Ock seems to be offering a solution to a problem which faces everybody on Earth. And Peter is so sure that it's time for him to get his gadgets together and beat up an eight-limbed villain that he's not even stopping to pay attention to what he's fighting anymore.
Is this going to be a way for Dan Slott to flip the status quo once more, and leave Spider-Man an actual menace to the world? Nobody's really tried to do this with Spider-Man yet. While Captain America, Iron Man, and every other Marvel character has been conflicted and driven into a grey area by something traumatic or personal, Spider-Man normally doesn't get proactively angry unless an alien is hopped onto his chest. So this looks to be driving the character away from his traditional role as the underdog hero and into a position as a morally grey, less assured hero. It's fascinating to watch, and Dan Slott drops just enough subtext into the issue to suggest that this will become a proper, full-time, Big-Time part of the plot in stories to come.
Vertigo's recent fortunes have been very strange. Scalped, Hellblazer, The Unwritten and Fables are probably the most prominent titles left for the imprint, which has recently seen talent like Brian K. Vaughan, Grant Morrison, Tony Harris and Brian Wood - all of whom who've had considerable success for Vertigo in the past - leave to join Image instead. With Scalped heading towards the final issue later this year and the new Fables spinoff, 'Fairest', receiving middling reviews (not least from me), is Vertigo in trouble?
The four titles added to the current lineup, which also features titles like IZOMBIE and American Vampire, are Saucer Country, Voodoo Child, Fairest and The New Deadwardians. There's a range of style between those four, but most interesting is that with the exception of Fairest, the books are all written by newcomers to Vertigo. While the old guard are leaving - Jason Aaron moving to Marvel, Brian Wood to Image, Warren Ellis to... quit comics forever, appearently - Vertigo have decided to embrace it and move onto new talent. Bolstered by Bill Willingham's latest Fables spinoff series, which tends to attract a female audience which helps to increase sales, these are the books which Vertigo are going to have to stake themselves on.
No comic imprint which can boast Denys Cowan, Paul Cornell, Bill Willingham, Scott Snyder, Ryan Kelly, Phil Jimenez and Peter Milligan amongst the creative talent can be considered to be failing, but the other publishers are now starting to really up their game to rival Vertigo's once-untouchable lead. Marvel's Icon line still has most of Mark Millar's current output, as well as a swelling of Brian Michael Bendis books. Image have announced some massive creative teams on their next wave of books, without forgetting that many of their current titles like Walking Dead are already some of the biggest-selling books in comics. IDW have pushed more original content to line up beside their work on established properties, as writers like Chris Roberson are allowed to write books like Memorial. Mark Waid is apparently leading a digital revolution which promises to make online comics the next step in publishing. Everywhere around Vertigo, publishers are upping their game.
Where does that lead Vertigo? The star of their Hellblazer series, John Constantine, was recently pushed back into the main DC Universe, where he's operating alongside fellow Vertigo immigrants like Animal Man, Shade the Changing Man, and Swamp Thing. The big properties are now part of the DC Universe, and aren't left within the unconfined world of Vertigo. At any moment DC could now power down Vertigo and bring the notable characters into the main universe. Flashpoint made that possible for them. Big books like Scalped and Northlanders are reaching conclusion. Immense pressure must now be on the remaining titles to keep the quality high, or readers will simply move to any one of the other numerous creator-owned titles now available for purchase.
On the one hand, the quality of the books has remained rather high - especially with titles like American Vampire, The Unwritten, and Northlanders. On the other hand, quality doesn't lead to sales. Many Vertigo titles are held aloft by the money DC makes elsewhere. If that support falters, what incentive will creators have to join with Vertigo, while everyone else finds success under their own steam? It looks like Vertigo has become the platform for writers to make themselves known, before they launch themselves as a brand and take their fanbase elsewhere. It'd have to work for people like Wood and Morrison first, but if it does? It's going to rip a hole in DC's creativity which may not be repaired, even by Voodoo Child's magic.
Thursday, 22 March 2012
Wednesday, 21 March 2012
Written by Michael Moreci and Steve Seeley, drawn by JM Ringuet, Hoax Hunters has a fairly irresistable central premise. What if all these TV shows we see on the lower end of the channel guide, the ones where people go to haunted houses to see if they can find ghosts, were actually a big cover up? Instead of being shows made by producers to make fun of gullible viewers who think monsters exist, they are instead shows made by the Government to trick gullible viewers into thinking that monsters DON'T exist! The three presenters are actually agents who have to cover up the existence of monsters by making documentaries which tell viewers that each sighting is actually a hoax.
Interestingly, Image have decided to release an issue #0 for the series - with a teaser for issue #1 at the back - which takes the premise to Russia. Things start off simply enough, and then go completely insane before we reach the end. It's been a while since I've read a book where the writer takes such manic glee in making things so absolutely crazy, and it's incredibly good fun to watch it happen. In fact, the sections of the book which are calmer and don't create pure nonsense are actually the weakest sections. Not in the sense that they're about exposition and setup, but more in that they don't seem to fit in to the central narrative, which is nutso. The three members of the team - redhead girl, undead-looking-man, and awesome bald leader (I left my copy of the book in the other room and can't be bothered to go get it) are developed rather quickly, leaving the bulk of the issue free to inspire a Russian conspiracy to create a supergod mechanoid weapon of mass destruction.
But first, the astronaut suit which is flown about by a load of ravens. This is the monster which gets the team involved in Russia, in what appears to be a 'monster of the month' type format the book will likely take once it hits issue #1. The characters are all rather simple for the time being, but making them simple means Moreci/Seeley can really go for broke on the jokes and silly interaction. There are some nice reveals about the team later on, and show that there's going to be room for the book to expand beyond its central premise, once positive decimal numbers kick in. Awesome bald leader is particularly fun, although undead-looking-man takes rather a backseat for the time being. The book gives them all some things to do, but the redhead girl and ABL get the real showcase moments, and steal the book away.
JM Ringuet's artwork immediately knows what to do with the story, and goes all-out on dynamic action shots, heroic posing, and villainous monstrosity. Each page is as gloriously over-the-top as the dialogue and story, with some neat character designs keeping the central three recognisable and entertaining. Ringuet never misses a beat, and it's a shame he won't be handling the series beyond this point (unless he is? So far, solicits suggest that Axel Medellin ((whose work has a lovely, Rich Ellis-esque vibe to it) will be handling the main series) as his sense of vivid, off-kilter perspective works wonders on the page. The colouring is spot-on, also.
Hoax Hunters is a crazy, crazy comic, which gets more and more bizarre as it goes on. If every issue starts off fairly normal and descends into uncanny, tightly-scripted madness as it goes on, this is going to become a real treat to read every month. Issue #0 is certainly a promising start.
Tuesday, 20 March 2012
Marjorie Liu likely had some sweeping, poetic ideas for a long-form narrative which would take the character X-23 and turn her into Laura Kinney, giving her purpose and meaning as a character for the first time since her introduction. Sadly, the series was one of several which ran out of readers and was ended as part of the Great Cancellation Rush of last year. Alongside books like Ghost Rider, Black Panther and Daken, X-23 was cancelled before the full story could be told - but Liu had more issues than many in which to tell her story, and did manage to make a little headway with the character. Issue #21, released last week, was the last part of her shortened narrative, and elects to be an impressionistic, dialogue-free farewell to a character who remains hampered by her creation.
Working with artist Phil Noto on the story, this final issue sees X-23 doing what her father has done many, many times before: heading into the snowy wilderness in order to go on a spirit quest of sorts. While there, she wanders about aimlessly, looking for anything that can provide her with a sense of direction. Which, really, mirrors the intention of the series as a whole. X-23 was created to be a clone of Wolverine who was brutally, brutally tortured for years. This made her into an emotionless robot of a person, unable to decide anything for herself and letting anybody take advantage of her. Her creators Craig Kyle and Chris Yost spent several years pretending that they were going to start telling the story which unravelled this, and let her move into becoming her own person, but that story never materialised and she was left a blank slate.
Marjorie Liu came on to possibly one of the toughest writing jobs in mainstream comics. X-23 doesn’t have an internal narrative, or defining characteristics, or motivation. She was designed to be a female Wolverine, kill things, and make other characters feel sympathetic. No momentum was ever put into the psyche of the character. Which makes this issue all the more interesting. Over the course of the series, Liu has tried again and again to deconstruct the flawed character she was given, and rebuild her into something usable. That’s been a struggle. Arcs guest-starring Gambit, Jubilee, Daken and the Fantastic Four all failed to get X-23 into a workable place for other writers to use her. They were entertaining, but the character remained stubbornly difficult to progress.
Issue #21 basically accepts all that, and goes feral. X-23 sheds her clothes in the wilderness, leaves her things behind, and wanders in search of… something. What she encounters is a pack of wolves, which she follows until they lead her to a white wolf. Oh, if only Colossus were around! This leads into a strange dream-type sequence where she if made to fight a feral version of herself in what appears to be a snowy dreamscape. Liu has spent twenty issues trying to destroy the dark side of X-23 in order to insert personality into the light half. In the end, though, she realises to change her tactic - much like X-23 does. Instead of one half killing the other, they instead merge into one and reveal X-23 as she is: a scared, directionless clone of Wolverine, sitting lost in the woods. She leaves on her bike, watching the black wolves but waving to the white wolf. She’s not leaving her demons behind, but instead choosing to keep them within herself. She finds a little peace, almost manages to smile, and moves on.
It’s an interesting final issue, open to interpretation, and drawn beautifully by Noto. Her story is going to continue (and, in fact, is currently doing just that) in Christos Gage’s Avengers Academy series. But really, this is the final adventure for the character, and a final definition for what she is. It isn’t so simple as “she is light and dark”; but more that she believes she can be both. She isn’t going to just focus on how dangerous her demons can be, but will instead acknowledge and embrace the good parts to her, the human elements. I think, anyway. X-23 as a series was an attempt to showcase how the character could work within the wider Marvel Universe. And while it didn’t always work, and ultimately leaves the character in a rather nebulous place, it still gave X-23 a chance to expand and grow. X-23 #21 was a curious issue, but a rather fitting finale, and it feels as though X-23, finally, has managed to move past her origin story and into a character of her own.
Monday, 19 March 2012
I thought I’d do a piece about some of the moments that have meant the most to me over my years of reading. I make no argument that these are the “best ever” moments…just that they’re the moments that have curled my toes. Which ones curled yours? Let me know!
25: Doop fights the Avengers
24: Doop is an excellent cameraman
23: Doop outclasses Gambit in combat
22: Doop murders Corkscrew
Corkscrew was an unruly recruit who murdered somebody while trying-out to join X-Statix. Doop took him into the woods for a lovely camping trip, to talk to him one-on-one about why he felt the need to murder. Having decided not to bother with the heart-to-heart once they both got there, Doop instead killed Corkscrew with an axe.
21: Doop spells things out to Wolverine
20: Doop gives a thumbs up
19: Doop is drawn by Katie Cook
18: Doop is not affected by time manipulation
Lacuna tried to make X-Force into a laughing stock by using her ability to manipulate time to play pranks on them. Doop was unaffected.
17: Doop relaxes with Wolverine
16: Doop’s brain explodes
Luckily he keeps a spare in his arse.
15: Doop films a sex tape
Doop caught his manager having a threesome with two girls who were NOT his girlfriend! So he filmed it, made it public, and got his manager in severe trouble with the missus.
14: Doop invades Asgard
13: Doop is bisexual
Doop was hired to shadow somebody's wife, but the client then fell in love with Doop instead! So Doop took him home.
12: Doop teams up with Wolverine
11: Doop takes charge during a fire drill
During a recent invasion of the Jean Grey School, Doop kept a cool head and marshalled the kids towards an exit.
10: Doop exhausts Doug Ramsey
After hours ot torturous interrogation, Doop eventually decided to let Doug go. But he'll be keeping an eye on you in future, Ramsey..
9: Doop gets some action
7: Doop extracts a confession from Gambit
6: Doop eats Mjolnir
Then he replicated it several times. While Thor tried to pick out the right hammer, Doop made his sneaky exit from battle.
5: Doop saves U-Go-Girl’s life
By getting Wolverine involved in an X-Force mission, Doop was able to save the lives of his teammates U-Go-Girl and Orphan. Good one, Doop!
4: Doop intimidates Magneto
3: Doop is not killed in the first issue of X-Force
Not an easy feat.
2: Doop teaches religion
1: Doop enters his own dimension
Obsessed with a zit that had grown on his head, Doop popped the offending wart. ONLY TO BE SUCKED INTO A DIMENSION WITHIN HIS OWN MIND. Such are the complex mysteries of Doop
Sunday, 18 March 2012
Another Wondercon announcement for the X-Men, this time revealing that Victor Gischler and the editorially-mandated elements of Adjectiveless X-Men will both leave in May, and Brian Wood will take over the book. Previously a team-up which set up a slightly varied team of characters with a random Marvel hero or team for no particular reason (with every fifth or sixth issue dealing with Jubilee), the title will now fully-embrace the spy elements which were brought in with the Regenesis revamp. Joining Wood for the book will be artist David Lopez, who has been wasted on New Mutants and will hopefully pep things up a bit over on X-Men.
The team will also change. Jubilee will vanish, which bodes ominously for her particular future (unless Marjorie Liu wants her for Astonishing), and Warpath will also leave, thank goodness. Taking their place will be PIXIE, the greatest of all X-Men, taking her place alongside Colossusnaut, Storm, Domino and Psylocke. The spy stories will start in June - and Jorge Molina will continue to provide the covers.
The biggest Marvel news from the convention, though, was the announcement that KellySue DeConnick and Dexter Soy will be revitalising Marvel's Captain Marvel series, but with Carol Danvers in the title role. This is another one of those 'spins out of AVX' things, so nobody is allowed to say too much about it. However, the new costume is pretty great, it's a chance to have a grandstanding female role in the Marvel Universe, and hopefully it'll be successful and provide a launchpad for more Marvel titles starring female characters. It also pretty much closes off any thoughts people were having about Marvel rebooting themselves, and Soy's artwork looks great. This is going to be a good thing!
Friday, 16 March 2012
INCREDIBLE HULK #9 & 10
JASON AARON (w)
PASCAL FERRY (a) (#9)
TOM RANEY (a) (#10)
CoverS by MICHAEL KOMARCK
ASM IN MOTION VARIANT ALSO AVAILIBLE (#9)
• Hulk continues to STAY ANGRY in Jason Aaron’s highly anticipated new story arc!
• To do so, the green goliath picks some fights… on the ocean floor and in space!!!
• SEA MONSTERS! RUSSIAN SUPER-SOLDIERS! THE ANGRIEST HULK YET! STAY ANGRY, TRUE BELIEVERS!
32 PGS. (EACH)/Parental Advisory …$3.99 (EACH)
Thursday, 15 March 2012
I've always tried on this site to take the colouring into account whenever I review a title, an initiative kicked off a few years ago when colourist Val Staples left a comment thanking me for not forgetting the role that colourists play in making a title work. For the most part, this has meant noting the quality work done by people like Sonia Oback, Laura Martin and others, and how they can elevate a comic through the strength of their design. Francesco Francavilla's art pops because the colouring job he lays on is stark and bold, driving the reader around the art. In Frankenstein: Agent of Shade, the work simply doesn't hold up.
Everything in the comic is muted, from the bizarre creatures that fight the heroes to the settings and Frankie himself. Throughout the most recent issue, which is number #7, he looks less like a stitched-together monster and more like a shiny melon with eyes. The colouring job seems so faded that everything has a kind of cheap shine, and nothing is able to pop off the page. The fight scenes fail to catch the readers attention - on page 7, for example, there is a fight initiated between Frankenstein and his allies; and a group of robots. This page doesn't have a background. Now, part of that is because Ponticelli's didn't draw one. But at the same time, Villabrrubia chooses for the background to be stark white. In the other panels on the same page, there is a clear greenish-tinge to the back wall, but the big splash page itself is completely white, and makes the fight scene look like it's taking place in some kind of limbo. It acts against the image of the fight itself.
Part of this seems to rest with a change in inker. Ponticelli had previously been inking his own work, but the arrival of Walden Wong has cleaned up the look of the art, and left it feeling far too restrained and faded.
The colouring isn't all bad. On the very next splash page, Villarrubia does some fun stuff with the fight scene, including the flare from several lasers which are fired by the villains. A scene with Ray Palmer using his Atom powers to kill a group of enemies is well rendered, with the effect looking great on the page. But the main cast again seem defiantly muted in colour. Frankenstein is a weak green, while two of his compatriots are THE SAME COLOUR. There's supposed to be chaos reigning down everywhere, but the yello robot blood is simple and textureless, and looks awful on the page. There are several spots which have simply been missed out, and so are white. Two pages on from this, the yellow background overlaps the costume of Lady Frankenstein. It's meant to convey how the light from a door is hitting her, but it looks more like somebody forgot to colour her arm in.
A high-concept title filled with silly ideas - which is what Frankenstein is under Lemire's pen - needs big, bold, brash colouring. Instead, we're given a rather weak rendering of the mad sci-fi which makes everything look like wallpaper. The backgrounds and foregrounds are equally dull and diluted, and the book suffers as a result. Frankenstein has the potential to be a fun little book, but as it stands the artwork simply doesn't stand out enough.
Steve Wacker, head editor of the Spider-Man franchise for Marvel, has spent the past few years trying to build up a series of books to stand alongside the main Amazing Spider-Man title. Ever since Brand New Day narrowed down Spider-Man’s titles to a single ongoing series, there have been a few attempts to create a family line of titles. First came the end of storyline ‘The Gauntlet’, out of which launched a Spider-Girl series by Paul Tobin which lasted just under a year, and gave us a great new Spider-Girl character. Since then though, there’s been a bit of a struggle – the two Carnage stories by Zeb Wells have done rather well, but it’s been rather quiet aside from that.
But now we have three Spider-Man titles running simultaneously, with Venom and Scarlet Spider launching out of the main title and managing to hit what appears to be a successful stride. Scarlet Spider is only onto issue #3, but the first issue sold out repeatedly and sales don’t seem to be dropping as fast as they normally do after the first issue. Meanwhile Rick Remender’s Venom series has been rather successful, pushing the character over into a role on Secret Avengers and leading into a mini-event co-starring Ghost Rider, X-23 and Red Hulk. And let’s not forget Dan Slott’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man, which is critically acclaimed, a strong seller for Marvel, and quickly dropping any bad memories from the Brand New Day storyline which so many readers hated. What changed?
Quality has to play a role in it. All three titles are strong, with solid creative teams and three perfectly-suited writers for each main character. Remender is becoming known for writing black-ops teams and soldiers like Flash Thompson (the current Venom), while Chris Yost’s dark streak makes him perfect for writing a flashy, conflicted hero like Kaine (the current Scarlet Spider). Dan Slott has spent years working his way up to Spider-Man, making it clear all the while that this is his dream job. His sense of humour and light-hearted approach to storytelling made it inevitable that he’d eventually take over the book, and he’s proving every bit the perfect fit everybody thought he’d become.
The marketing is also important. Venom is being pushed by Marvel at the moment, as Remender’s introduced him into the cast of Secret Avengers and made him the focus of the storyline. He also had the benefit of a Spider-Island tie-in, as well as the fact that, y’know, he’s a well-established fan-favourite character anyway. Scarlet Spider also launched out of Spider-Island, which happened to be a very well received event indeed. While Fear Itself crashed and burned, and Flashpoint was largely hated; Spider Island established itself as the best Spider-Man story of the past few years (which is a tough accolade to win: there have been some EXCELLENT stories recently). Both Dan Slott and Humberto Ramos have been praised for an interesting, fun event which didn’t have to rely on seriousness or shock value to keep the reader’s attention. The Kaine subplot organically pushed the character into his own title, while the Venom tie-in focused on character building above everything else.
Basically, all three books marketed themselves strongly but also then provided readers with different reading experiences which all suit themselves to the characters. Kaine is a little undefined still, but aside from that all three titles have managed to separate themselves whilst staying within reach of one another. Also – and let’s not forget how important this is – none of the characters happen to be a Hispanic female. Spider-Girl’s series was a DELIGHT, but crashed very quickly. With the success of Scarlet Spider, Venom and Amazing Spider-Man (which will be heading into a second event this month, ‘To The Ends of the Earth’), perhaps now might be a good time to try again with the character? With three successful titles under his belt, and the success of Daredevil/Punisher at the same time, it seems like this year could be a great chance for Wacker to try experimenting further with the cast he’s got.
First though, we’ll have to work out what this whole ‘Spider-Men’ thingy is about that Marvel have been teasing. What’s going on with Miles Morales? It’d be great to see him enter the 616 Universe – and with Bendis leaving Avengers soon… maybe?
Wednesday, 14 March 2012
In order for the above wordplay to work, please pretend that you are Tarzan or Hulk, making a plain statement about your thoughts on Saucer Country #1, released by Vertigo this week. Created by Paul Cornell and Ryan Kelly, the series lis set to tell the story of Arcadia Alvarado, a hispanic woman who is in the running to become the next President of the United States. Only, just a few days ago, something strange happened to her and her ex-husband..
Near the start of the issue somebody tells Arcadia that the American public are only willing to accept a divorced, hispanic, female President in one scenario: that it's her. And throughout this issue, Cornell sets out to make his case for why the publci respond so strongly to her. Instead of plaguing her with obvious dark thoughts, rage issues and drug abuse, she's instead seen to be a clear-headed, eloquent, charismatic speaker; and each page drives her more and more into the spotlight. She immediately grabs focus for the reader, and her personality comes across smartly and neatly. We could've had a "strong female character" who seems outrageously qualified and suitable for this role, but instead Cornell pulls back and plays things more simply. She's an engaging presence on the page, but we're seeing some subtle hints as to how she might start to crack under the pressure of politics.
And also alien probing. It's made clear straight away that the sci-fi elements of the story will be a hovering threat over the cast, not immediately present but pulling all the strings behind the scenes. The aliens are classic green, shadowy, bulbous creatures, conducting experiments (if indeed, they exist outside of Alvarado's head) without letting anybody know their purpose or method. While they appear once or twice over the course of the issue, they are not the current focus of the storyline. Instead, we get to see glimpses of the political landscape and the people who'll presumably be making up the supporting cast. The aliens are around, but they liekly won't make their presence known for a long while still.
Which is interesting. It makes the supporting cast interesting. Already rather well-drawn, the five or six supporting characters all seem to have a backstory set up already, and clear motivations for where they want to go. It most clearly brings to mind Brian K. Vaughan's Vertigo titles Y: The Last Man and Ex Machina, where each character has a purpose which evolves and is defined from the start, so you can see them develop but also understand how their upbringing has brought them to their current emotional state. Saucer Country has perhaps some of the most solid characterisation of any comic this year, and the characters seem diverse and interesting. Also, we don't know if any of them might secretly be aliens or something, and that adds a neat layer of conspiracy over proceedings. The script hasn't yet started to lay down paranoia or conspiracy into the narrative, but it seems highly likely that future issues are going to have fun with the idea.
Ryan Kelly deserves a huge amount of credit for his work with the characters. His design for Arcadia leaves her looking composed and professional, but with a careful wildness in the eyes when needed. Likewise, ex-husband Michael seems rugged and handsome, but haunted by something. The personalities shine through in each page, with the many conversation scenes benefitting greatly from Kelly's deft use of expression and perspective. He handles the shifts in genre brilliantly, providing a weird and creepy tone for the opening sequence (helped by colourist Giulia Brusco) but quickly establishing order even within the same location two pages later. Cornell has compared this to being a cross between the X-Files and The West Wing, but it seems to have just as much in common with something like Alias. The dual life and moods of Arcadia provide an interesting counterbalance to the rollercoaster of politics, and seeing her attempt to balance her rational nature with the bizarre things that she's starting to remember abut her recent past is going to be massively entertaining.
Saucer Country is a strong, assured first issue. Superb character design and development combine with a teasing, curious narrative to provide what looks to be Vertigo's next big hit.
Tuesday, 13 March 2012
My weekly column is called 'Killing Jokes', a play on the idea that 'killing' a joke means you've pulled it off successfully. Also apparently Alan Moore wrote a story about it once or something but whatever. Every week I'm going to be pulling apart stories and characters to see how, at their heart, it's humour that makes them work. Or fail! Sometimes I'll focus on failures. Please go read it, it's not too bad I promise. And if there are any funny characters, stories, or writers you think I should fit into a future piece, tell me about it! I'm obviously going to ignore you and continue being an auteur, but perhaps something you say might get through to me on a subconscious level and I'll accidentally write something you suggest. Auteur!
Anyway, let's get back to Comics VANGUARD right? Amirite? AmI? I'm so right you guys.
Monday, 12 March 2012
How can we redefine what the X-Men books are meant to represent, as a metaphor, in such times? Thankfully Si Spurrier has come in, with his miniseries X-Club, and helped provide a new way of looking at the metaphor. Which, man, that comes just in the nick of time. His team may be made up of two white guys, an Indian homo sapien, and a robot, but he’s managed to turn this four-member team into a diverse, radically bizarre array of characters who are single-handedly helping to revive the concept of ‘allegory’ to the X-Men franchise.
The fourth of five issues came out this week, and one of the pages is the following:
What you’re seeing is Madison Jeffries, launched out a failing space ship and in a free-fall down to Earth which will kill him, addressing himself and finally managing to come to terms with who he is. He may be white and straight, but he’s also a minority and his life is hard because of it. It’s weird and strange for any one of us to comprehend, but Madison has fallen in love with a robot, and has always been attracted to machinery. Not humans, but mechanisms. While it’s hard to understand, can anyone reading the comic deny him the right to feel what he feels? It’s a fascinating, clever twist of the idea of sexuality. Once, society was terrified of homosexuality and threw burdens upon it. Now, we can re-experience that prejudice through our own reaction to the Madison-Jeffries-fancies-robots reveal.
In this era, we’re seeing homosexuality treated with the respect and honour it deserves, which leaves the X-Men franchise free to explore the issue with more subtlety, and push into other aspects of human sexuality and interest. This single page offers a redefinition of the X-Men’s core philosophy, and seems to be a significant step towards bringing the metaphor home again. As Jeffries admits and discovers who he is, maybe the X-Men will soon be able to do the same.
Sunday, 11 March 2012
It’s taken four issues, but Brian K Vaughan has now finally managed to set his journey into motion, with Yorick and 355 taking to the roads in order to find Dr Mann, who is somewhere in Boston. After an initial mini-arc which saw Yorick meet his mother and affirmed everybody’s interests for the rest of the series, we’re now able to see the formula which Vaughan will be sticking with for most of the next fifty-six issues: Yorick and 355, walking, bickering.
But there are other elements starting to drift into the world of Y: The Last Man. We see the first appearance of the much-debated ‘Amazons’ team of women, who have decided that this is a chance to assert feminine dominion over the world. Which, when all the men are dead, seems a little bit like shutting the stable door after the horse has bolted. But fair play to them, they’re radicals and Vaughan wastes no time in presenting them as an extremely muddled, uncertain lot. Led by Victoria (whose name, like most of the characters in this series, will become more important as time goes on), these women spend their time destroying sperm banks, leaving anti-male graffiti everywhere, and trying to induct more women into their cause.
Let’s focus a little on Victoria this week, who’ll be exposed more and more over the next few issues. For now, we get to see her stood on a podium, addressing the rest of her Amazons. She’s eloquent, but seemingly obsessed with the idea of chess analogies. After boasting about her ability to beat a man at chess, she then goes on to labour her point with more references to the game. On she goes, establishing as she does that she sees things from a black and white, simplistic perspective. Mankind are a mutation (biologically true: all foetuses are initially female before some mutate into males) which have now been ended by, you guessed it, Mother Earth. Her ambition now is to make sure that women take advantage of this event and make certain that no men will ever be born again.
Which makes it rather unfortunate that Yorick reveals his existence to her after only a few days on the road. Again we see that Vaughan isn’t afraid to assert his main character’s weakness, with an opening page of Yorick getting taken apart by some Amazon punches. It’s his big mouth what starts all this trouble off, as he visits a ‘shrine’ to masculinity (in a wonderfully phallic bit of silliness, this role is played by The Washington Monument. Just imagine all the nonsense that’ll be going on by The Leaning Tower of Pisa right now, eh?) and meets the Amazons for the first time. Instigating a fight for the second time in two issues, we find that Yorick isn’t much of a fighter and 355… is. The issue is clearly working to set scenes in place that’ll pay off later down the line, but it’s interesting to see 355 affirmed so quickly into the run.
I wonder if she’s got a secret past. Best wait and see, I suppose.
Saturday, 10 March 2012
You may notice that on the right side of the page is an email address for Comics Vanguard. Well, every so often I check that email to see what new things have cropped up. Most of the mail seems to come from a man in Chicago who believes he is the second coming of Thor, but from time to time I get little worthwhile things. Links to other articles, comics to review, that sort of thing. So, well, it’s time to dive in headfirst and see what’s going on in the Comics Vanguard postbox this month…
Kaitlin Cole has written a list, quite interesting to look through, of 12 colleges in America who don’t shun comics as a form of reference, and are actively encouraging the use of them for research. I’ve had a little personal experience with this myself, having gone to a University which DIDN’T take comics as a serious form of literature and tried to penalise my dissertation for being ‘too obtuse’. Granted I wrote 1000 words about a single panel of Y: The Last Man and didn’t provide a reference image, but have you tried scanning a comic panel onto a laptop? It’s a nightmare. Comics are just as valid as anything else (and more valid than beat poetry) , so it’s worthwhile celebrating the colleges which don’t close their minds to the value of the illustrated page.
Jason Lenox got in contact to talk about a Kickstarter Project he’s setting up, for a comic called ‘Through The Eyes of Grizelda’. He’s looking for $1000 to set up the project, and has already accumulated three quarters of that total. It’s actually a rather lovely looking piece, with some great art from Lenox which is currently in black and white. If the project makes the target, they’ll be able to distribute and colour the story, which was written by David Paul.
Somebody for a company I’m not going to mention are interested in paying Comics Vanguard $15 to write an article about watch straps. I'm considering it.
Barry Nugent is the author of the novel Fallen Heroes, which has recently spun off into a series of graphic novels which expand upon the world of his book. Written and drawn by a number of different artists, and featuring a foreword by Jonathan Ross, the graphic novel is available online right now as a digital download via the Unseen Shadows website.
Thor wants us to know that he hasn’t forgotten about us, and that if we pay just a small subscription fee he will be able to let us join his coat-button manufacturing business. This will apparently make us nine times the amount of money we put into it, and seems like a rather good deal, all things considered.
A few years later, Giraud created the Moebius identity for himself, creating revolutionary artwork for books like The Airtight Garage and L'Incal. These were comics which inspired a generation of American artists, who took this as a call to catch up, or be left behind. Months ago we spoke to Steven Sanders about Giraud, and he spoke about his admiration for, in particular, The Airtight Garage:
"I read [The Airtight Garage] in early high school in the late 80's/early 90's, and it made me obsessed with European and Japanese comics. Not to knock the American market, but the stories being told, and the art featured in these books were decades ahead of what was happening here in the states, (or at least what I could find at my local comic shop) and thusly they pretty much blew my mind."
Moebius worked continually over the next few decades, both in his own work and for companies like Marvel. But his talent for design was not just left for the comic-book world: he also worked as a designer for films like Alien, The Fifth Element, Tron and The Abyss. An inspiring figure whose work has inspired countless generations of artists, some of Giraud's most recent work was the six-volume series 'Inside Moebius', which showed him still pioneering and pushing comic-book artwork into places nobody could've thought up but him. He leaves behind an enduring legacy the likes of which will never be matched. He was an inspiration and an icon.
Friday, 9 March 2012
Sounds fun, right?