Invincible #61

April 29, 2009

Trouble afoot.

Trouble afoot.

Invincible #61

Robert Kirkman
Ryan Ottley

Without a doubt one of the best “indie” superhero comics of all time, Invincible is the story of a young man learning to deal with incredible powers and a troubled legacy. When Hannah at my LCS first convinced me to buy this book, she did so by saying that it was like if Peter Parker’s dad was Superman. And that is EXACTLY what it is like. Except that it isn’t. It doesn’t feel derivative at all because the characters seem so honest.
In issue #60, the “Invici-verse” suffered a major shake-up in teh form of a single issue “cross-over event” called “Invincible War”. It featured major destruction and now we are dealing with (as the cover boldly proclaims) the aftermath.

What worked:
Invincible is a great character. He is good person in situations. The result is morally ambiguous dialogue cut through by decisive action. When talking about it, the characters all express fairly valid world views, but then it is time to act and Invincible does what he knows to be right. It works because he is essentially a kid, so he is being pulled in all different directions, but he is decent and moral so he eventually does the right thing.
That, more than the beautiful artwork or fun action, has held this book afloat for more than 60 issues. Seeing Invincible struggle to make sense of his world, and then act on his newly formed convictions is a thrilling thing to see.

What did not work:
In the previous issue, evil versions of Invincible wrecked major world cities and killed millions of people. Easily the worst day in the history of the planet. And already, in the 5th panel of the aftermath issue, famous heroes are stepping up to Invincible’s defense. This is exactly the kind fo tragedy that can shake loyalties and make people say and do irrational things. This is what I am getting at. think back to 9-11. I bet you, like most Americans, felt, thought, and possibly even said some things which you would now consider to be racist. You were hurt, and frightened, and you just went with your gut. I am not saying that you acted in a racist way, but your reactions were not based one you LIFETIME of experience, but rather just the powerful impact of that one morning.
With a little bit of distance you can re-calibrate and get some perspective on something like this. It just rings a bit false, and a bit too easy, to have everyone already rallying by Invincible’s side. Everyone has accepted the fact that his father flipped from hero to villain…..sometimes you just don’t know someone as well as you think you do…..but even in the face of this global mega-disaster their knee jerk response if one of friendship and loyalty?
I don’t mean this as nit-pick of fictional character’s behaviors. Maybe that IS the way that Savage Dragon woudl respond. I mean this as disappointment over a lost dramatic opportunity. Kirkman takes the bold step of essentially wiping out all of his past continuity. None of those little human problems matter anymore. But, he seems to be already re-establishing the status quo. Everything Invincible knows is gone or shaken up, but he is already getting confirmation that he is still loved and trusted. When mistrust and resentment would make SO much sense at this moment, why give that back to him. He is hating and doubting himself for what happened, so why not pile on?
When Brian Bendis recently pulled a very similar move with Spider Woman in Secret Invasion, it didn’t quite feel right. Somehow, the weight just wasn’t behind it But that weight is here. It woudl make perfect sense for even his family to turn against him. It was HIS FACE they saw grinning as his duplicates murdered nations. I can see not being able to look at the face without feeling deep revulsion and dread, regardless of what you knew of him before. In a situation like this, there IS no before.
Why make such a decisive and book-changing move if you are then going to immediately start cleaning the wound and softening the blow?

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Daredevil #118

April 28, 2009

BEATDOWN!

BEATDOWN!

Daredevil #118

Ed Brubaker
Michael Lark

“There goes the whiniest super hero I ever met.”
Master Izo, DD 118

The thing about people who whine a lot, is the whining is usually part of a denial mechanism. They spin their wheels over how miserable their situation is because they are unwilling or unable to step back and see the big picture, or who is behind all of this supposed suffering. Daredevil has always been unable to see, but he has never been so unwilling as he is in Ed Brubaker’s epic run on the series. As many times as it is shoved in his face, he simply refuses to see that he is the cause of his own tragedy.

What worked:
For starters, the cover. That’s the good guy in this book? It is compelling enough as a stand alone image, but when you bring with it some knowledge of the kind of trouble that DD usually finds himself in, and the way that he tends to lash out when pushed and deal with consequences later. You know without reading a word that something really bad is going to happen.
Inside the issue, we find all of the voices of reason in Matt’s life telling him to put the breaks on. None of them have the full picture of the disaster that he is brewing, but they all know their friend well enough to know when he is messing up. And, of course, Matt would prefer to wallow in denial, self-pity, and mis-guided rage.
This little down-ward spiral of his plays out wonderfully. We are inside his head enough so that we can see why he thinks these things will be good ideas, but we are outside enough to see why everyone is so frustrated with him.
The unfolding “Return of the King” story is fantastic. The Kingpin has been toppled and returned several times. This could be the best of them. You can see the cunning brutality that made him the man he was, and may yet be again.

What did not work:
This issue sees the return of another classic DD villain, he just seems a bit out of place in this brutal new world. When The Kingpin is an evil wrecking-ball of a pawn being used as a weapon against both sides…it just raises the stakes quite a bit. I trust Brubaker, so I will wait and see. But as of the end of this issue I am thinking “If these people are playing around with the likes of DD and The Kingpin…what the heck is THAT GUY gonna do?” I just don’t know what he could possibly bring to the table.
On, the other hand, look at the position that that has put me in as a reader. Here I am underestimating a wild-card antagonist. Could be that is exactly the position I, and the other characters, SHOULD be in.
There are a few pages, most notably the confrontation between Matt and Foggy, where the art style does not work as well as it usually does. I do not know exactly the working relationship between Michael Lark and the new artists which are listed with him, nor do I know who did what on which pages. But, bringing in a bigger art team usually means a struggle to meet a deadline or maintain a schedule. The transitions are fairly seamless, but this particularly emotional scene is stricken a bit flat when seen side-by-side with the work of Lark, who has been with these characters for this entire run.


The New Avengers #52

April 27, 2009

Eye spy.

Eye spy.

The New Avengers #52

Brian Bendis
Billy Tan
Chris Bachalo

Marvel’s Dark Reign flows into this “Sorcerer Quest”* story line. The characters are all still clearly under the influence of Dark Reign’s new status quo, but the world is moving on. Regardless of what conditions restrain them, there will always be work for Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. In this case, it is an unbalance in Marvel’s often overlooked magical sub-verse. The dimension needs a new Sorcerer Supreme and all the major magic players are out to get their hooks into whomever that will be.

What worked:
This book really feels like part of a larger universe. Doctor Strange is not an Avenger, but he is the Avengers circle. He was a member recently, and he knows these people. So, he is more than a guest star, but less than a cast member. He really feels like a friend who came by because he was in a moment of need. It makes sense with the logic of this book’s universe. These people know eachother and can count on eachother.
The “call to action” in this story comes about unlike you will find in any other super-hero comic. There is no alarm bell, or shouting of orders. Rather, a bunch of friends sit around a (rather large) table and talk about the problem. It less about the immediate peril, and more about pride, humility, and loyalty.
If you just count the number of pages and panels where nothing seems to be happening, you would say this was a fairly boring comic book. But, when you read what is actually going on in those scenes, the story is never slow or dull. Those scenes have meaning because you care about the characters. But they are also, strangely, exactly what makes you care about them in the first place.
Luke Cage and Peter Parker explaining simple morality and team ethics to the high-and-mighty Dr. Strange makes for a really nice scene.
Billy Tan is really stepping up for the art on these issues. And though i love Chris Bachalo’s work, his action can just get confusing. Which brings us to…

What did not work:
All of the action in this issue was in the demonic/mystical sections, which were done by the amazingly talented Mr. Bachalo. And though I really do love his work for its energy and beauty…he forces it. He will push a shot in too close, or exploe an effect too far and a panel or two will simply be lost.
Though I do trust this arc to pick up the pace in the next issue or two, it is off to a rather slow start.

*My name for it.


The Immortal Iron Fist #25

April 27, 2009

Ruling with an Iron Fist

Ruling with an Iron Fist

The Immortal Iron Fist #25

Duane Swierczynski
Travel Foreman

Swierczynski’s run on this title really starts to pick up steam with this arc.

What worked:
This story arc has managed to find some feet that the previous arcs in this book have not quite had. What makes it work is the simple, high-concept, nature of the story. Watch me encapsulate it: The Immortal Weapons travel to their version of Hell to right some injustices done long ago. When they arrive, they are surprised to find themselves in Hell. None of the previous arcs in this series have had a simple, instant, mouthful of story like this.
It’s got mysticism, kung-fu, intrigue, and it still feels like a Marvel action comic book.
Being set in Hell, this story arc has essentially been an escape plot, and the climax of any escape plot must be the escape….and what goes wrong during its execution. In this case, the major fly in the ointment comes out as a trickle-reveal of a very significant mistaken identity.

What did not work:
The sub-plot that is brewing with Davos is being revealed to coyly. Cunning hints and teases of things to come are great, but it has been a month since we got our last hint, and it will be another month before we get another little hint-morsel. I do not remember what Davos is doing there. I just hope that when his secret whatever is revealed that we get a quick recap of what he has been doing.


Ghost Rider #34

April 24, 2009

Hell on wheels

Hell on wheels

Ghost Rider #34

Jason Aaron
Tony Moore

Jason Aaron’s run on Ghost Rider seems to have been building toward an epic conflict between good and evil. It happened two issues ago, off panel, and good lost. The characters in-the-know know that the end is coming now, the trickle-down effects of a lost war in Heaven. So, as they wait, they set out to put their affairs in order.

What worked: Lots of other characters in other genres might put their affairs in order by searching sould and making amends. But this is Ghost Rider. This is rock-a-billy-horror on the open road. Those are the rules these people live by. If you want to find answers, you find them out on the road. And that is exactly where disgraced Ghost Rider Dan Ketch finds himself. Himself and the newly bad-assed, dusted-off, Marvel villain “The Highwayman”.
Maybe The Highwayman was a regular villain at some point, but in this book he is reincarnated as a long-haul boogey-man who haunts the by-ways and back roads being just plain evil. He is really the best/worst kind of spectral bad guy, the kind where you don’t have to do a damn thing wrong to catch his wrath. All you have to do is be unlucky enough to cross his path. And, being an unlucky highway dweller at the unluckiest moment in his unlucky life (can’t talk about this tuff without startingto sound like a country song) Dan Ketch does exactly that, he crosses the path of The Highwayman.
I know this is supposed to be the “what worked” section and it is turning in to a recap. But everything worked.
This story is balls-out, kick-ass, hill-billy-horror, awesomeness. It is like if the Crypt Keeper listened to Motorhead.
It isn’t a tale of redemption (except in a meta sort of way, in that a previously cast off character is redeemed as a brand new villain), it isn’t a story shining light on the dark underbelly of society, or the hidden corners of our collective psychology. Nope. it is just a cool horror story. And, in what he believes to be the last days of the world on men, that is all Dan Ketch gets, a cool horror story. Awesome, full-blown, scary, cool, but ultimately a bit pointless…and you get the sense that Dan knows that.
As part of a larger story, this makes a great spacer. Don’t think of it as a filler story, think of it as a tension builder. The characters know that they have already lost, and that the world is cooming to an end. But we know that this is not what is going to happen. we know that something cool is going to happen and that Ghost Rider (or Ghost Riders) is going to somehow save everything. But until that happens, we are just bristling for it. Something is going to happen. Something big. And these “filler” issues just make us want it more.
Oh, and Tony Moore’s art tells the story perfectly. It is brutal and comedic at the same time. The Highwayman and his story are funny, but never played for ironic laughs. This is not hipsters in trucker hats laughing at “Smokey and the Bandit”. This is the understanding that humor and horror never really get too far apart.

What did not work: The story was essentially a chase and a fight. It could have been longer, deeper, and darker. It could have been more of a struggle. But, it wasn’t


100 Bulets #100

April 22, 2009

Final Curtain

Final Curtain

100 Bullets #100

Brian Azzarello
Eduardo Risso

This is the final issue of the 100 issue run of Vertigo’s best crime comic. It probably broke some kind of record. I know that there were a few delays and breaks along the way, but I do think that he first issue came out pretty close to 100 months ago. 100 great comic books, that is some kind of achievement.

What worked:
Azzarello and Risso are a great team. Their comics are moody and fast paced. So much is left unsaid that it can sometimes feel like watching a foreign film where you are not sure what happened, but you got the gist of it.
Azzarello drags the last tag of dialogue or narration over onto the start of the next scene in a way that creates a rich continuity of theme and emotion. It also builds a hell of a lot of tension because scenes never actually end…they just bleed out.

What did not work:
I honestly don’t know for sure what went on. Like I said, I got the gist of it. But that is about it. This series has kept us so information starved that big questions have counted as revelations. And now, at the end, I am really not sure if those questions have been answered.
I still do not know what happened at Atlantic City, or to whom it happened, or why the Minute Men were disbanded, or how they were “de-programmed, or how Dizzy learned kung-fu, or what Graves’s goal really was this whole time, or what the biggest crime in history was, or whose side anyone was on, or what the sides were….and that is just off the top of head the stuff that I know I don’t know.
I know that this book has been to hip for a “story so far” recap, but it really could have used one now and then.
I am afraid if I re-read them I STILL won’t know what was up, and then I will be disappointed. On the other hand, if it all does click together it will be fantastic.
As it is, I respect the book enough not to just go to wikipedia for the answers. I’ll either re-read it all one day, or just give up on “getting it” and call it a fun ride, or maybe – just maybe – I’l be walking along one day and overhear some trigger word and have all of the hidden clues and nuances come rushing back to me all at once.


Incognito #3

April 21, 2009

Femme Fatale

Femme Fatale

Incognito #3

Ed Brubaker
Sean Phillips

Comics with established universes love to do “what if” stories. Everyone loves these because they are fun and because they are an excuse for intellectual conjecture. You can just sit and spin your wheels about what would have happened if things had gone differently (without the usual I’ve-wasted-my-life that comes when we ask those same questions about real life). In academic world there are historical “what ifs” that have the same thrill. “What if Germany had won WWII?” Or “What if the Roman legions colonized Central America and the Aztecs could control dinosaurs with alien technology?” In between are genre what-ifs, like Alan Moore’s “Tom Strong” and Warren Ellis’s “Ignition City”. Essentially, the idea is to explore what stories would have been like if specific genres had developed differently. The core questions of incognito are about what would happen if the themes and concepts of pulp novels were brought through to a modern sensibility by way of the noirs.
It is as though the goodness and the badness of the pulps have been living together behind closed paperback covers for decades, and now Brubaker and Phillips are opening up those books and seing how things have turned out.

What works: Brubaker and Phillips know how to work together to tell a good story. You can see the trust that has built up in their relationship on the page. Brubaker tells the story he needs to tell and trusts Phillips to bring it home. That is certainly over simplifying it, ut I am not going to sit here and try to describe the intricacies of a years long working relationship. What I can see on the page is the result. Two men who are great at their jobs and know when to trust the other to do his thing. It works. The script is almost sparse, letting the art do the work, and the art supports the text, keeping it popping even when the story slows down. .
It is monochromatic and moody, but fast paced and fun.
Maybe the protagonist will eventually develop scruples and honor, but he hasn’t yet, and that is making this a hell of a lot of fun to read. At one point he passes a beautiful woman (downright fatale) in tears, and he just doesn’t give a hit. He notices, but it just is not his problem. That’s fine, though, because he’s got plenty of other problems coming at him from every angle.
I still do not know exactly why he paused the way he did over the crying woman. And that is what is making this book such a thrill. I don’t know why he is doing what he is doing, he doesn’t know why he is doing it, and neither do any of the various parties who are keeping tabs on him.
It is interesting to look into the minds of conflicted characters in other, more introspective, comics. But, it is straight-up fascinating to watch that conflict play out, not knowing if you are one step ahead of the character or one step behind.

What did not work: There is some kind of rich back-story full of double crosses and interwoven origins that has driven our main character into hiding. If it comes out the the specific details o who did wht to whom and when are essential to how this story plays out, then it could be that there are too many story points with too little framework to hang them on.
Effectively creating a new genre for this book works against Brubaker here because there are standard structures and useful cliches to fall back on. Every relevant detail must be explicated.
If, however, all we end up needing to know is the emotional content of these relationships,then we should be fine.