Wednesday, October 24, 2007 11:27 AM
The Take
 by Fëanor

It turned out to be an even lighter week last week than I thought it would be, as two of the books I had on my list didn't make it into my pile, due to the fact that one was sold out (Powers #26, apparently less due to its popularity and more due to the fact that the shop got a couple of defective copies and had to send them back), and the other hadn't actually come out (SW: Dark Times #6 - these SW books apparently never come out when the Dark Horse website says they're going to). Luckily, I wasn't all that excited about either of those books anyway, and I was able to pick up some supplemental comics at the library, and at a book store in Rehoboth (eight books for only about $7!!).

From the library:
I got this book out of the library because it had Warren Ellis' name on it and I'd never heard of it before. Turns out it's a self-contained graphic novel written for Vertigo, and it doesn't take place in any particular comic book "universe" - it's apparently just the near future of our own world. The story goes like this: a space shuttle goes into orbit, and contact with it is suddenly lost. In fact, the whole shuttle just disappears completely. Because of this disaster, the space shuttle program is shut down. Ten years go by, and then one day without warning the space shuttle crashes to Earth at Kennedy Space Center. But the shuttle and what's left of its crew have come back... changed. The officials in charge put together a team of geniuses in three fields - propulsion, psychology, and the shuttle - to determine what happened.

It's a familiar kind of sci-fi/horror premise, but the man behind the helm here is Warren Ellis, and he's writing about a subject that - I discovered in the introduction - is dear to his heart, that being manned space flight. Thus the result is an absolutely fantastic book - thrilling, suspenseful, awe-inspiring, incredibly smart, beautiful, frightening, intense, and deeply moving. Of course, it probably helps that I'm passionate about space exploration myself, and that discussion of crazy theoretical physics excites me. But as far as I'm concerned, it's just another Ellis masterpiece.

The Road to Civil War
This is a book I probably would never have purchased, but since it was available for free in the library I figured, what the heck? And, as it turns out, it's actually quite good. It consists of a one-shot called New Avengers: Illuminati by Brian Michael Bendis, a couple of issues of Fantastic Four by J. Michael Straczynski, and three issues of Amazing Spider-Man, also by JMS. The one-shot covers the history of a secret group, composed of a handful of famous Marvel superheroes, that's been meeting occasionally over the years to pool resources in the interests of protecting the Earth and humanity. It also happens to be the group who agree (mostly) to shoot the Hulk into space, thus instigating the entire Planet Hulk and World War Hulk storylines. But this group is broken apart - just as the larger Marvel universe is shattered - by disagreement over the Superhero Registration Act. The FF issues tell the story that leads into the recent relaunch of Thor, and really only briefly touch on the Illuminati and Civil War storylines. The Spider-Man issues, on the other hand, lead directly into Civil War, and show how Tony Stark fought, in both clean ways and dirty, to stop the Superhero Registration Act, while also, of course, preparing for its likely movement into law. There's also, more importantly, the creepy way he ingratiates himself with Peter Parker and MJ, giving Spider-Man a fancy, high-tech new outfit and trying to mold him into his new protege.

As a whole, it's a good read. The Illuminati one-shot is particularly entertaining, with excellent art by Alex Maleev (whose work I admired before in Daredevil #100), and it really made me appreciate the character of Namor more than I ever had before. That guy is such a hard-ass. I also enjoyed the FF Doctor Doom/Thor's hammer story, and although the Spider-Man storyline is probably the least well done of the group - being rather wordy and clumsily obvious about what it's doing - it's also at least interesting to read and has some funny bits.

Captain America: Winter Soldier
Of the books I found on the shelves of the library, this is the one I was most excited about. It's issues #1-7 of Ed Brubaker's relaunch of Captain America, which I've been following for a while now (as you'll see below, I picked up issue #31 this week). These seven issues are the start of the gigantic storyline that's even now still moving forward, introducing the character of General Lukin, his connection with the Red Skull, and the concept of Bucky as the Winter Soldier. In many ways, it's a look back at the history of Captain America - the men who have called themselves by that name, and the men who have worked closely with him. It's a look back especially at the original Captain America's relationship with Bucky and how it came to its first catastrophic end. As I read this book, I really wished I knew more about Captain America's history as it had already been told in previous books, so I could tell which bits Brubaker was just re-telling, and which bits he was transforming, retconning, or making up out of whole cloth. But knowledge of that certainly wasn't necessary to understand or appreciate this book. It's a good story, engaging and moving, with good art, and I enjoyed reading it. But it's also, like the rest of Brubaker's work, extraordinarily dark and depressing. Brubaker never lets his characters be happy longer than about two seconds. It really gets a bit overwhelming after a while.

Probably my favorite part is the flashback sequence where Cap, Bucky, Namor, the Human Torch, and some other flying, flaming guy called Toro (together they were apparently known as the Invaders) work together with some Russians to take out a Nazi super-weapon. The Russians want the super-weapon for themselves, but the Red Skull blows it up before they can get it. The sequence ends with Cap sort of trying to console the leader of the Russians, who says, "You do not understand... you cannot. You and the Germans, you have your super-soldiers... your secret weapons... but we Russians... we have nothing but our winter." It's a great line, and it really kind of opened my eyes and put the whole book in a new, meaningful light for me - it made the title make sense in a way it never had before. Plus, I find the Russian culture and mindset in general to be very fascinating, and this kind of fits into that in a powerful way that feels right.

New to the comic book store last week:
Captain America #31
Meanwhile, in the current Cap storyline, Bucky is captured and gets brainwashed - again! - and it turns out that the fact that Sharon zapped her buddies is probably actually good news and not bad news after all. Brubaker, as usual, gives us almost unrelenting darkness, and the book ends with another scene of a character shooting his friend. Did Ed betray somebody at some point in his life and is now trying to work out his guilt issues in his comics? Anyway, I'm definitely still hooked on this story. It's good stuff.

Umbrella Academy: Apocalypse Suite #2
Once again, this series has delivered everything I want in a comic: drama, action, a dysfunctional family, killer robots (called terminauts!), a wire mother, apocalypse, an evil orchestra bent on destroying the world, time travel, and talking monkeys. God bless you, Umbrella Academy.

Death of the New Gods #1
This, as I should have suspected, is wordy, corny, melodramatic, and in most other ways not very good. It did keep me reading, but it didn't do much for me otherwise. I think I'm going to drop this series.

Vintage books from the book store:
The Original Ghost Rider #2
The only one of my purchases from the book store to come in a sealed bag, this is not actually the original, original Ghost Rider, but a '92 reprint of the '72 book. As is standard for Marvel books from that period, it is melodramatic, nonsensical, and loaded with ridiculously dated teen slang. Apparently the first issue of Ghost Rider left his origin a mystery, as said origin is explained, seemingly for the first time, in this issue - and it makes no sense at all. Johnny Blaze's adopted mother dies in an accident and makes Johnny promise never to work in her husband's motorcycle stunt show. But when her husband - Crash Simpson - also ends up at death's door, and it looks like Johnny will have to take over the family business from him, he does the only logical thing he can do - he asks Satan to let the old guy live! Wha?! Anyway, turns out he wasn't specific enough, and old dude dies during a crazy stunt. When Satan comes back for Johnny's soul, his adopted sister, who also happens to be the love of his life (um, eww), protects him with her innocence. But she only saves him from half Satan's curse, so he's the Ghost Rider.

Yeah. There's no part of that that makes any sense. And then it turns out that Crash Simpson made his own deal with the devil and is sort of alive, but has a different face and is the leader of a motorcycle gang, and now he needs to sacrifice his daughter's soul to truly live again as himself. Crazy!

It's kind of a fun comic, but it's just so utterly ridiculous that it's hard to really enjoy it that much.

Legends of the Dark Claw #1
Speaking of utterly ridiculous and hard to enjoy, here's LotDC #1! This is another title in the Amalgam Comics line. AC was an attempt by Marvel and DC to get together and create a line of comics, and a whole comics universe, that was a mixture of both the Marvel and DC universes. Last time I was in this book store, I picked up another book in this line: Bruce Wayne Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1. That one was pretty good, but this one is just awful. It's an attempt to merge Batman with Wolverine, so you end up with a Canadian with a mutant healing factor and adamantium skeleton and claws who runs around New Gotham City in a cloak and a crazy fanged mask, has a cave under his house called the Barrow, has a sidekick who's a combination of Jubilee and Robin, and fights a villain who's a combination Joker and Sabretooth. The dialogue is ridiculous and awful, and the story stupid (he keeps his costumes sitting out in his alter-ego's closet?!). It's a gimmick done for gimmick's sake, with no other talent or good ideas brought to the table.

X-Men #1
No, I didn't find a copy of the first issue of the original X-Men series selling for less than a dollar in a bin at the book store - although, man, that would have been cool. This is just the first issue of the '91 relaunch of the title, with writing by Chris Claremont and art by Jim Lee. And it's another book I really didn't enjoy. It's true that Claremont's writing pairs excellently with Lee's art, but that's because both of these guys work in ridiculous extremes. When one word will do, Claremont always makes sure to use 20 instead, and add an exclamation point at the end. Lee, meanwhile, doesn't draw any men who aren't muscular, well-defined hunks, or any women who aren't painfully thin with gigantic boobs and legs that go on forever. Claremont is unfortunately fond of writing characters who speak with terrible accents - you've got Wolverine's Canadian slang, Gambit's New Orleans patois, Rogue's Southern drawl, and the Scottish brogue of Moira MacTaggart and the Banshee. The whole thing is just way over-done.

Daredevil: The Man Without Fear #1
This, again, is not the original first issue of Daredevil, sadly, but #1 in a five-issue miniseries that retells old red boy's origin story in its definitive form, with writing by Frank Miller and art by John Romita, Jr. These are two talents whose work I really enjoy, so not surprisingly I did like this book. Sure, it gets corny occasionally - this is Frank Miller we're talking about, after all - but it's also involving, moving, and extremely well drawn.

The Adventures of Superman #500
Superman: The Man of Steel #22
Superman #78
The Adventures of Superman #501
After the Death of Superman storyline, there was no question that DC would be resurrecting their blue boy; the only question was, how? At the time, DC had four Superman titles (Action Comics, The Man of Steel, Adventures of Superman, and Superman), and the writers of each title all had their own ideas of how to do it. So the folks in charge made an interesting decision: do all the ideas at the same time! Thus, the "Reign of the Supermen" storyline, in which four different versions of Superman appear, and the question becomes, which is the real one?

I'd been curious about this storyline since I first read about it, so when I stumbled upon these four entries in said storyline, I decided to pick them up. The Adventures of Superman #500 shows us Superman's spirit coming back from the brink of death, and then introduces us quickly to each of the four Supermen whom the spirit might be inhabiting. The three other books are the first issues in the storylines of three of the Supermen (sadly, the store didn't seem to have the issue of Action Comics that includes the first entry in the storyline of the fourth Superman). I have to admit to actually enjoying all of these books quite a bit. The first one is a bit corny, as it shows Superman's adopted father, Jonathan Kent, fighting through a mystical world between life and death to talk his son into coming back. But it's also kind of cool. (I was a bit surprised to find Jonathan Kent still alive - I've read his death or seen it in a movie multiple times - but with DC's continuity changing as often as it does, I guess I shouldn't have been.) And then I just love the idea of having four very different Supermen and trying to figure out which one is which. In Superman: The Man of Steel #22, we meet the first Superman, a black man named Henry Johnson who puts on a big metal Superman suit and goes out to fight drug dealers and gang members. He was nearby when Superman was killed, and the suggestion is that Superman's soul "walked in" to his body. Superman #78 features a cyborg Superman, who apparently consists of Kryptonian technology bonded with Superman's body, while The Adventures of Superman #501 has a crazy, over-sexed young clone of Superman created by a secret agency and sprung by some newsboys from the agency's containment facility before they could install their controls into him. The Action Comics issue would have given me more info on a vaguely insane, fascist kind of Superman who shoots fireballs and kills people who do things he doesn't like. I found all the Supermen fascinating, but the young clone Superman is particularly amusing. There's probably a TPB of this storyline available, and although I'd feel a bit dumb buying it now that I've already bought some of the single issues, I might do it anyway, just to get the whole story.
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), The Take (Not)

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