Monday, September 22, 2008 02:24 PM
The Take
 by Fëanor

Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.

This covers new releases from the week of September 10th, as well as a couple of slightly older books I picked up at the shop, and another of those TPBs I got from the library.

Back issues and old data
X-Men: Deadly Genesis
This is a collection of a 2005 six-issue miniseries by Ed Brubaker, with art by Trevor Hairsine. It takes place shortly after M Day, at a time when the X-Men were still hanging out at the mansion, but Charles Xavier was missing in action. As the story opens up, a very powerful dude wakes up inside a rock orbiting the Earth and gets pissed when he realizes how much time has passed since the last time he was conscious. Who he is, and how his story ties in with that of the X-Men, is the mystery at the heart of the plot.

This dude's reawakening wreaks havoc elsewhere, causing a space shuttle crash, and knocking Emma out while she's doing a psychic search for Xavier. The X-Men head out to check out the shuttle crash, but things are made more complicated by the fact that some of their members are having weird visions of terrible past events. Also, weird reawakened guy is at the crash site to meet them, with power beyond their wildest imaginings, and some kind of old beef with them that they for some reason can't even remember...

Intercut with this main story is the occasional origin story for a mutant. The thing is, none of these mutants are familiar. Where did they come from, and why haven't we seen them before? The answer to this ties into the central mystery of the story.

This is definitely not Brubaker's best work. In fact, it may just be his worst. The writing in general is pretty weak and clumsy, with plenty of really corny dialogue, and the story is just a ridiculous, melodramatic mess. It turns out to be one big, ugly retcon that twists and rewrites a bunch of past events in order to insert more crazy Cyclops family history into the X-Men storyline. In order to explain how nobody knew about all this history, Brubaker is forced to have Xavier do something completely out of character for no particularly good reason. So essentially the story is flawed at its very heart, and just doesn't hang together at all. Plus, it's hard to like anybody in the book. Besides Xavier being guilty of questionable and pointless actions, the villain is petulant and whiny, and the other heroes are all rather pathetic and irritating. It's just a really bad X-Men book. Brubaker is capable of so much more. I can only guess that creating this new character and storyline was a wrong-headed editorial decision, Brubaker tried to make the best of a bad assignment, and ended up failing.
Thumbs Down

Patsy Walker: Hellcat #1
Patsy Walker: Hellcat #2
I saw some scans of this comic online a while back and was really impressed by how funny and clever they were. In consequence, I've been meaning to catch up with the book for a while now, so when a few weeks ago a new issue came out, I went ahead and picked up the two previous issues, as well. And indeed, it's just as clever and funny as it looked online.

Patsy Walker is a very interesting character in that she began as the star of a romantic comedy series published by Timely Comics (the precursor to Marvel) way back in 1944. In the '70s the character was revived as the superhero Hellcat. And now here she is back again. In issue one of her new miniseries, she's trying on a dress for her fashion designer neighbor when Iron Man calls her and hires her to be the representative of the Initiative for Alaska. She agrees (although she was hoping for a better state) and heads up to the frozen wastes, where she meets a cute guy, ends up in a fight with some weird magical antlered polar bears, and then is nearly swallowed by a giant tentacled monster. In issue 2 things get even weirder as she's sucked into the Pacific Northwest Native American world of magic, where the elders request that she find and rescue their lost daughter. She agrees, has an argument with the talking stone map they gave her, and then gets into a fight with a giant wolf.

The writing on the title is by Kathryn Immonen, wife of writer/illustrator Stuart Immonen (whose work I remember fondly from Nextwave), and the art is by David Lafuente. I've outlined the story in a pretty straightforward manner here, but it's actually presented in a unique and extremely surreal way in the comic itself, with images from Patsy's dreams and fantasies mingling with images of reality, as well as images from the highly metaphorical, allegorical, and insane world of magic that Patsy quickly stumbles into. The art is quite beautiful, with Patsy in particular always depicted as stunningly lovely and dressed in a fabulous outfit of one kind or another. The book is a weird mixture of art, fashion, romance, and superhero action. Patsy is a very Buffy-like hero, in that she's a lovely, slightly ditzy young woman spouting funny punchlines while beating the crap out of giant monsters, but she's even more comfortable than Buffy is with magic, contradiction, and insanity.

In short, this is a fantastic miniseries which I'm really enjoying and will continue to follow through to the end. Sadly, it's so odd that I can't imagine it will have a large audience, and I probably can't look forward to a follow-up ongoing title spinning out of it. Ah, well.
Thumbs Up

New releases from 9/10
Patsy Walker: Hellcat #3
As Patsy's adventures continue, she manages to turn her wolf enemy into her friend, apologizes to the magic bear she killed, possibly visits her own grave, finally gets some useful directions from her magic stone map, and gets ready to face off against a new monster. This issue is possibly the weirdest one yet; lots of stuff happens here that I don't entirely grasp. Still, I get the gist of it, and anyway it's tons of fun. Also, I didn't mention before (so I will now) how clever and amusing the opening recap page and closing letters page are.
Thumbs Up

Ultimate Origins #4
Bendis' examination of the tangled past of the Ultimate universe takes a step forward in time to show us a meeting between Nick Fury and General Ross, and explains how Fury went from legendary AWOL super soldier to head of the government's top secret reboot of the very same super soldier program for which he was an unwilling test subject. On his team for said reboot are all the smartest guys of the day: Peter Parker's Dad, Richard; Susan and Johnny Storm's Dad, Franklin; Bruce Banner; and the young Hank Pym. Mistrustful of their bosses, Banner and Pym decide to try their super-soldier serum out themselves, with Banner as the first test subject. This, of course, leads to the creation of the Hulk, but also interestingly enough explains why Peter Parker was raised by his uncle and aunt and not his parents. Meanwhile, back in the present, Danvers and the FF, with the help of Tony Stark, are trying to figure out what the deal is with all those alien columns, when all of the sudden Susan gets the first-hand info on it. The short version is, the columns show up when important events occur, and something really big is about to go down.

This series continues to be a really intriguing, clever weaving together of all the threads of the Ultimate universe. It's really cool to see how all of these familiar characters and their past histories fit together, and the way all of that is connected into these fascinating present events. Great stuff.
Thumbs Up

X-Men: Magneto - Testament #1
This new Marvel Knights miniseries by Greg Pak, with art by Carmine DiGiandomenico, is a fascinating attempt to tell the definitive origin story for Magneto. In the Afterword on the final page, Pak explains how care was taken to try to fit together all of the (often contradictory) stories of Magneto's past into one strong narrative that would not only be accurate to what we know of the character from previous comics, but also accurate to, and respectful of, the real history of the Holocaust. That's because the story of Magneto's youth and coming of age is set against the backdrop of the rise of the Nazis in Germany. For the first time, Magneto's real birth name is revealed: Max Eisenhardt, son of Jacob Eisenhardt, and nephew to Erich. Things seem to be going reasonably well for his family at first, but at school Max is being persecuted for his heritage. The headmaster is determined to show that a Jew like him can't be as successful as the other, Aryan children. Max does well anyway, although it's less to prove the Nazis wrong than it is to impress a girl. In a particularly powerful sequence, he runs after said girl to give her a gift he's made for her, and catches up with her in the midst of a crowd. He hands her the gift and feels triumphant until he realizes the crowd around him is part of a Nazi rally where his uncle is being beaten for having fraternized with a German woman. At school the next day things get even worse, as Max and his teacher are both thrown out and beaten.

Really it's hard not to write an emotionally effective story when your backdrop is Nazi Germany, but Pak does a particularly good job here. Interestingly enough, there has been no mention yet of mutants or of Max's special abilities. But the story is no less interesting and involving for all of that. My only quarrel with the book is that I sometimes find the art a little weak, especially in terms of the depiction of the human figure. But I certainly have no arguments with the powerful visual storytelling on display here; the two-page splash of the Nazi rally is particularly breath-taking, but there are many other, nearly as effective wordless moments where the art alone carries the plot forward. All of which is to say, I will definitely continue to follow this series.
Thumbs Up

Star Wars: The Clone Wars #1
I didn't like the recent Clone Wars movie, but my sick obsession with Star Wars kept me from passing up this comic book tie-in. This series is set shortly after the events of said movie, with Anakin and Ahsoka already partnered up and going on missions together, backed up by Obi-wan. As the story opens, they've been dispatched to the planet Kiros, which is inhabited by Ahsoka's people. Or at least, it was - the people have all mysteriously disappeared. As Obi-wan tries to stall the leader of the Separatists, Anakin and Ahsoka go around fighting droids and disarming bombs. Interesting, Anakin counsels Ahsoka to do what he does in situations like this and channel her negative feelings into positive action - which sounds dangerously like the Dark Side to me.

Anyways, although the story is vaguely interesting, with some fun action sequences, it's lacking in originality, and the dialogue is predictably weak and dull. Also, they unfortunately decided to hang onto the irritating and stupid nicknames that Anakin and Ahsoka developed for each other in the movie. Argh. I see no reason to continue to spend money on this title.
Thumbs Sideways

Star Trek: Romulans - The Hollow Crown
This new Star Trek series turns the focus away from the Enterprise entirely, and recenters it on the Romulans and Klingons as they embark on an uneasy alliance together. Well, okay, the Enterprise does get mentioned a few times, and even has a brief and fascinating cameo in which Kirk reuses his bluff from the classic episode "The Corbomite Maneuver" to scare off some Romulans. But certainly none of the crewmembers appear, and all of the main characters are Romulans and Klingons. In fact, the Romulan family that we follow most closely is the wife and son of the commander who was played by Mark Lenard in the excellent TV episode "Balance of Terror."

The Romulan Praetor, a petulant, stupid, and dangerous megalomaniac, is furious that the Bird of Prey commanded by Lenard's character was lost, and plans to execute the commander's family in revenge for his failure. But our old friend Captain Koloth grabs the Praetor and suggests a different plan - befriend the commander's family instead, and transform them from enemies into allies. It's a plan that's counter to his nature, but the Klingons convince him it's for the best. Of course, it's ultimately really just part of a much larger plan put together by Koloth and Kor for the Klingons to get what they want by manipulating the Romulans. So there's lots of intrigue. I didn't find the issue all that exciting, as a lot of the plot elements and characters are kind of familiar, but I feel like the plot could turn out to be quite clever, and I'm interested to see where it goes.
Thumbs Up

Star Trek: Mirror Images #3
I've really been enjoying this series, which has so far has been telling the story of how Kirk came to captain the Enterprise in the Mirror Universe, but this issue is a one-shot divergence from that storyline, which jumps ahead to the Next Generation era to reveal how Picard got his first command. This story gives us an idea of how things have fared in this universe since "Mirror, Mirror," when the Kirk from the regular Star Trek universe convince Mirror Spock to change the ways of the Empire. Sadly, Spock's changes have led the Empire to lose its power and standing in the galaxy, and it is now slowly being picked apart by an alliance of Cardassians and Klingons. When it looks like Picard's ship is going to be the latest victim of said alliance, he takes the initiative necessary to save his ship and fellow crewmembers, inventing his famous Picard Maneuver in the process.

The problem is, the story is very simplistic, and there didn't seem to be time or space enough for it to get interesting or gain any depth before it's over. The dialogue is also pretty weak; the ending speech from Picard and the crew's ridiculous reactions are particularly cringe-worthy. And then there's the fact that there's nobody in the book that you can really sympathize with. The previous issues in this series have managed to get around the latter problem by making all of the characters completely fascinating, utter bastards. But nobody in this book is fascinating, or even that much of a bastard. I was looking forward to this one-shot, but it turned out to be extremely disappointing. I'll be happy to get back to the main story in the next issue.
Thumbs Down

Secret Invasion: Runaways/Young Avengers #3
This tie-in miniseries comes to its conclusion in this issue, with a big showdown between the two teams of young 'uns and their dangerous Skrull enemies. Sadly, this is the weakest issue of the series. The action and art are both fun, and there are some humorous bits, but the way the Skrulls are beaten is a little hard to believe - so much so, even the characters themselves comment on it ("Were we supposed to know that Skrulls' secret alien weakness was getting head-butted?"). Still, overall, this was an okay series.
Thumbs Sideways

Secret Invasion: X-Men #2
It's mutants versus Skrulls with the entire city of San Francisco at stake! Lots of fun action and strategy in this issue, and I'm enjoying Cary Nord's unique, pretty art. The ending ("here's your tissue sample") is also very bad-ass. Good stuff!
Thumbs Up

Secret Invasion #6
But as far as the Secret Invasion is concerned, the real fight is in New York, and that's where pretty much everybody else in the Marvel Universe ends up in this issue, leading to a freaking amazing two-page splash of the Avengers (and all their friends) assembling, followed by another amazing two-page splash of them engaging the Skrulls. Insane gigantic epic action! Great stuff!
Thumbs Up

The Goon #28
The Goon spends most of this issue preemptively beating up all the petty criminals in town so they don't get any ideas about teaming up with Labrazio. Meanwhile, the poor remaining Mudd brother goes completely mad (although he remains helpful and effective for all that), and the Buzzard convinces Goon and friends to team up with the Zombie Priest to take down Labrazio's gang - a plan that may not work out so well for them after all. And of course there's plenty of the insane hilarity and gratuitous beatings that we've come to expect and love from The Goon.
Thumbs Up

Green Lantern Corps #28
"Talk to dead people" guy helps the Corps out even further in their investigations into the murders of the families of young Lantern recruits, and eventually they figure out the mystery of the murders and find and imprison the culprits. Um... wow, that was quick! And at the end it turns out this hurried storyline was really just thrown in so they could introduce this guy's ability to talk to dead people, so the Guardians would hear about it and send him out to go talk with the corpse of the Anti-Monitor. D'oh.

Yeah, I'm done with this title for good now. The previous storyline was terrible, and this one was mediocre at best, consisting as it did of a "mystery" that wasn't even all that mysterious and got solved in two issues anyway, via deus ex machina magic powers. Put simply, the writing is just not very good.
Thumbs Down

Final Crisis: Revelations #2
And here's another title I'm dropping. I thought it was pretty odd that I was enjoying a Final Crisis tie-in written by Greg Rucka. It turns out it's because the first issue was a fluke. This one has plenty of terribly corny and melodramatic narration and dialogue about God letting good people die and so forth and so on. It is vaguely interesting that they've introduced a Mercy character, as kind of a counterpart to the Spectre, and showed us the prophesied rising of Cain. But this thing with the anti-life equation is just totally stupid. I mean, as a concept the anti-life equation is pretty cool, but when you have characters speaking the equation out loud, and it comes out as "anti-life equation = loneliness + alienation + fear + despair + self - worth / mockery..." I mean, c'mon! That is just ridiculously stupid. Unforgivably stupid, in fact, so count me out of the rest of this series.
Thumbs Down

Criminal #5
The latest Criminal story arc, "Bad Night," continues with this issue, which opens up with an epigram from Charlie Brown, of all people. But it is surprisingly apropos and in the style of noir. Our hero, Jacob, finds himself stuck in an increasingly complex and volatile relationship with Iris and Danny, and he also finds his deal with them getting worse and worse. At first he was just doing some forgery for them, but then all of the sudden he finds himself being forced to drive them to the deal, and then Iris is pushing a gun into his hand, and it turns into a true nightmare. We also continue to get quick peeks into Jacob's turbulent past, and the events surrounding the death of his wife. In other words, it's still a fantastic piece of crime noir comics. It's followed up by two fascinating articles, one by Marc Andreyko about the film One False Move (which I think I might have seen many years ago, but after reading this, I feel like I have to see again), and another by Steven Grant about the crime novels of Eugene Izzi, and the circumstances of his mysterious death. So of course now I want to read some Eugene Izzi books, too. Darn Criminal.
Thumbs Up

B.P.R.D.: The Warning #3
Things get even weirder for the B.P.R.D. when they find their missing jet crash landed just outside Munich, near the house of a crazy old lady who's been having visitations from some weird little monsters - and possibly also the Black Flame. Abe and Johann track the creatures to an abandoned subway station, only to find that the little monsters are not the frogs they were expecting, but those little guys they met underground long ago, and who like to build ancient machines. Unfortunately, they're much further along this time, and manage to put some big robots together that start wreaking all kinds of havok. But what the heck does this have to do with any of the other stuff they're dealing with at the moment? It's a puzzle, but a fascinating one, with the usual great art and general background creepiness that makes the Hellboy-verse so awesome. There's also a very funny joke referring back to Universal Machine, and involving Devon and a phone booth, that I really enjoyed.
Thumbs Up
Tagged (?): Comic books (Not), The Take (Not)

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