|Saturday, December 13, 2008 03:19 PM|
| by Fëanor|
Fëanor's weekly comic book review post.
This covers new releases from the week of 12/4, plus one comic I missed the week before but which the comic shop guy was good enough to find a copy of for me. Comics came out a day later than usual because of Thanksgiving, and I ended up buying more than usual, so I'm even more late than usual with this post. You have my apologies.
Part of the reason I bought more comics than usual is because there just happened to be a lot out this week that were interesting, but another part of the reason is this: my local shop was sold out of the latest issue of Criminal when I got there Thursday night. I can't go without my Criminal, so when I got out of work early Friday afternoon, I walked across town to the Philly shop to get it. I was going to just pick up that one comic and then get out of there, but I figured, hey, I'm here, I've got some extra time, I might as well look around some more. So I ended up picking up two more books I'd never planned to buy (one of which turned out to be terrible, and which I should have known not to get). Sigh.
Oh, and one more thing before we get to the reviews: I thought it was weird but funny that most of the Marvel comics this week had an ad on the back for the Blu-ray release of The Dark Knight. I could be wrong, but isn't that movie about a DC Comics character??
Back issues and old data
The Wind Raider: Preview #1
I was pretty disappointed when I couldn't find this book at my local shop the week it originally came out, because I'd gotten pretty excited after reading about it. It's just a short prequel story released as kind of an advertisement for an upcoming series from a small publishing house called Ape Entertainment. Normally I wouldn't have paid attention to it at all, but I became convinced the story was based on some toys I'd had as a kid (which really shocked me, as I thought that was a toy line that just appeared and then died out and nobody else remembered it but me and my brother), and when I read they were also making a movie based on the comic, I thought I'd better check this out.
Now that I've got my hands on the book (thanks to Irv at Fat Jack's in Jersey, who ordered a copy for me. Thanks, Irv!), read it, and googled a bit, I realize that the toys I was thinking of were actually called Air Raiders, not Wind Raiders, and although both the toys and comic have similar premises involving a post-apocalyptic world where people need to harness the power of wind to survive, they have little else in common. Plus there was no mention of the toys anywhere in the comic, and now that I compare images of the toys and the vehicles here, I see they're not the same at all. So yeah, no connection. Ah, well.
Anyway, the comic opens in a very cinematic fashion, dumping us right into the middle of some crazy fast-paced action, and we have to try to figure out who's who and what's going on as it proceeds. A young man named Joshua has just died (most likely he was killed), and his sister is mourning over his body. One man and another group of men are both racing to the scene, fighting each other. The single man, it turns out, is a Ki warrior - someone who can control the wind. The group of men is led by a tough guy with an eye patch named Barfog - clearly a villain. The Ki warrior uses his wind power in bad-ass fashion, taking out much of Barfog's crew - but Barfog himself captures the sister (whom he says is important to him, now that Jacob is dead) and takes off.
So, yeah, not entirely clear on what that's about. But it's intriguing enough that I want to read further. Plus, the exciting action is handled very well, with excellent art and few words. It does bother me that the woman says "No, Joshua, you can't be dead!" because that's a really lame line. But I guess it's something you might realistically say if your brother died suddenly in your arms, so I'll give it a pass.
What really gave me pause is the extra material in the front and back of the book. There's a corny intro by the director of Shoot 'Em Up (a movie I really didn't enjoy) who points out the comic is part Road Warrior, and part Star Wars. This is something I would have noticed myself, but to have it pointed out like that in black and white made me look for the similarities, and they stood out in sharp relief. In the back, there's a bunch of history and character profiles that give you more background on these people and the world they inhabit, and it makes the similarities between Ki Warriors and Jedi Warriors even more obvious. There's even a Ki Warrior Code of Conduct, a great deal of which appears to be lifted from the Bushido, the Way of the Samurai. The character portraits and the accompanying dialogue are pretty corny. And seriously, who comes up with the name Barfog?
All that being said, the preview comic itself was interesting enough that I think I'm going to pick up at least the first issue of the series proper. After all, I like Star Wars and Road Warrior.
I was surprised to find another issue of this book being released already, only a week after the last issue. Apparently DC is so anxious to continue Batman's story, they're making the book weekly for a short period. So just a few days after finishing Batman #681, I was able to pick up Batman #682. This issue marks the beginning of the follow-up storyline to "Batman R.I.P." - "Last Rites." Morrison doesn't bother stretching out Batman's disappearance as long as possible to make the readers start to worry he might really be dead; instead, only a week later, he immediately reintroduces the character, alive and screaming. It's an odd choice, but as I only briefly thought they might actually kill Batman, it's not much of an anticlimax for me.
Anyways, as should be no surprise to devotees of Morrison, this issue is surreal, complex, confusing, and brilliant. The majority of it takes the form of a dream-like look back on the history of Batman. First there's an oddly altered version of that fateful night when Bruce decided to fight crime in the guise of a bat, then a disembodied voice, apparently belonging to Alfred, protests that "that's not how it happened." Then we get some quick, and shockingly funny, glimpses of how it could have gone if some other animal or insect had flown in the window that night, instead of a bat. Alfred is great. There are some really cool looks back at old school, Golden Age Batman, and the subplot with Bruce's one-time fiance Julie Madison is given some prominence, which is interesting. I love the attention to detail, like the high-powered roadster sitting in the background of the Batcave, instead of the Batmobile that would eventually replace it. Batman's "regular problem-solving micro-sleeps" are funny, but totally in character. I love so much the way Morrison handles the origin of Robin, too - so much better than the way Miller is doing it in All-Star. Bruce tells Dick he's devoted his life to exterminating criminals, and Dick's response is, "Okay. You need any help?" Yes. Perfect! I also love the look back at the crazy Silver Age, and Batman's fascinating postmodern comments on how insane it all seems. Morrison also takes another opportunity to slip in his theory of the Joker (that the man transforms every few years, entering a new and different phase of madness). Also covered are Batwoman; the death and resurrection of Alfred; Dick's decision to leave Robin behind and become Nightwing; and a quick glimpse of what a world without Batman might look like. Finally, the last pages reveal what we've really been seeing all this time, and what it really means. And it's a doozie! Batman might soon be facing off against an army of clones of himself!
I'm assuming, since there's no indication otherwise, that the events of this issue take place after those of the previous issue, and that therefore the unlikely villains that appear here (Mister Simyan? Seriously? I mean, it's funny, but...) must have pulled Batman's body out of the river after the helicopter explosion, or caught him off guard (ha, like that's possible) some time later. Of course, it's also just barely possible the events in many of the previous issues were meant to have been nothing but nightmares Batman was having while strapped into this machine. I don't think that's true, though, and I certainly hope it isn't, because I hate that kind of crap. Regardless, this issue was another piece of genius from Mr. Morrison.
One of my favorite titles on the stands completes its latest story arc, "Bad Night," in this issue. Brubaker decides to shake things up a bit here and include a couple of sections narrated by people other than Jacob. First is "The Cop," where we figure out Detective Starr's side of the story. Later, in "The Nurse," we get to hear Iris' side. But most of the story is still told by Jacob, who's quickly going crazier and crazier, and talking to Frank more openly. He starts enacting a plan that Frank has concocted for him, but even that flies out of control, and we discover suddenly that Jacob's madness is not really a new thing, and that he's never been as innocent as he seemed. The conclusion is brutal, shattering, and revelatory, as I've come to expect from Criminal. Another masterpiece.
This'll be it for Criminal for a while, which is sad, but I'm okay with it, because the book's only going on hiatus so Brubaker and Phillips can bring us Incognito, which looks completely awesome.
Haunted Tank #1
Wow, I'm really not sure how to feel about this one. The Haunted Tank is a weird old story from DC's past about a modern day tank haunted by the helpful presence of a Confederate Civil War general. It's now been resurrected and continued as a five-issue Vertigo miniseries wherein the ghost of Jeb Stuart returns again, this time to haunt a tank piloted by his descendant during the Iraq War. The twist in the story is that said descendant is Jamal Stuart, a black man. This shocks Jeb as much as it does Jamal, but Jeb gets over it a lot quicker than Jamal.
It's a fascinating premise, which is what attracted me to it in the first place, but I find the sense of humor really strange and off-putting. It's a violent war comic, but a lot of the action sequences are played for laughs, and feature goofy, ridiculous dialogue. Plus, the issue title is "Shock and Awesome." I'll admit that's funny, but the whole comic just has the feeling of "too soon" about it. The art is impressive throughout, especially during the violent, two-page introduction of Jeb Stuart's character. But about that dialogue. After Jeb appears, one of the soldiers reacts with a Ghostbusters reference, followed immediately by an Aliens reference. Later on there's a Star Wars reference. In general the guys' dialogue is so full of pop culture references, curses, weird slang, corny speechifying, and ridiculous sayings that it's just unbelievable. Even Jeb's florid dialogue seems tame in comparison. And the Iraqis' dialogue is just silly; we're meant to be laughing at them, like they're a bunch of bumbling idiots.
The scene in the comic that disturbs me the most is the one in which an Iraqi tank is struck by an American weapon and a weird hissing sound begins. The Iraqi in the tank says, "Stop! Hey... what's that sound?" (Argh!) He realizes he's about to die, and says, "Oh, dear!" Then the tank explodes. I'm okay with laughing at death in a comic when it's fake people dying in a fake fight. But here we're talking about a very real war that's still going on today. And to see it portrayed as a goofy adventure wherein it's funny when people die is really quite unsettling.
In the course of writing this, I realized I do know how I feel about this comic after all. And I won't be reading any more issues of it.
Hellboy: The Wild Hunt #1
Hellboy's back! And this time, instead of a one-shot jump back into the past for a look at one of his untold adventures (as in the recent In the Chapel of Moloch), we're getting a miniseries that continues his tale in the present. And that's very cool. There's something quite exciting about reading Hellboy material that's really new.
I loved this issue from the first page, which just depicts an old man delivering a letter to a house, and then freaking out and taking off when the front door creaks. It's a simple sequence, but it's so beautifully drawn by Duncan Fegredo, and so expertly colored by Dave Stewart, that it's a joy to look at. And the rest of the book continues in that vein: at once realistic and fantastic, subtle, atmospheric, expressive, and just really lovely.
And hey, there's a story in here, too! We pick up with Hellboy shortly after the events of the last miniseries. He stumbles upon the funeral of the fairy king, and that little bird who follows him around and helps him out tells him what's going on: that the king was murdered, his people will fade out of the world, and they won't be here to protect it in the war that's coming. Hellboy sees someone he calls Alice in the crowd at the funeral. I'm hoping this is a character we haven't met yet, because I have no idea who she is. Anyway, it turns out Hellboy was just having a vision of the funeral while asleep, and he's awakened by his hosts: a couple of nice dead people. (Why is Hellboy always hanging out with dead people lately? Hmm...) They hand him a letter from a society of old dudes whom Hellboy has met before in previous stories. The men ask him to join the Wild Hunt, which is an event that takes place in England whenever a giant rises from its grave. A bunch of huntsmen get together and take the giant down. Thing is, this time a surprisingly large number of giants have risen at the same time, which is why they want Hellboy's help.
Trevor Bruttenholm joined the Hunt in the past, and these guys knew him, so it all seems legit. But there's something of the snobbish, upper class cult about it all, what with the weird masks and the guy with the deer's head. What do they really want with Hellboy? Meanwhile, Gruagach is trying to lead the fairy people on behalf of a lady in a box, but the fairy people are starting to get restless, and want to hear more from her, and have her help pulling all the big tough monsters together. I'm beginning to suspect the lady in the box hasn't really spoken to Gruagach at all, and he's just making everything up as he goes along and hoping she'll wake up and help him out eventually.
It's an intriguing and exciting story, with lots of really cool ideas and images, and even some of that patented Hellboy humor. Can't wait for the next issue.
Iron Man/Incredible Hulk/Nick Fury #1
This is an odd one-shot which they really could have spent more time devising a title for. It contains three stories, each meant to tie into the recent film adaptations of Iron Man and Incredible Hulk. The first is "Iron Man: Fast Friends," and it's essentially like watching deleted scenes from the movie. We get to see some interactions between Jim Rhodes and Tony Stark that fit between the early scenes of the movie, then Rhodey, Stark, and Agent Coulson of S.H.I.E.L.D. talking with each other at the end of the film, after the fight with Obadiah Stane. Some of it's kind of amusing, but the art isn't that good, and it doesn't really add anything to the story of the film (in fact, I think it sort of contradicts the movie's plot slightly in some ways), so I'm not really sure what the point of it is.
In the second story, "First Impressions," Nick Fury and a small S.H.I.E.L.D. team mess with Dr. Banner so Fury can get a look at the Hulk. He's impressed by what he sees, but it's not the kind of super soldier he's looking for, so he decides to let General Ross deal with the problem. This story is a little more interesting than the first, with some pretty cool narration and dialogue, but the art is again cartoony and weak.
The final story is set in Budapest during the end of the Cold War and features Nick Fury pulling a James Bond and doing some serious spy crap, with the intrigue and the hey hey. It has nothing to do with superheroes or with the movies, but it's a fun story and the art's decent.
This book is overpriced ($3.99 for three mediocre movie tie-in stories by a bunch of no-name talent? Seriously?) and kind of dull, but not completely terrible.
KULL. Yeah! Kull. I just like saying it. I was a little afraid this series would get lame in the second issue, after I'd talked up the first issue so much, but it's still awesome! Kull's fight to conquer Valusia is over, but his problems have just begun. Now he has to rule Valusia, a land full of people that hate him, and deal with the nation's allies (some of whom are his own ancestral enemies) and its enemies - and make sure he can tell one from the other. Meanwhile, haunting the halls of his own castle are the denizens of another kingdom: the Shadow Kingdom he was warned of.
I'm still loving Will Conrad's art and Jose Villarrubia's colors, and Arvid Nelson's writing is smart and effective. It's an atmospheric and fantastic world full of interesting characters and stories, and I look forward to getting deeper into it.
Marvels: Eye of the Camera #1
I was a little leery about collecting this miniseries, as it's actually the sequel to another miniseries called simply Marvels that I've heard a lot of good things about but haven't gotten around to reading yet. You know, of course, of my obsession with reading things in their proper order. But I knew I wasn't going to read Marvels any time soon, and I figured if I picked this up it might help me decide if I even wanted to read it at all, so here we are. Both Marvels series were written by Kurt Busiek, which is a big warning sign for me; I don't think I've read anything yet by Busiek that I liked. The first series had art by Alex Ross, but they couldn't get him for this one, so they settled for a guy named Jay Anacleto, who has a similarly realistic style. The first story followed the experiences of a photographer named Phil Sheldon during WWII, as he recorded the rise of the Golden Age superheroes. The idea was to see the familiar old heroes from a new perspective: the man on the street, looking up in awe. As you might guess, this second story is meant to do the same thing for the Silver Age, and picks up with Sheldon just as that time is about to begin. He's bored and unhappy and feels like something essential and wonderful has gone out of the world - until four adventurers come back changed from outerspace, and a new race of people called mutants begin to appear. Then all the sudden Phil is busy recording marvels again. But this time he senses with uneasiness that they're different this time - more human, and more flawed. And some people are reacting to them differently, with fear and hate. Sheldon can't help but feel something's about to go horribly wrong - and then something does, with him personally.
Looking back at Marvel's history with the eye of a man on the street in an attempt to regain a sense of awe about the characters is definitely an interesting concept, and in some parts of this story it's handled pretty well. But this book falls prey to the classic flaw of being over-narrated (Phil just talks and talks!), and it's a little heavy-handed with what it's trying to do. Plus, I just don't care about Phil that much (he's actually kind of pissy and whiny), and the story is centered dead on him. It's hard to get back that feeling of awe and excitement about the Marvel characters when we're just looking at some old guy in an eye patch developing pictures and dealing with his annoying kids. It would help if the art were better, and there was more of the sense of the epic: big splash pages and so forth. But caring about the characters is essential, and I'm just not doing that very much here. I doubt I'll buy another issue of this. And I may very likely rethink my plan to buy the original Marvels series.
The New Avengers #47
I believe this is the final Secret Invasion tie-in issue of this title. A number of said tie-ins have been pretty cool, and this one looked like it might be about Hawkeye, whom I rather enjoy, so I thought I'd give it a shot. When I got to the shop and flipped through the book, it looked like it was more about Luke Cage, Jessica Jones, and their baby girl, but I was kind of curious about that whole story, too, so I picked it up. Now I kind of wish I hadn't. It opens up some weeks before the whole Secret Invasion thing with Jessica and Luke at home and Luke trying to figure out how to deal with the baby. Jessica suggests he tell their little girl a story, so he tells the story of when he first fell in love with Jessica. Apparently he'd hired Jessica to track down his estranged father and brother, so he could talk to them and try to patch things up. It doesn't work out, but Jessica does a good job and really supports him. After the story's over, Jessica and Luke talk about how they really don't want to mess up their kid the way parents do sometimes. Then we jump ahead and relive the end of Secret Invasion (which I had already read at this point; see review below), wherein they lose their kid. D'oh, as it were.
It's an okay story, but it's just not that interesting, and it doesn't really tell us much new. The whole Daddy issues thing is cliche, and the dialogue isn't that great. Plus, I know comic book covers are often misleading, but I'm still really annoyed by the fact that literally none of the characters on the front cover appear in this book at all, not even Hawkeye, even though he's right in the middle and highlighted like this issue is going to be all about him. WTF? Did they just have an extra Secret Invasion cover lying around and slapped it on this book even though it wasn't related at all? That's lame.
The Punisher Xmas #1
When I saw there was going to be a Punisher Christmas special coming out under Marvel's MAX imprint, I was immediately excited. But when I realized it was also being written by Jason Aaron, I knew I had to own it. And as it turns out, it's exactly as completely awesome as I thought it would be.
The opening is priceless, with a priest complaining about the evils of the world, and Santa Punisher handing out some presents to some nearby gangsters in a fantastically brilliant splash title page. Then we settle into the real story, which is sort of like the premise of Shoot 'Em Up, but good: one gangster family is trying to kill the baby of another gangster family, so they can end that gangster's empire for good. The Punisher takes out the assassins, but, though he despises the parents, he cannot bring himself to kill the pregnant woman, and instead ushers them to safety and helps deliver the child, protecting it from yet more assassins. But this doesn't mean the Punisher has suddenly become a nice, forgiving guy. His good deed offers us a sliver of hope for the future, but it's nestled in the middle of an uncompromising, murderous finale.
This is Jason Aaron writing criminals and bad-asses, so the dialogue is of course excellent. The story is classic Punisher with a dash of The Godfather - mob families going to war with one another, and Frank protecting the innocent and slaughtering the guilty. It's weird to call the Punisher subtle, but I do like the subtlety with which Frank is handled, especially in the scene where the mobster asks Frank if he knows what he's doing with the baby, and two quick one-panel flashbacks tell us all we need to know about his experience with babies, and why he's helping to save this one. There's even some humor in here, though of course it's rather dark ("God's shooting at me!"). The action is tense, exciting, and brutal. The art (by Roland Boschi, with colors by Daniel Brown) is excellent. It's just a great book from top to bottom, and a wonderful Christmas present from Marvel.
Secret Invasion #8
After much hype and build up, and a long delay that played havok with Marvel's release schedule, the final issue of Secret Invasion has at last arrived. And sadly, as often happens with these kinds of things, it's a bit of an anticlimax. The Skrulls' last ditch surprise attack from the end of last issue, which looked like it was going to be so awful and devastating, is quickly defeated at the beginning of this issue (although admittedly it does lead to the death of a pretty major character). Then it's like the heroes have already won, and the rest is just cleanup. What also gives it a feeling of anticlimax is that there's a discussion going on the whole time between two unknown people in the narration boxes scattered throughout, and it's a discussion that's clearly taking place after all this has been resolved. It's like having the ending spoiled for you right at the beginning; you already know everything's going to be okay. Of course, it's not like you don't already know everything's going to be okay anyway - everybody in the Marvel universe is obviously not going to die - but usually they at least give you the illusion of danger. It was also irritating and anticlimactic to me when, in a real deux ex machina kind of moment, they find a ship full of all the people who were replaced by Skrulls, and they're all fine.
Admittedly, some big, universe-altering things do happen. A character dies. Some of the characters who come back, especially Spider-Woman, are looked at askance and won't be fully embraced after everything their Skrull counterparts did. And then there's the big change with Iron Man, S.H.I.E.L.D., and the leadership of the Initiative, and the final two-page splash that sets up a new group of powerful conspirators (many of them villains or former villains) who will be manipulating the Marvel universe from behind the scenes throughout the next big story arc.
The trick of doing any big story arc in a comic book universe like Marvel's is to mostly keep the status quo even while you're also waving your hand around a lot and making it look like you're changing everything. I don't feel like Bendis did a very good job here of maintaining the illusion. The changes that occurred seem mostly superficial, and you know they're just going to be reversed or superseded by the end of Dark Reign, anyway.
I don't know, maybe I'm just a bit jaded by the big universe-changing story arcs now. Anyway, it's not like I hated this book. It was exciting to see the good guys take out the bad guys, and some interesting stories will definitely come out of this. I'm curious to know what they'll do with the Luke Cage/Jennifer Jones/baby/Skrull Jarvis storyline. I like the suggestion that these events will have a lasting effect on how people perceive the characters who were replaced by Skrulls. I really like the character of Norman Osborn, especially as he was interpreted by Warren Ellis in Thunderbolts, so I'm kind of excited that he's now been thrust to the center of things, and I'm fascinated to see what he'll do. The Cabal (which is apparently what we're calling the little group Osborn calls together at the end of this issue) is an interesting and odd collection of characters, and I'm also fascinated to see what they're going to do together.
All things considered, I much preferred the powerful conclusion to World War Hulk, but Secret Invasion was still a pretty good story.
What If? House of M #1
This is one of the two books I had not planned to buy, but ended up picking up with Criminal on my follow-up comic shop trip. I should know by now not to buy the What If? books, but for some reason the basic concept always attracts me, and in this case the two What If? concepts were particularly fascinating to me: "What if Scarlet Witch ended The House of M by saying, 'No more powers?'" and "What if the Runaways became the Young Avengers?" The former is one complete story that takes up most of this book, and the latter is a backup story that's going to run in a number of books, so only the first part is included here.
The problem with What If? stories is that, no matter how fascinating the concepts are, they're almost always executed poorly. Usually what happens is that the What If? story has to cover enough material for an entire story arc in only a handful of pages, which means it's rushed and ridiculous, and a lot of it has to be explained via narration and exposition. Also, in this case the stories were told by artists and writers with very little talent. I don't know if that's generally true, but it's definitely true of a number of the What If? stories I've read.
The main story opens with a quick summary of the events that led to the beginning and end of House of M, then adds the twist: "No more powers." There's a lot of cutting back and forth after that, showing us how various heroes are dealing with the idea of being without their abilities. For some, it's actually going to be a good thing. Black Bolt can speak aloud to his friends (one of the more shocking and effective moments in the book). Spider-Man can just settle down with Mary Jane and be Peter Parker, with no more power or responsibility.
But of course, a world without powered heroes means a world where villains can run rampant, and the Red Skull seizes this opportunity immediately. With the help of the Cosmic Cube (which, though damaged, has not been de-powered), he begins rallying other villains under his banner and killing off former heroes. Iron Man puts on his suit, and gives a bunch of other heroes suits, and they try to fight back. It comes out that Iron Man has added a really creepy zombie fail-safe to the suits' A.I. (Why is Iron Man such a creep all the time lately?) There's a huge war in the streets of the city, while the other de-powered heroes look on in agony, not knowing what to do. It takes Spider-Man to point out that they can - and indeed, have a responsibility to - fight even without powers. Then we flash to the future with everyone old and still de-powered, but happy, and with the suggestion that powers may arise again in a future generation when they're needed.
It's an interesting story, and it even has one or two moving moments - whenever somebody says "Avengers assemble!" it tends to be pretty thrilling, and it is here, too. But that scene, like the rest of the story, is also pretty darn corny. This was written by Jim McCann and Brian Reed. McCann I'm not familiar with, but Reed's work I've often found to be uneven and melodramatic. He continues the theme here, with dialogue that's often painful to read. The scene between Cyclops and Emma is particularly melodramatic and awful, as the characters are handled badly and their long relationship is snapped in two in just four panels, after they've spat a couple of lame cliches at each other. What makes the story even worse is that the art, by Paolo Pantalena, is truly, truly terrible. It's bulky and bulging and awkward and just ugly. I'm not really sure why the guy has a job as a comic book artist, because he's no good at it at all.
And somehow, the second story in the book is even worse! It's written by C.B. Cebulski, whose work I already read and hated in X-Men: Manifest Destiny #1. His story here opens with the Runaways already fighting under the title of the Young Avengers, and being led by Iron Lad. But they're not very good at taking directions or at fighting tactically, as a team, so they get beat up by the bad guys. After one of their number is injured, Cebulski apparently forgot they were in the middle of a fight, and has the whole team stand around having a lengthy argument while the villains are suddenly nowhere to be seen. Then they just leave, with no explanation of how they escaped from said villains. WTF? Throughout, Iron Lad and the team are constantly bickering in the most irritating and juvenile fashion. Cebulski tries to capture the snappy humor of the Runaways' dialogue, but utterly fails. By that point I was so disgusted, I just skimmed the last couple of pages. Iron Lad turns out to be this guy... it doesn't matter. It's crap. I'm going to try really hard to never buy another What If? book. Unless it's written by somebody really good, of course.
Wolverine: Manifest Destiny #2
Speaking of which, hooray for Jason Aaron! He opens things up here with Wolverine beat all to hell, then jumps back in time to show us how he got that way - by facing off against his ex-girlfriend's Black Dragon Death Squad, a team of crazy powerful bastards apparently named Rock of the Buddha, Fist of Fire, Storm Sword, and Soulstriker. Or maybe those are the names of their weapons, or their attacks? It doesn't matter. The point is, it's a huge fight, Wolverine is mercilessly brutalized, and is only just barely able to sneak away and drop himself into the sewer, where he lies immobile, hoping his healing factor will kick in and save him. Next we're introduced to a young detective who's determined to find and capture the Black Dragon, then we jump back in time to see Wolverine's original encounter with the Black Dragon 50 years ago, and his first meeting with the woman who's now trying to kill him (at least, I assume that's her). Back in the present, Wolverine is saved by an old kung fu master, whom he apparently met 50 years ago, and who is now willing to teach him kung fu to help him defeat the Black Dragon.
It seems a little weird to me that Wolverine, of all people, would need help learning how to fight. I mean, he's the ultimate fighter, isn't he? And how could he not have already learned some kind of martial art at some point in his long life? Wasn't he a samurai before? Still, I'm willing to accept the idea, especially since it means we get to see Wolverine trained in martial arts by a kung fu master in the next issue. And anyway, it's vaguely plausible that Wolverine could have avoided learning how to really fight, as he could have been relying on his sheer strength, his claws, and his healing factor to keep him alive.
Besides, Aaron's dialogue and narration are so good, it's easy to overlook any small inconsistencies in the plot (like the fact that Wolverine's blood trail would have been easy to follow, and it seems like the Black Dragon could have caught up with him in the sewer and finished him before Master Po could have dragged him to safety). The introduction, where Wolverine's talking about being beat all to hell; the fight scene where each member of the Black Dragon Death Squad is introduced ("Did this guy just punch me... in the soul?"); and the flashback later on where Wolverine says some bad-ass stuff to the Black Dragon - it's all just priceless. I'm looking forward to the inevitable training montage next issue, and the inevitable rematch between Wolverine and the Black Dragon!
This is the other book I picked up along with Criminal and What If? House of M - the first issue of a new miniseries featuring the X-Men vs. Hell. Sort of. Actually it's the follow-up to a storyline I'm unfamiliar with, wherein Colossus' sister Illyana got trapped in Limbo, and had her soul taken from her and transformed into a medallion and a sword. Now she's a half-devil person and desperate to get those artifacts and thus, she hopes, get her soul back. She's also a vicious bad-ass who leads an army of demons. At some point in the recent past, Pixie and some of the other, younger X-Men got sent to Limbo, too, and Illyana had Pixie create a soul blade to save her friends. Illyana also apparently took part of Pixie's soul. Now, in the present, Colossus is desperate to find a way to get Illyana back, but everybody's kind of stumped as to now to do that. When Nightcrawler asks Pixie about her soul blade, she takes it out, some kind of evil force seems to take control of her, and she stabs Nightcrawler with it. When she pulls the blade out again, a similar-looking sword comes out along with it. It seems to be the sword Illyana is looking for, so she pops right up out of Limbo to claim it. Meanwhile, in Hell, some lady named Witchfire shows up with the medallion, planning to use it to destroy Illyana and retake the throne of Limbo.
It's a pretty interesting story, with excellent art (pencils by Giuseppe Camuncoli, inks by Jesse Delperdang, and colors by Marte Gracia). I was surprised to discover it's written by C.B. Cebulski, the same guy I was just ripping a new one further up this post for his terrible work on other titles. I do see traces of his tendency toward melodrama in this title, too, especially in the rather ridiculous opening argument between Colossus and Cyclops, but it's not nearly as actively awful as his stuff normally is. I'm tempted to continue following the miniseries. But then again, I certainly don't need to be spending money on yet another comic, and I suspect Cebulski will let me down eventually. I should probably just forget about this one.
X-Men: Noir #1
Here's a new series whose premise I just couldn't resist: the X-Men redone as film noir. It's written by Fred Van Lente (whose work I've enjoyed in the past in Incredible Hercules and Comic Book Comics) with art by Dennis Calero. I expected it to be essentially the same old X-Men story, just with a noir flavor, but I was very wrong about that; Van Lente seems to have eliminated superpowers altogether from the story, and replaced "mutant" with "sociopath." Thus the X-Men are now a gang of criminals. But that doesn't necessarily mean they're the bad guys; the Magneto analog is a corrupt police chief named Magnus who believes in eugenics, and the Quicksilver analog, Peter Magnus, is his son, a rookie cop who still believes in truth and justice and is sickened by the corruption his father represents. As the story opens, Peter and his older, more experienced partner are called in to investigate the drowning death of one Jean Grey. The partner is ready to bury the case right away, because it's clear to him that the X-Men must have done her in, and Peter's Dad wouldn't want them wasting time on such a crime. Luckily, a rich fellow named Tom Halloway (who also calls himself The Angel) is also looking into the death of Jean Grey. He asks Remy (yep, that's Gambit), who owns a club and knows everybody, about her and the X-Men, but Remy doesn't have much info for him. As Tom leaves the club, there's a scene very similar to one in The Big Sleep wherein he happens to be on hand to save Magnus' daughter from getting a beating from Remy's muscle, Bishop (as in The Big Sleep, it's probably all a setup). Tommy visits Charles Xavier, who's a prisoner at Riker's, and has an interesting discussion with him that leads him to set out looking for Marie Rankin (who looks just like Lauren Bacall in her photograph). In the course of his search, he ends up sneaking into the secret hideout of the X-Men, where he sees the Danger Room (which is just a gym with shooting targets and a training area for learning how to break into safes - nice) and then tangles with the X-Men themselves, who aren't happy to see him, to the extent that they apparently shoot him in the face (although I'm assuming he'll be fine in the next issue).
At first I wasn't sure how I felt about this - I was really thrown off by the fact that Van Lente had turned mutants into sociopaths - but now that I've looked it over again, I've decided I really like it. Besides having the general feel of film noir - with the same kind of really clever, snappy patter and complex plot, plus lots of violence, perversion, darkness, and corruption - it makes references to specific films noir that I really love. The art's maybe a bit too shadowy at times, but overall I like it quite a bit. I'll stick with this series for now.
Marvel Previews: Special Edition - Dark Reign
This isn't a comic, so I won't give it a Thumbs Up or Down, but I did want to mention it. It's a free book full of ads for the various series that will spin out of Secret Invasion and tie into Marvel's next big storyline, Dark Reign. It's all stuff Marvel was keeping under wraps until SI was over, so I had to be careful not to look at it until I'd read SI #8. I'm interested in a number of the books advertised here, of course, especially War Machine by Greg Pak (not so much because I like War Machine, but more because I like Greg Pak) and Dark Avengers (by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Mike Deodato - talented guys). Other things I want to check out: what Bendis is going to do with New Avengers; the new Punisher series by Rick Remender; Secret Warriors; and Agents of Atlas. Most of the other books mentioned here are written by Matt Fraction, Christos Gage, or Andy Diggle, which means they get an automatic pass from me; I'm not a fan of those guys.