This week in comics, the Avengers ask the X-Men to do the lambada – the forbidden dance! – with grave consequences, Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. finally finds its voice and Brian Woods launches an excellent new post-apocalyptic drama with Dark Horse.
Avengers Vs. X-Men #5
There’s just… not a lot here. Slackly-plotted, almost nothing by way of character, even the brief action sequences are pretty relaxed. Avengers Vs. X-Men feels more like a victory lap for the (fantastic) creators and characters than an actual event comic. It’s not legitimately bad, because, again, these are immensely talented creators… but it’s still almost painfully bland. (C-. Marvel Comics, $3.99)
There’s a major event, near the end of this comic, that I won’t spoil here, and while the event is NOT without precedent and is in fact fairly clever in many ways, it is still a fairly radical departure from commonly-accepted Batman mythology – and I think that’s going to get a lot of the attention when it comes to people either criticizing or praising the story. Which is too bad, because Capullo’s art is solid, Willowwood is a fantastic addition to Gotham’s tragic, horrible geography, and Snyder has managed to make a pretty damn graceful exit from the “Night of the Owls” plot. If not for still-not-quite-there back-up, which it is now clear exists only to lend credence to the game-changing plot-twist introduced within, I’d say Snyder’s Batman was back on top. As it is, it’s pretty damn close, though. (B. DC Comics, $3.99)
Before Watchmen: Silk Spectre #1 (of 4)
Like last week’s Before Watchmen: Minutemen, this was a seriously gorgeous issue of comics. Unlike Minutemen, it was also an enjoyable, largely self-contained story with actual character beats, action and a plot. Once you get past the mercenary quality of it all, the origin story Darwyn Cooke and Amanda Conner are telling here is actually very compelling. Laurie Jupiter is a girl with a famous, overbearing mother, a great deal of athletic skill, and a chip on her should from the way she’s treated by her neighbors, when all she wants is, well, what every teenager wants. Cooke and Conner do a great job showing us her home life, but my favorite addition – though it’s one I think a lot of Very Serious Watchmen fans will hate – is the addition of small, lovingly illustrated cartoons that help us get inside Jupiter’s head and show us how she’s feeling. This is a title to keep an eye out for. (A-. DC Comics, $3.99)
Dark Avengers #175
I have a lot of residual fondness for the Thunderbolts – I think Ellis’ take on the team was one of the only books that made sense of the Super-Hero Registration Act mess – and Parker has done a lot of fun work. That’s really the only reason I checked out the newest issue of Dark Avengers, which suggested itself as a good jumping on point. I’m not sure that was entirely accurate, though. Parker does a good job reminding everyone about the ongoing conflicts and introducing characters (although, Toxie Doxie? Ugh. Wow, that’s a new low, naming-wise), but this is a book VERY much mired in those ongoing conflicts. It may not be a bad place to jump on, but all of the twists and conflicts were predicated on a familiarity with these characters and their history together; new readers may not find much to cling to, here. (B. Marvel Comics, $2.99)
Demon Knights #10
It’s official: Demon Knights is on a roll. Good character interaction, a solid beginning to their quest, Seven Soldiers references and Vandal Savage just generally being awesome, Demon Knights has it all. The art team has a couple small missteps – the extremely pink mist on the final page dulls the sting of the reveal, and one action sequence borders on some pretty cliche visuals – but, in general, keep the book lively and visually arresting, and they do a great job on most of the individual characters. The book took a huge leap forward a few months ago and it hasn’t looked back yet – this could easily become one of the premiere fantasy titles on the shelves right now, if it can reclaim some of its lapsed readers and keep up the fun, inventive pace. (A-. DC Comics, $2.99)
Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. #10
This was, no foolsies, probably the best issue of the notoriously troubled Frankenstein: Agent of S.H.A.D.E. thus far, combining the rampant, delirious pulp madness of Lemire’s best moments with more grounded, coherent plotting. So, kudos to new series writer Matt Kindt, who takes the Creature Commandos to Untropolis to investigate a mole within S.H.A.D.E. – a mole who has it out for Frankenstein. The creature and city design make good use of Ponticelli’s gritty, cartoonish art style, and Kindt’s universe-hopping story is smartly grounded in basic spy-fiction tropes. Here’s to hoping he can keep it up, because this feels like a title that is finally figuring itself out. (A-. DC Comics, $2.99)
The Massive #1
Brian Wood, Kristian Donaldson and Dave Stewart bring us The Massive, a post-apocalyptic comic that feels legitimately fresh – and pleasantly unpredictable. The opening issue is hurt by some rampant exposition, but that’s only a very mild complaint, and one that I think is unavoidable for this kind of book. The most important thing is this: Wood has created an interesting cast and grounded his exploration of the post-apocalyptic world in a familiar framework, and Kristian Donaldson and Dave Stewart prove to be an able (if unspectacular… so far) team to illustrate. Fresh, relaxed and suitably barren, Wood stands to have something really solid (A-. Dark Horse Comics, #3.50)
The Shade #9 (of 12)
Frazer Irving’s stylish, gorgeously-colored art breathes life into what would otherwise be a fairly plain script. Not a bad one, not by any means – as The Shade draws to a close, Robinson begins seriously pulling his strings together with this issue – but, under many artists, a visually uninspiring one. Irving and Robinson make a fantastic team here, and while I’m not 100% sold on some of the plot decisions he makes here (yet), like the return of a trio of ancient Egyptian gods and a hilariously bland (it’s a running joke for the Shade in the issue) cabal, I have to admit: as set-up goes, this was pretty killer. (A-. DC Comics, $2.99)
Spider-Men #1 (of 5)
I’m on the record as being a big fan of Bendis’ take on Ultimate Spider-Man, and while I’m not really on the record as such, please allow me to go on the record as someone who has really not enjoyed most of the Brand New Day era Spider-Man stories, which have tried too hard to do too little. But, thankfully, Bendis is very nearly as good at writing the 616 Spider-Man as he is with the Ultimate variety – though Spider-Men #1 does nothing but get Parker to the Ultimate universe, it does it in style. There are a few clunky bits of monologue in Spider-Man’s running, and the plotting is predictably lax in this issue, but I can’t deny that I’m excited to have Bendis oversee Miles and Peter’s first meeting – and I’m thrilled to have an artist as gifted as Pichelli illustrating it. But, judging by this first issue, fans who don’t have the patience for Bendis’ relaxed storytelling and structure would do well to wait for the trade. (B+. Marvel Comics, $3.99)
– Cal C.
Some of the series you are enjoying a lot (Animal Man, Frankenstein and I, Vampire) fell sensationally in the New 52 chart (the one referring to the 9th issues of the first wave and the 1st of the second one): Animal Man passed from 22nd to 29th, Frankenstein from 39th to 45th and I, Vampire (the most sensational drop) from 36th to 47th. About Animal Man and Frankenstein, they had to face the impact of 6 series starting with a number 1, with all the curiosity that derives from this, so their drop probably is an isolated phenomenon. I, Vampire’s drop is too big to be explained with just the reason I mentioned for the other 2. I don’t know what to say, since I thought this was gonna be the 5th sleeper hit of the New 52 line, after Animal Man, Aquaman, Swamp Thing and Suicide Squad. What’s going on?
Animal Man, Swamp Thing, Aquaman and Suicide Squad are all easy to describe, and their various levels of success aren’t terribly shocking. I, Vampire is slightly harder to fit into neat genre categories – it’s a romance, but a romance in which the two leads are constantly trying to kill one another; it has strong horror elements in its design, coloring and character types, but its plot has studiously avoided most horror tropes; it’s telling epic stories, but doing so with a measured pace and little fanfare. And it’s fairly definitively NOT a super-hero/super-villain book (unlike those other 4), and Marvel and DC have always struggled with that.
In other words, it’s just a kind of off-kilter book, the sort that rarely appeals to a wide audience, but which generally finds a passionate cult audience in those it DOES speak to – a group I definitely find myself in.
It is, however, worth noting that I, Vampire has actually gained readers fairly consistently since the beginning of the year – so, presumably it’s doing something right.
What’s more, looking at how things rank compared to other New 52 books is somewhat misleading – of the 10 canceled titles, only 1 was selling higher than I, Vampire when it happened (JLI). The rest were selling under. So, factor in those and I, Vampire didn’t drop 11 spots; it dropped 2. It also hasn’t had a high-profile writer change like many of the other books have these past few months.
(never compare books to #1s – #1s always have an artificially inflated sales-bump, and only in INCREDIBLY rare examples like The Walking Dead do books sales routinely go up, rather than go down every month)
Thank you! I still didn’t order any issue of I, Vampire, but I checked some preview on the internet, and I definitely liked what I saw: I, Vampire has a dark touch and an indie comic atmosphere, and this really talks to my heart. “Indie comic atmosphere” is something that can’t be explained, but those who read them can instantly see what I mean. Anyway, I’m glad to hear that the chart I read gave me a bad impression, and that this series found a faithful and raising audience.
It’s definitely heartening. #7 and #8 could be explained off easily – they were part of a crossover with the more-popular Justice League Dark. But that #9 continued to climb, despite being done with the crossover and not having any other changes to it, suggests that the book’s positive word of mouth may be bring in new readers. I very much hope the trend continues with #10.
Have to say not a fAn of spidermen. But it’s for every reason you already stated. Haven’t read spiderman in a while. How old is he supposed to be these days because he comes off as a huge loser. Although that may work in high school as a coming of age story it’s really disturbing to read him written like that if he is in his mid to late twenties
I think that mainstream, 616-universe Peter Parker is pretty close to a completely irredeemable character, at this point. He’s ambiguously 20-something, aimless, lacks a strong supporting cast, and… well, as I say up there, Marvel seems to have devoted a frankly massive amount of resources to making him as bland and boring as humanly possible. He’s been market-tested into oblivion, functioning more as an iconic husk of the high school loser than as an actual human being or even a character roughly approximating an actual human being.
It’s all part of this absurd – and I hate to steal a loaded phrase, but it’s just such a perfect one in some ways – this absurd ‘tradition of quality’ that Marvel and DC have been obsessing over lately. The comics are all generally well-constructed, the art is polished, the paper quality is great, the editors catch continuity blips and the characters are simple and familiar, placed in situations that are easily defined and definitively wrapped up, and because so many of the basic pieces are so easy to make at a baseline level of quality, we eat it up and only much, much later wonder at just how hollow so many of our heroes have become.
It’s for this reason that, if there is another book like “Watchmen”* – another massive, influential, widely-respected superhero book – it won’t be from Marvel or DC, at least not anytime soon. “Watchmen” hails from an age of chaos… and even then, he had to go ‘out of continuity’ to tell it. How many risky, out of continuity books are Marvel and DC launching these days? In fact, how many risks are they taking, period?
A lot of people point to the upcoming launch of “Sword of Sorcery”, or the inclusion of “Animal Man” in the New 52, as an example of DC ‘taking chances’ with these properties, but I don’t really see them as a chance at all. It costs DC little to do this; if it takes off, fine, but if it doesn’t, the first 6 issues of “Sword of Sorcery” will STILL probably outsell the current sales of the title it’s replacing, “Captain Atom”… and if it doesn’t work, they can easily cancel it and put something else in its place. It’s not a risk; it’s a way to keep floating by with the same numbers.
Spider-Man is a great victim of that mindset, because he – on a fairly fundamental level – no longer makes sense as a human being. It’s a bag of quirks, and while I think Bendis is good at writing Spider-Man stuff, the only ‘weight’ of the issue comes when Spider-Man confronts someone in the Ultimate Universe and learns how revered the more human, now-dead Ultimate Peter Parker was.
Sadly, I have to run, or else I would, like, edit this so it made sense. Sorry for the rant in response to a comment I actually AGREE with!
*Personally, I’d argue that there have been a few books that have approached that level in one way or another, most notably Ellis’ “The Authority” (which spearheaded the push for a certain type of storytelling that has become THE standard for action comics), Ellis’ “Planetary” and Morrison’s “All-Star Superman”, but that’s a much, much longer post to get into…
Ithats very strange. I have to admit High school Peter Parker is probably my favorite incarnation of the character. I recent saw finished the Disney spiderman show done by Greg wiseman(?). That show is amazing, which is no surprise given wiseman’s credits include gargoyles. The show portrays an awkward weird Peter. But the reason this show works as does the whole characterization is be causes it’s done in the context in hs. The reason it resonated with me and probably a bunch of male adolescents is that those story’s are about how we aren’t really the person we are in hs. Life will offer us so many moments to grow out and beyond that person. Not only does that not work at all with a Peter in his twenties it undermines the pathos of those hs stories.
Anyway I share your pessimism about a lot of the times however what about something like final crisis? Totally in continuity? Also whatever the next watchmen is(personally I think the next watchmen was from hell) it will be nothing like watchmen. As much as ilove those stories you mentioned they all bear the mark of watchmen.
Also to tie this back to spidermen one thing I do appreciate about writers like bendis is that they do work in a mode completely different from watchmen. I don’t think it’s exactly to lump him with the much bemoaned decompressed comics writer. I think he and someone like joss whedon bring a cinematic sensibility that is diametrically opposed to the literary infusion Moore brought (I think this is why Moore is so adamant about not filming his comics). Spidermen definite 1 definitely shares this cinematic sensibility and pichelli is definitely a great artist for this style. So I can intellectually appreciate it. But, shit, I find it no fun to READ.
Just want to make the correction that I think all star superman and final crisis is a little harder to place in the watchmen genealogy. While watchmen has a pretty distinct influence on planetary and authority in my opinion, morrisons work operate more as a negation of that deconstructed superhero motif.
High school Peter Parker is my favorite incarnation as well, almost entirely because of Ultimate Spider-Man. And I think that it’s entirely possible to tell compelling stories with Peter in his 20s, trying to come to terms as an adult with the tragedy that struck his childhood – in fact, that’s what a lot of pre-OMD Spider-Man stories felt like. But, because they couldn’t actually de-age Parker back to high school, Quesada and the Brand New Day writers had the idea to give him the high school problems and high school attitude… as a college graduate. And suddenly, what was once iconic became creepy and hollow. It undermined what made Peter work.
As for Final Crisis – which I haven’t read in a few years, but as it was happening I was one of its few defenders – I think the key difference is that it was a story Morrison wanted to tell, and one he would tell whether it was in continuity or not. In fact, if I remember correctly, he originally pitched it as ‘All-Star Crisis’ or ‘All-Star Fourth World’, and Didio liked the idea so much he asked him to make it work in mainstream DC continuity.
Part of the reason I specified in my description of ‘the next Watchmen’ was that it was a superhero comic was because, otherwise, yeah that boom of smart, literary indie graphic novels (like Fun Home: A Family Tragicomic or Jimmy Corrigan or indeed From Hell) would probably have grabbed that mantle years back.
I think all three works I mentioned (four if you count Final Crisis) do bear the mark of Watchmen, but not as imitators – as either refutations (All-Star, Final Crisis) or as criticisms (Authority, Planetary). In fact, almost all of Morrison’s best work, especially ASS and Flex Mentallo, seems like a purposeful ‘reconstruction’ after fans misunderstood Moore’s deconstruction of the superhero genre. Perhaps that’s why none of those works are ‘the next Watchmen’ – whether they are criticizing it or reconstructing it, they still fall within the same intellectual umbrella as it, while Watchmen itself was the progenitor of that particular strain of comics.
I’ve always lumped Bendis in with a lot of other people who were very influenced by Watchmen – for a long time, I saw his decompressed writing style as a way to (perhaps subconsciously) write for the ‘graphic novel’ rather than for the monthlies, as one of a million writers who forgot that Watchmen was kind of a killer read, issue to issue, not just as a collection. I think it was Ultimate Spider-Man that showed me otherwise. He’s guilty of that from time to time, but at his best, it really does feel like he’s on a whole other level from all the imitators.
Spider-Men #1 doesn’t really reach that level, though. It’s not bad. I even mostly enjoyed it. But everything until Parker hit the ultimate universe rang hollow to me – I honestly have tried over and over to get into post-OMD Spider-Man, and his sad-sack loser routine just comes off as creepy and pathetic for a man in his 20s.
Interestingly, because of the reboot, Superman not being married to Lois doesn’t make the character fall apart for me. It’s still an extremely problematic decision… but it doesn’t ruin the core of the character. I think BECAUSE they de-aged him and restarted the universe around him, rather than just doing some retcons that don’t really make sense and then hand-waving it all away with a laugh.
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