Sunday, March 2, 2014

Catching Up With February (1 of 2)

Because of the horrendous Massachusetts weather and an equally horrendous week-long cold, I didn't get out very much in February. I worked from home all month, and the comic shop I go to is right by my office but almost an hour from my house, so I didn't make any of my usual weekly stops to pick up my new comics. As aggravating as that was at the time, it did allow me to buy an entire month's worth of comics at once last Thursday, which is excellent, although admittedly it's not as big a stack as I expected. I must have successfully cut back on how much I was reading without even noticing it. Good for me! Anyhow, what follows are brief reactions to every comic in the pile, in the order I read them.

All-New X-Factor #3: I think I may be done with this book. I mostly really like Carmine Di Giandomenico's art. It has some rough parts, but they're worth it for the crackling energy that fills his pages. His Danger was especially great, and the one thing that might make me stick around for another issue. But with the head of Serval (I forget his name) already obviously untrustworthy and narcissistic, Gambit not feeling or acting like Gambit at all, Polaris and Quicksilver's weird half-sibling tension being so forced a plot point that Quicksilver openly talks about how he doesn't know what to make of it...I'm just not feeling this series conceptually. Peter David's usual humor could save it, but it's nowhere to be found, so I'll just have to wait for Di Giandomenico to get a gig on a title I actually enjoy, and then read that. This isn't holding my interest.

Sex #11: Another problematic series for me (I tend to read the stuff I don't expect to like as much first, so hopefully things get gradually better as I go, though it doesn't usually work out quite right). I wrote a post all about my problems with Sex several months back, and they haven't really changed much. Simon Cooke is an awful main character, most of what happens is boring, there's a bunch of explicit sex stuff that serves little-to-no narrative purpose, and the only character worth following is Keenan Wade because he has a real personality and he gets shit done. Everybody else stagnates. Even The Old Man, supposedly working on becoming a big-time villain again, just slowly tortures different people in uninspired ways (meaning he directly rips off the Gimp from Pulp Fiction) without getting anywhere or making any visible progress. So yeah, this comic drives me mad, and issue #10 was easily the worst ever, but then at the end when Keenan and Simon finally confronted one another, that interested me enough to come back for one more issue. And this issue may have been the best yet: Simon actually emoted, Keenan got more page space than he maybe ever has, and there was no pointless graphic sex. And as always, Piotr Kowalski and colorist Brad Simpson both did stunning work. I'm still not wild about this title but I liked this issue so I guess I'll read one more.

Archer & Armstrong: Archer #0: First of all, I should say that I completely expected to like this, but I read it third anyway just because it was a #0 issue so it seemed like a natural palette cleanser before reading two #1's (see below). And it was just as good as I'd hoped. Archer & Armstrong rarely blows me away, but it just-as-rarely disappoints. The origin story given to Archer here is no surprise, but it's still well-told and entertaining. Plus I think Pere Pérez is the best artist this book has had, or at any rate he's the best for this series. His lines are solid and often heavy, but the art still has a playfulness to it that matches the moments of humor. This issue was darker than most, though, because Archer's past is a pretty brutal series of abductions and tortures and trainings. Fred Van Lente really piles it on but, again, it's not out of step with what we already know about Archer and the world he lives in. The details have been filled in now to a history that had already been fairly well-outlined in previous issues. That's a nice use of this kind of #0 issue, and then in the final few pages, Van Lente brings it back to the present and teases the next storyline. All good stuff.

Loki: Agent of Asgard #1: I should probably read Kieron Gillen's Journey Into Mystery run, huh? Not that it's necessary to understand this, but Loki: Agent of Asgard is rooted in the events of JIM, so reading Gillen's work would probably deepen my understanding of Al Ewing's new story. That being said, Ewing's script works perfectly well on its own, recreating Loki as the All-Mother's personal secret agent, a role that fits him extra-snugly. Ewing writes Loki as the intelligent, somewhat conflicted anti-hero he needs to be to carry this title. Then just to go the extra Mile, he writes the Avengers as hilarious sitcom characters without needing to make them say or do anything out-of-character. All of that comedy and personality was boosted by Lee Garbett's artwork, which was crisp and cartoony and handled every character with ease. Nolan Woodard's pop coloring helped, too, infusing everything with a brightness that made it that much more fun to read. He did a good job of giving the flashback panels their own tints, too, setting them apart but not letting them clash with the rest of the art. This was a fast-paced, thoroughly enjoyable debut from cover-to-cover, a done-in-one story that also served as the first chapter of a longer narrative, a complex multi-Loki story about the nature of good and evil that's only starting to take shape. I look forward to following it.

She-Hulk #1: Probably the two most well-regarded superhero comicbooks Marvel has right now are Daredevil and Hawkeye, both single-star titles that have a good sense of humor and a nice humanity to them, dividing their time between the superhero and normal human parts of their protagonists' lives. It seems like She-Hulk is following that tradition, and the fact that she has the same day job as Daredevil, plus this series being drawn by Hawkeye's most regular fill-in artist, only adds to the sense that this new series is taking its cues from those two critical darlings. I'm not attacking that approach, quite the opposite, since Daredevil and Hawkeye are both series I follow and enjoy. She-Hulk feels like it's going to be another good read every month, fun and personal but still able to do the high-powered superhero stuff with style. Charles Soule uses the Marvel Universe to enhance his story, but it's a Jennifer-Walters-as-lawyer narrative, rather than Jennifer-Walters-as-Avenger. I liked focusing on that part of her life for the first issue, because it's maybe less expected and potentially less exciting. Soule makes it compelling, not so much because the legal case is particularly original, but because Jen is such a strong character right away, and has a very funny, singular view of the world. I'm eager to spend more time with her. It did bother me when, for no real reason, a few panels were devoted to painting Jen's client as a horrible mother. No idea where that came from or why Soule thought he needed to include it, but that was pretty much all that bothered me about his script. I'm not the biggest Javier Pulido fan, though I only really know him from his Hawkeye issues which have been alright but never amazing. Here, Pulido seems more sure of himself somehow, and he fills Jen with the confidence and charisma she deserves. He also avoids objectifying her, even when her clothes get tattered in a robot fight, which should always be applauded when it happens in comics, particularly mainstream superhero books. Neither of these creators are especially familiar to me, and She-Hulk's not a character I've read a lot about, but I was impressed by this and I'm excited for more.

Lazarus #6: Lazarus bores me and I can't quite tell why. It's not badly written or drawn, it's clear and it moves forward steadily, it definitely has a long-term plan in place, and there's nothing offensive about it in content or quality. Yet here I am six issues in and I feel no connection to or investment in this series or any of its characters, least of all Eve, the supposed star. She's so one-note, even though it seems like Greg Rucka wants us to think she's got a deep, tumultuous inner life. I just don't buy it, or haven't seen enough of it to understand her or care about her, or maybe it's a combination of those things. Whatever the case, she feels bland to me, ever the stoic security guard, not someone worth rooting for or against yet. Meanwhile, a weird post-apocalyptic political thriller takes place around her at a snail's pace, the Carlyles fighting with each other and other families over a desolate country full of downtrodden people. I see no reason to care who ultimately wins that struggle, because they're all despicable and the world they live in doesn't excite me. It's awful to look at and uninteresting to think about, too common and simple a vision of the future to get my wheels turning. Whatever...I could go on taking shots at this book but why bother? It's not for me, I've given it a fair chance but it has not won me over, and the best thing for everyone would probably be if I moved on. I'm glad there's an audience out there to whom this speaks, but I am not a member of it.

Hawkeye #15: This confused me a bit. There was the minor confusion of what exactly happened on the last few pages. I know Kazu shoots both of the Barton brothers, that much is clear, but I'm not entirely sure where it happens or how. Kazu clearly gets the drop on them, but where was he positioned so that he could do so? Where does he run to? Why doesn't he shoot Spider-Woman, who is like two steps behind Barney on the stairs? Where was Clint going, anyway, and what did he hope to find there? None of that is made obvious by either Matt Fraction's script or David Aja's art, which is a shame because, though this series has its ups and downs, being able to make sense of it has never really been a problem before. That confusion was accidental, a case of Aja's layouts and Fraction's dramatic silence at the issue's close not registering with me the way they were meant to. Far worse was the needless plot development Fraction tosses out earlier in the issue, explaining that, while Clint has deemed himself the protector of his apartment building, legally speaking he has no ownership of it and, in fact, it is already in possession of the bad guys against whom Clint is trying to defend it. Ok, so the villains already have the building...why keep fighting? Could they not just call some lawyers and cops and get Clint kicked the hell out of the apartment he's technically squatting in? I understand these guys are thugs who love violence, but that doesn't mean they have to be complete idiots all the time. You want the building? It's yours! Just take it and stop trying to murder people. It also makes Clint into a less noble figure, and more of a buffoon than he already always was. So I'm not sure it was the best move, from a storytelling standpoint. It changed very little as far as anyone's behavior, and introduced a complication the narrative didn't need or want. There was, as there always is, some solid humor, and Aja's art was only less-than-amazing for a few unclear panels at the very end, so I didn't dislike this issue. It was mostly fine, but with a few questionable choices/moments of befuddlement that were not so fine.

Hinterkind #5: This issue managed to express the urgency of its story while also splitting its focus between several groups of characters and never needing to rush through anything. Prosper and her father have some good, intelligent debate about the morality of letting people die in an emergency situation, all while trying to survive one. The soldiers who kidnapped them do the same, though there is less debate and more order barking in their case. Meanwhile, in California, the queen of the Hinterkind (I think...she's a queen of some of them, if not all, but I believe it's all) learns of her daughter's insubordination during her recent absence, and sets to work to make things right. Oh, and there's a guy whose name I can't recall who escapes the soldier compound on his own in a couple very efficient pages, while the gang of evil Hinterkind who've always been around try to find their own way out. It's a tight bit of writing by Ian Edginton, who seems to have finally found his stride with this series. No longer needing to establish the cast or reality, he can now just let crazy shit happen, and watching everyone's reactions makes for a meaty issue. Artist Francesco Trifolgi is also getting better all the time, and his handling of the widespread fire and chaos here was expert. Hinterkind is still defining itself, but every new issue it gets closer to being something truly remarkable. Given the proper time, I think this could be a phenomenal series, and I hope it keeps up the current momentum and realizes its full potential soon.

Mighty Avengers #6-7: I'm glad I got to read these issues back-to-back, because they really are a one-two punch of story. Each of them has their own threads, and the end of #7 is left open in several ways, so it's not like I'd call this a two-issue "arc," necessarily. But there's a throughline in #6 that leads to its final page directly, and that final page is just setting up the A-plot of #7, so this pair of issues has a clear connection that made them a fitting combo read. I also liked how both the new Power Man and, in even more detail, the current White Tiger had their powers explored a bit, because I'm less familiar with them than anyone else in the cast. Along the same lines, having Luke Cage and Adam Brashear butt heads over their respective histories was a nice, character-appropriate way to provide a bit of background exposition on them and advance their relationship. Al Ewing does the team book well, always giving everyone at least a little something to do, and never making any one character the obvious star of the series. It is Cage's team, but he's no bigger a presence than anyone else in these issues. Everybody has an important part to play, a part that only they could, something suited to each of their specific skill sets. But it's not repetitive or predictable, it's just that Ewing knows his cast well enough to use them all as effectively as possible in whatever story he tells. Valerio Schiti is a more than welcome replacement for Greg Land. I get the sense that Schiti may also do some photo-reference work, but if so, it's less obvious. Basically he either does convincingly comic-looking photo-based art, or impressively realistic free-drawing. My eye isn't well-trained enough to know for sure, but either way it's great for this title. This is a team all about being in touch with the regular people of their city, so having grounded artwork, characters who remind us of our own world while still being distinctly superheroic, is exactly right. And it makes the pigeons chasing that arsonist around super creepy. When they finally lead him to Falcon, it's so dark and awesome it feels more like a Batman moment than an Avengers one. That's a mood I think works for Mighty Avengers, a little more gristle, a lot more street-level action, and a vague gloom hanging over everything. This team has got some hard times ahead, and Schiti is stepping in just in time to take them there and make them look good along the way. Spider-Ock is officially gone, the rest of the team is clicking and buzzing, and the art has taken several big steps up. Mighty Avengers may well be one to watch.

Ms. Marvel #1: Lots of Marvel stuff on this list, huh? I guess i didn't really notice how much of my list had been devoted to them. I'm still not reading any of the New 52, which has opened up some space in my wallet and schedule to try out more of the All-New Marvel NOW! books coming out these days. And just like with Loki and She-Hulk above, Ms. Marvel #1 was a good opening issue. In that it's introducing a brand new character, it certainly has a different feel than the other debuts, less thrilling but no less intimate in its focus. This is mostly a teen drama comic, about a young girl with oppressive parents who just wants to go to the party and hang with the cool kids. In other words, it's something of a cliché, but with the not-insignificant detail of main character Kamala Khan being Muslim. That's the reason for most of the attention this book has got prior to its release and—based from the little I have read (trying to avoid spoiling it for myself)—since then as well. But it's really not that important to the plot here. is, but it could be any religion, or no religion at all, so long as Kamala still had overbearing and overprotective parents. It is her father's refusal to let her do the "normal" things she wants to do that spurs her to sneak out and, ultimately, leads to her being exposed to the (Terrigen?) mist that gives her her superpowers. Some of the details, like Kamala wanting to eat bacon and refusing to try alcohol, are Muslim-specific, but it would not have been difficult to swap those out for other things. My point is that G. Willow Wilson writes Kamala not as a Muslim who happens to be a teenager but as a teenager who happens to be Muslim, which is a good way to go. It makes her relatable to anyone who's been a teenager upset with their parents, even as she simultaneously represents a community historically neglected by mainstream comics. And she's also a superhero geek, writing Avengers fanfic and fantasizing about life as a superhero, giving her something in common with any number of potential readers of this series, myself included. At then end when she gets her wish, it's easy to feel the same mix of excitement and fear Kamala must be feeling, because it's the same emotional blend I'd feel if it happened to me. The gloriously dumbstruck look on her face in the final splash panel goes a long way, too. Adrian Alphona draws great teenagers, too expressive for their own good, always betraying the feelings they think they're keeping in check. Wilson writes them the same way, making this a strong example of a realistic, human, accessible story about modern high schoolers trying to live normal lives. I hope Wilson and Alphona continue to take that route, keeping Kamala in an age-appropriate world and with a supporting cast of her peers, rather than too quickly shifting her into the role of a full-fledged superhero. Give her some time to be a bumbling, inexperienced young crime fighter until she earns her seat at the table. We'll see where this goes, but for now Kamala is a likable lead and a decent-hearted young woman who, in theory, could be an amazing hero someday.

Well...that's 11 out of 21 comics and more than 3,000 words, so I think I'll call it for now. Come back tomorrow for the second half.

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