What? Again? Already?
Yes, as shocking as it may be to believe since it totally feels like I just did this, it’s Thursday night, and that means that instead of sitting down to watch the all-new Bring it On: Fight to the Finish (that’s right: the fifth Bring It On movie), it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Reluctant Comics Reviews!
Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ‘em!
Ghost Riders: Heaven’s On Fire #2: Over the past few months, I’ve talked more than a few times about how awesome Jason Aaron is, but there’s one thing that might not be readily apparent about the guy: He is hilarious.
Then again, given the stuff I tend to flip out over–Smokey and the Bandit Ghost Riders, Wolverine getting punched in the soul and fighting guys who have guns that shoot cancer–Aaron’s sense of humor might me more recognizable than I’m giving it credit for. Still, nowhere has he been funnier than the opening scene of this issue, wherein Master Pandemonium tries to eat breakfast.
Those of you who are already familiar with Master P will already know why this is hilarious, but for those of you who don’t spend your time prowling through mid-70s issues of Avengers, here’s the short version: Master Pandemonium, owing to a deal with the devil that he clearly did not think through, has demons for arms. This idea–not to mention the fact that he once swapped out the demons for the Scarlet Witch’s babies in an apparent attempt to have the most useless hands ever–is already hilarious (not to mention inspirational), but the idea of this miserable bastard trying to have some cereal while his own hands are punching him in the face because they are demons just cracks me right up. And Aaron pulls it off, just like he pulls off something equally as awesome in pretty much every comic he’s written.
Plus, I’m pretty sure this thing’s got Killdozer in it.
Incognito #6: At this point, saying that Ed Brubaker and Sean Philips made the best comic I read all week is almost a total copout. Those guys have been doing amazing work together since Scene of the Crime, and saying that they’re great comics is sort of like saying they’ve got two staples in them: It’s sort of expected. And for the past six months, Incognito‘s mix of super-heroics and pulp storytelling has been no exception.
It’s not just Brubaker and Philips that make this one so good, though. I mean sure, they’re the major factor, and the story that finishes this issue has all the earmarks of their quality work together. As good as he is on super-hero titles like Captain America and his woefully overlooked run on Batman, he is truly gifted at writing extremely hateful people. It was strongest in Sleeper, but between his dialogue and the way Phillips captures moody faces combine to the point where you can just feel the loathing radiating off of the characters in this book. And Phillips does a great job himself; seeing his work colored in brighter colors (like the laboratory scenes lit in pink and green) was an interesting contrast to what he does on Criminal, and really underscores the super-hero aspect that sets this book apart.
So yeah, those two are awesome, but what really sends this one over the top is the bonus material, an essay on the Zeppelin Pulps by Jess Nevins that opens with a full-page piece by Sean Phillips of a man with a ray-gun battling a gorilla while dangling from a dirigible. Listeners to this week’s episode of War Rocket Ajax heard Jess refer to this piece as being Jess’s favorite thing that he’s ever written, and it’s easy to see why as it might by my favorite thing of his that I’ve read. He recaps the brief, wild popularity ofthe zeppelin pulp from its propaganda origins to its sudden death at the hands of the Hindenberg disaster, and in the process writes about some truly amazing things, including the single greatest magazine title I have ever read.
It’s the delicious icing on an already fantastic cake, and it’s one of the best things I’ve read in a while.
Invincible Iron Man #17: It’s been a while since I’ve actually sat down and written something about Matt Fraction’s comics–mostly because I’m pretty sure that if I say any more stuff about how much I love his work and what a great guy he is, we’ll actually be legally married in the state of South Carolina, and I don’t think Kelly Sue would appreciate that–but it’s always worth mentioning that this guy can still just straight up knock one out of the park, which is exactly what he does in this one.
Specifically, it’s Tony’s email to Maria Hill that really got me in this one, and while I’m used to Fraction getting the fist-pumping gut reaction to awesome moments (like, you know, Cyclops having a jetpack or pretty much every page of Mantooth!), but I did not expect to come out of this issue feeling as sad for Tony Stark as I did. For those of you who haven’t been following the series, the current arc has shown Tony going through a process of slowly deleting his own brain to keep Norman Osborn from getting crucial information stored in his noggin (the identities of every super-hero who registered with the government while he was head of SHIELD), with the unfortunate side-effect of wiping the rest of his brain in the process.
It’s been a fun story–and it’s always nice to see a clever reason for Tony to dig out his old armor–but in this issue, when Tony sends an email to Maria Hill from the covert Gmail address Fraction set up as a plot device at the beginning of the series, it’s just heartbreaking. It’s Flowers for Algernon Starring Iron Man, and while that could easily go awry into the realm of the maudlin, Fraction pulls off every misspelled word of it with Tony’s childlike earnestness, guilt, and–for me, the saddest bit–the fact that he no longer remembers what happened to Captain America. It’s excellent stuff, and it’s a good reminder of just why he’s one of the best writers working today.
Iron Man: Armor Wars #2: And speaking of Iron Man comics that I really like, we’ve got this one. Much like Paul Tobin’s incredible Dr. Doom And The Masters Of Evil, it’s a Marvel Adventures title in everything but its name, and much like Dr. Doom, it’s an incredible amount of fun.
I’ve mentioned my affection for the original Armor Wars story before–as far as Shellhead stories go, it’s second only to Armor Wars II, a story for which I have a completely unnecessary amount of love–but aside from the title, Joe Caramagna’s version doesn’t have much to do with the original, and rather than rehashing the same plot, this takes a different direction: Instead of Tony Stark tracking down armors based on his technology (and being a total jerk to Stingray while he’s at it), this one has a mysterious villain actually steal all of his Iron Man suits and put them on existing villains to further the glory of mother Russia, leaving Tony to fight them off in a borrowed suit of Dr. Doom’s armor.
One more time, for those of you in the back: This is a comic where Tony Stark puts on Dr. Doom’s armor and fights super-villains in Iron Man suits. And that is a hoot. And to make things even more fun, he’s taking out the villians in more-or-less the order of the Iron Man armors they’re wearing, going from his hollowed-out Doombot to the old-school Gold version to the classic yellow and gold in the space of this issue, essentially doing the reverse of what Fraction’s got him doing in Invincible Iron Man.
Like I said before, it fits right in with the Marvel Adventures line in that it’s lighthearted but still full of great action and incredibly enjoyable moments, and everybody–yes, everybody–ought to check it out. After all, it’s got panels like this:
And what more could you want?
Justice League: Cry For Justice #3: I actually live-blogged my reaction to the issue yesterday on Twitter, but for those of you who don’t find yourselves hanging on my every 140-word missive, the gist of it was that this has got to be one of the worst comics I have ever read.
My main problem with it is very simple, and it’s one that I’ve mentioned before: This is a book where Green Lantern and the Atom torture people. And it’s not the Batman dangling-the-perp-off-the-ledge type either; Green Lantern ties a man up and then the Atom jumps around inside his brain–which, if you’ll remember, is exactly how the Atom’s ex-wife killed somebody–until he’s screaming in pain. And they are the good guys.
Now, I don’t often object to comics on moral grounds (in fact, outside of the sketchier bits of Tarot, I’m hard-pressed to think of a time when I’ve done so), and if it were another character that was built around a different idiom, it’d be a different matter. I mean, I’m a big fan of the Punisher, and I’ve read The Slavers, which has one of the most brutal scenes I’ve ever seen, where Frank Castle essentially tortures a woman to death by repeatedly throwing her against a shatterproof window. But even there, Garth Ennis is talented enough to structure the scene so that the reader is shocked and disgusted by it, and only tacitly approves because the woman in question has done one of the most gut-wrenchingly terrible things imaginable. And that’s in a story about a man who is essentially a serial killer with a clear motivation, whereas I’ve read every issue of this thing and I’m still not clear why Hal Jordan thinks it’s a good idea to torture Prometheus, who turns out to be Clayface, so he was torturing the wrong guy anyway. So good job.
As near as I can tell, Hal’s upset because of the recent deaths of Batman and the Martian Manhunter, and while two friends being murdered might be enough to get you to completely abandon your pre-existing moral structure, it would probably have more of an impact if he and the guy he spends most of the series talking to hadn’t died themselves and come back from the dead none the worse for wear. This, incidentally, is the same thing that happens in Blackest Night #1, where Barry Allen asks Hal to tell him who all had died and Hal puts on a little light show that is, I think, meant to be really moving in showing everyone who died, but conveniently leaves out characters that have returned from the dead, like Superman, Green Arrow, and Barry and Hal themselves. Yes, this is metafictional thinking, but when you set up a universe where the only thing that it takes to shuffle back into the mortal coil is for someone to want to write the characters they liked when they were twelve, the characters seem disingenuous when they get upset about what essentially amounts to the drunk tank of fiction.
Which is to say that even if there is some sort of motivation that makes Green Lantern torturing someone okay, this book sure as hell doesn’t have it. And again, not every character needs to have a strict moral code, and not every book needs to have the nobody-needs-to-suffer mentality of All Star Superman (though I honestly wouldn’t mind if every DC comic did), but this is a Justice League comic about Green Lantern, Supergirl, Captain Marvel, and Congorilla.
I’m not Frederick H. Moral Relativism or anything, but I’m pretty sure that when your Glowing Green Space-Cop is losing the moral high ground to the fucking Punisher, there’s a problem with your story.
And even if it’s all building to Hal having some sort of revelation about how it’s wrong to torture someone in the name of justice, that’s some shit the guy DC’s been pushing down our throats as the Greatest of the Green Lanterns should’ve figured out a while ago, and if it turns out that Hal’s been mind-controlled by yet another stupid giant yellow space-bug, then that’s even worse, especially since it doesn’t excuse Green Arrow–remember Green Arrow? Hal’s “liberal conscience” from the ’70s?–from doing nothing other than saying, and I quote, “I gotta ask, Hal–is this right? I mean, isn’t this torture?” Again, they’re not my characters, but I’m pretty sure Green Arrow has been written for the past thirty years as a guy who is pretty quick to make moral judgments on issues like torturing people. So since either method of Robinson cheating his way out of having written a bloodthirsty exxxtreme Green Lantern that would embarrass the creators of Extreme Justice is actually worse than playing it straight, Green Lantern just cold torturing people is the best option. And that’s hardly an option at all.
Even beyond those aspects, though, the book’s just bad. Robinson’s always had a flair for purple prose, in this book he manages to combine breathlessly turgid dialogue (Hal justifies his torture by saying “Ask me that when the sting of Bruce and J’onn’s death and all the others has gone away, if it ever does,” once again conveniently forgetting that the sting of his own death went away when he came back, and the Atom actually says “the pain we feel can’t be fixed with an aspirin,” which is just hilarious) with the immaturity of a twelve year-old who just learned how to swear. There’s a joke about Green Lantern’s dick on page two and a minor villain is made to shit himself on p.21, presumably because writing “THIS AIN’T YOUR DADDY’S COMIC!!!!” on the cover would’ve been too much like the silliness of the Silver Age. Except that Robinson throws in scenes like Congorilla and Starman jumping out of a plane to fight robots, and the juxtaposition just makes it come off as stupid, as it’s hard to do a lighthearted romp when your main characters are torturing a suicide bomber on the previous page.
Which brings us to its overarching problem: Cry For Justice is trying too hard. It tries too hard to be emotionally resonant, which means everyone speaks in pithy, soul-tortured quotes that even the Hot Topic crowd would roll their eyes at. It tries too hard to be badass, which leads to torture, which you might’ve guessed I have a slight problem with. It tries too hard to be adult, thus dick jokes and IQ shitting himself, making it read like Robinson doing a worse version of Identity Crisis. It tries too hard to be fun, and a talking gorilla yelling “tally ho” and discussing Long Island Iced Tea comes off as an obnoxious, out-of-place reach.
It tries too hard at everything except being good, and it’s a failure on every level.
Strange Tales #1: I’m not a religious man, but even I have to admit that the fact that Marvel let Johnny Ryan anywhere near their characters is nothing short of a minor miracle.
For those of you who haven’t been looking forward to it as much as I have, the deal with Strange Tales is that Marvel’s letting indie creators–including favorites of mine like James Kochalka and Michael Kupperman–take a shot at short stories of their characters in a book that also finally puts out Peter Bagge’s long-shelved Incorrigable Hulk. And it is a hoot from top to bottom. There’s some really great stuff in here, but Ryan–who takes obscenity to new heights in his own work–steals the show with four pages of outright hilarity that’s worth the price of admission alone.
I do wonder, though, why Marvel didn’t go to ISB favorite Chip Zdarsky, especially when we all know he has some Marvel pitches ready to go.
And that’s the week! As always, if you have any questions or concerns about the reviews–like if you want to talk about the unfortunate (but highly entertaining) finish of Exiles and whether my dreams will come true and see Salva Espin joining Jeff Parker on Agents of Atlas, or if you want to discuss the merits of the new Achewood collection (which are many), or if you just want to note that I get a little verbose when I get angry about fictional characters–feel free to leave a comment below.