Alas, there are some things for which even cheerleading must pause. And this, my friends, is one of them:
Bring It On Week or not, it’s still Thursday night here on the ISB, and that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Spirited Comics Reviews! But this week, we’re going to be doing things a little differently.
Normally, I try to stay away from absolute rating systems, because really: Telling you a comic is “three stars” or whatever doesn’t tell you as much as writing out what I actually thought of it. Of course, making a joke about ROM: Spaceknight doesn’t really do the job either, but the point stands. Tonight, however, I’m switching up the format, because in addition to my normal review, I’ll be ranking each comic I review by assigning it the character from the Bring It On tetralogy that most accurately captures how I feel about it–or as I like to call them… their Bringitonalogues..
Now then! Comics… In-troduce yourselves!
And now, the reviews. Ready? Okay!
Amazing Spider-Man #551: This issue marks something of a milestone for me: This is the first time that I’ve actually laughed at one of Spider-Man’s jokes in what seems like years.
I’m sure that it actually hasn’t been that long–I’m pretty easy to please in terms of Spider-Humor, and if you count the Spidey from Marvel Adventures Avengers, I know Jeff Parker got a chuckle out of me during “Ego the Loving Planet“–but it’s been a rarity over the past couple of years. And yet, here we are, closing out the first run by the writer I was expecting to hate the most, and the new thrice-monthly Amazing Spider-Man hasn’t let me down yet, and I’ll be the first to admit that I’m pretty surprised by that.
Which brings us to Amazing Spider-Man‘s Bringitonalogue:
Let’s be honest here, folks: Bring It On Again, which cribs its plot pretty directly from Mighty Ducks 2, is the weak link in the series, and there’s no reason why Tina, the villainous head cheerleader of Cal State College, should be any good at all, when in fact, her complete dedication to scenery-chewing pep-squad evil makes her one of the most fun characters in the series.
The comparison here should be clear: Brand New Day‘s coming out of what is unquestionably the worst Spider-Man story in… Yeah, I’m gonna go ahead and say “ever,” but for six straight issues, it’s consistently been the book that I look most forward to reading. Don’t get me wrong: I’ve said it before that there’s nothing that I like about these issues that couldn’t have been done without Spider-Man making a deal with the devil and ditching his wife, but the fact of the matter is that while they were trying to fix the wrong problem–Peter Parker’s marriage–they finally got around to fixing the right one too, and now we’ve got decent writers and fun, fast-paced stories again.
And besides, they eventually forgive Tina, despite the fact that she remains unrepentant throughout the film. So while I’m still a little bugged that I have to pretend one of my favorite characters didn’t sell his soul to Mephisto, maybe it’ll all work out in the end.
Conan #49: I know what you’re thinking: “Surely, Chris is not about to compare Sword-and-Sorcery’s most savage barbarian to a high school cheerleader.” Well believe it, brother: It’s Bring It On Week!
Anyway, I’m still not sure why Dark Horse is ending Conan next month and relaunching it as Conan the Cimmerian, but Tim Truman’s definitely heading towards the big finale of “The Hand of Nergal” at full steam. And really, this one’s got it all: There’s the standard elements that are there just in case you forgot you were reading a Conan story–damsels in distress, wenches in peril, a dark god of the abyss threatening to rend the veil of etc.–but by tying it into Iniri’s journey following Conan, Truman has really made it feel like the last five years of Conan are building up to this one big fight.
And of course, it doesn’t hurt that “Conan lived.” is one of the most badass captions a guy could ask for, either.
So who fits that mold in the world of Cheerleading? Why, none other than Torrance, of course! I mean really: When this issue starts, Conan’s in the roughest shape that we’ve seen him in the entire run, dragging himself out from beneath a pile of bodies while a vulture tries to eat him, but instead of giving up, he grabs the nearest sword and sets off to engage in his favorite pastime, Wizard-Murder. It’s the same kind of fighting spirit that drives Torrance to double her efforts even after a humiliating defeat at Regionals! And they’re both faced with making hard choices, although to be fair, Conan’s struggle over whether or not to spare Ereshka from the pain of living by chopping off her head may be Slightly different from trying to decide whether to continue using stolen cheers.
Also, and this is a little-known fact, Robert E. Howard invented spirit fingers. Seriously, look it up.
The Immortal Iron Fist: Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death: This, I think, comes as a surprise to no one.
And it shouldn’t: There’s not a whole lot that says “Hey Chris, read this” more than a comic where the Golden Age Iron Fist and his running crew of pulp action sidekicks slug it out with murderous cowgirls, Hydra Henchmen and the freakin’ son of Frankenstein, and Matt Fraction pulls it all off with the same fun and excitement that he and Ed Brubaker bring to the monthly title. It’s solid action, and while there could’ve been a little more of Orson Randall firing chi-powered bullets from his handguns for my tastes, let’s be honest: As far as I’m concerned, there’s never gonna be enough of that.
What really makes this one interesting for me, though, isn’t so much the further adventures of Orson Randall as it is the exploration of the John Aman, Prince of Orphans, who–unlike the Golden Age Iron Fist–actually did exist in the Golden Age. I think it’s fair to say that my love of stories where tough-guys give Ratzis the business has led me to be a little more familiar with Golden Age comics than the average reader, but I had no idea that Aman was actually Centaur Publications’ Amazing Man until a well-informed ISB reader pointed it out to me. As it turns out, Iron Fist co-creator Roy Thomas cites Amazing Man as one of the primary influences in the Fist’s origin, and thus, Fraction and Brubaker are completing a big ol’ circle of kung fu action comics.
Clearly, there’s only one cheerleader that can live up to those standards.
That’s right, folks: It’s Isis, the captain of the East Compton High School Clovers, the greatest cheerleader in Bring It On history. And with her often-imitated, never-duplicated cheerleading skills and a squad that includes both LaFred and Jenelope, it’s not hard to see how she parallels Orson Randall and his Confederates of the Curious.
And of course, much like Gabrielle Union herself, Orson Randall and the Green Mist of Death is pretty easy on the eyes, thanks to an all-star art team that boasts a Nick Dragotta/Mike Allred combination and the legendary Russ Heath, who offers up one of the most jaw-snapping kicks to the face that I’ve ever seen. And, you know, I’ve seen a lot. Plus, there’s more to both Isis and Orson than what made it into the finished product: As Phil pointed out, there are scenes of the East Compton High cheerleaders in the trailer that were later cut, and if you head over to Matt Fraction’s website, you can find the script for four splash-page chapter openers that were left out for space.
Plus, green and yellow? Come on, those are totally Iron Fist’s colors!
Incredible Hercules #114: You know, three years ago, I didn’t even like Hercules.
Okay, admittedly: I like him in Under Siege (the Avengers story, not the Segal movie), and he was in the greatest fill-in issue of all time, but that’s about where my interest in the guy stopped, and there was no way I’d be on for an ongoing series.
This, though? I could read this stuff all day.
I’ve mentioned before that Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente are doing a book that’s more in the vein of Walt Simonson’s Thor than anything else, with a blend of Marvel Comics and traditional mythology that’s just purely entertaining, and there’s nowhere that’s more evident than in this issue, where Hercules’ hallucinations move laterally from his battle with Laomedon’s minions in Ancient Troy to a throwdown alongside the Champions of Los Angeles. And of course, it doesn’t hurt that Pak and Van Lente have made Ares one of the funniest villains since Dirk Anger, or that the bumbling target of his hilarious evil is that most hated Avenger, Stupid Stupid Wonder Man, all while keeping him a major threat. It’s a great book.
Or to put it anther way, dude it’s Darcy.
Ah, Darcy. Some of you might recall that out of the entire roster of the Rancho Carne Toros, Darcy was the only one that choreographer/con-man Sparky Polastri singled out as having “good skin tone and general musculature,” and if that’s not the best way to describe Koi Pham’s note-perfect art in this book through a cheer-based metaphor, then brother, I don’t know what is. And while she’s often overlooked as a minor character–much the same way that Incredble Herc has been pushed to the side to make room for the new Hulk title–the fact that she also appeared on four episodes of Xena: Warrior Princess and thus became eligible for the ISB’s upcoming Dark Xena Week has definitely earned her a place in our hearts.
Admittedly, Sparky also goes on to claim that her ass is in danger of growing so large as to start its own website–despite the fact that the role of a website created by an ass is already taken–but so what? Some of us like ’em round, and… Well, I have no real way of tying that back into Hercules at all. Seriously though, Darcy. Call me.
The Order #8: Ah, the Order. You were too, too solid for this world.
By now, you guys have probably already heard that The Order‘s been cancelled as of #10, and really, that’s a damn shame, because it’s one of the best team books that Marvel’s been publishing lately. Still, I’ve got to hand it to Fraction and Kitson for this one, because despite the fact that the story’s clearly heading to the climactic battle against the Men From S.H.A.D.O.W. before the end of the run, it doesn’t read like a plot that’s being rushed to get the plot threads tied up in time. But then again, that could just be due to the way the book’s already crammed full of action to begin with.
In any case, it’s a solid read, and the idea of Tony Stark’s pet team going up against a madman who tried to pull off the Fifty-State Initiative years ago makes for a very interesting conflict.
And interesting conflicts are, of course, Carson‘s specialty. Much the same way that Fraction’s working to bring pieces of Marvel’s various ongoing events together–using this issue, for instance, to tie a member of an Initiative team to House of M and linking the plot to Civil War–Carson’s got to pull together the fragments of two cheerleading squads into something that, hopefully, people will like enough that it won’t get cancel–er, I mean, that they’ll win the competition. And she even does it with an alleged goth girl who claims to be cheering for Satan! See? It’s scary accurate.
Umbrella Academy #6: I’ve gotta say, now that it’s all said and done, this has easily been one of the best comics of the year. Everything about it, from the big stuff like a plot that could be accurately described as “an albino violin woman and her evil hench-orchestra try to blow up the world” to the more subtle details, like the fact that the Seance’s hands are tattooed like a Ouijia board to match the symbol on his costume (which seriously took me until this issue to finally get), all drawn beautifully by Gabriel Ba, just comes off as near-perfect high concept entertainment.
And you know what? I’ll admit that I’m still a little surprised. I probably shouldn’t be, especially now that I’ve had six months to get used to the idea, and given that there are plenty of writers–like, say, Christos Gage–who came to comics from other fields and went on to do some great stuff, but come on. Going from writing Law & Order to Stormwatch PHD is a slightly smaller step than going from “I’m Not Okay” to an explosion-fueled mix of BPRD and the X-Men.
I guess it just goes to show that I didn’t learn the lesson of Missy Pantone.
After all, she came from a different place and a sport outside cheerleading, and not only conquered against an audition that was stacked against her, but became the Toros’ moral center and helped Torrance lead them to their first honest competition.
And also to their Bikini Car Wash, which is at least as important as finding one’s moral center.
Zorro #1: I wouldn’t really consider myself a huge fan of the character, but I’ve always liked Zorro. And really, who wouldn’t? I mean, the guy battles evil while wearing the sweetest hat in the history of crime-fighting, makes a habit of petty vandalism, and I think it’s been well-established that I’m predisposed to enjoying the adventures of rich guys with secret anti-crime basements who wear capes and fight people. Still, it wasn’t until I heard that the new Zorro series was going to be written by Matt Wagner that I got excited about it.
Wagner is, hands down, one of my all-time favorite comics creators. Between Mage (one of the first independent comics I got into), his recent work on Batman, and the criminally underrated Doctor Mid-Nite, that guy’s knocked out of the park more consistently than just about anyone, and like Walt Simonson, he’s one of those guys that I’ll buy whatever he does, no questions asked.
But with Zorro, I’ve got to admit that I’m a little disappointed. The biggest problem–for me, anyway–is that, well, Zorro’s not in it. To be fair, there’s a hell of a lot of Diego de la Vega running around as a child and learning about right and wrong, and if you want to be a stickler for detail, there is one page where our title character makes a brief appearance, but come on: When I drop three bucks for a book called Zorro, I want to see some swashes buckled early and often.
Instead, Wagner gives us an incredibly detailed origin that I would’ve been fine with as a zero issue or a preview, and I can’t help but be reminded of Penn, the hunky male cheerleader love interest from Bring It On: In It To Win It.
I know, I know, but bear with me here. See, it’s not that I begrudge Wagner for wanting to show the origin, but at this point, after 89 years of Zorro floating around in pop culture, I doubt that it’s really all that necessary to have it right there at the front without first showing us the end result. He’s such an influential character that he himself is visual shorthand for the masked avenger, and the why at this point is far less important to me than the action itself. Admittedly, it’s easy enough to flip that around and say that after 89 years, we’ve already seen what Diego becomes, but not the details of his motivation, but to that, I say this: I bought Zorro, not The Adventures of Li’l Diego de la Vega. Just sayin’.
Which brings us back to Penn. I mean really, do we honestly need to know that his father wouldn’t approve if he found out he was a male cheerleader? He’s a male cheerleader; I think we can all see that there might be some friction with pops there. So instead of explaining why he’s got a set of nunchucks in his suitcase, have him bust ’em out and break some heads.
And I mean that metaphorically and literally.
Man. If I stretch this metaphor any further, I run the risk of serious injury when it snaps back, so as far as comics are concerned, that’s the week. If you have any questions or comments, or if you’re just curious as to why Chelsea from In It To Win It represents Youngblood, feel free to leave a cheer in the comments section below.
Now if you’ll excuse me, Tony G’s “Dos and Don’ts of Cheerleading” ain’t gonna watch itself.