It’s the first week of March, which means that at long last, we’ve entered the green-beery haze that leads to St. Patrick’s day. And that, in turn, means that if Chris Claremont was writing this introduction, it’d include a “begorrah” and at least one “sure’n ’tis.”
Since it’s Chris Sims doing the job, though, you’ll just have to settle for one of these:
And all things considered, I think that works out a little better.
In any case, after a slight delay caused by
Commander Shepherd’s quest to save the galaxy my need to catch up on some sleep, it’s time once again for the Internet’s Most Timely Comics Reviews! Here’s what I bought this week…
And while only I can appreciate the genius of Sabrina the Teenage Witch, there might be a few in there that you guys like.
Amazing Spider-Man #552: This week’s installment of the not-quite-weekly adventures of Spider-Man marks the debut of Bob Gale, probably better known to the public at large as the screenwriter of Back to the Future, so it comes as a bit of a surprise that this was the issue I’ve liked the least since “Brand New Day” started.
I mean, it’s not like I was expecting this issue to involve Spider-Man web-sligning his way back to 1955 and inadvertently romancing a young, hot Aunt May or anything–because that would’ve been terrible, but, now that I think of it, still better than Trouble–and overall, the story’s still got the same zippiness that’s made the previous issues enjoyable. It’s still not bad, but there are little things, like Dexter Bennett’s 180 on stories about Spider-Man or the fact that a guy who lives in New York in the Marvel Universe (which, you know, was just leveled by a big green monster and his crew of space gladiators) assumes that a weird chrysalis is a special effect, that are a little distracting.
The weirdest thing, though, is the caption advising us that we’re cutting away from violence “before it gets too grueseome for our all-ages comic,” which comes five pages after a guy pukes up a tentacle monster and three pages before said guy is revealed to have pretty much been turned inside out in a big, full-page shot by Phil Jimenez. Now, it’s obvious that the caption is a joke that’s meant to be done in the style of “classic” Marvel narration than anything else (which is another touch that the BND stuff has been playing up over the past three months), but when it’s markedly incongruous with the rest of the issue, it does more to draw attention to the stuff that isn’t in line with the sense of fun–like, you know, alley puke–than reinforce what is.
On the bright side, though, this issue does include an ad for what is unquestionably the greatest pastry in Marvel History:
They’re the cool exec with a heart of delicious cake!
Buffy the Vampire Slayer #12: So, this issue of Buffy includes an all-out siege on the slayers–not to be confused with Siege on Slayer, the concept album where AxeWülf covers the entirety of Reign In Blood–by Japanese ninja vampire assassins and the shocking last-page return of Dracula, but let’s be honest here, folks: there’s only one page in this issue that anyone’s going to be talking about.
Because this issue, after all, is where Buffy engages in an invigorating round of lesbian sex with Satsu, and this is slightly problematic. On a purely technical level, the scene where we cut to someone laying in bed with a brand new lover and going “Wow” is such a monumental cliché that we never need to see it again. Really, I think it all boils down to the “wow”; with any other exclamation up to and including Buffy going “Hot damn! Vaginas!” it would’ve worked a lot better.
Beyond that, though, there’s the development itself. On the one hand, the fact that “Executive Producer” Joss Whedon and writer Drew Goddard have plotted out a scene where their main character makes a sudden shift in her sexuality–and comes to the conclusion that it’s the bee’s knees–is endemic of a larger problem with Whedon’s work as a whole. We’ve seen this sort of thing happen before, with Willow (who was in in love with Xander and Oz before her sapphic revelation) and elsewhere, and while it’s believable once, getting it again just seems to point to an underlying belief–shared by ardent fans of Girls Gone Wild–that all women are just a t-shirt away from making out with each other.
On the other hand, in seven seasons of the TV show, the relationships that we’ve seen Buffy in haven’t exactly been standard-issue. In one, she has a one-night stand with a total jerk; in another, her boyfriend turns evil shortly after they have sex; her relationship with Riley ends with him in a self-destructive jaunt into a thinly-veiled drug metaphor; and her season’s worth of grudge-fucking Spike ends with her getting slapped around. The fact that this isn’t exactly a paean to feminism aside, it’s set a precedent for Buffy, and it’s not entirely out of character to assume that she’d be up for “experimenting,” especially with what essentially amounts to the diametric opposite of her previous lovers.
Me, I think it’s a bit of an eye-roller, but I will say that I wasn’t expecting it to go in the direction that it did, with a very funny escalation of people intruding on the afterglow until the whole cast shows up. It’s a great moment of farce that defuses the moment–at least until the issue’s over–and by the time Dawn shows up, I was laughing aloud while I read it. It’s a great bit, and while the implications of the relationship don’t do a whole lot for me (for reasons seen above), it’s part and parcel of what you’re going to get from Buffy in the first place, and there’s enough there that I actually do like to keep me reading.
Comic Book Comics #1: ISB readers will no doubt recall my intense and undying affection for Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey’s Action Philosophers!–and the sharper-eyed readers might’ve noticed that I’m even quoted on the back cover to v.3–so it might be understating it a bit to say that I’ve been looking forward to their take on the history of comic books ever since it was announced, and even more since their story in the Spinner Rack anthology that detailed the history of Crime Does Not Pay–which, incidentally, you can read for free on the CBC website.
That said, it’s rare that something comes along that meets expectations that high, and with Comic Book Comics, Van Lente and Dunlavey are not only as good as I wanted them to be, but even better.
If you’ve read Action Philosophers! (and if you haven’t, then shame on you), then you probably know what the deal is already: Van Lente’s painstakingly researched history of the medium boiled down to its essentials and coupled with Dunlavey’s great cartooning, all adding up to one of the most enjoyable reads on the subject that you’re going to find. It’s the two of them at their best, zipping through twenty-eight jam-packed pages of story as they go from the invention of the modern comic strip to the Secret Origin of Jack Kirby, with a brief stop at the creators re-enacting “Who’s On First” to keep things moving along.
It’s truly fascinating stuff, with this issue’s focus on the battle for animation supremacy between Max Fleisher and Walt Disney and how that, in turn, affected the burgeoning new medium of comics with its impact on guys like Jerry Siegel, Joe Simon and a young, fast-drawing artist called Jacob Kurtzberg, with emphasis on great moments like the editorial belief that nobody’d want to read about a guy who could throw around a car on the cover of Action Comics.
Admittedly, I’m more interested in the history of comic books than the average person, but when it’s presented like this, I can’t imagine anyone not wanting to read it. It’s great stuff, and like Action Philosophers!, anyone with even a casual interest in the comics industry ought to be checking it out.
Invincible Presents Atom Eve #2: With this issue, Friend of the ISB Benito Cereno and artist Nate Bellegarde–the team behind the highly enjoyable Hector Plasm, available now at your local shop–cap off the surprisingly violent, heartbreaking and, in places, downright disturbing origin of Invincible’s most prominent super-heroine, and to be honest, there are a couple of dodgy spots in this one. Presumably, that has something to do with Cereno going back to rewrite the ending after initially finishing it a couple of years ago and expanding it from a 48-page one-shot (as detailed in the very entertaining Cereno/Kirkman interview at the end of the issue), and regardless of these minor problems, it fits right in with its parent series in both tone and execution.
But the shortcomings are not the major issue here, and that is this: With the exception of last week’s “Damn you and your lemonade!” from the pages of All-Star Batman, “The season… is DEATH CHRISTMAS!” is probably the single greatest comic book catchphrase of the year. Seriously, if that’s not on a t-shirt by the end of the week, then somebody dropped the ball. Well-played, Cereno.
Justice League: The New Frontier Special: If I can add one more thing to the list I started above of things I never want to see again, it’s this: Another fight between Superman and Batman. I mean really: It’s been done to death, and with the exception of the best Superman/Batman fight (the one from Death in the Family), they all end with Batman just whipping the crap out of Superman, and while that’s neat once, it gets old. My pal and co-writer Chad has even gone so far as to suggest that we go back to every fight and add a thought balloon to Superman that reads: “Easy now, Clark, remember: His parents are dead. Let him have his fun.”
That said, I’m willing to make an exception for Darwyn Cooke, because… well, because he’s Darwyn Cooke, and getting the background of the fight scene in New Frontier with a “lost chapter” was well worth retreading that old territory. And the rest of the issue’s a hoot, too: Getting to see the BBC–as Dave Bullock, J. Bone and Cooke were credited in the pages of Witchblade Animated–is always a treat, and I’m a pretty big fan of seeing the Teen Titans saving John F. Kennedy in general, but the last story just cracked me up. Kevin might’ve seen the joke on the last page coming, but even if I had, the fact that the story uses both “FIGHT!” and “FRACTURE!” as sound effects would’ve kept me happy for hours.
Northlanders #4: Last month, I referred to Northlanders as Brian Wood’s Emo Vikings, and it’s come to my attention that Wood might’ve taken a little offense at what, admittedly, could’ve easily come off as dismissive. That, of course, wasn’t my intent at all, but rather an attempt to contextualize the series and its protagonist’s similarities to those in Wood’s more contemporary body of work, like DMZ or The Couriers. Hopefully, that clears things up.
So anyway, this issue takes a surprising turn, as Sven, rather than continuing his attempts to retrieve his brithright from his uncle, spends the entire issue listening to Dashboard Confessional and shopping online for size-too-small ironic t-shirts, and while I’m no expert on history, I have serious doubts that hot pink Converse hi-tops were even available in 986 AD.
But I kid. In reality, Northlanders continues to be a highly enjoyable comic, with Wood’s script really hitting its stride here as Sven’s story escalates from its self-serving initial goals to the brutal consequences of his one-man campaign. It’s good stuff, and as always, Davide Gianfelice’s art is gorgeous. It might just be that I haven’t noticed them before now, but this issue’s got a lot of larger panels that he puts to good use, with great shots like riders tearing through the snow and the aftermath of their raid on Ivarsson. It looks great, especially under Dave McCaig’s coloring, which uses washed-out, mostly monochromatic palettes better than most who try to pull it off. And no, there’s not a single note of Dashboard Confessional to be found in the book.
I think I caught a bit of The Bravery, though.
Pax Romana #2: I’ve mentioned before that I’m a fan of the High Concept book, and believe me: They don’t come any more High Concept than this one, the story of an army sent back in time by the Catholic church to shape the world and ensure that the Roman Empire never falls. It’s a premise that’s interesting right off the bat, begging the question as to how different the world could be if even a small group of men armed with twenty-first century weapons and technology could affect the course of events, and how devastating those changes would be to history as we know it.
Of course, I’ve also said that a High Concept can only get you so far if the execution falls short, but it should come as no surprise to anyone who read Jonathan Hickman’s previous effort–last year’s great Nightly News–that he pulls it off very well, with an impressive amount of research underlying a story that’s irresistably engaging. Stylistically, it bears a strong resemblance to Nightly News, right down to the way the time travel in the first issue is represented by a highly stylized timeline, but that’s not a bad thing, and even the wide swaths of text that replace art when the characters sit down to talk about how they’re going to run the world are so interesting and densely-packed that it feels like it’s worth every penny of the $3.50 cover price. It’s excellent stuff, so if you catch it at your shop–or Hickman’s upcoming Red Mass For Mars–give it a shot.
Uncanny X-Men #496: Considering that I’m a comics reader who spent the majority of my teenage years in the ’90s, it probably goes without saying that I’ve read a lot of stories about the X-Men. And for good reason: I actually really like the team, although it’s rare that they’re actually good enough to bother with.
Point being, it’s not often that I get to say this, but in this issue, Ed Brubaker’s doing the kind of story that I haven’t really seen from the X-Men before. The idea that there’s someone whose mutant powers are slowly throwing San Francisco and its citizens back to the ’60s seems more like a Bronze-Age Bill Mantlo story than anything we’ve seen in the constant state of crossover in which the team’s existed for the past fifteen years, and for me at least, that’s pretty exciting. Especially since, you know, Brubaker even throws in a sleeping Celestial for good measure.
Even the subplot of Collossus, Wolverine and Nightcrawler’s European Vacation is an enjoyable read, and while the last thing the X-Men need is more nostalgia, the joke about the issue where they take Collossus out to the bar and make him fight the Juggernaut served as a nice point of comparison to the current situation, since that was originally brought on by Collossus dumping Kitty Pryde after Secret Wars, and this one’s brought on by Kitty apparently getting killed at the end of Astonishing X-Men.
Of course, it probably would’ve been nicer to reference that after it happened in Astonishing, but come on: We figured that one out months ago.
And that’s the week! Well, the week plus a day, anyway. As always, any questions or concerns can be brought up in the comments section below, but me, well… The galaxy ain’t gonna save itself from the Reapers, folks.