Saturday, January 12, 2013

Wednesday Is Everything Old Nü Again For All I Care #169

Cable and X-Force #1 ("2013")
Deathmatch #1
Masks #1
New Avengers #1 (2013)

Cable and X-Force #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
Like a closeted Nazi, I hate the mutant books with a passion only found in familial intimacy with the subject of persecution. I dropped the first volume of X-Force with #25, pick up a new edition twenty years later, and the title is still so this. Did they ever develop Domino beyond "girl with gun?" Can't tell. Cable's finally free of that technovirus, but he still affects it with technology and a Nick Fury eye patch. Human beings in first world countries don't wear eye patches anymore. Dude's got a billion dollars in weaponry, but he can't buy a relatively common prosthetic for his rogue facehole? I still kind of like Forge, but only kinda. I never liked Colossus, and literally all he does is run through a wall. I'd never heard of Doctor Nemesis, but apparently Marvel now needs to copyright public domain golden age characters created by other companies, because they don't have enough IP to manage already. Not Jean Grey v3.0 is here, but she's not on the one billionth Usual Suspects police line-up swipe cover, so I guess that's a temporary thing. Everybody is mad at mutants again, because a bunch of them pulled some fucked-up shit last year, as is par. In reaction, this is the militaristic Black Panther Party of anti-discrimination initiatives, one of several flavors. I've seriously missed nothing in all this time, have I?

I'll take my fist out of the book's asshole for a second to say that for what it is, Cable and X-Force is surprisingly readable. I haven't had much exposure to Dennis Hopeless, and a quick glance at his bio suggests that no one else has either, but his ability to make a property I detest palatable through snarky dialogue and glossing over mutie minutia is commendable. I see he did a Legion of Monsters mini-series, and he might be doing something with Thanos, so this worked as an advertisement to get me to try his other efforts. The art is pedestrian as these things go. Salvador Larroca has always been that guy who draws like another guy you like better, which in this case is any other version of Salvador Larroca on record. I'd guess he didn't spend five years drawing Iron Man so that he could get stuck doing one of two X-Force titles at this stage of his career. But hey, this didn't suck near as bad as it could have, so let us move along.

Deathmatch #1 (BOOM!, 2012, $1.00)
What does it say about our culture that this is only one of two current books in which super-people are forced into lethal gladiatorial combat by mysterious beings working toward unrevealed ends? I suppose that comics ripping it off is much easier and more gratifying these days than tired Comic Code Approved variations on Ben Hur, Rollerball, and the like on this very old recurring premise.

While Marvel is busy murdering D-list teen characters for profit, BOOM! advertised analogues of all your favorite heroes in no-holds-barred mortal combat. They didn't quite deliver, not because of any fault in the product, but because it's better than it was probably intended to be. While writer Paul Jenkins works in stock types, not dissimilar from generated characters in an RPG, they're not transparently derivative enough to fulfill the role of Squadron Supreme vs. the Extremists, or whatever. You can trace Spider-Man or the Hulk in the DNA of new introductions like Dragonfly and Nephilim, but different origins, quirks in powers/personality, and the inventive designs of series artist Carlos Magno differentiate the book's characters from their intended parallels. By making the mistake of hiring people who care about their craft and are possessed of imagination, Deathmatch fails to properly cash-in by baiting-and-switching on readers to deliver work of unexpected quality. Even if you find the premise unsavory, the writing and art are simply too good to pass on at this price, and I only hope I can get as good a deal on the trade I'm now intent on buying. In one issue, this is already better than anything else I've tried at BOOM!, including the vaguely similar but thinner Irredeemable. I'd say Strikeforce: Morituri fans should especially give it a peek. Both books are less about violent death than its emotional impact, and are the better for it, though we do still get the violent death for those who'd miss it.

Masks #1 (Dynamite, 2012, $3.99)
At some point during the interminable Earth X, I got over Alex Ross. He's still capable of impressing me at times, but I'm not a fan overall, and I in fact have an aversion to a lot of his work these days. I did not expect him to paint the entire 22-page story in this comic, especially after his brief guest contributions to other Dynamite comics sold under the strength of his drawing power. I'm sure producing this work took months of effort, and were I to ever be given the opportunity to have Ross paint that much of a story for me, I'd give it my all.

Let's say though that there was some kind of rush, like Ross had some sort of tax bill that needed paying, and an issue of continuity work somehow paid more than 22 covers, but Ross needed a script immediately. Chris Roberson's the guy DC hired to write the second half of "Grounded" when J. Michael Straczynski couldn't be bothered to finish his critically panned year long Superman epic. It's generally acknowledged that Roberson's half was way less shitty, and he has the spare time after his quit/firing from DC over Dan Didio's delicate feelings when it comes to being called out publicly over his lack of ethics. In this extremely unlikely hypothetical scenario, Roberson makes sense as the hired hand to bring in, and he is without a doubt the least bad writer-lackey Ross has employed, in my opinion.

All this having been established, you'd think a writer would work and rework his script as often as possible until it could match as best as possible the scale inherent in a piece painted by Ross. Instead, this reads like the kind of navelgazing, by-and-for hardcore fanboys, unsophisticated first draft that we usually get when Ross plots a book. This is a comic about the first meetings between vigilante characters popular from 1930s pulp novels and radio shows whose primary audience is currently in nursing homes or dead and will not make the choice between Dynamite's pricing structure on comic books and their blood pressure meds. The biggest of the lot, The Shadow, is to the degree that he is known by anyone whose familial title doesn't end with an "a" best remembered as the subject of a 1995 Alec Baldwin flop that couldn't measure up to the low bar set by Warren Beatty's Dick Tracy. I recognize that Dynamite recently started a Shadow series with Garth Ennis, and they bet big on adapting Kevin Smith's unused screenplay for the Green Hornet, but it's probably not smart policy to assume potential readers are coming into this book at all schooled enough in either character to forgo introductions. I mean, the fucking Spider? I've been applauded for my encyclopedic knowledge of comics, but even I only know the Spider from the one issue of a Tim Truman revision I read in the '90s. I never saw the movie serial this interpretation is based on. Why should I give a shit about any of these characters, especially when Ross abandons them after this single issue to replacement artist Dennis "Who?" Calero?

As is typical with a Ross project, instead of dealing with characters who need to be explored and developed, cyphers in costumes get thrown at big dumb implausible elevator pitches. Here, gangsters from across the nation make a pilgrimage to New York in order to secretly take it over and turn the entire police force into their personal army of fascistic crooks (which may be either a contradiction in terms or an oxymoron, but I can't figure which.) Beyond the issues of logistics and profit sharing, is explaining an idea that revisits a nonsensical 1938 pulp yarn more important than allowing enough space for the Shadow and Green Hornet to be introduced and interact with one another. Green Hornet is a crusading newspaperman who pretends to be a masked crimelord in order to infiltrate and destroy rackets. The Shadow is a former criminal enlightened in the East who now uses special powers and a gift for bloodletting to kill the shit out of hoodlums. Shouldn't there be little boxes somewhere in this book that explain either of those things? Better to show brief origin recaps than to just dump exposition into the text surely, but shouldn't at least that be a given. Here's another: how does the Shadow know he isn't supposed to kill the Green Hornet, who is commonly believed to be a bad guy? I just wrote a better first issue than what got printed inside your brain when you read it and pictured the possibilities. Even if you explain a confrontation away with "the Shadow knows... that evil does not lurk in the heart of this man," we need the stupid line and a basic understanding of who either of these guys are to even get what that means.

This is a book with big painted panels and a lack of essential storytelling. Even when Zorro gets arrested by Rondo Hatton, it's played so archly and is so undercooked as to barely register. Is the prosecutor guy that tries to help him the Spider? I just used Google to find out that he's the Black Bat, who I vaguely recall as a minor pulp character who influenced the creation of Batman. That's goddamned esoteric, and not in the good way, like oblique lyrics in a song. More in the impenetrable, using geeky fixations as a shield against socialization and a means of illusory superiority frame of usage. This book has barely been written in the most fundamental sense, and clearly doesn't want to be read by hardly anyone, and I'll gladly oblige it from here on out.

New Avengers #1 (Marvel, 2012, $3.99)
DC Comics is a harebrained operation where guys Marvel doesn't want and who can't get a creator owned project going try to suck off their editors for work, but only after traversing an obstacle course. It's the place to go until your career is killed like a lab mouse injected with ebola. Marvel Comics is a harebrained operation where the same bunch of white guys form a daisy chain, sucking each other's dicks and trading books. They call themselves "architects" because their company has at least a semblance of consistency, even if part of it is regurgitating each other's ideas into one another's mouths while non-"architects" wait to suck the digested shit that passes out of their asses. That's why they call it "The House of I Deals," instead of having their private areas didioled like the second cumming of Jimmy Savile.

Jonathan Hickman is an "architect" smart enough to keep his poor man's Millarworld on the backburner at Image while working on Alex Jones fanfic through increasingly higher profile work-made-for-hire. He just traded for one of Brian Michael Bendis' titles, and reinvented it by plugging the cast of a tangential Brian Michael Bendis mini-series into it that itself was inspired by a Mark Millar mini-series back when he was a quasi-architect. Hickman even got the guy who used to draw as many of fellow architect Ed Brubaker's books as possible but can't now because he got left behind in the divorce now that Ed's devoted to his own poor man's Millarworld at Image Comics. Incest is best in the House of the Mouse.

You probably expect me to start bitch-slapping their rural Alabama mountain bayou offspring at this point, but New Avengers #1 hit me in my sweet spot, which is located in Wakanda. I'm a Black Panther fan, and this entire comic was about motivating the character to join a group he was highly critical of who have since proven to be raging assholes, as predicted. This makes T'Challa the brilliant badass who is also our sympathetic POV character, an exceptional feat of recognizing that shit could only ever be pulled off in the company of extraordinary douchebags comprising the Marvel Illuminati. Even with the usual Hickman wankery of two page spreads devoted to typography and alternate dimensions that will surely lead our heroes to confronting their daddy issues/a global conspiracy conceived by King Máel Coluim mac Cináeda of Alba dating back to 1012/their writer's fixation on iconographic design elements, I'm in for the first trade just to see where this goes and whether he can pull a similar trick with Doctor Strange. I loves me some Sorcerer Supreme, and there's even Captain America in here. It's like Jack Kirby plotting for Len Wein on a John Buscema book. That deserves a chance to unspool.

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