Axel-In-Charge: "Secret Wars" Jam Session Talking "A-Force," "Ultimate End" and More
Hello and welcome to What Are You Reading?, our weekly look at all the comics and other stuff we’ve been checking out lately. Today our special guest is Chris Sims, senior writer for ComicsAlliance, blogger at Chris’s Invincible Super Blog and writer of comics like Dracula the Unconquered and Awesome Hospital.
To see what Chris and the Robot 6 crew have been reading, click below.
FF #6 did something amazing besides being delightful and clever: it made me appreciate comics continuity. On a personal note, I’ve never been able to handle the lost son of Medusa and Black Bolt, mostly because of the very tragic graphic novel by Ann Nocenti and Brett Blevens, where Ahura was taken from the royal couple for fear of the power of their combined genetics. Later, their son was recovered and then was sort of a sorcerer’s familiar from Dungeons and Dragons; here when you need him, ignored when the story didn’t care. So he’s been this loose end (though his appearance in Earth X was pretty brilliant) but here, under Matt Fraction’s care, he has a personality of sorts and a place among the other science misfit children. And that’s the neat part of this FF run, there are a lot of misfits expertly placed and given love and a family to call their own. From Darla Deering to the new Moloid sister, all of these characters have a home and some weird happenings to fight against.
On a less comfortable note, Avengers #10 is richly disturbing. The disemboweled Wendigo (Warning: there is a disemboweled Wendigo in this book!) is only a mouthful of the full uncomfortable meal you’ll be dining on in this creepy tale of forced evolution. Guy with the big gold horns on Mars is trying to forcibly evolve Earth into something “better,” so he unleashed a bunch of freaky pods on to our planet and Canada got a weird jungle fantasy that will disembowel a Wendigo along with the rest of (what I’m assuming is a new) Omega Flight. It’s dark and disturbing, and creates a heavy mood of change and really scary science. Mike Deodato is a master at muscle and shadow, so his work perfectly fits the macabre tone of this new wrinkle in Hickman’s Avengers tale.
Since I loved last week’s Cable and X-Force so much, not to mention Avengers Arena is better than it has any right to be, I went back and grabbed a copy of X-Men: Season One to read since Dennis Hopeless wrote and Jamie McKelvie drew this sort of introduction to the X-Men. Most Season Ones haven’t thrilled me, either being too weird or too simple for a long time reader like myself to need. After all, these are the intro books you can handle to friends and family for an idea of who these people are and why we all care so much. In this regard, X-Men: Season One is pretty brilliant as we get a chance to look back at a time when the original five X-Men were just kids dealing with who they are as well as what other people want them to be. I know we have the first five time traveled over in All-New X-Men, but I like these kids better; they seem more real and relatable. Mr. McKelvie draws realistic looking teens that seems to have stepped off the sidewalks and into the pages of my comics, clean lines and expressive designs that reflect a more modern age and youthful feel. The Brotherhood of Mutants look like totally cool kids I’d liek to get to know. Mr. Hopeless has a way with bringing the heart of a character through with honest voices and while the story does focus on new member Jean Grey, it doesn’t feel like a spotlight book. It feels like a team that learned to choose for themselves how to be the best people they can as as Xavier smiles in the last pages, so do I. I love good story about unity under adversity and X-Men: Season One delivers up the goods.
The Plain Janes by Cecil Castellucci and Jim Rugg (MINX/DC): What amazing timing and what a wonderful discovery. From the high school high jinx description on the back cover, I was not expecting an exploration of trauma, the search for safety, fitting in, and the power of art to heal and unite. While the details are different, the story had a startling similarity to the recent Boston Marathon bombings as the impetus for Jane’s parents relocating from the bustling Metro City to the small town Kent Waters. It’s a moving story that fluidly moves through Jane’s emotional highs and lows and the story without feeling forced or manipulated. The characters truly live and breathe and pull the story along. Jim Rugg’s art is intuitive and expressive, giving plenty of room for the characters to have their emotional discoveries and interact with each other and their environment. A great pairing of creators, a great story, and a world I would really like to revisit.
A Friendly Game by Joe Pimienta and Lindsay Hornsby (SLG Publishing): This was a bold and difficult story for a debut graphic novel. The story was originally developed while the two classmates were making their way through SCAD (Savannah College of Art and Design). The fully developed form as it appears here focuses on two boyhood friends who become obsessed with what becomes a disturbing game, and there’s a rift between them when one of them becomes uncomfortable continuing the game. With the stark image of a mouse trap and a blood splattering worked into the title banner, I don’t think it’s too surprising that the game has to do with animal cruelty. Obviously these are just drawings, and no actual animals were harmed in the making of this graphic novel, but this was a tough read for me. We all have our subjective lines, and that’s mine. You can kill men, women and children all the live long day in fiction, but the second the victim is an animal, I squirm. As such, it was really hard for me to have any sympathy for either character, even the one that decides it’s time to stop. I hadn’t even finished Act One when I looked at how much more I had to read of the 200-page book, and wondered if I wanted to keep reading. But the majority of the story takes place over less than 24 hours and the pacing is brisk. If you liked the idea of that Macaulay Culkin movie The Good Son, this is for you. Beyond the line-crossing for me, I thought some of the plotting and character choices were on the simplistic side, but it’s a tense thriller with some good horror moments.
X-O Manowar Vol. 1: By the Sword by Robert Venditti and Cary Nord (Valiant Entertainment): I never read the original Valiant Comics but I was always curious because of the good word-of-mouth. The new Valiant has been getting some excellent buzz, so I was happy to finally get a chance to dive in. I don’t know how much this X-O Manowar book differs from the original, but the concept is a clever mash-up of historical fiction and sci-fi. It’s kind of like the man-out-of-time aspect of Captain America, put into Iron Man armor that’s mystically powered like Thor. What’s impressive though is that such a mash-up completely works. It doesn’t feel like a mish-mash, but a fully realized world that completely works despite the anachronisms. The main character Aric is nephew to the King of the Visigoths, a nomadic tribe of Germanic people who were in conflict with the Romans in the late 300s and early 400s. There’s some good attention to historical accuracy here, more than enough for an adventure tale like this. Things skew to fantasy when Aric gets himself kidnapped by aliens. A series of rollicking action eventually bring Aric to the present but the time shift is not explicitly explained in this volume. That was really the only nagging unaddressed plot point. I also thought it was a missed opportunity to give Aric clarity on his time displaced predicament, as there could’ve been a lot to mine from him having to figure things out the hard way. The rest is great fun, with some good intrigue and world building that should carry it into future stories. The use of Cary Nord was a smart choice due to his experience in superhero comics and the Conan the Barbarian relaunch at Dark Horse, two elements that are definitely at play here. Those looking for a fresh superhero/fantasy universe, a worthy upstart to Marvel and DC, should start here.
Bandette #4: Was pleasantly surprised to see some character reveals in this issue. One thing that I admire about the tone of this action series, while the bad guys have put a hit on Bandette’s life, it has not a dark tone to the stories. In fact, Bandette for all of her cheery wit is aware of her life being in danger and is taking necessary precautions… so far. I love the fun tone of this series and you honestly cannot beat the price (99 cents).
Young Avengers #4: Aspiring writers and artists wanting to learn how to create a unique action-packed opening to a comic? Read this issue. To a great extent writer Kieron Gillen gets out of Jamie McKlevie’s way to let him shine in this opening narrative gambit (regulating some funny bits to a legend key, no really). This issue forced me to truly appreciate McKlevie’s strengths as a page designer.
Uncanny Avengers #7: Dating back to the 1970s, the Avengers have flourished when dealing with space stories. The penchant for shooting off into space has kind of burned out my interest in Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers titles. So, when writer Rick Remender opened this issue in space, my “aw crap, not this title too” alarm was triggered. While a great deal of the action happens in space, fortunately an equal amount played out on earth to keep me interested in this title. In particular, I was glad to see Simon and Wanda get some screen time. Also, appreciated Remender reminding people of Janet Van Dyne’s civilian career (fashion designer). Yet mere panels later I was bewildered by a former chairperson (Janet) immediately hitting on one of her new teammates. No reader has to agree with every aspect of a story’s approach to enjoy it, though. I am coming back for issue 8.
Thickness Vol. 3, edited by Ryan Sands: Of all the sex-themed anthologies that have popped up in the past 10 years or so, Thickness might be the best, if only because its contributors aren’t afraid to get really, genuinely weird. The third and final volume features some really excellent stuff, most notably a story involving an orgy with an arcade machine by Lamar Abrams and a bizarre tale of secret sexual rites and initiations by Julia Gfrörer Probably the most striking story is the gay S&M/torture sequence by Gengoroh Tagame, of whom Picturebox is putting out a collection any week now. I’ll be honest: These sorts of rape fantasy stories – gay or straight – skeeve me out more often than not (despite all that Alan Moore and Melinda Gebbie told me in Lost Girls) and this particular story left me wondering if more Tagame was warranted in my future. Still, it’s certainly a memorable work and the rest of the comic is pretty impressive as well.
The Tower Chronicles Vol. 1: Geisthawk by Matt Wagner and Simon Bisley (Legendary): You know, if you’re going to make genre trash, at least make original, fun genre trash and not something that reads like every other piece of fantasy dreck to come down the pike. Wagner and Bisley are talented creators and have done fun, smart work before, but this “supernatural hunter fighting demons and vampires in the modern world” exercise is dull stuff, and reads like every other fantasy-horror mish-mash that’s come down the pike in recent years, despite the gore. I don’t like being so dismissive, but aim higher next time, please.
This week I bought the first two issues of Star Wars Legacy Volume 2, by Corinna Bechko & Gabriel Hardman. I’m still only about halfway through the previous Legacy series, and this looks like a continuation, but you don’t really need to know the background. Basically, it’s a more “street-level” look at the Galaxy Far Far Away, through the eyes of Ania Solo. She takes more after the smuggler side of the family than the Jedi, and in a setting where the Jedi and Sith are less unusual, that’s not entirely healthy. In other words, a lot of this series’ excitement comes from watching a (relatively) ordinary person outwit a Force-user — which was part of the Original Trilogy’s appeal too, of course. Ania’s Mon Calamari sidekick provides some comic relief, along with some helpful droids. This counterbalances the loftier galactic power-struggle subplots. Hardman’s work (and that of colorist Rachelle Rosenberg) gives it a somewhat dingy, washed-out look, very suitable for a used universe. In time Ania will most likely decide whether to use the Force as her ancestors have, but for now, she’s doing just fine without it.
I’ve also just started John Allison’s new Bad Machinery collection, The Case of the Team Spirit. So far it’s been introducing an impressive cast of teenaged characters, along with a couple of their teachers, and setting up a plot which appears to involve a hard-luck local football team. However, because these were originally daily webcomics, each page is practically its own vignette. Thus, the story moves at its own peculiar pace, always rewarding the reader regardless of where he leaves off for the day. I’m sure it will all pay off in the end, since I’ve been following Bad Machinery regularly for several months now, and Allison hasn’t let me down yet. (It’s on a break right now, so new readers have a good opportunity to hop on board.)
G.I. Joe, by Fred Van Lente, Steve Kurth, Allen Martinez and Joana Lafuente: I was expecting the new G.I. Joe series to be pretty good. I mean, I’m already a big enough fan of the franchise that I use a hot-pink Destro as my Twitter icon for like four years, and Fred Van Lente’s consistently been a part of some of my favorite comics ever since Action Philosophers hit shelves. This book, though, has gone past every single expectation I had.
The first two issues are solid, essentially setting up Black Hawk Down in an American city that’s defected to Cobra, but the third, focusing on Duke and his origin, might be the best single issue I’ve read all year. Duke’s never really been one of my favorite characters — in the same way that Cyclops is the X-Man whose deal is that he’s an X-Man, Duke’s the G.I. Joe who’s a G.I. Joe — but Van Lente goes all-in on making him one of the most compelling figures in the cast. It’s not just that he reveals that he’s a soldier who’s medically incapable of breaking under torture (although that is awesome, and actually based on real science), but he gives him a motivation that I don’t think we’ve ever really seen before, while staying so true to what’s been established that there are actually quotes from his original file card worked into the story. And not only that, but they’re worked in so seamlessly that I didn’t even notice until Chad Bowers — noted G.I. Joeologist and my writing partner in comics — pointed it out to me.
Beyond just Duke, though, there’s amazing stuff going on in there in terms of character. The Baroness is downright savage, with a ruthlessness that makes her just as compelling, and the slow shift to getting the cartoonish Dr. Mindbender into this pretty serious story is just great.
Wolverine and the X-Men, by Jason Aaron, Nick Bradshaw, Ramon Perez, Laura Martin, and others: I’m a huge fan of the X-Men, but only when it’s done in a certain way. I like the emphasis on the school aspect, really bringing out the metaphor of mutation-as-puberty, and I like it even more when that’s thrown in with all kinds of truly bizarre adventures and problems that you’d expect for a cast whose most boring member is someone who constantly shoots uncontrollable death rays out of his eyes.
Basically what I’m getting at is that Wolverine and the X-Men is my platonic ideal of what the X-Men should be. It could not be more suited for my tastes, and I could not possibly love it more. I mean, this is a comic where someone is being attacked by a dinosaur that suddenly keels over and says, “It must’ve been something it ate,” right before Wolverine tears his way out of its stomach. Comics do not get better than that.
It’s so good, and Jason Aaron in particular is a writer who’s earned so much goodwill from me over the course of books like the astonishingly underrated Ghost Rider, that he can basically throw anything he wants into that book and I’ll be excited about it. Bringing back Wolverine’s older brother from Origin, a book that I don’t really think should exist? Not only am I okay with that, I’m excited, because I know that Aaron’s going to do something like making him a time-traveler with a laser-axe and killer robots from the future. Which is exactly what he does.
This is literally the only book that could start referencing Chuck Austen and Philip Tan’s “The Draco,” quite possibly the worst X-Men story of all time, and have me giddy with excitement over what it might lead to. And that’s saying something.
Batman Incorporated, by Grant Morrison, Chris Burnham and Nathan Fairbairn: Yes, shocking the world, I am totally into this Batman comic by Morrison and Burnham. I know. You may want to take a moment to retrieve your jaw from the floor.
Seriously though, as Morrison winds down his seven-year run on the Batman titles (and superhero comics as a whole, apparently), I am stoked to see how it’s all going to end. In the recent issues in particular, he’s bringing back bits and pieces of his run like the Suit of Sorrows and the crazy robots from “The Return,” showing Talia as the mastermind behind all of it and even building to the moment we all should’ve seen coming from the second the words “ninja man-bats” were thrown onto the page. It’s one of those comics that rewards a close reading, but is still incredibly exciting as a superhero adventure story.
I’m an easy mark for Morrison Batman, but really, the level of craft involved here is staggering. There’s a scene in Inc #10 between Talia and Ra’s al Ghul, a conversation that’s so simple, so much of the sort of scene we’ve seen before in all kinds of media, but done so well that it’s incredibly engaging. The precise word choice and how the characters are staged is just beautiful; it’s the sort of thing I want to read over and over again to reverse engineer how it works so I can do the same thing.
The only problem with it is that I wish Burnham had been the primary artist for the entire run.