Um. Here are the things I read this week. If you're noticing a certain trend towards Marvel on this blog, it's because I tried reading one DC comic this week and there is so much to unpack that I'm gonna' need to write a whole post about it... and also I only follow Invincible in trades, so I'm not that likely to review it (but I AM likely to recommend it... seriously, go read Invincible you guys). So anyway, here we go.
New Avengers #3 by Jonathan Hickman and Steve Epting
Jonathan Hickman's New Avengers hasn't really been about the Avengers. It's about the Illuminati, a supergroup I have some... feelings about.
I really don't approve of the whole idea, really. The basic gist is that a group of the world's most powerful and intelligent superheroes gathered together in secret to make terrible decisions that have resulted in basically every bad thing that's ever happened in the Marvel Universe. I'm not a fan of that kind of negative retcon. I'm fine with the idea that "NOTHING WILL EVER BE THE SAME!" in comics, but it's problematic for me when writers tell me that there was all sorts of shady business going on in the background of comics I enjoyed in the past, meaning that my enjoyment was based in some kind of ignorance, I guess.
For instance, the original Illuminati miniseries written by Brian Michael Bendis tried to tell me that during Secret Wars - literally the comic that got me into comics - Professor X and Tony Stark were actually trying to form some sneaky plan to mindwipe everybody involved as an insult to The Beyonder. For... reasons? This plan failed, probably because Tony Stark wasn't even the Iron Man in the Secret Wars comics, oh my god do five fucking minutes of research before you write a comic, for real.
ANYWAY: With that all being said, I quite like the direction Hickman's taking with this book. He's introduced Black Panther, Captain America, and - in this issue - Beast, to the group, which provides a bit of a counterpoint to the massive amounts of arrogance that have become a vital part of Illuminati storylines. He's also very up-front about portraying the Illuminati as a bunch of over-privileged squabbling fuckheads who really have no idea what they're doing. And I love Epting's art; in a character-driven story like this, it's important that emotion gets conveyed properly, and he's totally up to the task.
The plot is a basic "The End of the Universe" story, with alternate realities colliding into eachother and whatnot. In this issue, the Illuminati get a little desperate, reassemble the Infinity Gauntlet, and hand it over to Captain America so he can try and will things right. For the record, that's fucking COOL. Also, I sort of feel like Steve Epting should be the only person allowed to draw Captain America.
This is the highlight of the issue for me, and led to a beautifully subtle moment: The instant that the Gauntlet is restored, the story cuts to a very brief montage of Uatu the Watcher, Galactus, and Thanos, all just sort of glancing up from what they're doing, like they all sensed that something ridiculous was about to happen.
The plan to save the multiverse fails, of course, because if it succeeded the comic would be over. The Illuminati starts mulling over destroying some worlds, Captain America objects, they mindwipe him, and kick him off the team. Like a bunch of douchebags. I'm eager to see where Hickman takes this story; he's built up a decent head of steam, and has an excellently absurd cast to work with, and so far I think this book is great regardless of my angryfeels about the Illuminati in general.
Thunderbolts #4 by Daniel Way and Steve Dillon
I've only just gotten myself caught up on this series today. While I'm a big fan of Daniel Way and a BIG fan of Steve Dillon, and quite enjoy it when they work together (like in the somewhat slept-on Bullseye miniseries they did a few years back), this team just didn't do anything for me as a concept.
A few years ago, Craig Kyle and Christopher Yost had kind of a fun idea with X-Force, where they basically took all the stabby and shooty characters of the X-Men world, slapped matching black-and-grey outfits on them, and sent them out on super-violent missions. Rick Remender took the concept and turned it into Uncanny X-Force, which is easily one of the best X-Men series that has ever happened. But when I first saw the solicitations for the new Thunderbolts title, it seemed like it was the exact same idea but applied to the old Marvel Knights characters instead of X-Men characters.
And that's essentially what the book is. They just took a bunch of stabby and shooty characters - most of whom I quite like, but still - and are sending them out on super-violent missions. And it's kind of taking a while... today's issue is the first one that has even started to clear up what their first mission even IS, and even then it's sort of vague. There's an evil dictator or something. And something about The Leader. And maybe General Ross (aka Red Hulk, if you missed all that stuff) is trying to right some of the wrongs of his past? With killing?
The one upshot is that the dialogue and art are both terrific. As much as I'm not totally feeling the plot, and as much as I don't think they've even bothered to turn the team into an actual team despite their matching outfits, I'm still enjoying reading this one. And I'm enjoying looking at it even more: Steve Dillon is really great at drawing a certain type of comic, and this is definitely that kind of comic. Also, I absolutely think that Steve Dillon is the only person who should be allowed to draw the Punisher. This book has me along for the ride, and I'm willing to wait and see if it all comes together.
Superior Spider-Man #3 by Dan Slott and Ryan Stegman
So, contrary to the last couple issues, I don't have a whole lot to say about this one. And that's actually a good thing.
Now that Slott has shoved all that icky business with Mary Jane to the side, he's finally telling the story I was hoping to read: Doctor Octopus stole Peter Parker's body, and is trying to be a better Spider-Man than Parker could. He's finding novel, if brutal, ways to fight the bad guys. He's learning about power and responsibility from Peter Parker's memories, and as the readers we're learning a bit about powerlessness and rage from Doc Ock's memories. We're starting to see how the NYPD, the media, and even J. Jonah Jameson would respond to a different sort of Spider-Man. He's even making some neat improvements to the costume.
It's interesting, and fun. I'm still a little salty over all the problems I've been ranting about, and will remain so, but the comic has finally won me over.
Though I will say that while it's cute that they're posting all the hyperbole-filled hatemail in their letter column, it's all just from people who can't handle the idea of Spidey being different for a little while. All of the consent issues that I've read dozens of articles about online are only being addressed online; the editors seem to be letting Dan Slott take 100% of the heat on that call, which I think is a little irresponsible.
Avengers #5 by Jonathan Hickman and Adam Kubert
I said last week that "I feel like this series hasn't built up to full speed yet, but once it does, it very well may be amazing," and this issue left me still sort of feeling that way. It didn't do anything to advance the plot AT ALL, and from the previews it seems like #6 might not either.
This isn't necessarily a terrible thing. I quite enjoyed this issue, which introduces us to another new Avengers recruit, Smasher. She's the first human member of the Shi'ar Empire's Imperial Guard, which is a neat idea, and begins to accomplish one of the stated goals of the whole "Marvel NOW!" thing, which was to bridge the gap between the Avengers and the more cosmic end of the Marvel Universe. She's a cool new character taking on a legacy mantle that usually just goes to alien background goons who get killed off like crazy, and there's the implication that her family has a super-heroic legacy of its own (though I couldn't figure out exactly what it was).
So I'm not entirely sure where I stand on this comic. It's enjoyable to read, but I can't quite figure out where it fits into the scheme of things, and it seems like they're taking a break from the main story to do a series of one-shots about new characters... And to be honest, I'd be totally okay with picking up actual one-shots about these new folks while still reading an actual running story as well.
Fearless Defenders #1 by Cullen Bunn and Will Sliney
I've been looking forward to this one. I totally love Misty Knight and Valkyrie as characters, and the above cover art had both ninjas AND zombies. However, so far the book's a little lacking.
Both the writing and art on this comic scream "We are men who are trying to write about Girl Power." And what Girl Power usually ends up as in these situations is lots of ass-shots and lesbian makeouts, which is what we've got here. It's... not awesome.
Also, I get that Misty Knight is a '70s exploitation character, but having a young woman from NYC saying things like "Makes no never mind to me!" feels kind of racist. Unintentionally racist, but sometimes that's the most awkward way to be racist.
I'll hang on for another couple issues because I love the characters, but even a great character is only as good as the people writing and drawing them. And despite a few clever moments and fun fight-scenes, this was not an overall positive first impression.
All-New X-Men #7 by Brian Michael Bendis and David Marquez
I've been following this book pretty closely. It's a high-concept solution to some of the problems that the X-Men have been facing: Namely, that there are two groups of X-Men who hate eachother, Cyclops killed Professor X, Jean Grey has been dead for years, and everything's all higgledy-piggledy. So a dying Beast went back in time, grabbed the original X-Men out of the 1960s (or whenever, it's comics) so that Evil Douchebag Cyclops would be forced to confront his younger, idealistic self (Beast didn't end up dying, BTW, he just ended up mutating AGAIN).
Trouble is, the book doesn't seem to know where to go from there. It's basically been seven issues of the young versions of the characters going around and gasping at things. Mystique showed up in this most recent issue and tried her damnedest to kick off some sort of plot, but then the issue ended with Cyclops and Jean Grey standing around and gasping at one of their wedding invitations from the '90s.
I didn't realize until Issue #6 how much Stuart Immonen's artwork was keeping me interested in this comic. Immonen is my favorite penciller working today, and he kept things looking dynamic and exciting in a comic where nothing was really happening (everything Bendis writes tends towards people in colorful costumes standing around having snappy dialogue and not ever, ever fighting crime). David Marquez seems capable enough, and if he were paired with a writer I liked better I'd probably think he was doing very well, but it really it took my favorite artist out there to keep me from realizing that this story is going nowhere.
Red She-Hulk #62 by Jeff Parker and Carlo Pagulayan
I still haven't worked out my feelings about this book. Jeff Parker's one of my favorite writers - the man who turned all of the Avengers into M.O.D.O.K.s - and this is a comic where Red She-Hulk, Machine Man, and a hologram of Nikola Tesla ride an underground roller-coaster that leads to various weapons depots so they can bring down the Super-Soldier program while Captain America helps the military chase after them. It's like it's being written with me in mind. And yet... I just don't think I'm feeling it.
Part of it, I think, is that Parker decided to go with a more classic take on X-51, and as much as I've loved that dude since I was 14, I've become totally enamored with his Nextwave-y persona in the last 5 years. Also, the art is not so good. And while it's a perfectly okay title for a comic, when people actually call her "Red She-Hulk" it always feels really unwieldy. Plus, the comic has a surprising amount of typos, which makes me nostalgic for hand-lettered comics... and makes me wonder where the editors are, since the credits page lists four of them.
But can I just talk about the character of Red She-Hulk for a bit? Because I really love Red She-Hulk, and I want her to stick around forever (though with a better name). I skipped all of the Red Hulk business a few years ago, so I didn't really catch the origin stories or anything. I wasn't really introduced to RSH (see?) until Matt Fraction's awesome Defenders run, where I came to really love her and her "big-ass sword". I love the idea of a character like Betty Ross ending up with superpowers that rival those of the character she used to simply support. The idea that she's able to dive into zany situations with gusto - because she's already been in these situations as the bystander/wife/hostage/victim and no longer finds anything strange about them - is very appealing, and I love that she's written with a certain joyous quality. She's been here before, but that time it sucked, and now SHE'S the one with the superpowers so she's going to have a good time, damn it.
There's a lot to explore here, and maybe after re-reading I'll get more into this series, but I feel like I set my bar almost impossibly high on this one, so it may take me some time to adjust.
Avengers Assemble Annual #1 by Christos Gage and Tomm Coker
This comic was a very pleasant surprise. I hadn't really heard anything about it, and I usually pass on Annuals, but I'm a sucker for both Christos Gage as a writer and The Vision as a character, so I picked it up.
Last year, Allan Heinberg brought us Avengers: The Children's Crusade, which might as well have been called What's Been Wrong With Scarlet Witch Anyway? He bravely did away with a lot of the nonsense (SPOILER: She was being controlled by Dr. Doom the whole time!) and Wanda Maximoff was finally free to actually be a character again.
So the world was finally ready to bring The Vision back to life, and here he is, in his first almost-solo story in years. He has some understandable questions for his friends and family. Questions like "How could I still love a woman who made She-Hulk rip me in half after I barfed up a bunch of Ultron babies?" or "Why did everybody wait ten years to rebuild me?" or "Why was everybody totally okay with a new teenaged Vision showing up while I was in pieces in a warehouse somewhere?" Frankly, these are the kinds of questions one doesn't really expect a comicbook character to ask about their own existence, and it is kind of magical to see The Vision confront all of these things head-on, even if doing so bums him the fuck out.
The book ends with him quitting The Avengers and taking a well-deserved vacation to reconnect with loved ones and figure out where he belongs in the scheme of the Marvel Universe. I just hope that other writers and artists will be this kind to The Vision: The poor guy's had a rough couple years.