Thursday, August 18, 2016

Marvel Catch-Up #4: All-New Hawkeye

Despite the fact that I really enjoy Jeff Lemire's writing, I'll admit that I was dreading this comic. Mostly because if I was Jeff Lemire, I would have dreaded writing this comic.

For those who may not know, the previous Fraction/Aja Hawkeye series was a fan-favorite, critically-acclaimed, award-winning, just-plain-great comic book. It was not only one of my favorite recent comics, but one of my favorite comics ever.

Now I don't usually put this hat on when I'm writing about comics, but I am a performer. And as a performer, I hatehateHATE going onstage after somebody who just rocked so hard that they blew me and the audience away. I know it probably should inspire me and make me want to step my game up, but to be honest it usually just makes me want to go take a nap.

So when I approached All-New Hawkeye, I sort of did so with a mindset of "As long as they don't totally fuck this up and kill off all the characters or something, I will feel positively about this comic."

I think that about sums up how I feel about All-New Hawkeye: They didn't fuck it up. It didn't blow my mind, but it was a perfectly serviceable comic about the extended Hawkeye family. And that word "family" is probably about the best lead-in I can muster, because that's what they chose to make their story about.

See, there isn't just one Hawkeye nowadays. There are three. Obviously, there's Clint Barton, who you may only know as sexist asshat Jeremy Renner playing the most weird, pointless, and boring character in the Marvel Cinematic Universe... but who is a longstanding Avenger and a pretty okay guy once you spend some time with him in comic-form. There's Kate Bishop of the Young Avengers, a wealthy mob heiress who took on the Hawkeye mantle during a time that Clint Barton was dead (it's comics) and managed to win over the superhero community with both her attitude and skill. And there's also Barney Barton, Clint's sometimes-villainous older brother who recently went by the name Trickshot, but also spent some time as the Hawkeye of the Dark Avengers after Bullseye abandoned the role (again, comics).

Lemire decided to tell a story about these three Hawkeyes that weaves through their entire lives, flashing back into their childhoods and flashing forward into their (possible) futures. What could arguably have been just a story about the Hawkeyes fighting HYDRA was instead turned into a meditation on their origin stories, their goals, and their relationships to each other. It was quite nice, and Ramón K. Pérez did a fantastic job of keeping these different timelines visually distinct. It was powerful stuff, and would make for a solid introduction to the characters for a new reader, which can be a pretty important thing. In fact, if you're not super-familiar with Hawkeye as a character and you don't feel like doing a whole bunch of research, I'd definitely recommend this series to you.

My only real complaint about the series is that the story spent so much time in the past and future that it didn't do much for the characters in the present. Like... Kate maybe wants to explore her identity as a solo superhero instead of a sorta-sidekick or a member of a super-team, but really the story left the three main characters more or less exactly where they were at the start of the story. And in my opinion, that's not ideal storytelling for a serial medium.

My other complaint about the series is not at all the fault of the creative team, and is something that will come up again during my exploration of the "All-New, All-Different" Marvel Universe: The damned re-numbering.

You see, I couldn't actually just read issues one through six of All-New Hawkeye. FIRST, I had to read issues one through five of All-New Hawkeye, and THEN I could read issues one through six of All-New Hawkeye. When things went "All-New, All-Different", they knocked every series back to issue #1, even the ones that were midway through a storyline.

There was zero reason for this series to be renumbered, aside from some weird ideas about what fuels comic book sales. It is a perfectly coherent 11-issue story that can be read in one sitting. All this kind of shit will do is baffle new readers, the very people this story is perfect for. So I'm going to do something I try to never do on this site, and advise you to skip right over the single issues and buy the comics in trade-paperback form. Nobody's got the time to sort out if they're reading the FIRST issue #3 or the SECOND issue #3, it's bullshit, so just go to your local shop and grab the paperback collections.

I might be harping on this too much, but as I said, this is going to be an ongoing problem in these reviews, so I might as well get the rant out of my system. Like, what in the world does Marvel think they'll get out of this? It's not the 1990s: Most people have gotten past the "First issues are a financial investment!" scam. All I can think is that they're trying to make these comics SEEM like they're friendly to a new reader by plunking the number one on the cover, when really those new readers will be dropped into the middle of a story-in-progress, and that is both dishonest and shitty. And that's what makes me the angriest. It's not just an inconvenience to nerds like me; I'll keep reading these things for as long as they keep publishing them. BUT. It could potentially alienate a brand-new comics reader, and we all need those people if we want this whole comic book concept to continue.


That rant aside, I quite enjoyed this series, and am sad to see that it got cancelled after the first eleven issues. I don't know that anything will compare to the series preceding this one, but this one still had a solid foundation and could have gone someplace interesting if it was given more of a chance. As it stands, though, it's a nice user-friendly little book with a beginning and an end, and I suppose that's a good thing in its own way.

Marvel Catch-Up #0: The Introduction

Friday, August 12, 2016

Marvel Catch-Up #3: All-New, All-Different Avengers

Okay, I'm gonna level with you: This has been a pain to write. Honestly, sometimes I am terrible at writing about comics that I straight-up enjoy. My first instinct is to just say "It's great, you should check it out," which doesn't make for a very interesting blog post.

So with that being said, let's take a look at the flagship title of the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe; All-New, All-Different Avengers.

So, the first thing one notices is that more than half these characters are NOT actually all-new to Avenging. Even the new Thor's got some experience with the team at this point.

Well, that's not entirely true. The first thing I noticed was the cover, because I have always been a big fan of Alex Ross and his fancy paintings. I know that sometimes his layouts are a little weird and often tend to be centered on a character's junk (case in point: the above cover to issue #1 which definitely started with Cap's dick and spiraled outward), but ever since Marvels first came out in '94 I've just really liked the guy.

One thing I've always enjoyed about Alex Ross is his love for the history of comics as an art form, and he's really putting that on display with his cover work on this series. It all hearkens back to the days when a comic's cover was meant to SELL; and if they had to get a little abstract, throw in some extreme hyperbole in the text, or even just go ahead and include things that don't even happen inside the issue, well that was just fine.

I honestly couldn't choose which cover best illustrates (oh shit, unintentional pun) what I like about these covers, so I'mma just show you all 12 issues he's done so far and you'll need to deal.

All-New, All-Different Avengers is being written by Mark Waid, whom I love. He's written some of my favorite comics, and I honestly can't think of any full-on shitty comics that he's done. I actually feel like I spent a bit too much time in my post about Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. lamenting the fact that he wasn't writing that comic anymore. His dialogue is always on-point, he never seems to fuck up on the minor details of a giant comic book multiverse, and he always manages to leave characters more interesting than they were when he found them.

The art on the book seems to bounce back and forth between Adam Kubert and Mahmud Asrar, with Kubert handling anything "big" like a crossover tie-in, and Asrar doing the "regular" issues in-between. Honestly, I prefer Asrar's work in this series: It's very expressive, and makes everything feel BIG, which is exactly what I want to see from a company's flagship title. I don't really have any problems with Adam Kubert's work, but I don't like the cognitive dissonance I feel when a comic bounces back and forth between artists, and I can't help but think that Marvel just wants a more famous (and possibly whiter?) name on the cover of issues that they deem capital-I Important. Asrar's art just fits this comic, in my literally-never-humble opinion.

Plotwise, this series feels very... classic Marvel? Hard-luck heroes banding together and fighting against the odds, etc. The story starts as any new Avengers story should start: With a villain showing up out of the blue and every hero within spitting-range showing up to battle them. This time it was... some Chitauri guy from Nova's ongoing series that I haven't been reading? With a much bigger villain pulling his strings, but I'm trying not to be spoiler-y up in here.

There are two major twists to this new band of Avengers. The first is that they have no money. Tony Stark is broke and they are operating out of an old airplane hanger with exactly one Quinjet. Instead of a mansion, they have a break-room. Instead of a kitchen, they have a hotplate. Yet Jarvis, ever-loyal, is still around... more for moral support than anything else. The second twist is that there is a group of teenagers on this new team, and some of the oldsters are not fully okay with that. While characters like Ms. Marvel and Spider-Man are clearly capable of holding their own in a fight (and also holding down their own solo series), it's a learning process for people like Iron Man and Captain America to work with a group of non-sidekick teenagers. It does make the adult heroes seem a bit fuddy-duddy at times, but I still think it creates a neat dynamic. It also allows for a certain degree of teenaged bickering, which was kind of a founding concept of the Marvel Universe in the 1960s.

One thing I should address here is that, right in the middle of the series, we had to get yanked out of the ongoing plot to deal with Avengers: Standoff! I think this might become a recurring theme in these blog posts, as I cover the state of the Marvel Universe in the wake of Secret Wars. So I feel like I should make it clear that... I didn't like Avengers: Standoff! I even resent having to use that damned exclamation point.

Firstly, I hate crossovers that require characters to drop what they're doing in their own comics and relocate someplace else. It brings a story's momentum to a screeching halt. In this respect - for all the distaste I have for it - Civil War II is actually quite a bit less intrusive. The characters can have feelings and opinions and conversations about the issues being raised in the main Civil War II book without actually stepping away from what they were doing.

Secondly, Avengers: Standoff! hinges on something that has really been rubbing me the wrong way the past couple years: Ever since the 'death' of Nick Fury, S.H.I.E.L.D. has been run by a woman (Maria Hill), and during that time it has also frequently turned into a group of above-the-law fascist creeps who are fucking around with Cosmic Cubes and detaining and mind-controlling people without trial and blah blah blah, and like... It just feels a little sexist to me. It feels like they're saying a dude can run a massive international peacekeeping organization and everything will mostly be fine, but give the reins over to a woman and things are gonna' get completely out-of-hand within months. I'm probably just reading too much into bad writing, but it's hard to shake the icky feeling.

So from now on when I refer to Avengers: Standoff! I might keep it brief... possibly even brusque and dismissive in tone... and that's why. Also it was boring, and was mostly just a big con to make Steve Rogers young again and also a Nazi. Whatevs.

ANYWAY. I know I'm blowing past huge chunks of the story here, but this comic has so many big plot twists and revelations that almost anything I gave away would take all my readers to Spoilertown. I really just want all of y'all to read this comic, because it's really good. So the last thing I want to talk about here is the introduction of the Avenger's eighth member: a brand-new Wasp.

Nadia Trovaya is apparently Hank Pym's long-lost, thought-dead, Russian daughter. She's a genius inventor who was apparently put through the Red Room Program until she was able to escape and flee to America, where she assembled a super-suit from her father's old gear and introduced herself to the Avengers, which is when we as the audience meet her.

There isn't much to the character yet, as she's only been around for a couple of issues and it's an ensemble book, but I think that backstory is killer, and could lead to a lot of interesting stories down the line. Superhero comics can never go wrong with a shady past in international espionage. We've also gotten a fun scene where Jarvis drives her out to meet Janet Van Dyne (the original Wasp, whom she views as the stepmother she never met), and they spend the day getting to know eachother.

I have high hopes for Nadia. I also worry that as soon as she passes out of Mark Waid's hands, some other writer will chuck her under the bus. But that's how it goes for comics fans.


I was originally going to end this post there, but this week All-New, All-Different Avengers Annual #1 dropped, and OH MY GOD it is so much fun.

This is literally an entire comic about Ms. Marvel going online and reading fan-fic about herself... something she never expected she'd have to deal with, until becoming an Avenger.

It. Is. Amazing.

Each story is just an illustrated piece of crappy internet fan-fic, with occasional angry commentary by Ms. Marvel. It really captures everything that's fun about the character in a very clever way, and if I hadn't already made it clear by now, Ms. Marvel is totally one of my favorite characters.

It also includes this awesome shout-out to the haters story, which is just DELIGHTFULLY sarcastic.

Marvel Catch-Up #0: The Introduction

Thursday, August 4, 2016


So a couple weeks ago my wife and I took a trip to The Mall of America, and while at the Disney Store we spotted these adorable-but-strange little stackable pill-shaped toys called "Tsum Tsum" (which I assumed to be Japanese onomatopoeia for "Zoom Zoom" because they look like tiny missiles, but is evidently a shortened "tsumu" which means "to stack") and we were both equal parts baffled and amused.

They've apparently been around a couple years now. The Disney Store had them in several sizes, and they ran the full gamut of every Disney property. It probably goes without saying that I was immediately drawn to the Marvel Comics ones, but c'mon. They had a wee little Captain Marvel! She-Hulk! HAWKGUY! They were marketing the heck out of these little things, with everything from t-shirts to posters to like, flatware and school supplies... often amusingly with Soulja Boy reference "Stacks on Stacks on Stacks" printed on 'em.

So why am I covering these on my comics blog? Am I just trying to get Disney to send me free stuff? YES, PARTLY. But also, Marvel Comics dropped Marvel Tsum Tsum #1 yesterday, and the comic is evidently taking place in THE CORE MARVEL UNIVERSE! And friends, that is the greatest thing.

Here is a summary, from the official Marvel website:

In case you’ve been living under a rock, Tsum Tsums are HUGE! Well, not LITERALLY (they’re actually pretty tiny) but these seemingly cute and cuddly creatures are sweeping the globe! So what happens when these pint-sized piles of fur find their way into the Marvel Universe? After a crate of them falls to Earth en route to THE COLLECTOR, one small group of Brooklyn teenagers will find out! Featuring all of your favorite Marvel heroes and villains, this is sure to be TSUM-thing you won’t want to miss!

So that about covers the plot. The story opens with the Guardians of the Galaxy diverting a shipping lane to make way for a space-turtle migration. A space-crate falls off a space-truck, somehow eventually lands in NYC, where it's found by a group of geeky, superhero-obsessed kids. When they open it, they discover a pile of blank(?) Tsum Tsums.

Very soon after, the Avengers come crashing through fighting Ultron, because living in Marvel NYC is probably a never-ending nightmare, and the Tsum Tsums immediately mimic the forms of the heroes (though not always accurately: the Thor Tsum Tsum inexplicably takes the form of the classic Donald Blake Thor, even though it has only seen the current Jane Foster Thor?) and begin wreaking ADORABLE HAVOC.

The kids rush around trying to collect their newfound alien pals, eventually luring them back into their apartment building with various Classic Marvel Moments™ that they have stored on their smartphones, which the Tsum Tsums apparently find soothing. They think they've rounded them all up, but - PLOT TWIST - oddball, meteor-obsessed supervillain The Looter also lives in the same apartment building and HAS STOLEN THE SPIDER-MAN TSUM TSUM FOR NEFARIOUS PURPOSES. OMIGOSH!

Obviously, I find all of this absolutely amazing, and I hope this comic goes on forever and has a Civil War II tie-in issue and becomes at least as major a fixture in the Marvel Universe as the Micronauts or ROM: Spaceknight, and yes I am 100% serious about that. A lesser company, and a lesser creative team, would have stuck these little guys into their own cutesy little book; but in the grand Marvel marketing tradition, the Tsum Tsums have instead been plopped straight into Marvel New York, given a diverse and clever supporting cast, and started fighting bad guys. I love that. So. Much.

Thank you Marvel, for always keeping things ridiculous and wonderful.