Thursday, January 31, 2008

Irony and the Young Avengers

I've recently been re-reading the Young Avengers with the launch of the Young Avengers Presents mini-series, and in the introductory story arc I was just struck full in the face by irony. In the Sidekicks story arc, Kang the Conqueror is attempting to recover Iron Lad, who is his younger self. He's arguing that Iron Lad must return to his own time so that he can grow into Kang or the damage to time will be disastrous.

Yet in the Avengers Forever maxi-series, Kang himself was willing to risk the universe itself to himself avoid becoming Immortus, the lord of Limbo.

Kang, a despot whose hypocrisy is greater than Time itself. That's irony.

Avengers Assemble! Assemble! Assemble!

In a freak occurance rivaling an obscure astronomical alignment, we received not one, not two, but three Avengers books in a single week! But which Avengers book should I really be reading, and which one is just another excuse to kill a tree? Good question. Let's take a look at them and find out.

In this year's New Avengers Annual, we're treated to a super-villain gang-up which almost rivals the invasion of Avengers Mansion by the Masters of Evil in the excellent Under Siege story. The only thing that holds this one back is that despite having even more and bigger bruisers than Baron Zemo, The Hood's gang is trounced in a single issue by Dr. Strange. Ouch. Still, it's nice to see this particular team fight something instead of bicker over who's acting 'Skrully'. But it's still a bit unclear when this story falls. Spider-Man's still wearing his black suit, so I guess it's pre-One-More-Day. Too bad Mephisto's spell couldn't fix Marvel's shipping schedule.

And who can make fun of an Avengers book's shipping schedule without a good belly-laugh at The Mighty Avengers. While it's certainly not as late as the legendary All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, it's still worth noting that this issue ties in with an issue of the New Avengers that I bought over three months ago. If it were my call, I might have dropped this issue, and just tried to pull a bit closer to getting this book on track. But I guess the fun of seeing a massive Wasp-symbiote beating on the Avengers is fun... and it's nowhere near as decompressed as so many of Bendis' other Avengers titles. It's still probably the weakest of the week in my book though, since the New Avengers Annual's carnage is a bit more satisfying.

Which leaves the big A for Avengers: The Initiative - a book that has yet to disappoint me. I've read other folks commenting on the fact that new characters are such a difficult proposition for the big two comic publishers in a market where people want Spider-Man three times a month, and where Batman appears in no fewer than three books of his own. Matt Fraction's The Order is an example of an extraordinary book comprised almost entirely of new characters that's just been flushed. The Initiative is another title that's chock full of characters, many of whom haven't existed for a year and if you'll allow me the pun... it's a Marvel. Start with a bunch of fresh faces, looking to be the next Avengers, add in a bunch of super-powered trainers (with an excellent nod to Taskmaster as the current drill seargent) and top it all off with Henry Peter Gyrich's paranoid layers of conspiracy and you've got enough content for years. What's better, it's written by Dan Slott, who is one of the writers who seems to have the firmest grasp on the concept that people read comic books for fun. Hands down, it's your best Avengers book despite the fact that most of the front-line Avengers fail to put in any kind of appearance. It's always one of the first books I reach for when I've got it.

So that's a Triple-A Wednesday. Now I'm off to get some sleep.

What did you expect me to talk about, the New Captain America?

Wednesday, January 30, 2008

New Comic Day 01/30/08

Wow... a week without Spider-Man? What's up with that? Add in the conclusion of Messiah Complex, and finally things are starting to quiet down on my anticipated purchase list.

  • BATMAN #673
  • TRIALS OF SHAZAM #11 (OF 12)
  • DAREDEVIL #104

The big news this week, is of course the debut of the new Captain America. I won't go into specifics in case there's someone reading who actually doesn't know. I will say, sadly, that it isn't Steven Colbert.

Thursday, January 24, 2008

Picks for the Week 1/24/08

While I'll confess that I haven't finished reading this week's comics (still got a couple to read) I think I've figured who the big standouts are, at least to my point of view. I do have to say that maybe one of them hasn't struck me as a downright great read... but that at least gave me a resurrected Zombie Captain America... and you've got to award bonus points for that.

I think the first stand-out is The Order. I know I just posted about this series going away, but this issue was just great. The main thrust of the issue is an interview between Anthem, head of The Order, and Namor as the King of Atlantis waits for a higher profile super-team to come and pick him up. And for an issue where the main action consists of two men sitting at a table, talking this was just great stuff. Matt Fraction's dialog, and the interspersed flashback panels do a lot to make this a very readable issue. I've read every issue of the Order to date, and the last two are no-brainer purchases. I mean seriously, the only excuse to not buy this book is to be sans brain. Not even Zombie Captain America has that excuse anymore!

Young Avengers Presents #1 was also a really good read. While the book does have a plot, and moves from beginning to end, the whole issue is really a character study of this young, angry black man who dresses up in the colors of the American flag, calls himself Patriot, and for the moment at least, isn't precisely sure why anymore. I've missed these characters in the Marvel Universe, and I'm glad to see them getting some attention. (It doesn't hurt that Matt Fraction will be writing the last issue of this mini-series.)

Lastly, I've got to continue to give the thumb's up to the Blue Beetle. Appearing not only in his own book this week, but also in the Teen Titans, just the character of Jaime Reyes is something that the DC Universe has needed for as long as I've read it. The Spider-Man parallels are all over the place... both are bug-themed, neither are terribly experienced or confident, and both frequently come out as being incredibly out of their depth, but like a young Peter Parker, Jaime's earnestness makes me love the character. Now Jaime's trying something pro-active and taking the fight to the Reach, the creepy aliens out to enslave Earth. John Rogers' writing has really made me a believer in this series, and I'm rooting for the bug as he takes on the Reach... I just hope that he's not overly successful. Part of the new Blue Beetle's charm is that he doesn't really know what he's doing any more than your or I would. I think that the character needs to stay in, just over his head... but I'm absolutely in love with the series.

I've still got a couple books to read. Maybe I'll have to post an ammendment if either She-Hulk #25 or Legion of Super-Heroes #38 beat out one of these three... but I think I'm probably pretty safe.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Sadly Prophetic

What's the old line... that they only stop making something once they know that I like it? I think everybody's felt that way at least once in their life, but sadly I've just been hit with that sensation again.

Per this Newsarama article (which itself is paraphrasing the latest Word Balloon podcast), Matt Fraction's The Order will end with issue #10.

I guess all there is to say is, Thanks Matt! You gave us a superhero team book that had some different team dynamics. The Order was a more interesting read than the New Avengers, and a much more timely read than Mighty Avengers. (I'm not even going to compare it to the Justice League titles, which have only in recent months approached something I'd read.)

Monday, January 21, 2008

New Comic Day 01/23/08

Well, I find myself stuck around the house sick, imagining just what might await me on Wednesday. (Though it'd be nice if I had some new comics to read today.) So looking forward to that far-off Wednesday, this is what I saw in my future:

For starters, I didn't see New Warriors last week, so hopefully that was delayed until this week. If I can't find it at the Dragon, I'll just have to check online for it. Here's the other stuff I can picture myself buying:

  • ORDER #7
  • SHE-HULK 2 #25
  • X-MEN #207 MC

So what is there to say about it? There's the obvious slant towards Marvel... but that's not really surprising me at this point. I've been aware for a few months that the Marvel books have held a bit more appeal for me than DC lately. Teen Titans is up on the chopping block, though. While the Titans of Tomorrow... Today story arc was pretty middle-of-the-road at best, it did hearken back to the story arc that got me interested in the Teen Titans as a whole. Unless this issue impresses me, I think it's going to be one more DC book that has a date with the axe.

I always look forward to a new issue of The Order. It seems to be a real challenge in either Marvel or DC to start a new title that uses entirely original characters. And the way Fraction ignores the typical group dynamics of a super-team gives the book very different feel. The closest comparison I can come up with is DC's sadly short series, The Power Company as another title that was made up of (I believe) new characters with a very different group dynamic.

And that's about it for my new comic plans for the week. Looks like a light one, which will be appreciated by the wallet. Time for Jason to go dig through the stuff he hasn't filed away yet. I know there's some stuff I haven't read yet in there somewhere.

Sick (Again!)

Well, once again I find myself ill, and it actually has nothing to do with One More Day. (Unless MJ secretly asked Mephisto to give me the flu. Again.) I guess that's what I get for working at the homeless shelter.

Looks like it's going to be time to try cashing in on the paid time-off I should have accrued in the full year I've now worked for the company. That should be about as difficult as repulsing Galactus, Devourer of Words with a turkey baster.

Tuesday, January 15, 2008


Is Bill Willingham off Shadowpact? The last story arc lacked some 'oomph' and the arc that started last month isn't wowing me to any great extent either.

Sunday, January 13, 2008

New Comic Day 01/16/08

My new comic day post comes a bit early, as I'm going to be spending the next three nights working. So here's what Jason expects to be buying on Wednesday, when he's had a chance to come down from three 13-hour night shifts:

  • BOOSTER GOLD #6 $2.99
  • CHECKMATE #22 $2.99
  • ROBIN #170 $2.99
  • SHADOWPACT #21 $2.99
  • CABLE DEADPOOL #49 $2.99
  • IMMORTAL IRON FIST #12 $2.99
  • NEW WARRIORS #8 $2.99
  • NEW X-MEN #46 MC $2.99
I'm going to give McDuffie another arc on Justice League... probably because I really want to like the book. I mean, it's the Justice League,and it's supposed to be a good book.

I need to double-check, but have they retitled the Incredible Hulk to Incredible Hercules? I thought that was just the story arc. I'd try to look it up, but I'm going to have to get ready to go to work shortly.

I'm debating whether or not to drop Shadowpact. It's looking like Bill Willingham is no longer writing the series, and I just don't feel as enthusiastic about Matthew Sturges stories. But Sturges' has begun his second story arc, which is usually the mark of a new ongoing writer.

Robin is sortof on the same bubble that Nightwing was on last week. I was considering dropping it, but Peter Tomasi turned in a pretty durned good first issue. I'll be looking to see if I get some more of that with Robin this week.

All that's left to see is whether there are any changes in the shipping lists by the time I get to the store.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Brand New Spidey-Post

As the fallout hits on message boards across the country and the internet breaks in half, I have to say it for myself.

Brand New Day isn't that bad.

Honestly, I didn't expect it to be. Despite what some of the more radical/paranoid bloggers might be saying, I doubt that Joe Quesada is trying to ruin Spider-Man. I think I've gone on the record stating that I can see where he's coming from in regards to some of the changes. (Or at least the removal of Spider-Man's marriage.) So the story itself wasn't bad. The $3.99 price tag was a little unpleasant, but a quick check of Previews for the coming week indicates that next week the book drops back in line with a regular title.

And at the end of the day, I think I'm willing to pay $2.99, thrice a week to the Spidey braintrust. After due consideration, Spider-Man's spider-senses have helped him to avoid the cancellation list. Now let's see some of these great stories you couldn't tell us because Spider-Man was married.

Tuesday, January 8, 2008

Brand New StatusQuo

I'm going to try to make this my last post regarding the One More Day/Brand New Day stuff. (Well, alright, I'll post if I decide to drop it, or if they keep the price at a ridiculous $3.99, which will cause me to drop it.)

Deep down, I guess I wish Joe Quesada would just come out and say "Alright, you got us. We're rebooting Spider-Man to what we feel was a more exciting time in his life, to help get the character back to the iconic vision of what he's about." Now, I liked Spider-Man where he was. He'd matured and grown both as a hero and a person. The issue in which he and May talk about why he's Spider-Man (Amazing Spider-Man, Vol. 2 #479) was the single issue that truly sold me on comics as a medium. So if they feel that it's best for the character to reboot him, I can understand that... and while it may change the things that I like about him, I'll probably give it a look.

But for Joe Quesada to to say that the way he's doing this protects decades of continuity makes me angry. In reality, he's taking years worth of Spider-Man stories and flushing them, or at least instilling a great deal of doubt as to whether or not they ever happened. What about Spider-Man: The Other - Evolve or Die? Did that happen? Do the other Avengers remember that Spider-Man was an Avenger? Is he still part of the New Avengers? If they do remember, do they remember that his Aunt lived with him in Stark Tower? How is May's house back? The only answer to these questions that makes any sense is that these things never happened. Because if they did, any Avenger with any degree of curiousity could figure out who Spider-Man was based on the old lady he brought with him to Stark's Tower.

I can cope with the fact that Spider-Man as I came to enjoy the character is gone. I can probably even like the new status quo. But either own up to the reboot, or stop talking about it. It's the statement that this doesn't invalidate everything I've read that makes me go on and on about this.

Monday, January 7, 2008

New Comic Day 01/09/08

It's been a few weeks since I've been able to actually look ahead at the week. Here's what I see waiting for me:

NIGHTWING #140 $2.99
SPIRIT #12 $2.99
SUPERMAN #672 $2.99

HULK #1 $2.99
TWELVE #1 (OF 12) $2.99
X-FACTOR #27 MC $2.99

What's worth talking about?

I guess the first thing on the tip of my tongue is Amazing Spider-Man and Brand New Price-Point. There'd better be something in there to justify an extra $1.00 or it's going to be Brand-New-Cancellation time. I'm already pretty disgusted by the end of One More Day, and I don't fancy the idea of a Brand New Day costing a Brand New Buck. Is that enough of the Brand New jokes? Okay, I'll move on.

I'm a bit curious as to what I've done to deserve a second issue of Mighty Avengers in as many months. I didn't eat my vegetables, I didn't go to bed on time, and I certainly didn't stop teasing my sister. But two issues in two months for no reason? That's patently ludicrous.

I'll give Green Lantern Corps another post-Sinestro-War chance to hold my interest, but I'm just not certain if it can do it. If you can turn it into the Guy-and-Kyle show, though, there's a chance. The Spirit probably won't be sticking around too much longer either. I've enjoyed Darwyn Cooke's relaunch, but my personal impression is that it's one of those books that not just anybody can pick up and write.

Lastly, there's Jeph Loeb's new Hulk series. I'm wondering how we're getting a second monthly Hulk book, especially when Bruce Banner's pretty firmly under wraps right now. I guess this month we'll find out.

Sunday, January 6, 2008

One More "One More Day" Post

As a child, my Mom would frequently tell me "Stop picking at it, Jason. You're only making it worse."

You can probably guess about how well I took that advice.

It seems as though there's nothing else in comics that deserves discussion as much as One More Day so I'm going to back up the car here, and run over it again. Well, figuratively speaking.

Weeks after JMS' now legendary blog post in which he reveals that he asked to have his name removed from the final two issues of One More Day, Comic Book Resources interviewed Joe Quesada about the story now that it's complete. In the second segment of the interview, he begins to address JMS' comments. To summaraize, he goes on to say that Straczynski didn't object to the idea of writing a retcon story to undo Spider-Man's marriage to Mary Jane, which anyone who's been following comic book news for a few years should know is a bee that's seriously up Joe Quesada's bonnet. He implies that this was also the planned way to undo Peter's unmasking on live TV.

Continuing here in part three of the interview, Quesada says that when it came down to the fourth and final issue of the story, JMS turned in a script that wasn't what Quesada, and the writers on Brand New Day, the Spider-Man relaunch were expecting. It didn't jive with where those guys were starting their stories from. Straczynski fought for his vision of the story, but with three teams already at work on new material, everything had to end a certain way. JMS agreed to try to give them what they needed, but in the end he gave Quesada, Axel Alonso and Tom Brevoort permission to change what they needed to in order to make the story fit the way they wanted.

The crux of the story differences, according to Quesada, is that JMS wanted Mephisto to make one small change in an early Spider-Man story, that would ripple forward in time resulting in a new continuity with the needed changes. By contrast, the current story contains all the subtlety of the worst-comic-trend-of-2006, Superboy-Prime beating on the walls of reality. Basically, Mephisto snaps his fingers, and Peter wakes up in Aunt May's house (which burned down almost three years ago around issue #516 or so). He goes to a party, and runs into Harry Osborne, who's looking quite well for someone who's supposed to be dead. Nobody knows that he's Spider-Man anymore.

According to Joe Quesada, the "Mephisto casts a spell" explanation is designed to preserve years of Spider-Man continuity. In Quesada's own words:

This, in my mind, while it neatly puts the pieces back in some way, was not what we wanted to do. First, it discounted every issue of “Amazing” since that story arc. Second, the series of events that it discounts in the Marvel U are too far-reaching to contemplate. And third, it had severe ramifications for the creators already well underway on “Brand New Day,” the thrice-monthly “Amazing Spider-Man.” In other words, there was just no way to tell Joe’s story without blowing up the entire Marvel U and every Spider-Man’s fan’s collection. What we originally discussed with Joe and the group was much simpler and cleaner: The wedding? Something happened on the wedding day that prevented it from happening. The unsmasking? Mephisto makes people forget it; much like the Sentry, it happened -- it’s just no longer remembered. And Harry? Well, there’s always a price to pay when you make a deal with the devil. Is it a perfect solution? Absolutely not. Does it get us to where we want to be? Yes.


So, to get this straight, OMD doesn’t actually negate the previous 20 years of Spider-Man stories?

Exactly, that’s precisely what we wanted to avoid. What didn’t occur was the marriage. Peter and MJ were together, they loved each other -- they just didn’t pull the trigger on the wedding day. All the books count, all the stories count -- except in the minds of the people within the Marvel U, Peter and MJ were a couple, not a married couple. To me, that’s a much fairer thing to do to those of us who have been reading Spider-Man for all these years. Like I said, is it perfect? No. As far as we investigated, short of divorcing Peter, nothing really is.

So, according to Joe, the past twenty years of Spider-Man continuity is left untouched except for the fact that Peter and MJ weren't married. And from a big-picture vantage point... that might look like a good solution. But in an e-mail to Newsarama, JMS responds to Quesada's comments in the interview. In it, he states that while he thinks that Joe Quesada pretty accurately represented their exchanges, he felt that his reasons for disagreeing with the changes were omitted. For the sake of folks who've already read it, he points out that simply undoing everything with magic is sloppy, and leaves a ton of loose ends. Does Aunt May have a scar from where she was shot? If everybody just forgot that Peter was Spider-Man, is there still news footage of the unmasking? Was Harry brought back from the dead, or has he been alive all this time? If you ask him what he did last summer, will he have an answer? That sort of thing.

While it's hard to call this story a firestorm, since JMS and Joe Quesada are going to such lengths to keep things civil, it's pretty clearly a huge story. But I think that it highlights something very specific about Marvel's outlook. It seems to me that Marvel is very much about what happens next, while "what's gone before" takes a distant back seat to it. And it makes sense. Marvel doesn't make anywhere near as much money on their history as they do on what they're doing right now, or preparing to do next month. It's a bigger priority for them to have "Brand New Day" come out, then to tie up everything neatly. Big events are quickly forgotten and swept under the rug to make room for the next big events. The Other was supposed to redefine Spider-Man and his powers. Only Peter David's Friendly Neighborhood Spider-Man addressed the story at all.

In general, I consider myself more of a Marvel fan than a DC fan right now, but things like this in their editorial culture bother me. How can a story really have resonance, or really connect with readers for more than a month and a half when the company is racing at a breakneck pace into the next event?

While I liked Peter being married to MJ, it's not the idea of undoing the Marriage that has my brain doing backflips over the story... it's the sloppiness of it. The average comic book reader is far too sophisticated for "It's magic... we don't have to explain it" to fly as an explanation. But that's what we're being asked to swallow. At this point, Dan Slott is just about the only thing keeping me interested in Spider-Man. I'll give Brand New Day a look... but I won't guarantee I'll stick around.

Wednesday, January 2, 2008

The "One More Day" Post

Well, all four issues of the retcon Spider-Man story "One More Day" have arrived. (Or as I prefer to think of it, they've been dropped from a great height onto an unsuspecting populace.) But why take my word for it? Let's go straight to the source. Taken from his website, in his own words, this is what J. Michael Straczynski has to say about the story.
In the current storyline, there's a lot that I don't agree with, and I made this very clear to everybody within shouting distance at Marvel, especially Joe. I'll be honest: there was a point where I made the decision, and told Joe, that I was going to take my name off the last two issues of the OMD arc. Eventually Joe talked me out of that decision because at the end of the day, I don't want to sabotage Joe or Marvel, and I have a lot of respect for both of those. As an executive producer as well as a writer, I've sometimes had to insist that my writers make changes that they did not want to make, often loudly so. They were sure I was wrong. Mostly I was right. Sometimes I was wrong. But whoever sits in the editor's chair, or the executive producer's chair, wears the pointy hat of authority, and as Dave Sim once noted, you can't argue with a pointy hat.

So at the end of the day, all one can do is try to do the best one can with the notes one is given, and try to execute them in a professional way...because who knows, the other guy may be right. The only thing I*can* tell you, with absolute certainty, is that what Joe does with Spidey and all the rest of the Marvel characters, he does out of a genuine love of the character. He's not looking to sabotage anything, he's not looking to piss off the fans, he genuinely believes in the rightness of his views not out of a sense of "I'm the boss" but because he loves these characters and the Marvel universe.

And right or wrong, you have to respect that.

It's a big quote, but I wanted to take the utmost care not to take any of his words out of context. For any who want, you can find the full text of this quote here. So from the context of the quote, it seems pretty clear that this story was an editorial mandate, and Straczynski was pretty set against it.

When your writer doesn't like a story, I'd generally call that a problem. And when he wants to have his name taken off of it? Well, that just really speaks for itself, doesn't it?

I think that this is possibly one of the worst comic stories I've ever read. Seriously, this is just bad on a level that's difficult to comprehend. For those that know me... I think The Dark Knight Strikes Again is light years beyond OMD. For starters, the only real conflict is internal, which is something that's difficult to carry out to begin with. But come on... the second half of the story was completely predictable. And was there anyone who didn't figure that they'd bundle in a retcon for Peter's unmasking along with his separation from MJ?

Here's the thing... I've got no problems with separating Peter and MJ. I'm not a blind fanatic that Spider-Man has to be married. I'll even go so far as to agree that a married super-hero's stories are limited in an important way. I don't think we had to undo the public knowledge of Peter's existence of Spider-Man yet... I still think there were probably some neat stories to tell there, but hey... not my call. I can live with both of those changes, but if you're going to write a story explicitly to retcon a few facts about a character's continuity... and if you're going to make a big 'event' out of it... at least try to do it artfully. Try to do it with some skill, and intelligence. One More Day was like trying to crack an eggshell by hitting it with a bus. The results are painfully direct and incredibly sloppy. Not to mention just plain bad.