Thursday, August 23, 2007

Weekly comic round-up

Every week (roughly) Aaron goes to the Laughing Ogre in Columbus, Ohio and spends far more money than his wife would prefer. He then comes back here and writes about the comics he reads that he thought were noteworthy. This isn't everything he picks up, just the things that he feels merit discussion - either for being really good, or for having something really wrong with them.

Astonishing X-Men 22

When Josh Whedon took over this comic, I about lost my mind with excitement. And he had a good run for awhile there, but I’m losing interest as this goes on. The character moments are great, but the plot is kind of lacking. Examples are the bedroom discussion between Kitty and Peter, the confrontation between Emma and Danger (as Emma correctly predicts that Danger is unable to overcome her programming to actually kill someone – though I’m fairly certain the Danger Room had an override to allow it to use lethal force), and the “final” act of leadership from Cyclops as he sacrifices himself piloting the ship to give the team the diversion they need.

Of course, Cyclops isn’t dead. For all the craziness that Marvel is willing to do right now to shake up their universe, they wouldn’t have Scott Summers die in such an off-hand manner.

But while the character moments are great, and I’m loving them, even –shudder- the romance between Scott and Emma, the plot? I can barely follow it, and don’t care enough to go back and re-read the issues to put the plot back together. This bodes ill for the future of the book.

Superman 666

Superman has fairly consistently been well-written, but rarely worth commenting on of late. I’ve enjoyed almost every issue of the different titles, but none of them have been anything all that special. But this issue begged for the attention.

Why? Because it was written by Kurt Busiek and illustrated by Walt Simonson?


Because it featured the Phantom Stranger and Zatanna?


Because we got to see Superman’s darker side shining through?


It begged for attention because it was issue 666 – the number of the Beast, and DC went for the obvious and had it focus on a Kryptonian demon.

Don’t get me wrong, it was actually fairly entertaining. And in a black humor kind of way, it was fun watching Superman lay waste to all the things which must have annoyed him. He is, after all, one of the most powerful beings on the planet. Being forced to hold back, instead of lashing out at all those things we would lash out at if we had his power must be endlessly frustration.

But it would have been nice if DC could have avoided the obvious.

Thunderbolts 116

After a disappointing month for the Thunderbolts, this issue once again has renewed my interest in the comic. I think a large part of my problem with the direction of the comic is that, under Osborn, and with individuals like Venom and Bullseye on the team, the Thunderbolts really are supervillains pretending to be superheroes – like they were at the beginning. However, that only remains interesting for so long. The brilliant part of the Thunderbolts under Busiek was watching the villains really become heroes.

We lost sight of that for awhile, but with Songbird temporarily leading the team, we’re seeing it again. I found the use of Venom as a potential cannibal to be really fascinating – both Songbird’s use of it, and Gargan’s reaction. Gargan obviously has a very different relationship with the symbiote, or at least he wants to. As I’ve said before, the idea of Venom as a hero bothers me a lot, but done in the context of the Thunderbolts, with someone other than Brock being the symbiote’s partner, it could be interesting to read about.

But the real star of Thunderbolts right now has to be Robby Baldwin. Once (and possibly future) Speedball, Penance has really become something. He’s a loose cannon to the extreme, and by all accounts, is nearly Hulk-level in power. Moonstone is crazy if she actually thinks Osborn can control him, and if there’s one thing I know about Moonstone it’s that she’s not crazy. Osborn, on the other hand, really is. So, it’s possible that Karla is playing him.

(And as a side-note, I’d really like to see Karla re-encounter Hawkeye. It’ll be fun if the Thunderbolts are ever sent after the New Avengers.)

Finally, this issue introduced a new unregistered superhuman combatant, who objects to the registration act, wants to summon the Thunderbolts, and is a powerful telekinetic. Based on the level of power, and the desire to see the Thunderbolts, I almost think that it’s Vance Astro behind the mask of Mindwave. My hesitation in predicting this is based on the level of violence displayed to the police officers in the station – Justice is many things, but not a killer. And even if none of those officers die, they were pretty severely banged up. But it would make sense for Justice to want to draw out the Thunderbolts to check in on Speedball. Anyone else have any ideas who might be behind that mask? I’d love to hear them.

Birds of Prey 109

I can’t even begin to describe how excellent Birds of Prey is. On the one hand, the writing of the characters is top-notch and the action is exciting and well-drawn. The comic balances superheroism and the personal lives of the characters just about perfectly (occasionally focusing on one or the other, but never for so long that the other suffers for it). The cast is made up of a great group of characters, and the relationships between them are rich and fully defined without being needlessly complex. And the comic frequently includes moments of genuine humor, without being a “silly book” like She-Hulk.

And on the other hand? It’s a comic about women superheroes that manages to offer up everything we would like to see in any comic, without pandering to either hard-line feminists or male chauvinist pigs. Women can read this comic and see superheroines acting like superheroines instead of being relegated to supporting roles. Men can read this comic and not feel guilty for their gender.

This issue illustrates all of these points. We get to see great character interaction between Barbara and Dinah, as they discuss Oliver Queen’s past history with them, and other women in the DCU, and what it means that he has proposed to Dinah. Barbara walks the delicate line of trying to warn her friend, but still being supportive, and it feels absolutely real to me. On the humorous side, we watch as Sin teaches Barda how to play Pokemon, and convinces her that it is really a game for warriors. Then we get to watch as an innocent fight between Scandal and Knockout leads to Knockout charging after Barda for a rematch – during which she is caught by one of those responsible for the killings of the New Gods.

Action. Character development. Tie-ins to the major plot points of the DCU. And all of this in a comic that writes female characters as genuine characters.

My only regret is that I held off on picking this title up until a friend of mine started loaning me the graphic novels of the earlier parts of the series.

Amazing Spider-Man 543

I know that JMS is leaving this book, and for that I am truly sorry. It was on the strength of his writing right before Civil War that I was pulled back into the adventures of the 616-Peter Parker. And here in the Back in Black storyline, he has continued to remind me of why I used to love this character, before he jumped the shark with Carnage and Clones.

Spider-Man may not be the most powerful hero in the Marvel Universe, but among the street-level heroes, he’s pretty much the cream of the crop. And JMS knows and respects that. Spider-Man is an absolute terror when fighting normal humans, and is capable of pushing himself to deal with much more powerful foes. But Peter Parker is an intensely vulnerable human, especially where his family is concerned.

It fits with Peter’s life for the emergency transfusion he gave Aunt May to not only not help her, but to be considered proof that the poor old Jane Doe is being poisoned by her niece. And watching desperation push Peter into committing nine felonies in a row was a fascinating descent. Of course, he’s probably guilty of more crimes than those, among them breaking into a maximum security facility, assault and battery, and menacing.

Still, I understand Peter’s crisis. For one of the first times, any illegal actions he’s taking aren’t based on “what must be done” to fight the bad-guy, but instead based on his own self-interest. (There’s an incident with a golden notebook from Secret Wars II, but that’s hardly worth mentioning, especially considering how much Peter tortured himself over it.) He also threatened a man with death, and it was fairly clear he wasn’t kidding.

“One More Day” starts next month. Poor Peter is going to go through hell, and I’m going to watch it with a perversely sadistic sense of glee. Heroes are defined by how they deal with the impossible situation. For what it’s worth, I think Peter is a true hero, and will come through this showing that. This will be a testament to his heroism, not the beginning of his fall. Or at least, that’s my prediction.

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