Make no mistake: The first volume of this series was one of the funniest things I’ve read all year! It’s a special thing to see creators run through the tropes inspired by “Aliens” and countless other sci-fi works without the slightest bit of self-awareness and utterly convinced that what they’re doing is special and worth our attention. Yet the special-ness of that first volume is diminished here as writer Yu Sasuga and artist Ken-Ichi Tachibana have stepped up their game (or had it lifted up by the strong hand of editorial guidance) to the point where the execution of their humans enhanced with insectoid traits versus evolved humanoid cockroaches concept has reached basic competence. As a result, what we get in this volume isn’t nearly as funny as what the first one had to offer.
When you’re trying to describe something that is a hybrid of a couple different influences and/or genres, there’s always the risk of coming off as too clever and disappearing up your ass in the process. After all, what the hell does “Louis C.K. meets Robert E. Howard in a David Fincher universe” even mean? On the other hand, we have this new series from writer Antony Johnston and artist Justin Greenwood which can be succinctly described as a near-future police procedural on a space station. Even if this doesn’t sound interesting to you, I’d still recommend giving it a shot. That’s because the creators have managed to tell an engaging, if flawed, story with some memorable characters in a very interesting setting.
Everyone who reads this blog is probably aware that not only does this event have the same name as the subtitle for the “Avengers” sequel, but that the movie has nothing to do with the storyline of the comic. So anyone who picks this up after seeing the movie next year is going to be in for a nasty surprise. I say “nasty” because aside from any issues with baiting and switching the name may inspire in the reader the comic really isn’t that good. To be fair, I can see what Bendis was going for here and the fact that it doesn’t read like your typical Marvel Universe event at least offers some interest. These things don’t compensate for the fact that the story is a underdeveloped zero-sum-game whose only apparent purpose is to set up future storylines.
Being a dedicated fan of Jonathan Hickman, I’ll buy pretty much anything with his name on it these days. Including this, a series he created for Avatar and co-wrote the first six issues with Mike Costa. I can only imagine that the company’s Editor In Chief, William Christensen, offered Hickman the chance to come up with the craziest idea he could and it would be published. Which is how we wound up with an ultra-violent “Battle Royale of the Gods” as the likes of Zeus, Odin, Quetzalcoatl, and Anubis have returned to claim our world for themselves. After meeting little resistance from the armies of man, the gods soon turn their fury on each other as the members of each pantheon seek to put themselves above their fellow deities. One cannot count out the pluckiness of the human race and their science. In order to face down this new threat, a group of scientists pool their resources to find a way of creating their own gods as the body count rises.
Even if he is only co-writing things here, there are flashes of Hickman’s cleverness to be found throughout this volume. Zeus’ remarks about humans turning the world into an even worse place than the one he left as the god regards the Sistine Chapel effectively make the title’s point and agenda quite clear. Seeing the network anchorman go from delivering the news to the latest religious proclamations -- with equal deadpan deliveries -- is good for a laugh, as are his advisories for how you can protect yourself in the coming apocalypse. The problem is that all of the funny and imaginative bits are offered up in service of a plot that hinges on these gods killing humanity and each other in brutally over-the-top ways that you would only see at Avatar. While the subplot about the scientists creating their own gods does bear interesting fruit, I can’t see it going anywhere interesting in light of the unrestrained carnage that makes up the bulk of this volume. File this one under “less than the sum of its parts.”
It seemed like I was in the minority when it came to appreciating Sam Humphries’ take on “Uncanny X-Force.” No, it didn’t have a stated purpose and just had the adventures of an eclectic group of mutants as its focus, but he took the cast in some interesting directions and had a few well-played surprises over the course of his run as well. There was also Dennis Hopeless’ “Cable and X-Force” title running concurrently with “Uncanny,” except I never heard that it was good enough to warrant my attention. However, both titles wrapped up in a crossover that now sees members of both books on the roster of this one from writer Si Spurrier. He’s best known for the run of “X-Men: Legacy” which focused on Legion and turned out to not be instant commercial suicide in this market despite its quirkiness and focus on the margins of the X-Men side of the Marvel Universe. Spurrier brings that quirkiness to this title as well, and while that may upset those looking for a serious take on “X-Force” he still delivers a good read if you take it all in stride.
In this latest volume, Spider-Man’s *ahem* superior foes face off against one of the necessary evils of the comics industry. The Fill-In Issue(s)! Tossing out an issue by creators other than the people who regularly work on a title to keep it on a monthly schedule has become an increasingly rare sight in the industry these days. Runs on superhero comics have become increasingly defined by their creators. So while it’s a simple matter to find multiple artists to keep a writer-driven series like Hickman’s “Avengers” on track, it’s much harder to do when a writer/artist team is delivering the magic as was the case in the glory days of the Millar/Hitch “Ultimates” and the current Fraction/Aja “Hawkeye” run.
While these solicitations cover what we’ll get from the company at the end of the year, a couple titles that will be coming out in 2015 (or further) have also got my attention this week. Image will be publishing an English version of the French series “Red Skin” (to be retitled “Red One”) with art from Terry Dodson. Even if the story is undercooked, it’ll likely be worth checking out for Dodson’s art alone -- much like the time John Cassaday illustrated “I Am Legion.” Then there’s the news that with sixteen issues left on his “Batman” contract, artist Greg Capullo may come back to Image to relaunch his old series “The Creech” with Scott Snyder in tow. There’s still some uncertainty here, which is good as I’m hoping for more from this team than rebooting an old Image superhero title from years ago that no one cared about in the first place.
My experience in reading the previous volume of this title left me concerned for its future. What had once been a dense, thoughtful, sci-fi martial-arts extravaganza had apparently turned into a fairly simple sci-fi adventure story. Then it was announced that mangaka Yukito Kishiro was ending the series and I thought that “Last Order” had flamed out in much the same way as the original manga had. Given that he had started this series to give “Alita” the ending it deserved… the news struck me as being more than a little depressing.
However, word soon emerged that Kishiro was working on a new entry in this series. This was recently confirmed with the announcement of “Battle Angel Alita: The Martian War Chronicles” starting in Japan next month. So what we’ve got here isn’t the end of Alita’s story. In that case, what exactly do we have here? One big exercise in deck-clearing.
It turns out that the finale of “Time Runs Out” and whatever DC is planning for the month of their move to the West Coast are happening at the same time. Based on that and some interesting coincidences in the comics that shipped this week, some are speculating that this could lead to the first Marvel/DC crossover in over a decade. It’s still probably a longshot, but an interesting possibility to consider nonetheless.
Also, remember how the latest issues in all of Bendis’ creator-owned titles were supposed to come out on September 10th? To the great surprise of absolutely no one, that didn’t happen. Now the word is that “Brilliant #6” and “Scarlet #6” will be out on November 12th, with “The United States of Murder, Inc. #5” and “Powers: Bureau #12” arriving a week later. I’ll believe it when I see it. However, the “Powers” resolicitation makes it extremely unlikely that the first issue of the latest relaunch -- solicited for December -- will arrive on time. Bendis recently announced that he was closing down his message board after 22(!) years to focus on his work. If all of these titles do ship on time, then I guess we’ll know what’s been giving him problems with getting his creator-owned work out on a reasonable schedule.
The idea that a person can live one life in the real world and a completely different one online isn’t exactly a new idea. At first, it looked like that was where writer/artist Peter Bagge was going in this graphic novel about four people who are friends to varying degrees in real life, yet hiding or expressing their true selves online. To Bagge’s credit, he develops most of his cast in ways that I didn’t expect. Vlad may think of himself as a plagiarist reporter, yet the truth is more complicated -- just like his family history. His buddy Woodrow seems like he’s a responsible family man, but he’s got a gambling addiction that leads to some incredibly sad, disturbing and honest scenes later in the book. Their mutual college friend Javy wants Vlad to believe his story about being a government agent researching internet terrorism so much that when the truth comes out, it’s a little heartbreaking. Only Vlad’s girlfriend, Ivy has a journey that doesn’t really go anywhere as she creates an avatar in the book’s “Second Life” analogue to do a lot of things she couldn’t do elsewhere. The transgressions she engages in seem like they’ll make for great drama when she’s finally called out on her actions. Unfortunately she never is.
Even with that flaw, “Other Lives” proves to be a pretty engaging read and shows that Bagge hasn’t lost a step with his utterly distinctive cartoonish style over the years. Then, about 20 pages from the end, the book takes a neck-snappingly abrupt and violent turn. (With no actual neck-snapping, though.) It’s a twist that comes right out of nowhere -- I honestly didn’t believe it when I saw it -- as one character monologues about his master plan to make his life better. To say that this is a complete tonal shift from what has come before would be about right. You really get the feeling that Bagge realized that he only had a certain amount of pages left to work with and had to do something to wrap things up in the space allotted to him. The creator does manage to salvage things a little in the epilogue as we see how two of the book’s characters have created a life for themselves online in spite of the other’s murderous intent. Thanks to this, “Other Lives” manages the neat but not particularly impressive trick of being better than I thought it was going to be, but not as good as it should’ve been.