Comic Picks By The Glick
Dark X-Men

Dark X-Men

September 17, 2010

I should’ve written this review right after the one for “Counter X” but nearly a decade went by before someone decided to bring back Nate Gray.  This makes me look good in comparison... right?  Aaaaaaaaanyway...

This mini-series was spun out of the events of “Utopia” after Norman Osborne decided to create his own team of “X-Men.”  Led by Mystique with a roster that includes the unstable Mimic, the slightly crazy Weapon Omega, and the morally-challened alternate-universe doppleganger “Dark Beast,” or Hank McCoy to his friends.  It’s the motliest of crews and they’re only able to function together thanks to some well-applied threats, coercion, medication and therapy.  This leaves them very ill-equipped to handle the Omega-level mutant threat of Nate Gray’s return.

Now “X-Men” mini-series are as common as grass, and are in constant need of mowing to make sure they don’t choke the line (which rarely happens, but that’s another article and the end of this metaphor’s usefulness).  However, I made an effort to check this one out because it came from writer Paul Cornell and artist Leonard Kirk -- the people who gave us the late and lamented “Captain Britian and MI-13” series.  This means we get lots of entertaining dialogue as Mystique struggles to keep her team in line and deal with Osborne, and some great artwork that serves up the story as well as it does the action.

Cornell also does something interesting with the plot, as it’s basically an inverse of your standard superhero story.  With the bad guys in charge, someone shows up to challenge their hold on power and our “protagonists” have to decide which side they’re on.  The problem with this setup is that there’s no way Nate is going to be allowed to bring down Osborne in this story, so its conclusion is fairly evident from the beginning.  That said, Cornell doesn’t get there in the most obvious of ways and we get to see an interesting side of the former Green Goblin in the process.

As with all “X-Men” stories, this isn’t something I’d recommend to the general public as a fair amount of prior knowledge of the characters, and the status quos of the X-Men and Marvel Universe is required to get the most out of this.  Of course if you are an X-Fan, interested in the “Dark Reign” storyline, or a fan of Cornell and Kirk’s work on “Captain Britain,” then this collection comes highly recommended.

Invincible vol. 13:  Growing Pains

Invincible vol. 13: Growing Pains

September 16, 2010

After the world-shattering events of the last volume, writer Robert Kirkman dials things back for the latest one.  Of course, “dialing it back” by “Invincible’s” standards involves the title character being forced to square off with an all-powerful alien amazon while the sequids decide to unleash their long-gestating plan to take over Houston... and then the world!  While this is happening, Mark grapples with his resolution to start killing bad guys, which will prevent them from becoming recurring threats like Angstrom Levy, but also has him crossing a line that scares his friends and himself.  He also gets to meet his girlfriend Atom Eve’s parents and she finds out that she’s pregnant with Mark’s kid.

So it’s really the same level of intensity, just coming from different angles and with lots of humor to keep the mood from becoming too dark.  Such as the heart-to-heart that Eve’s dad has with Mark is truly priceless, as is his expression after the fact.  It’s all rendered expertly by artist Ryan Ottley and while it’ll be a while before he tops the “done-in-one-crossover” issue from the last volume, he still does some of the best superhero art in the business.

We also get to check in with Mark’s dad Nolan and Allen the Alien as they travel the cosmos to find the keys to defeating the Viltrumite Empire as detailed in Nolan’s books.  These include, but are not limited to poison plants, carnivorous aliens encased in ice, Tech Jacket, Space Sharks, and the Space Racer -- who was buried in a cave-in caused by Nolan over a hundred ago and is VERY upset about it.  It’s a lot of fun seeing the two characters work together as they have some great chemistry to their interactions, and it makes what could’ve been tedious setup for the upcoming “Viltrumite War” genuinely entertaining.  These two issues also feature art by original series artist Corey Walker, and while I can see why Ottley has so much respect for the man, I’m still glad we have the latter as the regular artist on this book.

Runaways (vol. 10):  Rock Zombies

Runaways (vol. 10): Rock Zombies

September 14, 2010

I wasn’t really blown away or fearsomly disappointed by writer Terry Moore’s first volume of “Runaways,” but I’m not sorry to see him depart the series three issues in to this volume.  What we have here is a bog-standard superhero plot where an evil DJ and his voodoo-priest buddy turn everyone in L.A. who has had plastic surgery into zombies.  It’s certainly not the worst plot I’ve heard, but it needed someone with a keener understanding of satire like Warren Ellis or Joss Whedon (who, incidentially, has written a volume of this series) to really make it click.  Ultimately we get some decent scenes of the kids being kids, and some fairly dull fight scenes that not even artist Takeshi Miyazawa can energize.  I’ve read worse, but this series has been so much better in the past that it’s hard not to come away disappointed.

Speaking of disappointment, the final full-length story in this collection (which is followed by a forgettable short by James Asmus and Emma Rios) has Molly going off to join the X-Men on Utopia.  That’s a good way to start the story, but her tenure on the island has her acting like a spoiled brat while the X-Men are too befuddled to know how to properly handle her.  Writer Chris Yost has done some good “X-Men” stories in the past, but this isn’t one of them as Molly’s tenure with the team turns out just about as you’d expect:  bad guys show up, Wolverine does his thing and has a nice tender moment with Molly and she learns an important lesson about life.  I can imagine Joss Whedon banging his head against the wall over the potential wasted in this issue, and I don’t blame him.

Finally, this collection of four issues will run you $15.  Like a lot of stuff I picked up at Comic-Con, paying half-price for this helped mitigate my disappointment.

Counter X vol. 3:  X-Man

Counter X vol. 3: X-Man

September 13, 2010

Some background on this first:  Back in the day when Warren Ellis getting all sorts of attention for his work on “Transmetropolitan” and “The Authority,” Marvel approached him with the opportunity to re-make three satellite X-titles in his own image.  These titles were “X-Force,” “Generation X,” and “X-Man.”  Of the three, this was the one that interested me the most due to the fact that the series had been reputedly crap for the majority of its run and that Ellis’ re-invention of the series (with co- and then later solo writer Steven Grant) actually made it into something worth reading.

Reading this today, I can see how I might’ve been more impressed had I read these issues when they’d come out.  The premise of Ellis’ re-invention involves making Nate Gray (the genetically engineered son of Cyclops and Phoenix from “The Age of Apocalypse”... imagine Cable without all of the techno-organic junk holding him back) a mutant shaman:  someone who stands apart from his tribe to deal with the problems that threaten it.  There are some interesting ideas here that Ellis would go back to in later works, such as the idea of worlds existing on higher and lower planes, but the end result is just a slightly more sophisticated version of what we were getting in the “X-books” circa 2000 A.D.

The first arc introduces us to Nate and has him fighting off a mutant beastie from one of the lower planes who actually has a good reason for crawling his way up here.   The second (and more interesting) arc shows us how Nate arrived at his new status quo.  It involves a far more fascist British Empire ruled over by who Nate thought was his companion Madeline Pryor, except that she isn’t and she’s slowly been grooming him to be her ultimate weapon in conquering the other worlds.  Both arcs have art by Ariel Olivetti, and it’s striking to see how much his style has evolved from the competent pencil art you see here to his more robust painted style that you see today (and in the covers to these issues).  While this is essentially a volume for “X” and Ellis completists, it’s still better than most stuff that I’ve lumped in that category before and it gets bonus points for including the original pitch for the revamp -- something I wish we’d get more often in collections.

Hawaiian Dick vol. 2:  The Last Resort

Hawaiian Dick vol. 2: The Last Resort

September 12, 2010

What I like most about the “Hawaiian Dick” series is that writer B. Clay Moore and artist Steven Griffin (with Nick Derrington) do such a great job of capturing the time and place of Hawaii in the 50’s.  The island atmosphere, the clothing style, the low-fi feel of the times -- it’s all here.  They’ve also got a appealing cast of characters in ex-GI, ex-cop, current private dick Danny Byrd, his beefy cop buddy Mo Kahama, and his secretary Kahami.  Moore isn’t reinventing the wheel of private eye stories with these tales, but I enjoy reading them thanks to his handle on the characters and their stories and the artists’ skill at bringing this era to life.

The problem is that Moore also sees this series as “The Rockford Files” meets the “X-Files” (no, really, it’s in the pitch he made to Image for the series which is included as a welcome extra in this volume).  It’s not that I don’t think that such a mash-up couldn’t work, but that the creators here do such a good job making the world and the characters of the comic feel grounded and down-to-earth that these supernatural elements feel jarringly out of place.

This volume has Byrd and co. investigating a potential war between two resorts backed by the Italian and Irish mobs, respectively.  Byrd is called in by the Italians to find out who is sabotaging things on their end and things quickly spiral out of control after the bodies start piling up on both sides.  Now I think the “supernatural” elements worked a bit better in the context of the first volume because there was some ambiguity to them -- if you wanted, you could work out a rational explanation for everything that happened.  Here, there’s no such ambiguity and the ghosts wind up derailing what started out as an effective crime story.  While I’d certainly be up for reading more stories involving these characters, I hope that if there is a next time Moore leaves anything that would require Mulder and Scully’s involvement back on the mainland.

X-Men:  S.W.O.R.D. — No Time To Breathe

X-Men: S.W.O.R.D. — No Time To Breathe

September 11, 2010

Cut down as an ongoing series before it completed its first arc, this spin-off from “Astonishing X-Men” still manages to tell a very satisfying tale.  “No Time to Breathe” is an apt sub-title for this volume as it chronicles one very hectic day in the lives of Sentient Worlds Observation and Response Department co-leader Abigail Brand and her furry boyfriend Hank “Beast” McCoy.  Today alone has them trying to save Brand’s shiftless brother from the mercenary Death’s Head, matching wits with a robot designed to bring “heaven” to the galaxy, and taking on a group of sentient termite mounds invading Mt. Rushmore.  These, however, are just the subplots as the main one involves professional government asshole and S.W.O.R.D.’s other co-leader Henry Gyrich trying to rid the Earth of all aliens.  Naturally he fails, but his actions set up an even more sinister threat for our heroes to face.  If it sounds horribly convoluted, don’t worry.  Writer Kieron Gillen keeps things organized and focused so that the energy never flags and your interest will never wane.  Artist Steven Sanders also does a good job with the storytelling and comes up with some cool designs for the many new alien races featured here.  His Beast, however, is as disturbingly off-model as I’ve heard but the fact that he now resembles a donkey is a minor complaint compared to the rest of the series.  It’s tragic that this didn’t sell well enough to warrant an ongoing series, but if nothing else this volume shows that it can work just as well as a “series of mini-series.”  (I can only hope...)

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk

September 10, 2010

Hulk fighting Wolverine!  In the Ultimate Universe!  Written by “Lost” co-creator Damon Lindelof!  A six issue mini-series that took over three years to finish.  Care to guess which one of these was the most memorable thing about my experience reading this book?  If nothing else, this series provided another solid reason supporting my habit of “waiting for the trade” as opposed to buying single issues.

To be fair, it’s not a bad book.  It looks great, thanks to art by Lenil Yu who not only gives the fight scenes real energy, but also gives the appropriate tension to scenes like Fury’s initial meeting and dialogue with Wolverine.  He also knows how to stage a scene like Wolverine fighting a spirit panda in his mind and Hulk’s giant orgy and make it come off as endearingly absurd.  Lindelof does show that he knows how to write a decent comic and he excels with the dialogue -- the snappy comebacks that the cast are constantly delivering are a highlight of the book.  Unfortunately this book has little new to offer beyond giving us the Ultimate She-Hulk and its... long gestation period has robbed it of having any real relevance to the events of the other Ultimate titles.  You can read it and enjoy it, but skipping it entirely is also a viable option.

In all honest, had this come out on time it probably would’ve been a bit more entertaining.  When something takes THREE YEARS to finish, it not only accumulates a certain amount of expectations but also a certain amount of ridicule as well (see also “Duke Nukem Forever”).  While I commend Lindelof for taking the time to finish the series, I’d have been more impressed if the end result showed that he needed the time because was shooting for “Watchmen” levels of greatness.  Ultimately it gives me the impression that he just couldn’t find the time to take care of things while he was planning out the rest of “Lost.”

Comic Picks #63:  Global Manga

Comic Picks #63: Global Manga

September 9, 2010

Or:  Manga from people who aren't Japanese.  Grab yourself some popcorn and a drink, this one's a monster.

Twin Spica vol. 3

Twin Spica vol. 3

September 8, 2010

Three volumes in and I’m having the sinking feeling that my optimism regarding the first volume was misplaced.  While the subject matter here is considerably less depressing than it was in the last volume, it’s all hugs and smiles as life lessons are learned, bitter adults become less bitter, and displays of the power of friendship are out in full force.  As for the kids learning how to be astronauts, we get some scenes of them in class and one of them running a cross-country training course.  Call me crazy, but I’d think that preparing kids for the rigors of space travel would require more creative and/or hands-on training.  But it’s becoming clearer with each volume that this book isn’t for a bitter old adult like me.  I was expecting something that had a bit more hard science (or any science at all) than what we’re getting here, and mangaka Kou Yaginuma isn’t telling that kind of story.  So if you’ve got a kid (or know one) who thinks that being an astronaut would be totally cool, this is the book for them.  Everyone else would be better served by tracking down copies of Makoto Yukimura’s excellent “Planetes” for a look at not only the personal struggles adults have to go through to get into space, but the scientific ones as well.

Dark Avengers vol. 1:  Assemble

Dark Avengers vol. 1: Assemble

September 7, 2010

It feels odd reading this volume now that “Siege” has brought the uber-plot that it was a part of to an end.  Fortunately there’s still lots of nasty fun to be had in seeing Norman Osborne manage the team of villains he’s assembled to be his Avengers.  One of the main reasons he’s done so is to cheese off the “real” Avengers by getting together a team full of their opposing numbers (such as getting Venom for the Spider-Man role and so on).  The other is to provide a super-powered team to serve the interests of his cabal, which sets up the main story of this volume as Dr. Doom is attacked by the evil witch Morgan Le Fey.  Now it’d be an understatement to say that this is a team filled with strong personalities when you’ve got psychotics (Bullseye), alien carnivores (Venom), the mentally unbalanced (The Sentry), and a genuine god of war (Ares) on the roster.  While this proves to be a real headache for Osborne, his loss is our gain as their bickering and infighting makes for an entertaining read.  Though there’s no denying the sick thrill of seeing the bad guys have their day in the sun that the book is founded on, they’re still bad, bad people so it’s also fun to watch them suffer.  Writer Brian Michael Bendis also gets lots of good lines out of said bickering, and artist Mike Deodato gives the book an appropriately “dark” and gritty feel.  As is the case with most Marvel stuff these days, this is yet another book that will definitely appeal to those who follow its ongoing narrative and likely confuse the hell out of the people who don’t.

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