Comics // Weekly Pull List // 04/11/15

New comics! Plenty of issue one’s this week (not sure that’s always a good thing though!)

Doctor Strange #2 – Issue one has the visual flair and complexity that you would expect from Chris Bachalo and the premise of Strange as a kind of mystical James Bond is a compelling one, but it wasn’t without it’s faults. Issue two should be a chance to see how this book functions

Joe Golem Occult Detective #1 – Mike Mignola has delivered some amazing work in the space between pulp action and supernatural horror and this book looks like it will be another one to add to the list. Just the setting, a flooded mid-20th century New York, is compelling enough, and the source novel (with collaborator Christopher Golden) is said to be excellent too.

Monstress #1 – I’ve been excited about this book since it was announced earlier this year. The creative team, writer Marjorie Liu and artist Sana Takeda, did some solid work on X-23, but it is really the inspired concept and setting that makes me eager to read this: the story of a young warrior woman in a post apocalyptic world plagued with giant monstrous creatures.

Paper Girls #2 – This is a great concept and a well put together book, I’m interested to see how Brian K. Vaughan takes things forward (even if I can’t believe issue 2 is out already!)

Uncanny X-Men #600 – So this is it, Brian Michael Bendis’ X-Men run finally comes to a belated end. It’s no secret that I’ve found this run to be full of meandering, uninspired nonsense and some loopy characterisation at the best of times so I’m not sorry to see it finish. Previews have confirmed that the awful ‘young X-Men in modern times’ story is sadly not coming to an end, but hopefully some of Bendis’ other storylines get appropriate closure (rebel leader Scott for example).

Extraordinary X-Men #1 – I am trying to keep an open mind with this book; Lemire and Ramos are perfectly good creators and the line-up could be interesting. Alas, Marvel editorial’s insistence that mutants be sidelined in favour of the inferior Inhumans continues to rankle me, and this book seems explicitly designed to tell the story of why there will soon be no more X-Men stories.

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Comics // Weekly Pull List // 07/10/15

This is a quiet week for me with only a few comics on my pull list, with a couple of newly launched series in the mix:

Weekly Pull List 07.10.15

Doctor Strange #1 – I’ve been looking forward to this book since it was announced a few months ago; Chris Bachalo is one of my favourite artists and the last time I was picking up a Doc Strange book it was Brian K. Vaughan’s The Oath and that was an amazing mini. I’ve not always gotten on with Jason Aaron’s writing, but his vision for the character, a fun mystical adventurer type, sounds interesting and Bachalo will get me to buy literally anything

Old Man Logan #5 – The original Old Man Logan story was a fun (if dark) jaunt in a possible future and whilst it has been great to revisit that setting with this series I’m actually quite glad that the story has turned more on Old Man Logan’s journey to uncovering the mysteries of Secret Wars and making his way into the current timeline. This is definitely one of the stronger event tie in books.

Paper Girls #1 – This looks like an interesting book, pitched as Stand By Me meets War of the Worlds, and Brian K. Vaughan is obviously a trusted hand in the writing department. Cliff Chiang’s art looks great too and early buzz is that this will be a very special book.

Secret Wars #6 – There has been quite a delay waiting for this issue which finally comes out just as the post event Marvel line is getting started. Publication date issues aside the central narrative has been strong so far and the story is compelling, the fact that we’re entering the final stretch makes it even more exciting.

Comics // Review // Old Man Logan #1 / Secret Wars

Concise

This is a fitting revival of this brutal world picking up shortly after the conclusion of the original story and weaves in some interesting elements from the wider Secret Wars event. Bendis delivers on the promise of an uncensored Logan in full cowboy mode in a book that demonstrates a clear love for classic westerns, whilst some powerful art and colouring amp up the visceral atmosphere and intensity of this dark and dusty world. If you’ve got the stomach for it this is an exciting, interesting, and welcome reprisal of a unique vision of the Marvel Universe.

Old Man Logan #1 Cover

Spoilerful

It has been a while since I read the original Old Man Logan, and despite a few questionable moments I remember it quite fondly. It was a brutal, violent, and over the top vision of Logan as cowboy, broken by his past and forced to become a weapon of vengeance. Writer Brian Michael Bendis seems keen to have a lot fun in this world and so he leaves the tragedy of Logan’s personal losses (his family, the X-Men) behind in favour of a more playful Dirty Harry meets Man With No Name interpretation of the character. This is a great choice; we aren’t likely to be spending a long time in this world, or with these characters, so taking the opportunity to tell a fun and fresh tale rather than dwelling too much on an intensely tragic past is a wise idea. That’s not to say there isn’t some depth or pathos in this book though, as Bendis mines the extended cast, and our knowledge of the Marvel multiverse (as was), for some terrific character moments.

The book opens with an intense action scene as Logan busts up a bunch of scumbags who have terrorised New Vegas for long enough. The gang wear Daredevil style outfits and markings (with a little bit of Iron Man gear too) in a perverse denigration of Matt Murdock’s costumed identity; this is a brilliantly dark idea (I don’t recall if these guys were present in the original) as it demonstrates the depths of the darkness that has overcome this Earth. Not only are many heroes long dead, but now their identities have been corrupted and remade into the banners of the very thing they fought against. After dealing with these unsavoury types Logan makes an uncompromising promise (threat, actually) to the now free people of New Vegas; make this town into something worthwhile or he’ll be back to “burn this place down and let someone else start all over again“. And with that Logan’s work is done. This is a great opening sequence for this book, it gives us a chance to see a fully realised Old Man Logan, out for justice and riffing on classic cowboy tropes. On his way home, though, Logan encounters a disembodied Ultron head and the ties to the larger Secret Wars story become apparent. Again this works well, Logan gets to have a nice scene with Danielle Cage, one that answers questions about where the Hulk baby would fit into this story and offers a brief yet poignant reminder of what came before the fall of this world, and then he heads off to seek the council of Ultron (amazing!).

And here is were the real emotional core of this issue can be found as Logan encounters the White Queen herself Emma Frost. After a classic bit of Jean Grey deflection (another light touch reminder of what Logan has long since lost) Emma confesses how she came to be here, and it isn’t a pretty story. We see again that the use of a hero’s(ish) name and iconography lends a dark tone to the villains of this place as the Punisher gang run riot (even if the Punisher isn’t classically heroic himself). The sequence that depicts Emma arriving in town and subsequently crashing her car, all from her point of view, is a wonderful device that really captures the frantic and confusing nature of the moment. After some smart, and funny, dialogue Emma’s fate is revealed – she was injured by the Punishers and is near death. This entire sequence is an effective way to frame Logan’s next adventure, he is going to go over the wall to find out what is really going on out there because everything he knew on this side is either dead or lost. His history is gone now, but that little Hulk baby might have a future, and Logan is going to do everything he can to make sure it’s a safe one.

The art and colouring, from Andrea Sorrentino and Marcelo Maiolo respectively, are impressive throughout the book capturing the dark atmosphere of the oppressive Daredevils club, their blood soaked punishment, the rich dust swept wilderness, and the immensity of Doom’s wall with equal nuance and brilliance. The opening scenes are particularly striking in both choreography (the non-contiguous panels lending an immediate visual impact to the various dismemberments taking place) and colouring (everything is suddenly, but not overpoweringly, black and white and red (with it’s obvious connotations of blood, as well as of Daredevil’s outfit). When Logan heads out into the dust bowl the temperature and atmosphere of the book completely changes – gone are the oppressive city streets and bleak surroundings, and in their place are epic vistas, wide open spaces, and innumerable beautiful shades of orange and brown.

The danger of the Secret Wars tie in books was always going to be that they must be the servants of two masters; on the one hand they represent a chance to revisit popular worlds and characters that have long since faded from view, but on the other they have to lead into a cohesive line wide event that pitches all those characters against one another. This book manages that balance brilliantly with enough Logan going about his vengeful business, enough brutality and action, enough further exploration of this world delivered alongside the hints of a wider and even more epic story unfolding in the heavens. Bendis and his art team are having fun utilising the tropes of classic westerns and mixing in some dark almost Dredd-esque urban gang warfare – yes it is violent and excessive, but it is all in service of an interesting story and a compelling protagonist. This is a tie in book that so far stands on it’s own, and I can’t wait to see where Old Man Logan goes next.

Old Man Logan #1 Panel

Old Man Logan #1 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Artist – Andrea Sorrentino / Colourist – Marcelo Maiolo // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • I’m assuming Danielle Cage has inherited her father’s powers, otherwise a Hulk baby throwing a tantrum could be a very painful problem!
  • The other franchise that this world reminds of is Mad Max of course, with a similarly rich visual palette drawn out of what could have become a monotone nightmare.
  • Logan leaves his horse at a gas station whilst he has a little beer break; it’s a fun little visual.
  • I’ve got a lot of questions about that Ultron head and I’m very much looking forward to finding out what on Earth is going on!

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Uncanny X-Men #34

Concise

There is a lot to like in this issue, and even if there are a few things that don’t work here my hesitation to fully embrace it more likely stems from my wider feelings about this run. There are some smart ideas, some well deserved (if a little too neat) closure, some good jokes, and a couple of intriguing nods to the future. And Kris Anka is dependable as ever, drawing some attractively clean and simple panels that work well with the narrative content. This issue doesn’t have the power and focus of the previous one, nor does it really delve deeply enough into the character dynamics at play, but it is a solid read non-the-less.

Uncanny X-Men #34 Cover

Spoilerful

There are more than a few characters from writer Brian Michael Bendis’ time stewarding the X-Men who have had inconsistent characterisation and erratic story arcs. Whilst for some characters, such as Cyclops, it is a major problem for the two characters taking centre stage in this issue it is actually a boon. Mystique has long been a multifaceted villain, sometimes fighting the good fight (even as a “one of Xavier’s soldiers” which is an interesting choice of words*), but more often she has walked a darker path and the fact that she has been on the run since Madripoor and the Dazzler impersonation adds a certain credibility to this tale of ice cold revenge. Mystique is a changeling both in power and in personality and her motives are rarely clear, but Dazzler on the other hand is a champion of light and a true hero. The fact that she has a very legitimate grudge against Mystique was always going to be a difficult story to bring to a satisfying conclusion, and I’m not entirely convince this issue gets things quite right. A knock down drag out fight wouldn’t have been the way to go either, but I wonder if a slightly sharper script wouldn’t have served this quieter approach better. That said, one of the most interesting elements of this issue is the conversation that takes place at its centre.
The use of Cyclops in this dialogue was a smart move by both Bendis and Dazzler. It was immediately intriguing to see Scott suddenly casual and chatty in Mystique’s apartment. In fact I was quickly of the opinion that this was exactly what Scott should have been doing all along – a revolution is at its heart about persuading people to see the world your way, and wouldn’t Scott having a few calm conversations with key mutants around the world have been an interesting way to show the founding of a new mutant-rights movement? Where things don’t quite work is in some of the clunky dialogue or unimpressive philosophising, for example, the constant repetition of dialogue that works once or twice but becomes a little grating; “again“, “really talk“, “I need more“, that entire “technically” conversation between Dazzler and Hill (plus “can I see them?” surely can’t be followed by another person saying “I could if you were still an agent“). In any case the reveal that this was Dazzler all along was nicely played, especially considering that the intercut conversation with Maria Hill took place a week earlier and would have given Dazzler plenty of prep time (hands up if, like me, you were expecting Dazzler to swing through a window or something!) It was also really nice to see the new mutants from Scott’s defunct-revolution helping Dazzler out (plus the idea that Mystique was using anti-psychic nano-technology is super cool), and that she was intent on showing them a better way of dealing with the darkness in the world.
Kris Anka is a very safe pair of hands when it comes to the X-Men; he often draws with a simple elegance and confidence that supports the core storytelling and that is mostly the case here. The big moments this issue are primarily dialogue driven so Anka is restricted to drawing close-up one character panels with a few static long shots thrown in to break the pace up. That is a tough thing to keep fresh and interesting so it’s not surprising that the art never really comes to life. After the reveal that Cyclops was in fact Dazzler it made his sudden easy going attitude and posture make a lot more sense, and that is a great detail that helps given this world more believability. The changing layouts spice things up a little but I must admit there were a couple of times I read ahead a panel or two due to the sudden switch from single to double page spreads. Also, how many repeat close-ups and block back grounds were there in this issue?! Things do liven up somewhat in the final few pages as Dazzler displays her mutant and musical abilities in quick succession, and Anka draws the ‘new X-Kids’ in a pleasantly wholesome way. Similarly colourist Marte Garcia doesn’t have a great deal of room to do anything more than solid work, we’re mostly looking at the interior of Mystique’s apartment and the Helicarrier bridge, but there are some really nice moments scattered throughout, particularly those at Dazzler’s gig.
This issue was another solid move towards wrapping up Bendis’ run; Mystique got her punishment, Dazzler got her revenge and a reaffirmed future, the X-Kids got enigmatic. Nothing in here was particularly surprising or unexpected, in fact much of it felt like a neat tick in the box, and so it wasn’t quite as cathartic an experience as it perhaps should have been. Mystique has been a true villain in this run so no amount of hand-wringing ‘what about the good times’ dialogue can distract from the fact she kidnapped, abused, and exploited Dazzler. The fact that Dazzler brought her down is rewarding, as is it that she did so in a remarkably efficient and effective way, but then it’s all over and everyone is at the club all of a sudden. There wasn’t the emotional impact I was expecting here; I get that this is comics and things like this are happening all the time, but the really great stories manage to deal with the bombast of superheroes alongside the intimate and personal moments too. This was a worthy effort, but it didn’t quite resonate with me as powerfully as it perhaps should have.
*Bendis has regularly written Xavier as a bit of an aloof and impersonal jerk, but his ‘mission’ has traditionally been considered one of altruism and inclusion. The phrase “one of Xavier’s soldiers” gives the whole thing a much darker tone – this is Dazzler talking, but I can’t help but hear Bendis’ voice here given his characterisation of Xavier, and it sounds derisive of Xavier’s ‘man of peace’ credentials. Does Bendis consider Xavier to be closer to Magneto in his methods?
Uncanny X-Men #34 Panel
Uncanny X-Men #34 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Art – Kris Anka / Colour Art – Marte Garcia // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

  • So how did Dazzler track down Mystique?
  • So how did the Cuckoo’s overpower Mystique’s mental blocks, especially given she has found a way to shield herself from Charles Xavier and/or Cerebro?
  • Golden Balls is in full control of his powers now (he was only popping small targeted balls) so that’s pretty cool.
  • I like no-nonsense Maria Hill a lot, and Dazzler making the deal to protect the kids was a strong moment, but I still can’t understand why a mutant ‘revolution’ is considered an off the charts “insane” idea. Especially considering the X-Men were doing stuff like moving to an island off the US coast and forming a mutant nation not so long ago.
  • There’s a panel where Scott has a gun to his head that is very reminiscent of the cover for Uncanny X-Men #18, which was a curious coincidence.

All art belongs to the copyright holder

Comics // Review // Uncanny X-Men #33

Concise

Bendis delivers another* two-hander that offers up great opportunities for character insight, humour, humanity, and exciting visuals. Despite the presence of giant monsters this is a small story and the most is made of the dialogue between Kitty and Illyana; the latter in particular gets much more nuance and shading than we have seen in many recent issues of Uncanny. This is a sweet little adventure that sheds the burden of mutant politics in favour of two great characters reconnecting after too long apart.

Uncanny X-Men #33 Cover

Spoilerful

I don’t know if it is writer Brian Michael Bendis or just me, but I much prefer Bendis’ X-Men work when he cuts through the murky politics of Cyclops’ revolution and instead focuses on characters getting a little out of their comfort zone. Sometimes that means physically, but oftentimes, as it does here, it can mean emotionally – Kitty and Illyana are never under any physical threat on Monster Island, yet there is still a tension and excitement and fascination in this story owing to the intimate character dynamics at play.

Magik and Kitty appear deep in the forests of the island and although it first appears that there is a bit of friction between these erstwhile friends Kitty quickly comes to realise that Illyana isn’t in a good place at the moment. Removing the external factor’s of recent X-Men stories really pays off in this issue as the dialogue is left free to tell a story, be funny, and, in parts, be touching too – Illyana’s confession to being hurt by Kitty’s jokes was a really tough little moment and it laid bare more of Illyana’s vulnerability than we usually get to see. In fact this issue was really all about Illyana’s vulnerability; the abandoned mutant child Bo is a manifestation of that exposed and raw vulnerability, and the futility of fighting these monsters (they take no damage and aren’t really aware of why they are fighting at all) becomes a representation of the endless conflict Illyana faces – they are just a never ending obstacle to rage against.

It is never really clear why Illyana ‘kidnapped’ Kitty to go on this specific mission (she could easily handle the monsters herself and it is only revealed that the mutant is a little girl whom Kitty could more readily comfort after they get there, plus it seems like she does this kind of thing alone quite frequently); perhaps it is just that this is the first time in a while that Kitty has really been available for a mission (what with her recent intergalactic dating schedule). Whatever the catalyst this adventure takes place against the backdrop of Illyana’s turbulent emotional state, her frustration with Scott and the events of the last couple years, but the details are pretty much irrelevant; this mission is a release for Illyana and she wants to use it as an opportunity to reconnect with her friend Kitty.

Anka takes the opportunity to have a lot of fun in this issue; the monster designs are all wonderful (I’m especially fond of the furry wendigo-type guy), and there are a lot of great expressive faces on display. Both Kitty and Illyana get a chance to contort their chops in all manner of fun ways (“I was raised in a hellish dimension“, Kitty’s defiant features during that entire first fight), and the monsters have some fun too (the furry guy’s ‘I dunno’ expression was great, as was the monster pile-on on top of Illyana). The rainstorm, the powers, the shadow and light is all well captured in the colouring too – this is a good looking comic book that tells a good story with flourish.

Whilst this book doesn’t affect the bigger picture much, it is a great issue anyway. Ultimately this is lovely one-shot story that takes the time to explore an X-Man who hasn’t really had a lot of character focus recently. There is a real warmth to this issue as a defunct friendship is brought back to life and a young mutant is given a second chance – this is what the X-Men are really about and it is rewarding to see them doing their ‘jobs’ well and putting friendships first. I’ve found Bendis’ run to be a bit of a slide into confusing politics and unclear motivations so the return of a crystal clear focus, sharp characterisation, and good clean fun is very welcome – this is a great issue.

Uncanny X-Men #33 Panel

Uncanny X-Men #33 // Writer – Brian Michael Bendis / Art – Kris Anka / Colours – Antonia Fabella // Marvel

Notes and Observations:

*Bendis’ most recent two character story was All-New X-Men #37 which I absolutely loved

  • In some ways Bo reminds me of Boo from Monsters Inc. which I’m guessing is intentional given this is Monster Island!
  • Nothing to do with Anka’s art, but this issue definitely reminded me that Illyana and Kitty both need costume updates as soon as possible – why does Magik still have a Power Girl boob-window (?!) and Kitty just looks crazy retro by now.
  • I wasn’t keen on Kitty telling Kurt he is “scaring the bejeebus” out of Bo – that just seems really mean, and all things considered I imagine Kurt would be great with kids.

All art belongs to the copyright holder