KURTZMAN!

KURTZMAN!

First things first! Those of you who just want the direct link to the podcast for copying and then pasting for downloading however you choose, PLEASE SEE THE FIRST COMMENT .  (So, technically, it’s…last things first?)

Now, then about this show notes thing:

00:00-34:09: Greetings! Graeme takes “cold open” to a new level in this opening, and then makes up for it by singing the praises of Serial, the long-form documentary from the creators of This American Life. And along the way, we here at Wait, What? tackle one of our show’s great mysteries: just how many hours of podcasting does Graeme listen to a week? And which ones? Only Wait, What? is bold enough to ask the hard questions, and then almost screw up recording the hard answers. Graeme mentions a lot of swell-sounding stuff here, but germane to part of our discussion is the discussion with Tom Brevoort at Let’s Talk Comics as is, in its way, this image:

Sweaty Cap

Frank Robbins Cap Watches His Own Flashbacks

Also mentioned: The Frankenstein Comic Swap in Portland Oregon, a brief discussion/mild disagreement about Superman comics in the ‘70s (in which Graeme is largely right and Jeff is largely wrong); issues of The Brave And The Bold including a guest appearance by Kamandi; the first four issue of Justice League Detroit recently looked at by Graeme here on our website; Gerry Conway as the Warren Ellis of his generation; bitter, old Aquaman; J.M. DeMatteis as “the inappropriate backrub guy”; the absolutely stunning death of Vibe;

Justice-League-of-America-Vol.-1-258-1987

What. The. HELL.

and more.
34:09-48:04: Somewhat arbitrary split in the time code here, but at least this’ll help you figure out what we talk about in our first half-hour. Here is where Jeff brings up reading the first half-dozen issues (minus one) of Marvel Comics Transformers, as reprinted by IDW and purchased in a Humble Bundle a little while back. Much more talk about robot cats than you ever thought you would hear in this lifetime.
48:04-51:14: From high to low: Jeff also talks about the amazing Harvey Kurtzman and his work collected in  “Corpse on the Imjin” and Other Stories, currently available from Fantagraphics:

KURTZMAN!

(The Image So Nice I Used It Twice.)

51:14-1:12:00: And to really double down on “modern comics, what are modern comics?”, Graeme has been reading the Star Trek comics from Marvel and DC, courtesy of the Star Trek: The Complete Comic Book Collection DVD from GIT Corp. Also discussed: licensed comics, Indiana Jones, Peter David, the latest Terminator movie; and more.
1:12:00-1:51:49: In the mood for something a little more contemporary? Jeff wanted to talk about the Marvel film slate as well as two films he finally got around to seeing. Oh, but first: the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer; then Amazing Spider-Man 2; and Captain America Winter Soldier; Jeet Heer’s Twitter essay on same; the follow-up to Winter Soldier on Agents of SHIELD; the problem with the third act in superhero films; and then finally, around 1:34:00 or so, the Marvel film slate. How announced what when, who announced what to steal whose thunder, and where with the what when and the whizzle-why, all of which are discussed. Also: The Flash TV Show, and a lot about Gotham (starting at about 1:45:53).  Oh, and here’s a helpful chart of the Apocalypse, courtesy of Comics Alliance:

AIEEEEE

AIEEEEE

1:51:49-2:03:24: Even though we are under the gun to finish early, we say the phrase either nobody wanted to hear or everybody wanted to hear: “Oh! Okay, Secret Wars: let’s talk!” (After a brief period of Jeff exhorting Graeme to read The Wrenchies, which, with any luck, we will discuss next episode.) Discussed: toys, forts, hook-ups, the TV show Survivor, people’s boners, Graeme’s post about Secret Wars, the New Universe and it’s Phase II: Newer and Universe-ier, and a lot more (a little bit more, anyway).
2:03:24-2:17:17: Hey, here’s a special section of the show that’s been a long time coming—and no, we’re not talking about the bit where Jeff refers to Graeme as “the worst.” No, we are talking about thanking our awesome Patreon supporters who’ve given for several months and reach our bonus reward level: being thanked on air! Super big thanks to:

Kristoffer Peterson
Chris Tanforan
timothy rifenburg
Leef Smith
Scott Ashworth
Stephen Williamson
Jeffrey Lang
John Kipling
Robert Grzech
Dan Billings
Ford Thomas
Derek Moreland
Steve Kushner

(Of course, we’re grateful to everyone who’s contributed to us on Patreon where, as of this count, 83 patrons make this whole thing possible.) Some people have been upping their level of donation which we are *super* grateful for, and here we officially disclose the plans for what we’ll be discussing should we hit our goal of $500 a month /what we’ll be reading next once our Avengers round-up settles down at issue #300.
2:17:17-end: Closing comments! Birthday wishes! Remember The Tote Bags! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! iTunes!  Twitter! Tumblr!

Okay, now if you’ll excuse me, I have to start packing my bags for a road trip tomorrow. Look for Graeme’s weekly piece here soon and mine not long after that!

Also, in case you’ve forgotten:  FIRST COMMENT.

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WeirdAngle1

Weird Angle 1!

NewWeird2

Weird Angle 2!

Time for my apology of the week:  not only was it my birthday on Halloween, and not only do I live in a city where my team took the World Series, but we had this crazy apartment re-flooring thing that unexpectedly went from dormant to very active in the course of about twenty-four hours and that ate up a good four days of my life.

So yeah, this is late and some of it may be frankly a bit redundant by the time the podcast goes live as I talked to Graeme about some of it.  It’s a bit of a bag of loose Halloween candy, although there may be a few more Lemonheads and small rolls of Necco Wafers than either you or I might like.  Let’s see!

AVENGERS ANNUAL #14 and FANTASTIC FOUR ANNUAL #19:  As you know if you’re listening to us read through The Avengers on the podcast, Graeme and I have skipped reading the annuals.  (Actually, it wouldn’t surprise me one bit if Graeme is reading them but not mentioning it because he doesn’t want me to feel bad.)  But I’ve been enjoying Roger Stern’s run on the book so much that when the Nebula storyline continued over into an Annual, I figured it was worth hunting it down on Marvel Unlimited and giving it a read.

And then, of course, that issue tied into Fantastic Four Annual #19, so I read that too—and that featured Raksor, the Skrull from Fantastic Four Annual #18 and Uncanny X-Men #137 (you remember that guy, he’s the one on the Blue Area of the Moon to observe the fight of the X-Men and the Imperial Guard and ends up mixing it up with Wolverine and the Kree observer).

Raksor1

And Dudes Shall Call Him….Raksor!

Informative screenshot aside, I did not fall down a continuity hole and read FFA #18 and UXM #137…but I have to admit I was tempted.  Say what you will about the triumphs and failures of the current state of superhero comics, but there’s still something attractive to me about a minor character popping up in three annuals and The Death of The Phoenix and me finding out thanks to a tiny editor’s note in a book I read on a whim.  (In fact, if I were you, I’d put even odds on me taking a break from writing this to read FF Annual #18.)

So there’s a couple of interesting things about Avengers and FF Annuals #14:  one is that although John Byrne draws both issues and the two issues tie in so closely together that the last six pages are identical for each, they’re very different beasts.

The other interesting—and shocking—thing is that FF Annual #14, written and drawn by Byrne, is by far the worse of the two. I’ve had a tough time reconciling John Byrne, the artist I loved so much as a kid, with John Byrne, the comics auteur who spent decades refining absolutely every interesting thing out of his product, and these annuals are serious food for thought.  Considering the guy was drawing two full annuals (cheat of the identical ending pages aside) on top of his monthly book,  I would’ve thought Byrne would’ve saved his energy for the book he’d made into a monster hit but…nope.

Byrne’s story is practically Bendis-esque in its long opening sequence of an alien crashlanding into the Hudson Bay, making his way into Manhattan, and being discovered—and discussed at length—by cops before the FF get called in. From there, you have prototypical Byrne from the period: a deep cut from early FF continuity (The Enfant Terrible!), a second act twist to make Mr. Fantastic seem smart and/or the reader to feel dumb (no, you idiot, of course we’re not bringing back The Enfant Terrible!), a perfunctory action sequence (The FF vs. Fat Lady Skrull and her crew of non-fat, non-lady skrulls!),  and then the tie-in to the Avengers Annual where the Fantastic Four and The Avengers encounter each other on a skrull warship and of course assume the other group is a bunch of shape-changing skrulls taking on the forms of their friends to trick them.   After working it out in the most rational way possible, the teams join up to defeat the menace of a mad Skrull terrorist.

Overall, John Byrne the artist seems pretty uninspired by what John Byrne the writer has cranked out for him and so it’s all about as exciting as reading a Bullpen Bulletins page (if that page was actually forty pages).  By contrast, Avengers Annual #14 opens with Rakzor and his team of Skrulls breaking into Skrull prison to free Prince Dezan, the Skrull In The Iron Mask, then catching us up to date with The Avengers (having gone into space to rescue Captain Marvel, they are now hot on the trail of Nebula after she has told Starfox that she is the granddaughter of Thanos) and then making sure by page eight the team is attacked in the void of space by World War I biplanes.

Even if some of of it is as mothworn as the material Byrne is parading around in FFA #14 , the Avengers Annual keeps hopping, with John Byrne the artist being as energized by Roger Stern the writer as he was let down in FF.  (It also helps that after spending three issues of The Avengers dealing with the Skrulls, the path to the encounter between the two teams feels far more organic here than in the FF Annual.)

And this is the third interesting/shocking thing for me about the Annuals:  although FFA is inked by Joe Sinnott—one of the best inkers in comics history—Avengers Annual has breakdowns by Byrne and finishes by Kyle Baker…and it looks beautiful.  Having seen Baker’s work at Marvel from back in the day, I knew he was good more or less out of the gate, but his work in this is fantastic.  (Thanks to it being in the Avengers Annual, there’s no pun involved there.)  If you told me I would’ve preferred an inking job of his to the same work by Joe Sinnott, I would’ve laughed in your crazily hypothetical face, Mr. Straw Man!  But check out some of these lovely Baker finished panels:

PrinceIronMask

The Skrull in the Iron Mask

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Fist-Shaking Starfox

BakerBogart1

Don’t Bogart That Photo Reference!

In fact, I can even show you a quick example based on the shared pages between the two annuals. Here’s the big “moment of truth” where the crazed Skrull bad guy sets off his ultimate weapon, first by Byrne/Sinnott and then by Stern/Byrne/Baker:

SinnottYes

Pretty…But Generic

 

BakerSplash

Prettier…and Less Generic

Look how, even as the colorist blows the dynamism of the skrull bomb (it looks like a hubcap), the Avengers Annual page has more heft, based on little more than Baker’s shading choices and adjustment of expressions.

And, finally, the fourth interesting/shocking thing:  although Byrne’s FF Annual is wayyyy more dull, it does everything it sets out to do.  Whereas Avengers Annual #14, driven by Starfox’s need to catch Nebula and find out if she is indeed a granddaughter of Thanos (and thus Starfox’s own grand-niece), not only does not resolve that storyline, Starfox himself disappears completely from the final pages, presumably so you don’t notice the whole story  ends up being an unnecessary digression.

The whole crossover is simultaneously pretty clever and not as clever as everyone behind it seems to think:  instead of the loose, devil-may-care continuity of crossover events past (and future), this was so tightly plotted and coordinated it seems only the colorists were left out.  The covers  even show the same scene from two different angles. But it’s worth noting both covers are, technically, kind of terrible, with the title characters being shown from behind on their own books and from weird, undynamic angles so that they look their best on the other book’s cover.

And although SternByrne show two teams grown up enough to reason out their true identities instead of just pounding on one another for a few pages, that solution is, let’s face it, much more dull than what we would’ve seen under Marvel 1.0 or 2.0.  Even as Eighties Marvel was refining the ideas of continuity in ways Stan Lee and the other creators of the Marvel Universe could never have anticipated, it was also highlighting the possible flaws in the concept itself.

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I love the Detroit Justice League of America.

That’s not sarcasm, and I don’t mean it ironically; I genuinely love the characters, and the concept. They were the first Justice League I read even vaguely regularly as a kid; the newsagents at the end of my street would get in irregular copies when I was starting to pick up American comics, and it was just around the time of Steel, Vibe, Gypsy and Vixen making their mark on the book. They’re my league, in some strange, nostalgic, indefinable way. I genuinely love them.

More excitingly for me, it turns out that I actually like them, too. This past weekend, I picked up Justice League of America #233-236, the first appearances of the characters in the regular series (They’d debuted in Justice League of America Annual #2, a couple months earlier), and was relieved — and a little surprised — to discover that they’re actually pretty strong comics, despite the reputation they’ve gained in the decades since.

It’s not that they’re forgotten classics of the genre — they came out in 1984 (Yes, it’s the entirely-unrecognized 30th anniversary of Justice League Detroit), and there were inarguably better superhero comics being published at the time — but they’re definitely good, and I think that’s something worthwhile, especially for a series like this. Reading all the old Avengers books over the last year for the podcast, it’s become clear that there are times when flagship titles like JLA or Avengers aren’t any good — that they exist purely to fill a spot in the publishing schedule, without any larger aim, and without any real entertainment value, either. As a longtime Justice League fan, I feel relatively confident in saying that the beginning of the Detroit era for the JLA was more interesting and had more potential than anything else that book had seen on a regular basis in years.

JLD Rebirth

And these four issues — ostensibly, a four-parter called “Rebirth,” but it’s more like a three-parter with a prologue of sorts first — really, genuinely have a lot of potential. There are a lot of things thrown out in these issues that beg to be explored later, whether it’s the agenda of Steel’s grandfather, Aquaman’s creepy overstepping of boundaries when it comes to being a leader (At one point, he uses his telepathic powers to shut down an argument with Steel, which feels like something that needed to be followed up on) or, my personal favorite, Vibe’s putting on a cliched accent when he’s around the team that he drops when he’s at home (Something that is expressly called out in dialogue). These four issues genuinely feel like the beginning of something, and made me want to read more.

(I didn’t read these issues, when they came out first time around; my first issue was #237, and I admit to regretting not picking that up this weekend, as well. It was only $1! What was I thinking?)

That’s not to say that there’s not a lot that’s derivative, as well; Steel is essentially little more than a white Cyborg with more angst, while Gypsy — for all that we see her — feels very much like Gerry Conway is trying to retrofit himself his own Kitty Pryde character. The idea of the JLA suddenly made up of three teenagers, an equally unknown quantity in Vixen and four lesser-explored veterans remains awkward, with the explanation given in JLA Annual #2 being… tenuous at best. But, once you get over that hurdle, there’s more here to like than dislike.

There are also hints of Justice Leagues to come, as well: The attempts to insert sitcom into the formula via the team’s new Detroit HQ feel predictive of the Giffen/DeMatteis works to come, especially the I Can’t Believe It’s Not Justice League revivals. The soap operatics hint at Brad Meltzer’s Justice League, while the new-heroes-try-to-get-along-and-become-better-superheroes brings to mind Geoff Johns’ New 52 incarnation of the team. What may have seemed, at the time, to be very “un-Justice League” now reads, oddly, as an amalgam of ideas ahead of their time and execution contemporaneous with something like Marv Wolfman’s New Teen Titans or Paul Levitz’ Legion of Super-Heroes.

It falls apart, after these four issues, I know that: ideas and characters get dropped (Aquaman, who put the team and new approach together, is gone six issues later), and others get hijacked by big events (The Steel reveal proves to be a Crisis on Infinite Earths tie-in, I remember, which overwhelms the story underneath it all). Gerry Conway, who seems to have such confidence and purpose in these issues — there’s a sense of him being enthused by his new direction, convinced that this is what they want, even if it turns out he was apparently wrong — seems to lose interest, direction or both, midway through the run, and it never quite reaches this level again. This really might be as good as it got for these characters, sadly enough.

And yet, I find myself wishing that DC would collect the Mars-Earth War three-parter that led to this storyline, the JLA Annual, and these issues all together in one place, as a redemption of the reputation that the Detroit League has found itself saddled with. They’re not just “not as bad as you think,” they’re a glimpse at the Justice League that could have been, the Justice League that’s coming, and something that just might make you wish that these characters had been given more of a chance than they eventually received.

That said, who would’ve thought that Vibe would be the breakout star of the book, huh?

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SPOILERS: I am way late in posting this (Even more spoilers: This isn’t even the post I left unfinished yesterday, because that one just wouldn’t come back to life at all), so I’m stick it all under the cut and telling you to scroll down and read Jeff’s far more entertaining comic reviews. Can he turn against Tony Daniel? The answer may surprise you! Seriously, scroll down and read. Then, when you come back, why you shouldn’t read a lot of Fantastic Four at once.

Continue reading

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DSTROKE001_Cover_rev_53b40b8a307326.06494387

“Red skies at night—Tony Daniel’s delight.”

Man, you know those guys who turn around and post reviews for comics as soon as they come out?  Sometimes even before  they come out?  Way, way back in the day, I used to be one of those guys.  Okay, maybe not the day of but, you know, I’d work at CE on Friday, write reviews on Saturday, get them up before the end of the weekend.  It was kind of fun back in the days where my only serious commitment was to, I dunno, Dragon Quest VIII or something.  (Speaking of which has anyone played Dragon Quest VIII for the iPad?  Is it any good?  I’m asking for…a friend.  A friend who’s on the second day of a two week vacation for which he vowed he’d devote some serious time to goofing off—okay, okay, I’m asking for me, all right?  I’m asking for me!)

Anyway, the neverending Sketchook entry is still far from finished and not even all that interesting to me anymore personally (which is a drag considering the time already sunk into it), and coming back from the store yesterday and looking at my wide-open schedule I thought, you know, why not get the band back together for one last gig?  “Let’s read some comics and say what we thought about them, and then post it on the Internet!” I thought.  “That’ll teach me!”

Anyway, these are mostly in alphabetical order except when I think I have something clever to say, in which case they’re not.  That’s sorta fair, right?

ARKHAM MANOR #1: SPOILER THIS TAKES PLACE AFTER THE EVENTS OF BATMAN ETERNAL #30.  Technically, that really shouldn’t be a spoiler but since Editorial didn’t disclose it until page four of the book, I’m assuming it’s something they were trying to keep under wraps from the casual browser.  Unfortunately, this casual browser read that and went “damn it,” because he’d already bought the damn book. Since Batman Eternal #28 came out this week, I have the choice of either spoiling those two issues (although I’m pretty sure I already did by reading panel three of page one) or putting this aside.

So.  In two weeks:  My review of Arkham Manor #1! SPOILERS: I will complain about the scheduling problems of the Bat-Editorial Department.

BATMAN ETERNAL #28:  Meanwhile, this week in “wait, where the hell does Batman think Alfred is again?” Ray Fawkes returns to run the ball a little farther up the field on his “spooky shenanigans in Arkham” story.  I’m not much of a fan of this storyline, in part because I generally don’t like spooky shenanigans mixed in with my Batman stories unless Mr. Bob Haney is holding the swizzle stick, and in part because giving the story to Batwing, the only Bat person of color, and having him play second banana to New52 Jim Corrigan is deeply, deeply WhiteDumb.  (I’m trying to rebrand racism so that maybe white people can own up to it a little easier rather than getting all upset when someone points out they’re being racist. Let me know how I’m doing.)

But this issue had a number of nice beats, with Simon Coleby’s art given an enjoyably smoldering palette by colorist Romulo Fajardo, Jr.  And the pacing at the end was aces, intercutting Batwing assembling his armor, all hell breaking loose in Arkham, and the code of the Riddler being computer decoded before our very eyes.  Sure, that pacing is almost utterly generic now thanks to the preponderance of hyperactive thrillers on TV and in movies but…at least it was done well and kept me turning the pages attentively even when, really, part of me was like, “man, where the hell are my Brave and The Bold Showcases?”

To sum up: this was an okay issue, and I’m looking forward to getting drunk later and digging through my longboxes to find those Showcases.

AQUAMAN #35: I think this is my last issue because even though I dig Jeff Parker’s characterization of Aquaman as The Introverted Guy Who Would Be King, I’m just not into Atlantis.  Atlantis is that kid brother every Aquaman writer either tries to ditch or, with a heaving sigh, turns their attention to and tries to give a makeover so they’re not embarrassed to be seen in public with.  One good thing about getting to my age is being able to acknowledge the only thing I care less about than a fantasy kingdom is an underwater fantasy kingdom. Sorry, Aquaman: it’s not you, it’s me.

STUMPTOWN #2: That previous issue which I apparently bought twice was on my mind as I went into the store today, in part because I was thinking something like: remember, dummy. Do not buy two copies this time.

But also I was thinking about how I dug the whole “here’s a murder mystery about Portland soccer fans,” in part because it so obviously seemed like writer Greg Rucka was just a huge Portland soccer fan.  It made me think about that one issue of Moon Knight where suddenly the cast gets all broken up over the death of John Lennon and what’s-her-name is playing the piano and then crying.  It was an embarrassing issue to read as a kid because it so clearly didn’t have any kind of place in a story about a multiple personality Batman-by-way-of-werewolf’s-blood superhero (although, let’s face it, if each one of Moon Knight’s personalities had a different favorite Beatle and drove the rest of surrounding cast insane about it, that would’ve been pretty great).  And yet, I also dug it.  Before disposable pop culture took over the world, it was kind of neat to see people pack thoughts about pop culture into other pop culture.  And Stumptown issue one reminded me of that, and how much I used to really like it.

Issue two reminded me that while I find this stuff great to read in trades, I find it pretty draggy in the single issues.  Although there’s every chance it will pay off in later issues, there were way too many pages of people talking about how much they care about the victim and how important it is that the perpetrators get caught, and…I don’t know, isn’t that the kind of thing that doesn’t really need that much justification? Too many samey-seeming scenes in one issue for my taste. Reading it felt like I was right on the verge of some kind of realization about something… but it took me a few more books for that to come together.

SUPERMAN #35:  Considering how slowly this book is unfolding, I don’t think it was helped by that Future’s End skip month issue.  (I call it a skip month because I skipped it.)  I saw issue #35 on the stands and was like, “wait, am I still…reading this?”

I am, in part because I keep trying to figure out what I like about John Romita, Jr.’s art?  It’s a weird style, one where I feel like I’m always noticing something new.  Like…did you know we had so many wrinkles on our nose?  Maybe it’s a side-effect of having our noses broken so many times?  You can look at a character in profile and sometimes their nose will look broken—clearly broken, like big old knot at the bridge and then mashed up against the face below that—and then on the next panel it won’t be?  And then in a medium shot it will be wrinkled?  It’s a fascinating world John Romita Jr. lives in, where people’s noses behave like dog’s noses, springing to attention before lolling back brokenly above their marionette mouth.

Seriously: I like the guy’s work.  Like I said on a podcast, it reminds me more of Gil Kane (or, in this issue, Frank Robbins for some reason) than John Romita, Sr.  Also, I think I just really like what the guy does with body language.

NOSES.

NOSES.

Anyway, Johns’ story doubles down on his “let’s make Superman the most boring part of this Superman story,” which is a shame.  I can see how a Superman analog is our modern equivalent of the old DC Imaginary Story, where wacky hijinks will show us that it’s important that Superman be a superhero only in the most reactive, passive sense of the term. But I found the end of this issue a bit of a bummer: having Superman decide to use a supercity in an alternate dimension to house six million people to build a better tomorrow? It’s a drag that story hook goes to not-Superman, instead.

ZERO #11:  Tonally, Ricardo Lopez Ortiz’s art ran the gamut in this from absolutely perfect to kind of unfortunate: perfect for the scenes of Edward Zero having a few moments of peace and happiness, and even when the tension starts to crank up…but the facial expressions in the fight scene made it feel a little too much like something out of The Castle of Cagliostro.  And even though it was twenty-four pages of story, the issue felt a bit light to me which suggests it either needed just a dash more story in there or all those old issues of Avengers are totally throwing off my sense of story pacing.  Probably the latter.  Decent little issue overall, though.

STARLIGHT #6:  I guess I’m glad my current phase of comic book reading is more focused on the art because every bit of Mark Millar’s storytelling in this was rubbish.  Duke’s escape, his cigar smoking return, that kid yelling out Duke’s name even though he is in the process of being hanged (seriously, how can Mark Millar not know how strangulation works?), the final showdown with Kingfisher and Duke…just a big old heaping pile of garbage.

But, of course, Goran Parlov does something great on every page. I could never make fun of his faces the way I do John Romita, Jr.:  his characters are cartoony but he can draw them at any angle and the exaggerations stay completely proportional.  And of course, the faux-Moebius stuff going on in the backgrounds (aided a ton by Ive Svorcina)?  I was just really happy to read 30+ pages of Parlov’s work in one go…at least until I got to the back page and remembered the price tag for doing so was five bucks.

Overall, Starlight was  a pretty good reminder why I don’t read Mark Millar comics anymore. I hope Parlov sees some decent Hollywood money out of it, and someone scoops the guy up to do their much better book.  But…well, let’s just say I’m very, very glad this was the mini and Jeff Parker and Doc Shaner’s Flash Gordon is the ongoing, let’s put it that way.

DEATHSTROKE #1:  Probably the book I was most excited to pick up this week since it’s the return of Tony Daniel writing and drawing a book while his editors go and huff glue, or do whatever it is they do instead of saying, “Uh, Tony Daniel, shouldn’t we have more of a story here?” like they probably should.

On the one hand, this has a lot of the stuff I love when Tony Daniel writes and draws his own book.  Blood-red skies? Check.  Hot women with some sort of disfigurement a la a Metal Gear Solid game?  Check.  Ganking stuff from Frank Miller, including creating an outrageously unsubtle Wolverine analog to make fun of? Check.  There’s several pages of really fun over-the-toppery, like when the bad guy gets free and just starts hacking pieces off Deathstroke with his own sword, or when Deathstroke returns the favor by lopping off people’s heads in a ridiculously glorious bottom-up perspective.

But on the other hand, even with the embarrassingly low bar I set for Tony Daniel comics, this just barely cleared it.  Kinda knocked the bar off with its back foot as it went over, frankly. While I’m glad the book is free of the “this story is all about the hero and the hero’s past and how it’s really their most personal, dangerous dramatic adventure the hero’s ever had!”, it was also just a little too low-stakes for me: Deathstroke (which I just typo’d as Deathstorke, which I now pray to God someone will do in any Captain Carrot revival that comes down the pike) gets a contract to bump off a bunch of guys including Wolverine analog (also funny for a Captain Carrot revival: A wolverine named Wolverine?) and then it turns out to be a trap to get the secret memories hidden in Deathstroke’s head and then he has to swordfight his way out of an ambush?  I was pretty emotionally uninvested.  Plus, on the last page, beneath the newly young Deathstroke in his blood diaper yelling “What did you do to me?” there’s a next issue box hollering, “NEXT:  The Secret Past of Slade Wilson!”  So…cue up the story bit about Deathstroke’s past and how this is really the most personal, dangerous dramatic adventure he’s ever had. Damn it.

Still.  It’s only $2.99 and I have every hope Daniel will introduce thirty-seven villains next issue, some of which will look like ordinary household objects wearing top hats so…I’m far from giving up the book.

MEMETIC #1:  Jesus, another $4.99 book?  Sure, it’s 32 pages of story but…that’s a lot of investment for the first shot of a three issue miniseries, don’t you think?

Or maybe I’m just extra-cranky because those 32 pages had a lot of what felt like the same scenes over and over: it’s kind of tough when you’re doing a story about a memetic invasion not to fall into “PAGE FIVE: More people love the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at.  PAGE SEVEN: Even more people love the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at.  PAGE THIRTEEN: Now all the world loves the Good Times Sloth and say it makes them incredibly happy to look at.”  But…I got to the end of these 32 pages, most of which are spent in and around just a few characters resistant or suspicious of the hypno-sloth, and I don’t know if we really got more than a superficial “here are the contours of this character” take on anyone.

James Tyrion IV and Eryk Donovan are quite good at keeping the pace on a page by page basis and things started to go bad exactly when I was hoping they would, but…the work just missed being strong enough to get me back. And then I look at that price tag again and cringe.  It’s probably the right move for Boom! to make in this market where there’s a lot of issue #1 speculation for indie titles but I mean that it’s “right” in a possibly-too-cynical kind of way.

LAZARUS #12:  So remember what I was saying all the way up there about Stumptown and Greg Rucka and being right on the verge of some kind of realization?  Lazarus #12 is where I cracked that code, and the code is:  Chris Claremont.

Chris Claremont. Chris Claremont.  Chris Claremont.

Screw Cyclops:  Marvel should put Greg Rucka on an X-Men team title because Greg Rucka is Chris Claremont as fuck.  Reading this issue of Lazarus where all of the world’s controlling families get together for a big “let’s all try and sway other families to our side on important issues that will advance our creepy agendas” and the biggest emotional beat is…having Forever, who doesn’t dance, have to dance in front of everyone at the big gala with the guy who looks a little too much like Tom Hiddleston for my liking.

CHRIS CLAREMONT.

The same way Mr. C was hyper-plugged into the emotional lives of his characters (especially their discomfort), and pushed for a “strong women to the point of making other men roll their eyeballs” agenda, and in fact more or less made a lot of hay by having the latter have to confront the former?  That’s pretty much Rucka’s work, too.

Unfortunately, like Claremont, Rucka is a big ol’ ham, and so his drama can come off a little too melodramatically and—even worse—his characters tend to all sound samey and bloviatey. There’s a scene here where Forever chats and works out with two other Family “Swords,” and at first I was all, “oh, this is cool, we get to see how they interact and watch them gossip and that should be fun.”  But none of the characters had any surprise to them, and the snap in the dialogue was precisely and exactly the kind of “oh, she’s timid; he’s extreme; and she’s reasonable, watch how every single piece of this reinforces that,” creators have to learn to achieve and then strive to subvert as soon as possible.

A ham actor gets a lot of mileage out of their commitment (and/or over-commitment) to the part, which can be surprising and fun…but it can also make them crashing bores because the only thing they know how to do is TURN UP THE VOLUME and (turn down the volume).  There wasn’t one scene that surprised me in this issue, and considering it’s layered with characters I’ve either never met or didn’t bother to even remember, that’s a little depressing.

So Greg Rucka should break that habit, probably?  Or, if he can’t, put it to use on an X-Men title where the nostalgia will cover up boredom’s sting.

POSTSCRIPT:  Guess who forgot to buy Multiversity?  Arghhhhhhh……

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Friends, Whatnauts, countrymen, lend me your – Well, I guess it’d be eyeballs instead of ears, considering this is a written post. What is really is is a written apology: as a result of a crazier than usual work schedule that was a little blown up by the Avengers: Age of Ultron trailer leak this afternoon, I’ve not had a chance to finish my review post for the week, which was already a day late due to me being sick this weekend and thrown off my game. I both beg apologies and tell you to come back tomorrow when I’ll really, really try and get it up. And if Jeff gets a post up as well, it’ll be like double the fun in… the same amount of time as normal except I was late and I’m very sorry…? Okay, that didn’t come over as impressive as I’d hoped, I confess.

In the meantime, go and read Colin Smith writing about Mark Millar’s Swamp Thing run. It’s far more worthy of your attentions.

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Thanks to Gar Berner for Bringing The Super-Awesome!

Thanks to Gar Berner for Bringing The Super-Awesome!

Damn it, next year we’re going to have a contest centered around Graeme’s first Prog Rock album, The Moog Goo of Guy Pan or something because it’s quite a bummer to have my mug staring out from this post exclusively.

Anyway.  Once again, I have managed to go an entire night without sleep so let me apologize in advance for the dozens, if not thousands, of errors, typographical and otherwise, sure to pop up in this post.  (Also I need to get better at screenshotting Avengers pages.)  Things should improve scheduling-wise after this, and I can go back to make dozens, if not thousands, of errors, typographical and otherwise, for other reasons.

Ready for some show notes?  Some serious no-fooling two and three-quarters of an hour bare-knuckle podcasting?  Well, then.  I have just the thing for you!

00:00-40:51: Greetings! Cue up your Lonely Man Theme but don’t be fooled: even though we start by talking about the Incredible Hulk TV show, it takes a certain amount of time to get around to the comic book. But instead we stick to the TV side of things, with discussion of Tales of the Gold Monkey, B.J. and The Bear, and most especially Twin Peaks (and its return!). I’m going to point you to Graeme’s thoughts on the topic, with a touch of Abhay’s since we reference them in the convo but they’re definitely worth being reading on their own. We also discuss the TV show Manhattan about the building of the atomic bomb, The Making of the Atomic Bomb by Richard Rhodes, and, of course, Gavin & Stacey and the current season of  New Girl. And if that wasn’t enough non-comics talk for you, we also talk about Jeff’s strange relationship with iPhones, old and new. Also also discussed: hatewatching things, artisanal douches, and babies and, uhhhhhh, what else do we usually talk about? Hmm…
40:51-57:09: Comics books! That’s right we eventually remember to talk about comic books! In fact, first off we dig deep into Batgirl #35, by Cameron Stewart, Brenden Fletcher and Babs Tarr. Tossed out there in our discussion; Gail Simone, Bob Haney, the phrase “evil 4chan DJ,” target audiences, and more. It’s a bit of a tussle, this discussion.
57:09-1:09:55: Graeme received copies of Trinity of Sin #1 by J.M. DeMatteis, Yvel Guichet, Jason Gorder and Gabe Eltaeb; Earth 2: World’s End #1 and #2 by more people than I’m getting paid to type; and Klarion #1 by Ann Nocenti and Trevor McCarthy; we also tussle a bit on this one, too. Tussle! It’s one of the all-time great words.

Also great is how Graeme calls me out on my shitty handling of percentages. (Wait, is that great?)
1:09:55-1:24:01: Changing gears a bit, Jeff feels there’s been a certain maximalism in comic books lately, a serious commitment to spectacle and too much. And never is that more true than with Transformers Vs. G.I. Joe #3 by Tom Scioli and John Barber. (Please note that we also tussle briefly over the public reaction to Seven Soldiers #1.) This tremendous and overwhelming book pretty much blew our tiny minds. Discussed: Copra, Kirby, Steranko, outsider art, and more.
1:24:01-1:59:18: Avengers Talk!! It’s time for Avengers Talk! This time we are discussing issues #227-250 by (mostly) Roger Stern, Al Milgrom, and Joe Sinnott. It’s almost impossible to talk about this title and not also talk about Marvel in the early Eighties and the heyday of the Jim Shooter editorial era. A really great run of issues with some tremendous steps forward in its handling of female characters (as embodied by Monica Rambeau, the new Captain Marvel). In fact, it’s possible to see the two issue wrap up of Spider-Woman’s book (issues #240-241) as a non-fucked-up version of Avengers #200. And of course, since issues #228-229 has to do with the redemption of Hank Pym, we once again revisit the handling of Hank Pym, the issues and meta-issues, the rewriting of history (comic book history and real life history); a brilliant connection Graeme makes about “yes, and” improvisation and the work of Steve Englehart; Spider-Man, Wife Beater; Tony Stark, Super-Lush; Kirby’s Eternals and Starlin’s Titans; and then…
1:59:18-2:14:01: Something is happening at Jeff’s door so he has to run away for a moment, and comes back and terrifies Graeme. And then we’re back to talking about Maelstrom, Al Milgrom and Joe Sinnott, and much, much, MUCH more.

Oh, and remember how I said I was terrible about screenshots?  Look at the stuff I thought was worth showing you guys:

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Hawkeye namedropping Tom Stoppard!

and

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Dr. Doom! Subpar rapper!

and:

Al Milgrom: Prophet of Pop Culture to Come! (Shame about the spelling, though...)

Al Milgrom: Prophet of Pop Culture to Come! (Shame about the spelling, though…)

2:14:01-2:33:41: So.  Remember when we said we could wrap this up in under two hours?

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Turns out, there’s still the overdue discussion of the winners of our “Are You Feeling The Feeling That I’m Feeling” giveaway! This has a lot of us reading entries and just laughing aloud—maybe not our most professionalmoment—but we wouldn’t have if the work wasn’t so awesome. Because we are laughing all over these amazing entries, you’ll probably get a better bang for your buck reading them all below. Thanks for everyone who entered! We are terrified by how much funnier you guys are than us, and yet we’re the ones talking on air.

The stunning entries by our amazing listeners:

Gar Berner:
“If You’re Not in the World That’s Coming, I Don’t Wanna Be There (Lila’s Song)”

Matt Sabonis:
“Milk for Midnight (for Oreos in Bed)”

Chris Mastrangelo:
1. Can’t Comb My Beard Without You Babe
2. Cold Waffles At Midnight
3. It’s Raining (In My Heart)
4. Tonight’s The Night, Unless It Isn’t, In Which Case Tomorrow Night May Be The Night
5. Rapping Intermission
6. Your Chicken And Tomatoes
7. Taxidermist of Love
8. Don’t Make Me Wrassle Your Heart
9. Snaky Woman
10. A Sexy Little Lady Called Sex
11. Greensleeves [traditional]
12. This Jazzy Sax Solo’s For You

Dave Clarke [the lost entry!]:
1. List heavy show notes
2. Love is a savoury waffle
3. Your chicken and tomatoes
4. Rapping Intermission
5. Portland (feat. DJ Ernie and MC Gus-Gus)
6. I don’t care what people say (I like me some Tony Daniel)
7. Is this thing recording?
8. By the miracle of the internet
9. Download code
10. Sing us out

Christopher Beckett:
3. Ghoulash – Little Bits in the Sauce
4. Babe, I’m Your One Man Army Corps
5. Gimme That Kenny G.
6. We Are Human … Like An Animal
7. Pinky Winehardt Goes to Washington
8. Smooooooooooth
9. I Hear You In My Dreams (& it scares me)
10. Push and Pool
11. A Lonely Heart Gathers No Moss
12. Heart U 4Evah

Derek Moreland/Nathaniel Quietly/Voodoo Ben:
1. “Erotic Vampire LOVE Heist”
2. “You Wafflin’, Baby”
3. “The Cleanse”
4. “FEELINGS!”
5. “Your Chicken and Tomatoes”
6. “Rapping Intermission”
7. “Binging (Delillo) (feat. Lisa “Left Eye” Lopez)
8. “U R My Malomar”
9. “MmHmm MmHmm MmHmm / Interesting”
10. “Booty”
11. “The Cleanse (Remix) (feat. Missy Elliot)
12. “Cinema Mortalis” (instrumental)

Paul Spence:
Baby Has Her Biscuits in The Oven And Her Buns In My Bed
She Feels Like A New Man Tonight
How Can I Miss You If You Won’t Leave Me
You Can’t Have Your Kate and Edith Too
She Got The Ring And I Got The Finger
I Keep Forgettin’ I Forgot About You
The Pint of No Return
Please Bypass This Heart
The Wait What Waffle Window Wonton Watusi

Brendan O’Hare:
1. Hot San Francisco Mornings
2. Am I Leavenworth Your Love?
3. Skip This Track (If You Ain’t Makin’ Love (Right Now))
4. Pause Like I Know You
5. R U Glad I Didn’t Say Banana? ft. Prince
6. Rapping Intermission
7. The World Through Rose Color Asses
8. I’ll Be the One to Be the One
9. Takes All Kinds
10. One at a Time
11. Take it All One at a Time
12. Your Chicken and Tomatoes
Hidden Track: No Stinky Fish
Stu West:
(Just a) Love-Struck Honky
Quiche for One
Ever-Approaching Grandpa of Love
Paul Kupperberg Blues

Bonus track from David Wolkin:

“Graeme unintentionally dropped the best entry on the podcast: ‘My Individual Issues’”

Bonus Show Notes only track from David Wolkin (because my phone lost his text for four days): “Also: ’She Beatboxes, I Drop a Few.’ You guys write this shit yourselves!”

And, as a bonus bonus, here’s Voodoo Ben’s transcript of that “Behind The Music” hatchet job they did on me.  (They got most of it right, but man the stuff they got wrong still steams my clams):

Welcome back.

In 1993, Jeff Lester was on top of the world. His soothing R&B rhythms and clever lyrical wordplay were providing a clear and contrasting antidote to the rising grunge movement, and frequent (so would say continuous) airplay of his smash hit single “Your Chicken and Tomatoes” dominated the nation’s airways. Anticipation for Lester’s debut album was so high, in fact, that he was invited to perform the hit on that year’s MTV VMAs.

It was a surprise to everyone when, instead of breaking out what would become his signature tune, Lester instead chose to perform the melodic, more soulful “Erotic Vampire LOVE Heist” that evening. The emotional, heartfelt performance was met with only muted applause by a confused audience. It would be the first of several missteps that would eventually torpedo the once promising musician’s career.

Can You Feel the Feeling That I’m Feeling? released at number 17 on the Billboard Music Charts, with “Your Chicken and Tomatoes” slipping out of the top 100 a month after the album debuted. Supporters praised the album’s deft mix of R&B sound with literary, food, and comic book references – but it was too little, too late. The VMA backlash proved more than Lester could bear. He became disenchanted with “the scene”, as he referred to the industry, and pushed for “Cinema Mortalis”, an instrumental track totally at odds with his R&B sound, to be released as the album’s second single. (His producer, Babyface, fought for the much catchier “MmHmm MmHmm MmHmm/Interesting”, but was overruled by the artist.) It proved the final nail in Lester’s musical career. “Cinema Mortalis” was soundly ignored by the audience, and Lester vowed never to record again – a rising R&B star whose flame burned out too quickly.

See?  Not a single word about the debacle that was my cameo on Family Matters!  Galling.

2:33:41-2:46:03: Graeme gives us a preview of the amazing work you can now see on our Tumblr, leading to an all-too-brief conversation about the genius that is Bob Haney, and some of the weirdness about Marvel’s NYCC announcements.
2:46:03-end: “We got so far away from saying goodbye.” No, it’s not a song from Jeff’s album, that’s something we actually said. (Wolkin’s right, we do write this shit ourselves!) And it’s a sign that we really do need to be going. But, let us not forget: Tote bags! Places to look for us at—Stitcher! iTunes! Twitter! Tumblr again! and, of course, on Patreon where, as of this count, 82 patrons make this whole thing possible.  (And where our $10 and up patrons just got an exclusive video podcast from the Waffle Window!)

Okay, here’s the link. No idea if it’ll turn into a magical noise-playing thing so I’ll also add the link in a comment below all this nonsense so you can get to listening!

Thanks, and, as always, we hope you enjoy!

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Jeez, you guys: SO BEHIND.  Not that anyone’s keeping track but me (I hope!) but my delightful trip up to Portland and some increased “Oh, hey, why don’t I stay up all night?” job stuff has put me a little more behind the eightball than I’m comfortable with.  And since my extra-long Sketchbook entry is running really late (and slow?  it’s not even that long…yet), I’m going to have to take a gamble and give you some capsule reviews on this, the day that Graeme and I record our podcast!  Will this mean duplicative content?  Will this mean I somehow manage to talk in two places about nothing?  Ahhhh!

And so:

CALIBAN #7:  Last issue, and it kind of shits its pants? (Which is a bummer considering the number of people who listened to me and picked it up…)  Ennis is enough of a pro that it doesn’t totally fall apart, the emotional beats line up and all but it’s almost as if two-thirds of the way the author kind of went, “huh, where was I going with this?  Shit, I had a really good take on Alien’s connection of body horror to class struggle but…what was it again? Oh, well.”  <<cashes check>>  Sorry, everyone!

BATMAN & ROBIN #35: Really interesting seeing how, just as the X-book writers in the wake of Morrison’s run alternated between erasing, pillaging, and redoing his ideas and beats, the Bat-books are pretty much doing the same thing.  This issue has Tomasi and Gleason flat-out stealing Morrison’s “Batman metals up to take on Leviathan” finale of Batman, Inc. by having him get even more metal to take on Apokolips.  It’s egregiously derivative (if ever a lit nerd needed to drop in Hamlet’s  “Then there’s hope a great man’s memory may outlive his life half a year…” line, it’d pretty much be in this situation) but…I think the art team of Gleason and Gray makes it work?

I  mean, Chris Burnham is great but the Batman pages on this should’ve had a sound chip installed to play death metal riffs to complete the experience.  If DC actually had its shit together and all this Apokolips/New Gods stuff springing up actually meant something?  That’d be great, but since I have no faith in DC’s line-wide editorial coordination, it just kinda seems like an entire line of comics have been turned into Countdown to Final Crisis.  In a way, I kinda wish this was the direction Batman Eternal was heading in (even as I worry it’s precisely where it’ll end up) because “Batman invades Apokolips” is a far more compelling reason to drag all of the Bat-family into action then the crazed free-for-all that is the weekly Bat book.

BATMAN ETERNAL #28:  It’s interesting being so into Grayson, which is co-plotted by Tim Seeley, when I find the issues he’s written for this title to be so…J.T. Krul-esque?  This issue has a certain number of emotional beats but they all feel pretty weightless and I don’t know if that’s because most of them so recently set up or if Seeley keeps trying to inject humor into situations long past the point he should’ve started reaching for the pathos button, but I feel like I was way more blase about the death of an innocent child than I should’ve been.  Or maybe reading so many comics have made me a monster?  We all should consider that as a possiblity, I guess?

LUMBERJANES #7: Picked this up because last time I flipped through I felt like editorial had given it more direction that I felt like it’d lacked, previously. (And also, I kinda forgot I’d stopped buying it?)  Anyway, in case you were wondering what the hell was going on and why—or, really, if the creators knew—it turns out that, yep, they did!  And it’s a pretty neat idea in its way.  I just wish it’d been the kind of thing that’d been set up and paid off in a more traditional manner.  I’m glad it’s selling because it may very well mean this book will still be going by the time it has its act together…because it’s getting there!

Okay, sorry.  Short I know but I got a handful of last week’s comics I have to get under my belt if I want to be at all prepped for this episode.  More later! (Maybe even sooner?)

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I can still remember how excited I was to read Marvel Super-Heroes: Secret Wars for the first time, when I was a kid. I can even remember the first time I found out about it, in a text piece in an issue of The Mighty World of Marvel reporting on Spider-Man’s black costume that I read on a cold and rainy afternoon; it said that the series was either going to be called Secret Wars or Cosmic Champions, but that hadn’t been decided yet.

SW1+1I read the series, eventually, in its UK-reprint form, which meant that the original issues were split across two issues and paired with an increasingly strange selection of back-up material. It started with Alpha Flight, because nothing says “obvious selection for a British superhero comic” than “a second-rate Canadian super team,” but things got weirder from there — J.M. DeMatteis and Alan Kupperberg’s Iceman mini-series showed up at one point, as did Zoids. And yet, I loved it dearly. I was, what, 10 or 11 years old or so, and it was everything I could’ve wanted in a comic: so many superheroes, and so many villains, and that Mike Zeck art! How could I resist?!?

So, when Marvel announced its revival of the title for 2015 at this weekend’s New York Comic Con, the combination of nostalgia and curiosity drove me to revisit the series, thinking “I know Jim Shooter’s Avengers turned out to be terrible, but he couldn’t mess up this so badly that I still have fond memories, could he…?”

I think you can all guess the answer to that one, dear readers.

Let’s do the positives first. Yes, the Mike Zeck art still looks great. He’s one of those artists who I loved (because of this series!) at exactly the right age for his version of characters — most notably Wolverine and Captain America — to be iconic for me; they just look “right” in a way that other artists can’t manage. And yet, re-reading the series as an adult, I was struck by how odd his art was for the time; more cartoony, and bold in a way that happily reduced characters to little more than balloon-people when the scale or scene needed something like that to work. There’s a lot of Kirby in there, but not in the finish; it’s all in the structure, and everything that happens underneath the surface. It only makes sense that Shooter grabbed him for the book, because he provides art that “feels” like Marvel in some strange, indefinable way, even if he never quite seemed to understand female anatomy (or, perhaps, because of that…).

The basic concept, too, remains a wonderful one, if an entirely unoriginal one. For me, it’s a very 1960s Star Trek concept, specifically: a being of omnipotent power kidnaps heroes and villains to try and understand such Earth concepts of good and evil — it’s basically “The Savage Curtain” from the third season of the 1960s show, but with superpowers, but I’m sure there’re earlier iterations that I’m not familiar with. Nonetheless, it’s solid and provides not just a McGuffin for the series, but also a reason for the “Wars” in question to be “Secret”; no-one else on Earth even knows they’re happening.

SecretWars

Unfortunately, that’s about it for things to really love in the writing as an adult. While Secret Wars bypasses most of the misogyny of Shooter’s Avengers — although the Wasp is just appallingly portrayed throughout, and the subplot surrounding alien healer Zsaji is… problematic at best (She makes men fall in love with them when she heals them, because… well, okay, I got nothing outside of Shooter’s male paranoia. Worse yet, having created that idea, he then proceeds to do nothing of interest with it, choosing instead to opt for cheap soap operatics) — it’s still not particularly any good; characters’ actions are defined by the plot’s requirements, and their dialogue is interchangeable exposition for the most part. The extensive cast is almost entirely wasted — the villains especially — underscoring the cynical reading that they were only there to make up the numbers for later toy development, and what little plot beyond “They’re on an alien planet, they fight” there is is actively stolen from a Lee and Kirby Fantastic Four storyline.

More than anything else, re-reading Secret Wars didn’t make me feel as if it was bad, per se — although it definitely is — but that it was lazy and had little ambition beyond shifting product. Despite the potential the kid-me saw in the basic idea of all these characters in the same place at the same time, holy crap, the finished series is almost impressively humdrum, happy to go through the motions of creating something that has no lasting impact or reason to exist beyond setting up storylines in other series and selling lots of comics.

In that respect, it feels entirely appropriate that it’s being revived for next year’s Big Marvel Event. In so many ways, it’s very much the spiritual father of everything that these storylines have become for both Marvel and DC.

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As I said on the last podcast, I’m a big fan of Valiant’s output, and have been since they relaunched a couple years back. Apparently, though, I’m not a fan to be up to date with their books, which is how I ended up with the entire Armor Hunters crossover to catch-up on this weekend. After three smaller, quasi-crossovers (Harbinger Wars, Unity and Mission: Improbable), did Valiant manage to get a crossover right?

Armor Hunters #1-4 & Armor Hunters: Aftermath: The basic plot of the Armor Hunters crossover is, in fact, very basic, amounting to little more than “That alien armor Aric is wearing over in X-O Manowar? Other aliens are prepared to destroy the Earth to ensure that he stops wearing it. Our guys have to stop them.” The surprising thing about the series isn’t that there’s a last-minute twist, but that such a simple plot holds up surprisingly well across the four issues of the main series.

armorhunters1

Nothing in the book is especially groundbreaking, with many elements feeling familiar to anyone who’s read enough superhero crossovers up to this point. “Hey, remember when Vandal Savage destroyed Montevideo in DC One Million? The Armor Hunters have destroyed Mexico City!” and so on. Yet, it entirely works; the story moves along briskly, with enough subtle drop-outs to set up crossovers for the other series. There’s enough action to satisfy the fans who come for this kind of thing, but also enough moving pieces to prevent it from becoming just a series of fight scenes over and over again for four issues.

For me, I would’ve said that there was maybe not enough of a grounding in the Valiant universe for new readers, but Al Kennedy from the late, lamented House to Astonish podcast told me that he tried it as a newcomer and it made him want to try out other Valiant titles, so what do I know? Well, this — as well-written as the series is for the most part, the Armor Hunters of the title aren’t really that interesting, or developed enough. They have vague motivations that get sketched in elsewhere for the most part, but I do kind of wish more had been done with them. (Of course, considering two of them — interestingly, the only two female characters of the team — survived to fight again, perhaps we’ll get to see more done with them after all.)

For the most part, though: As the spine of a crossover event, Armor Hunters boasts pretty tight script by Robert Venditti and Doug Braithwaite being Doug Braithwaite (which is to say, he’s not really to my taste, but he does what he does well). Overall, a success, then.

X-O Manowar #26-29: Also written by Venditti, this book follows the format seen in recent DC and Marvel events where the “core” series the event stems from becomes, essentially, “the untold backstory” for the duration, filling in events that explain things seen in the main title but not properly explored. In these four issues, it’s Venditti (and artist Diego Bernard, offering up uneven if not ugly work for the most part) telling the story of Primary Reebo — leader of the Armor Hunters — and how he got to be where he is by the story of the main series.

Well, that’s not entirely true; that’s what it is for three of those issues. In the fourth, there’s a swerve and it follows Malgam, the prey of the Armor Hunters (and a former Armor Hunter himself) in the aftermath of the main series. It’s an odd move, which in one sense pays off some of the earlier story but nonetheless feels like you’ve missed an issue in between. Across all four issues, there’s a sense of — not being unnecessary, exactly, but being inessential to the overall story. It’s nice to know where Reebo came from, but he was already one of the more developed villains in the core title. Despite Armor Hunters being very clearly an X-O Manowar-centric event, the actual issues of the series feel enjoyable but somewhat disposable, in the end.

Unity #8-11: That said, the Unity issues feel even more disposable. They’re written by Matt Kindt, who also wrote the massively missed opportunity that were the Forever Evil-tie-in issues of Justice League of America, which makes me wonder if there’s something about crossovers that psychs him out for some reason (Art is by Stephen Segovia, who brings a Lenil Yu-esque look to proceedings, if lacking some of Yu’s particular foibles).

Like the JLA issues, there’s very much a sense that Kindt is aware that he’s playing with characters who are needed elsewhere at certain points in the story. As a result, he uses them so cautiously that it almost saps all tension from the story. There’s no true sense of danger, nor momentum, in these comics — instead, you feel like everything is just filler between the “more important” other issues, which is the very worst feeling you can have from a comic.

Interestingly enough, the end of the Armor Hunters: Aftermath issue seems to point at a new status quo for the Unity book, just a year after its launch. If it’s something that can provide stability, purpose and definition for a title that’s been surprisingly wobbly since the end of its first arc, that can only been a good thing.

3978729-01Armor Hunters: Bloodshot #1-3: In many ways, the Bloodshot mini does everything I wanted from the Unity issues — it tells a story within a story, something that feels complete (or, really, complete enough) yet slots easily within the larger event. That’s particularly impressive considering that there’s a bunch of heavy lifting writer Joe Harris has to do in here, regarding the status quo of Bloodshot following the end of his last series and setting up what’s to follow. Yet it looks, if not effortless, than at least seamless — the flashbacks feeling relatively organic even if the main plot feels very out-of-sorts with what could be expected from a Bloodshot story.

I mean that last part in a good way: I’m always surprised that more comic book crossovers don’t play with that idea more often. We don’t get “Bloodshot versus aliens” stories often, so why not play up the ways in which it feels incongruous? That’s part of the joy of this series — that what’s happening is so unusual for the character, and his response is essentially “I’m going to shoot everything a lot and hope for the best.” The fact that so many crossovers are based around big events that are supposed to feel unusual and momentous should be played up like this more often, I feel. More crossover issues should have a feeling of what the hell is going on?

Artwise, Trevor Hairsine provides very Trevor Hairsine-y work, which works better here than on many books I’ve seen him on. There’s something simultaneously sharp and grimy about his work that often rubs me the wrong way, but on a series about a nanite-filled killing machine taking on alien invaders, that’s entirely fitting. What might seem ugly or inhuman about his characters elsewhere feels right. All told, it’s a pretty great little series.

Armor Hunters: Harbinger #1-3: Meanwhile, Joshua Dysart turns the three-part Harbinger mini into something that’s as much a second Harbinger book as it is part of the crossover. With the team split up as the result of events in the main title’s “Death of a Renegade” storyline, this series follows half of the remaining team while the simultaneous Harbinger: Omega series follows the other half, and for anyone who enjoys the regular Harbinger series, it’s everything they could want.

It’s maybe the series that works the best out of all the Armor Hunters books — separate enough from the event to stand alone if you want it to (None of the characters appear in the main title, the only crossover in which that’s the case), and also a story that works entirely outside of the main series from beginning to end as long as you grant it the “Something has happened in Mexico” gimme at the start. Everything you need is in these three issues, including introductions to the main characters in this series and also a complete story arc that advances characters and larger developments from the Harbinger series proper without feeling like an excerpt of something larger.

Harbinger has, for awhile, for me, seemed like the book that Marvel’s Ultimate X-Men should have been — something that takes the trope of “gifted children” and successfully updates it into a series that feels genuinely contemporary and, as a result, uncertain and unwilling to settle into set patterns. Across the two-and-a-bit year run to date, it’s been something that plays with ideas and status quos, flirting with expectations before flipping them over and moving on to something else.

This mini continues that: it’s arguably a play on the idea of the superhero as emergency response, but something that explores that concept from a couple of directions and avoids either endorsing or refuting the idea in its entirety. I enjoyed it so much that I went back and re-read the entire Harbinger run as a result, and finished it wanting more. More than anything else, Harbinger might be the Valiant book that makes me feel as if the publisher is doing superheroes “right” while others have trouble doing the same. Armor Hunters: Harbinger is a good example of why this is true.

All in all, then, the Armor Hunters event worked pretty well, despite a couple of weak spots and Unity’s continued shakiness. It’s not the greatest crossover event superhero comics has ever seen — that’s still Millennium or DC One Million, for my money — but it is something that doesn’t outstay its welcome, offers a reasonable introductory point for all series involved with the potential exception of Unity, and is pretty fun to boot. When it comes down to it, that feels like a win in my book.

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