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Trouble with Comics

Avengers Vs. X-Men #12

Story: Marvel Hivemind

Script: Jason Aaron

Artist: Andy Kubert

And so Marvel’s latest carnival ride grinds to a halt, creaking with metal fatigue, bolts scattered across the fairgrounds. I don’t know if it’s the long or short straw, but Aaron draws the one making him wrap it up.

In full disclosure, I haven’t technically read all of this series. That is, I’ve read the bulk of every issue, but as of #7, I’ve been skipping pages, and it turns out it doesn’t really make much difference. The reason is that, like so many pamphlets these days, there’s not enough story to justify its length. We get some of that even in this ultimate issue, with several pages of unimportant heroes flying around to no purpose, without dialogue. Early in the series, you could kind of get away with this kind of thing, but by now we all know that anything Nova or Avengers Academy do will contribute fuck-all to stopping Dark Cyclops.

Speaking of whom, when Cyclops ends up as a visorless, enflamed figure with what appears to be a glowing toilet seat around his neck, you just know that mistakes were made. I had been wondering for years why nobody seemed to “get” Cyclops, such a potentially interesting character. Had anyone got right what a self-righteous prig marrying a former villain might be like? Did Cyclops ever try to be a better brother? A better son to Xavier? No, for the past few years, he’s just been the dictator of his own island, arguably a worse leader than Magneto was for Genosha. A guy who never considered that he might be wrong, that other methods might work better. And now he’s just a big bunch of power in human shape.

Much of a film’s success has to do with its editing. We don’t think about it in terms of comics that much, except in cases like this, where the scenes are sequenced in such a way as to make several pages les interesting than they should have been. That is, we see Hope turn on Scarlet Witch, and the next thing we see, they’re going up against Cyclops. THEN, we get several pages of them fighting and then learning to work together, and nobody cares by then. Add to that that, let’s face it, it’s a little late in the game to explore the very understandable conflict between the last hope of mutantkind and the mutant who made her necessary. I can’t entirely blame Aaron, since several Marvel writers plotted this whole thing, but there’s more thought put into nonsense like Hope mimicking Scarlet Witch’s hex ability and combining it into the Iron Fist, than in exploring how any of these characters might feel about all this crazy stuff going on.

The denouement has elements of a good scene between Captain America and the now-incarcerated Cyclops, where Cyclops at first expresses some remorse over killing Professor Xavier, but then rationalizes his actions as a win for mutant kind, since Cap is going to form a new, mutant-heavy Avengers and do more to forward the cause for peace and understanding. Perhaps due to crosscutting between panels of other developments in the superhero world, Aaron never pulls together the scene coherently. It’s just crap banged into publishable shape quickly. Andy Kubert has never been and never will be an A-list artist, but at least starts off okay in this one, with a polish that’s probably more to do with whoever inked those pages, before obviously grinding it out at the end. If this was a baseball game, you’re supposed to put in your closer in the 9th, not the 6th inning journeyman reliever. Well, what was a basically sound story at its core was botched and stretched and padded until it lost all meaning and momentum. But maybe down the road, a movie or cartoon will use this, cut the fat, and make it actually work. 

—Christopher Allen

Flashpoint #1 (and Flash #11 & 12)

Writer - Geoff Johns

Artist - Andy Kubert (Scott Kolins and Francis Manapul on Flash #11 & 12)

Publisher - DC Comics. $3.99 USD.

I try to be fair. I cop to not being a Geoff Johns fan, but I like the Flash and I like alternate reality stories, so I thought I’d give Flashpoint a try. And to be fair, I figured I’d read a couple issues of The Flash, since it leads into the story. So here we go with #11, and it honestly only takes three pages before I flip out. A red-haired kid, who’s witness to somebody aging at an alarming rate, hasn’t given his story yet. Barry Allen, who I always thought was more of a CSI type, is apparently running the investigation, so he tells a bespectacled female coworker to talk to him. She takes the kid, who by the way is wearing a red and yellow shirt, so with the red hair you know he’s probably going to be a new Impulse or something soon, off to the cafeteria. Another detective asks Barry, “You really think it’s smart to hand over this witness to a wallflower like Patty Spivot?”

Now, I let Barry’s “How did someone age eighty-plus years in a matter of seconds…And why would they do it?” slide, even though in the context of the scene the how and why meant exactly the same thing. But this line really threw me. “Wallflower?” Really, Geoff Johns? Just because your story involves unnatural aging doesn’t mean you’re supposed to write like Stan Lee in 1963. If, somehow, this comic was slipped under the white door of Steve Ditko’s apartment, he would read this and go, “Wallflower? Isn’t that expression kind of outdated?” And this is a guy who still thinks men wear fedoras. Does Johns even know what wallflower means? Is Patty’s inability to dance in public going to cause the witness to clam up? (Clam up is also an antiquated phrase, but we actually still have clams in 2011, and they do close up tightly, so living people can figure out what it means)

Of course, what Johns is trying to do is cram two idea-dicks into one vaginal dialogue balloon (known in the comics industry as DP), which is that Patty, this character with a last name that sounds like a plumbing fixture, is 1) a nerd, and 2) as a nerd, not to be trusted with the important child witness. But why? What’s wrong with the plain Jane policewoman? Should only Type A hard-on cops be grilling a scared-to-death kid? It makes absolutely no sense. 

Things get a little better with The Flash #12, although Johns treats Barry Allen’s goodness as a kind of virus that makes not only him but everyone around him earnest and boring. We get an intervention from wife Iris and other speedy types, because Barry’s been working too hard (guys—he was vibrating in another dimension for years, cut him some slack), and then in #12 there’s a lot of touch-feely with Barry admitting he’s still upset about his mother’s death, but Iris is there for him, and then there’s a douchey scene with Barry telling Patty he just wants to be friends, because of course the hero with no testosterone or sex drive is going to be irresistible to his female coworkers, blah blah blah. Johns is certainly not alone in this, but there’s just a very programmed feeling about the whole thing, like he’s just hitting plot points but without bringing any life experience, insight, humor or life to them. Surely someone has had a heart-to-heart with Johns about something, and maybe it wasn’t over coffee and involving lots of hand-holding? Maybe it was in a cab, or while brushing teeth before lights out, or something not so Hallmark/Lifetimey about it. Surely he knows what it’s like to have let someone know he’s not as into them as they are into him? You could have done this with other characters interrupting, to increase the awkwardness, or with both of them trying to work at the same time, or something not so damn pat and flat. 

I’m not saying Johns is without feeling, because clearly he’s a very loyal guy, keeping Scott Kolins around despite the artist’s work deteriorating over the years into a stiffness in his figures he didn’t have a decade ago. If you want an argument against digital pencils, it’s Scott Kolins, and it doesn’t help that the coloring is similar to ads for roast turkey, where the meat is sprayed to look browner and shinier than real life. 

I don’t mean this as a nonstop rip on Johns, because it would be ridiculous to suggest a guy who has reached his level of success can’t write a decent comic now and then, and as it happens, Flashpoint #1 is prettty good. I say this with some qualification, though, as it’s not that hard to make the first issue of an alternate reality superhero comic work. You change the status quo as much as possible, have dead characters now alive and/or living ones dead, and present plenty of different costumes and codenames. Johns does all this, and it’s perfectly fine. As with Johns’ past successes, he’s looking to give some second-tier characters as much attention and chances to shine as the big names, so here we have Cyborg as the leader of the ragtag resistance force against the two threats to civilization, Aquaman and Wonder Woman. Does it really matter why The Question is called The Outsider here, and looks different, or why Thomas Wayne is the Batman? No, because this will all be wrapped up and put right in five issues. Am I interested in finding out the answers? Yeah, kinda. I do think Johns could have bucked convention, and his own dark impulses, and presented an alternate reality as less grim than the regular DCU reality. It might have been fresher for the heroes to be a little more naive, to not have experienced such darkness, so that the Aquaman/Wonder Woman invasions would hit them that much harder. It’s okay, though. Andy Kubert has gotten way too fussy with drapery and other faces, though. It’s like a Greg Capullo issue of Spawn or something.

—Christopher Allen