Trouble with Comics

Marvel What Now?

Entertainment Weekly has the exclusive news on Marvel Now!, the wave of relaunched series in the wake of Marvel Comics’ latest hit comics event, Avengers vs. X-Men. The facts as presented in the article: At least three new or relaunched books, including Avengers by Jonathan Hickman and Jerome Opena, Uncanny Avengers by Rick Remender and John Cassaday, and All-New X-Men by Brian Michael Bendis and Stuart Immonen. Avengers will be twice-monthly. Avengers has the largest team, up to 18 characters for Hickman to work with, including what may be for some a surprising choice, Shang-Chi, Master of Kung-Fu. Uncanny presents a Captain America-led team of Avengers that includes some mutants, as Cap realizes he didn’t do enough for them before. And All-New finds the original X-Men of Cyclops, Beast, Angel, Iceman and Marvel Girl Jean Grey plucked right out of their youthful, Xavier Academy days and plopped down in a future (our present) more horrible than their worst fears, and seeing adult versions of themselves they don’t want to become. The new titles will spell an end for Bendis on the Avengers franchise, an end for Hickman on his Fantastic Four and F.F. titles, and an upgraded status for Remender.

So what to make of all this? Well, the optimistic side of me that read nearly all of DC’s New 52 titles when they began has kind of gone back in his hole like a groundhog. Editor-in-Chief Axel Alonso is quoted as saying he likes to take creators out of their comfort zone, but that seems a little disingenuous to me. He’s taking talent he’s familiar with, who have been writing team books for Marvel for years, and just playing some musical chairs. I sure didn’t see Alonso goosing Bendis out of his comfort zone during his much-too-long run on the various Avengers, taking a, “if it’s breaking but still sells, don’t fix it” approach. I still think he has his moments, but try to read New Avengers and tell me he isn’t just marking time. And as much as I like Stuart Immonen, I’d rather they put Bendis outside his comfort zone with a new artist he’s not that familiar with. I realize these two have sold a lot of books together, but at the same time, I think it’s harder to sell this as something “all-new” with the same Bendis/Immonen lineup. The premise for All-New X-Men is different, but I’m not sure I want to spend $24 on a first arc where Jean Grey & Co learn about the internet. It also begs the question of just how long ago they were supposed to be kids, for the world to have changed this much. 

I think Hickman is a good writer when he keeps characters in mind more than conspiracies and complicated history, so a huge cast for Avengers sounds like it could be troublesome. But I like Opena and have pretty high hopes for this one. As for Remender, I think he’s pretty good as well, though I’m a little surprised he has what is called in the article the flagship book. How is Uncanny Avengers and not Avengers the flagship Avengers book? I think the answer starts with John and ends with Cassaday, as it seems the talented artist wants to sequential art again after the last four years or so mainly provide covers for Dynamite Entertainment and others. Cassaday is always worth a look, and I like that he’s working with what I believe is a new writer for him. As far as the concept, with its mix of both Avengers and X-Men villains, including a rebooted Red Skull clone by Arnim Zola with his ’40s Nazi mindset, it sounds like it could be a lot of fun. Remender is good at goofy, over-the-top stuff, and after eight years of mostly talky Avengers ribbing each other at the dinner table, I’m ready for some crazy stuff.

What does it mean for the rest of Marvel? I’m sure we’ll hear more soon, at SDCC and elsewhere. I would guess New Avengers is gone, replaced by the twice-monthly Avengers, and Secret Avengers (which Remender was writing) is probably gone as well, with some of those b-listers ending up in Avengers. Avengers Academy? Who knows? Hopefully if it goes, Cristos Gage will have other work lined up, as he’s done a good job on that book. What’s more interesting is what the effect is on solo Avengers books like Mighty Thor and Iron Man, and if there are changes coming to the X-Men books. How much or how little is Marvel architect Matt Fraction involved in Marvel Now? And depending on the outcome of AvX, there may be little reason to have Wolverine and Cyclops still at odds and with separate books. Finally, while Marvel still has a stronger talent pool than DC, they’ve taken a bit of a hit with Ed Brubaker now only writing one mostly stand-alone book, Winter Soldier, and folks like Bendis and Mark Millar who still sell books but who arguably were at their zenith several years ago, the question remains whether Marvel is going to keep bringing over fresh talent. Where’s the next Hickman? Is Cullen Bunn the next big guy, or will people unfavorably compare his Captain America to Brubaker’s?

—Christopher Allen

Shockrockets: We Have Ignition

Shockrockets: We Have Ignition HC

Writer - Kurt Busiek

Artist - Stuart Immonen

Publisher - IDW Publishing. $24.99 USD

Seeing this hardcover makes me feel, well, nostalgic. And it wasn’t so long ago. I started writing about comics about 2000, which is when this first came out. Kurt Busiek was riding high as a comics writer, going from strength to strength, from Marvels to his creator-owned Astro City, and I think this series was preceded by a fine one-shot called Superstar, also drawn by Immonen. This was part of a company called Gorilla, which was Busiek and Mark Waid and some other guys, trying to break away from Marvel and DC and the work-for-hire system and doing their own thing, sort of like the Image boys did, only with guys who could write well instead of draw really awesome tits and asses and thugs and chains and such. I rooted for them, but it ended quickly, as they just didn’t have the dough to make a go of it, popular though they were. 

It’s not that Shockrockets or the other Gorilla work was better or, let’s say, nobler, than superheroes. Look, this is about some futuristic flyboys. It’s genre entertainment like superheroes are. The charm is just that superheroes so overpower the comics landscape that any divergence is novel and worth nurturing. Busiek borrows from Star Wars and other stories to tell of Alejandro Cruz, a blue collar gearhead who wants not only a better life but a heroic, adventurous one, and the fates conspire to give him his chance when one of the Shockrockets, the hotshot elite squad of heroes piloting alien ships, dies. Cruz bonds with the ship, not unlike Abin Sur passing on the power of the Green Lantern to Hal Jordan, and he becomes a new, if insecure and mistrusted, rookie on the team, trying to prove his worth. 

The series is a trial by multiple fires for Cruz, as he not only must overcome emotional barriers in place for his teammates but he has to take on the big baddie, General Korda, a former hero who helped defend Earth from alien invaders but then went on to become a despot with his own country and advanced technology. 

Artist Immonen creates some state-of-the-art work for the time, incorporating manga spaceship design and lots of speedlines, while keeping it relatable to the fairly standard human characters who would not be out of place in any superhero book. It’s a fairly delicate balance and he does it well, although in retrospect the orange/blue color contrast becomes redundant early, and his choice of using black without white or color to depict eyeballs gets a little tiresome as well. He does excel at body language, though, and the facial expressions are rarely overplayed, so he should be commended for these.

Busiek does an able job of carrying off the main story and making Alejandro accessible. There is a sort of hernia in the middle of the book, where he breaks off to focus on another member of the Shockrockets. It’s a kind of bulge of the main story membrane, as if Busiek predicted an ongoing series that could support focuses on all the team, rather than the five issue, discrete miniseries. It’s a fine issue but in comparison to what looks to be all the Shockrockets we’re likely to see, it’s a digression that sort of tilts the book off its rather narrow axis for a time. But good is good, and if given the choice of four tightly plotted issues and four tightly plotted issues and one nice change of pace, I’ll take it. 

IDW’s production is stellar, and the pages look as good as they’ve ever looked. The bonus material isn’t lavish, just some preliminary sketchbook stuff from Immonen, but it’s nice, and makes one wish these two big talents can eventually make room in their schedules to work together again.

—Christopher Allen

Daily Breakdowns 067 - Swinging & Coming

So, we’ve moved to another home, but we’re still TWC, more or less. I’ve just been plugging away, focused a lot lately on the floppy end of comics, though there’s some other stuff in the works, and a very cool event planned for April. As far as this Tumblr, thing, it will take some getting used to. I don’t know how to encode links, or add images, but we’ll figure it out. I mean, I just watched (through buckets of tears) Roger Ebert on Oprah, and he still writes wonderfully, so who’s complaining?

Captain Swing & the Electrical Pirates of Cindery Island #1
Writer - Warren Ellis
Artist - Raulo Caceres
Publisher - Avatar Press
Price - $3.99 USD

Ellis has got a good thing going with Avatar. He reads a lot and has trained his mind to be able to convert any scientific news or history into an action adventure with the addition of profanity, perverse violence and an outrageous, antiauthoritarian hero/ine. Some people train their minds to always be thinking in poesy, some may automatically calculate the body fat of any person they encounter. There are worse things. I haven’t read a lot of Ellis’ Avatar stuff the past couple years, mostly his one-shots. Rarely am I not entertained and amused, but they do often leave you wanting more. This one is off to a decent enough start, with artist Caceres drawing the shit out of 1830s London and Londoners, every sooty brick and curly forelock. He’s really going above and beyond on what is so far a pretty thin introduction to a kooky pirate flying around in an electrical boat.

Most of the issue is an infodump on how the law enforcement of the time was divided into the Metropolitan Police, called “Peelers” after the name of their boss, and often too drunk to be effective, and the Bow Street Runners, who were subcontracted by magistrates to stop thieves and other criminals, and who were mostly criminals themselves. Neither answered to the other. All this is interesting, but much of the exposition is not organically worked into the comics pages but rather as interspersed text pages made to look like an old journal, and which we learn later is written by Captain Swing himself. Why he feels the need to write this much about the cops is anyone’s guess, but it seems more just a matter of convenience for Ellis, and at least his interest in electricity and other scientific advances of the day seems more genuine, given that he figured out how to basically ride lightning. Probably works better in a complete arc chunk, but of course if Avatar published original graphic novels that would deprive them of the income from several dozen single issue variant covers.

X-Men: Second Coming Prepare
Writer - Mike Carey
Artist - Stuart Immonen
Publisher - Marvel Comics
Price - FREE

Clearly, the X-Men haven’t been gone, so the idea of a “second coming” is just a marketing idea. It’s not a bad one, though; I’m one of those who haven’t read any X-books in a few years and with all the titles going I didn’t know where to start. There’s not a whole lot to say about this. You’ll notice it’s free, and Marvel isn’t going to give much away for free. It’s a cute storytelling exercise, with various X-Men submitting to brief camcorder interviews, reacting to the return from the future of Cable and Hope Summers. It was too brief to really judge how well Carey writes the characters, but Immonen’s art sure is pretty. There’s also a tedious for me/useful for some explanation of the Phoenix Force with lots of panels from comics featuring Phoenix.

—Christopher Allen