Trouble with Comics

Daily Breakdowns 088 - 1s for the Team

Quick looks at a few first issues of team books from this week and last.

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis #1

Writer - Warren Ellis. Artist - Kaare Andrews. Marvel Comics.

There are a couple nice things going on in this miniseries. First, Ellis does a good job grounding the X-Men in our heartbreaking world, in this case dropping some depressing African recent history. At the same time, he brings the strange with the X-Men’s mission, which is to investigate a run of supposed mutant births in a small, fictional African country. The reports of some of the weird births set up that Andrews may have some cool things to draw next issue.

Where the book doesn’t work as well is, well, the choice of Andrews. Actually, put me down as undecided for now. Let’s just say that if Ellis is going to make any kind of statement on Africa, or poverty, or children with special needs or any serious issue that could spring up, then Andrews’ exaggerated, kinky style will really clash and undermine the story. If, now that the facts have been relayed, we’re heading into fairly typical superhero terrain, then sure, I’m down for all the innuendos about Scott being turned on by Emma’s fake British accent, Emma smashing her breasts on the table for Wolverine’s benefit, and whatever else Ellis and Andrews cook up. It’s a miniseries, go nuts.

Avengers (v4) #1

Writer - Brian Michael Bendis. Pencils - John Romita, Jr. Inks - Klaus Janson. Marvel Comics.

This relaunch succeeded and disappointed in ways I wasn’t expecting. Bendis is more admired for his dialogue than plotting, but I thought this was pretty flat. Aside from some characters like Hawkeye developing that Bendis stammer, no one is written out of character, per se, but there aren’t any juicy exchanges, either. Steve Rogers has decided that Tony Stark/Iron Man needs to be an Avenger again, and so he’s burying the hatchet, and leaving the day-to-day to Maria Hill. Two people he’s had major issues with in the recent past. Sure, it says something about Rogers’ character, but it also reduces the dramatic opportunities here. In fact, the issue really reeks of wanting to forget about the last few years and just get onto being a big superteam book again, with everyone working together. A change in tone and an attempt at a fresh start for new or returning readers are both sensible, but it still feels abrupt. Hawkeye is Hawkeye again, casting aside the Ronin guise as the gimmick it was with a self-conscious exchange with Spider-Man about the sudden shift. Speaking of Spider-Man, as Bendis has shown an affinity for writing him before, I confess I just don’t get why he chooses to just make him the comic relief here, with a really annoying compulsion to make a “humorous” comment every minute. I get that he’s not as powerful as some of the heroes here (though more powerful than Hawkeye, Rogers or Spider-Woman), but shouldn’t he instead be played as the never-give-up guy? Especially with Rogers stepping aside to run the Secret Avengers, Spidey should be the heart of this team. 

I really don’t tire of the combination of Romita, Jr. and Janson. Always good.

Legion of Super-Heroes (v6) #1

Writer - Paul Levitz. Penciler - Yildiray Cinar. Inker - Wayne Faucher. DC Comics.

The first LOSH story I read was Levitz and Giffen’s “Great Darkness Saga,” and I liked it, but over the years I’ve only been a sporadic reader and never lasted all that long. It’s kind of interesting after a big chunk of my comics-reading life to be considering Levitz as just another freelance writer rather than as the frustrating guy running DC Comics. 

While Cinar is serviceable, I really think this book needs someone more exciting and distinctive for it to have a chance, especially when Levitz’ writing is decidedly old school. That’s not such a bad thing, as he packs a lot of story in this double-sized issue, with nary a full-page spread, and he makes decent use of declasse’ thought balloons as well as the convenient little floating boxes that identify the various Legionnaires by codename, real name, home planet and superpower(s). At the same time, nobody stands out here but Saturn Girl, who was just settling in for a good tantrum over her jerk husband when her planet is attacked and twin sons kidnapped. You’d be a sympathetic character if either of these things happened to you. I can’t say there’s a whole lot to hook me here, but I may give it another issue or two.

—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