THIS WEEK'S REVIEWS:
The Mighty Thor #1
Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven
Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake: Card Wars #5
Ms. Marvel Volume 3: Crushed
Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition Volume 1 HC
The Mighty Thor #1
By Adam X. Smith
Is it bad that Thor comics have never really been my bag? I've always been a big fan of ancient history and mythology, and my limited knowledge of the Norse mythos means that I'm able to follow along more or less whenever the Son of Odin pops up, but the sheer deluge of back-story, retcons and tweaks of the formula of the series – plus the fact that the film continuity is both technically more streamlined and yet also complicated enough on it's own at the same time – has always made me a little wary of jumping on.
So predictably, with the advent of a new number one issue of The Mighty Thor and a (sort-of, I guess) clean opening for the now firmly established female variant of Thor (spoiler alert for those even later to the party than me: it's Jane Foster), I figured it was time to find out what the fuss is about.
So apparently Jane Foster is not only Thor, she is currently dying of cancer, and since her repeated transformations into the thunder god scrub the chemotherapy (but not the cancer) out of her system each time she wields Mjolnir, she's apparently got a much more limited lifespan than anyone seems to suspect; being a hero is, in fact, slowly killing her. But there are graver problems – the dismembered bodies of Light Elves (distinct from Dark Elves by skin colour, unlike the film which… never really got into all of that, probably for good reason) are raining down on Earth, causing one of Roxxon's weather satellites* to almost crash land in the middle of Washington DC; whilst their respective senators squabble and collude Phantom Menace-style, war between the Ten Realms seems inevitable with Jane, as Midgard's representative, having her testimony fobbed off due to her condition; Queen Freyja is under house-arrest and Odin is holed up and apparently is a major dickhole now; and somewhere, a cadre of familiar (and less so) villains are planning to exact sweet revenge on the Goddess of Thunder.
Since, as I said, I'm not really a good judge of how this stacks up against previous Thor comics and storylines, I guess the metric of whether or not this succeeds as a revamp is whether it makes me want to read more, and the answer to that is a pretty firm yes. Jason Aaron's script keeps the cod-Shakespearean dialogue just this end of readable, and Russell Dauterman and Matthew Wilson's art captures both the surreal majesty of Asgardia (that's what we're calling it now? Fine, whatever) whilst balancing it against the harsh reality of hospital corridors, and the series is seeded with little details like the wanted posters accusing Femme-Thor of being a "false" god mirroring the character's real-life dismissal by certain "fans".
I have neither the energy nor the inclination to get into a pissing contest on the relative merits of Lady Thor as a character – all I care about is whether her story is interesting. And it is, on many levels. For the longest time, I never, ever understood the point of Thor changing back and forth between his God of Thunder and puny Donald Blake personas, and sure enough we've found ways around that in alternate realities and continuities or just written it out lock stock and barrel as in the cinematic universe's continuity and saved the filmmakers a whole steaming pile of exposition and awkwardness in the process. But now, the transformation and its consequences are not only relevant but integral to the drama of the character – Jane could stay in the form of Thor permanently, but Jane has responsibilities – to Earth, to Freyja, to the Ten Realms' tenuous grip on peace and democracy. She cannot permanently abandon her humanity, even if her flesh is slowly betraying her.
The Mighty Thor #1 has achieved what very few comics have been able to – it has made me invest emotionally in someone who has thunder in their veins.
Oh, and also Loki pops up at the end. And he's evil again, apparently. And also looks like mid-90s Dave Gahan for some reason.
Adam X. Smith is surprised that more people aren't going nuts for Trish Walker; seriously, Marvel, if you take away one thing from this, give Hellcat a new series right f-cking now.
*So Roxxon is basically Fox News and Exxon-Mobil, with the added factor of being able to control the weather?
Andre the Giant: Closer to Heaven (IDW/Lion Forge, $12.99)
By Cat Taylor
I never knew Andre the Giant personally, and I assume the writer of this biographical comic, Brandon Easton, didn't either. Yet, he tells this story in first-person in such a way that it was easy to imagine it was written by Andre himself. As a young wrestling fan during the World Wrestling Federation explosion, I experienced the legacy of Andre the Giant from an outsider's perspective. Therefore, where moments like the first three Wrestlemanias and Andre's appearance in the Princess Bride are concerned, I can attest that Easton and artist, Denis Medri, nailed them perfectly. However, like any good biography, this story goes far beyond the Andre the Giant of the public eye. Events like Andre's childhood, his personal life, and behind the scenes dealings are covered as well. It seems that Easton did extensive research to find the details of these moments, and most particularly, conversations. Although, with Andre having died many years ago, one has to understand that Easton's research could only include second-hand sources and the perspectives of people around the events other than Andre. Regardless, the story that's told here feels like the truth and is probably as accurate as possible.
While Easton's words are the primary driving force of this comic, Medri's drawings bring those words to life. He has a blocky, angular style that reminds me of caricature artists like those who have worked for Mad magazine and a lot of political satire cartoonists. Like those satirists, Medri captures the unique look of his subjects, especially the star of the story himself. In addition, Medri is good at illustrating both the wrestling action and the quiet moments. Those quieter times are especially important since, despite this being the story of a professional wrestler, they dominate the comic. Medri also makes an interesting choice in his colors, choosing a palette of sepia tones that gives the whole book the appearance of a really old historical tale. I guess the 1980s did happen longer ago than I care to admit.
Anyone with even a mild interest in Andre the Giant should find a lot to enjoy about this bio-comic. Not only are the details alone worth reading but Easton and Medri give great respect to Andre's impact and legacy. Even though they don't avoid some of his less than savory moments, they do skip over what I remember as his embarrassingly hard-to-watch final years of wrestling. In those last years the WWF turned him into a jobber for the Ultimate Warrior, and later they kept trotting him out to the ring when he could barely stand, much less move. In the end, he didn't do much more than stand in the corner holding onto the ropes for support while his tag team partner, Haku, worked 99% of the match. It was sad to see, and is avoided in this book, giving the Andre the Giant story a dignified ending and leaving readers with something in their eyes.
Cat Taylor has been reading comics since the 1970s. Some of his favorite writers are Alan Moore, Neil Gaiman, Peter Bagge, and Kurt Busiek. Prior to writing about comics, Taylor performed in punk rock bands and on the outlaw professional wrestling circuit. Thanksgiving is the only time of year when the turkeys I deal with aren't jive turkeys. You can e-mail Cat at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Oh, How Adam X. Smith Loves the NICE LADIES! : Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake: Card Wars #5, Ms. Marvel Volume 3: Crushed, Lumberjanes: To the Max Edition Volume 1 HC
By Adam X. Smith
So once again eBay and the British postal service conspire to foil my plans for world domination (and, y'know, reading the comics I want to write about), and so I'm forced to improvise. However, as Groucho Marx once said, it's a wise man that profits by his previous mistakes, and this time I've been rooting around through the press copies and scouring the local Waterstones. Whilst most of this material probably doesn't count strictly as "brand new", I'm reading it for the first time so screw anyone who has a problem with that. Also, I would be reviewing the reprinted Alias Volume 1 but I'm buggered if I'm paying Waterstones prices for something I could breeze through in a couple of hours.
It's the ladies, the ladies, whut-whut, the LAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAAY-DIEEEEEEEEEEEEEEES!
Catching back up with Adventure Time with Fionna and Cake: Card Wars after a few issues have passed has proven oddly satisfying. I've never been into the whole Magic The Gathering scene or any of the like, so I kind of felt like it was a topic somewhat out of my interest niche, but then there was a time when I wouldn't have given Adventure Time the… well, time of day.
Picking up at the tournament, Cake has rather let the promise of being a champion go to her head, and the strain it has placed on her friendship with Fionna is starting to show. When injured in a game by Marshall Lee, all seems lost, until she utilises a magic gauntlet Fionna had given her as a gift to turn the tide of the match. However, it soon becomes apparent that the real Big Bad was not Marshall Lee but instead… Old Man Wickles?! No, wait I f-cked that up… Prince Gumball?!
Okay, Card Wars isn't exactly complex. It's got a straightforward message, its art by Britt Wilson is really funny and endearing and Jen Wang still really gets the dialogue and style of the show down to a tee. It does a standup job of expanding the universe of the show in a way that's accessible to readers young and old, fans and non-fans alike. It kind of doesn't need to reinvent the wheel, since the wheel in this case is made of candy floss and randomness.
Ms. Marvel, on the other hand, continues to break the mould in so many ways, it's startling that no-one's really thought to try this before. Having gone through the obligatory origin story in the first volume and challenged the existential generation gap subtext in the second whilst horsing around with Wolverine and Lockjaw, the third volume gets down to a good old fashioned teen romance.
Wait, wait! There's more to it than that, obviously. Best friend Bruno is being friendzoned (though he's at least self-aware enough to realise how stupid that phrase is) as Kamala, in spite of herself and her own misgivings, develops a fast and hard crush on Kamran, a friend of the family who, oddly enough, turns out to be an Inhuman as well with his own set of energy based powers, like a dreamy Pakistani version of Gambit.
However, unlike Gambit (well, depending who's writing him, I guess), Kamran turns out to be a member of a growing band of extremists within New Attilan, led by former crime boss turned mastermind Lineage. Faced with not only getting her heart broken for the first time but also a potent reminder of the ever-present nature of extremism within both her civilian and superhero life, Kamala is forced to kick ass and take names, but there's a lighter side to this volume: the first chapter/issue sees her have an encounter with Loki during his Agent of Asgard stint, in which he bewitches the punch at her high school dance and turns Valentine's Day into a melee, whilst issue #2 of S.H.I.E.L.D. by Mark Waid and Humberto Ramos acts as an epilogue, with Coulson and Simmons being forced to infiltrate the high school to retrieve a cache of stolen supervillain equipment, and reluctantly team up with Kamala to stop out of control armaments and living pizza dough monster (don't ask) from destroying it.
Serious talk, folks: you will never know joy in life, until you get to write the words "living pizza dough monster", and I thank every day that G. Willow Wilson is out there making comics about a Muslim-American girl who lives in a world where anything is possible.*
And then, ladies and germs, there was Lumberjanes.
Oh, Lumberjanes. Where oh where have you been all my life?
It will surprise no-one (least of all my colleagues who have read and reviewed it in passing lo these many moons) that Lumberjanes is precisely my cup of piping hot English Breakfast tea – perky, sweet, and preferably with a spoon in it.
Set in a reality that seems to somewhere between the pastel shaded bubblegum of Scott Pilgrim and Steven Universe and the rich earthy tones of Gravity Falls or Regular Show, with a little bit of the weirdness, cuteness, weird cuteness and cute weirdness of all of the above, we get a whole mess of adventurous characters to choose from, running the gamut from the cool and analytical Jo through the petite but feisty April, resourceful but self-conscious Molly, aggro punk Mal, stick-in-the-mud Jen to Ripley who is just… there aren't words for what Ripley is.
And then there's Rosie, a sort of Madame Foster-esque scout-master with muscles, tattoos and more going on under the surface than she lets on.
So… well, you see…
Man, I just really like this book. I'm serious, I stayed up all night reading this thing and enjoyed every second, so I'm not even gonna lie, this is making me seriously consider breaking my usual habit of trade-waiting and hunting down the rest of series. I mean, it helps that I can just grab them out of Boom! Studios' press archive, but there's a reason I'm considering doing it for this series and not Hacktivist: because Hacktivist is boring and dumb, the characters are hatefully dull and unrelatable, and it's trying to talk about terrorism and cyber-warfare and stuff when, for all its good intentions, it doesn't really seem to get the topic its writing about.
Lumberjanes, though, gets it. It gets being a kid, exploring, camping, having adventures with friends. And in a world where so much of children's lives and choices are still regimented by arbitrary distinctions like age, class, race and gender, the creators of this series completely get what it means to be on the cusp of womanhood in this generation.
And honestly, I kinda needed that sense of optimism right now.
Adam X. Smith doesn't have anything particularly funny to say this week. He does have an in-depth look at the origins of Harley Quinn over on @ElectrolyteMag, though.
*Yes, I know Mark Waid wrote it – shut up.