This Week's Reviews:
The Ultimates #1
Cyanide and Happiness: Stab Factory
All-New Wolverine #1
All-New Hawkeye #1
All-New Karnak #1
Secret Wars #7
Battleworld: Squadron Sinister #4
Battleworld: Thors #4
The Ultimates #1 (Marvel Comics, $3.99)
By Devon Sanders (@devonsanders)
After nearly 30 years, comics can still excite me.
The Ultimates #1 excites me. It is a comic bold in its thinking. It has the nerve to be as bold as anything that came before it. In that it occupies a wheelhouse not unlike The Fantastic Four. It is a comic that lays hands upon the vast wonders of the Marvel Universe and asks for a scalpel.
Dr. Adam Brashear, The Blue Marvel is very much aware. Aware that the universe has begun anew and that now, more than ever, this world has questions and he and other great men and women have answers. At his side, is Col. Carol Danvers, rocketing their ship towards a place few would dare. In New York City, The Black Panther, king of Wakanda has forged a new relationship with the United States and the world, rightly, has questions. His goal? To save the world before it needs saving again. On a distant planet, a teenager, Ms. America Chavez, who has watched realities die since she was a child stares into a new one and launches herself into battle while the former leader of Avengers, Spectrum, looks on and truly comprehends, for the first time, the incredible thing she's become a part of. They are all problem solvers and they are about to make contact with the end of all things… and ask it a question: "Shall we get started?"
Writer Al Ewing has written a stellar first issue full of wonder. It feels fresh and brand new and familiar all at the same time. From the first page on, Ewing launces the reader into the unknown and in this one issue, he's brought back something I didn't know I'd missed in my heroes: confidence. Ewing, in The Ultimates, has brought back unabashed surety to comics and I look forward to more.
Making this all sing is artist Kenneth Rocafort, making the cosmic as it should be: scary, frightening and something you can't take your eyes off of. Colorist Dan Brown absolutely brings it all home, perfectly enhancing the tone of every page with color palettes that add to the story being told within the page.
The Ultimates #1 is a celebration of all things Marvel. It is scary. It is brash. It the most Marvel thing I've read in a very long time.
Devon Sanders is facing front, True Believer. How about you?
Cyanide and Happiness: Stab Factory TP (Boom! Box, $14.99)
By Cat Taylor
If you have a Facebook account, you've probably seen some of the Cyanide and Happiness comics in your newsfeed. My Facebook friends keep clicking "like" and bam!, they show up in my newsfeed. Next to Bloom County, they're apparently the most popular online comics among my Facebook friends. If you've ever seen these comics, you would know it. The characters are barely more than stick figures and there are no backgrounds or any unnecessary elements beyond the characters themselves. If the humor didn't clearly require an "adult" sense of humor, you'd be forgiven for thinking they were drawn by a child. Maybe you and your friends have different senses of humor and you have no idea what I'm talking about. If that's the case then you will probably neither like nor appreciate Cyanide and Happiness. However, since one of the purposes of review columns is to familiarize readers with new things, I'll do my best to explain Cyanide and Happiness to any of you who are unfamiliar.
The easiest way to summarize the comic strip is to say the three writer/artists, Kris Wilson, Rob DenBleyker, and Dave McElfatrick, like to cross over the edge of good taste by making the subjects of sex and death funny. It's the kind of humor that often relies on puns and is comical in a "that's really bad" kind of way, but it's clever in that I rarely see the punchline coming. Some would be tempted to use the chronically misused phrase "politically incorrect" to describe these comics, but that isn't an accurate description at all since they rarely offend with anti-PC humor. If anything, humor addressing things like racism and homosexuality more often than not puts racism and homophobia as the butts of the jokes. If anything when these comics approach those issues they are on the politically correct side. As stated earlier though, political hot-button topics are the rarity here. Most of the comics are just twisted takes on situations involving sex and death, and the irreverent slants on those subjects have the potential to offend almost anyone without even dipping a toe in social politics.
This collection compiles over one hundred of the online comics that you may have seen before. However, there is also quite a bit of new work that is exclusive to this printed volume. In fact, there are about thirty brand new comics and approximately the same amount of illustrated poems. I don't know if the poems have ever appeared before or not, but they were new to me. In case you're wondering, the poems contain humor along the same lines as the comics. So, you don't have to fear that the creators have slipped an experimental new direction into this book.
As stated above, Cyanide and Happiness appeals to a niche sense of humor. As a result, your own tolerance for bad taste comedy and your level of amusement at such should let you know if you will appreciate these comics or not. Personally, while none of the pages made me laugh out loud, I kind of enjoy anything that's original, edgy, and takes risks. Most attempts at humor are rarely funny unless someone is offended.
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. He wonders why of all the hats people wear, nobody ever wears a fez except the Shriners. Speaking of hats, where can you get those cloth crown hats? The only people who seem to have them are Jughead from the Archie comics and Goober from the Andy Griffith Show . You can e-mail Cat with the answers at firstname.lastname@example.org.
All-New All-Different Marvel #1 Triple Bill: Wolverine, Hawkeye and Karnak
By Adam X. Smith
As the guys at Thor's Comic Column slowly but inevitably reach the final acts of the impressive but delay-plagued Secret Wars event to run their course, Marvel Comics has essentially said "F*ck it, time's a-wastin'" and finally pulled the trigger on their fancy new status quo a couple months early (or late, depending on your point of view), with a whole heap of new debut issues under the enticing but ambitious banner "All-New All-Different Marvel".
Frankly, this isn't such a big deal from a sales point of view – comic book publishers have missed deadlines since forever – but it does throw the inner workings of Marvel off somewhat, as without the end of Secret Wars to act as a hard and fast landmark for future developments the point of origin for a lot of the changes made is still a little gooey in the middle. However, with a slew of new and exciting books on hitherto overlooked characters being the main draw, and the stalwart books like Avengers et al being rejigged to reflect the diversity push, there's a little something for everyone without devolving into blandness, and since gleaning what has become of old favourites by following the trials of their successors seems to be the new heroic journey archetype for some reason, Marvel is following it with gusto.
And I'm gonna be reviewing three of them. Mostly randomly. I guess if this turns out well I may continue to do so – we'll see. First out of the gate…
I have been rooting for Laura Kinney a.k.a. X-23* to make a move to the big leagues for a while now – what started off as a character created for short-lived X-Men: Evolution cartoon in the early 2000s has since been Harley Quinned back into the comics, popped up in numerous spin-off media and served as one of the high points of Dennis Hopeless and Kev Walker's Avengers Arena.
The plot sets up just enough to get the wheels going – the events of Secret Wars are about 8 months in the past, Logan is gone but not forgotten, and Laura is in Paris stopping an assassination attempt with the aid of the time-displaced Warren Worthington a.k.a. Angel, and in the process gets shot in the head. It then flashbacks to her time with Logan during their run in X-Force, wounded and in what appears to be a burning field, where Logan reminds her that fighting her instinct to kill is what's right even if it's not the easy choice: "You're the best there is at what you do. But that doesn't mean you have to do it."
And then, All-New Wolverine #1 drops the other boot, giving us a fight atop the Eiffel Tower and an aerial chase to stop a Predator drone, with Laura finally suiting up in the old yellow and blue spandex and the mysterious assassin plunging to their death to avoid capture, only to be revealed as… a clone of Laura. One of several, in fact, who will presumably form the plot of the unfolding arc.
I've only dipped my toes in the Wolverine pool a couple times and I think part of the reason that they've never blown me away is that Logan's backstory has been picked apart so often and with so little consistency or quality that there's really not much left to mine from him as a character. I mean, they've done the protracted killing off part, so where do you really go from there? The Wolverine I always preferred was the guy who is the sullen outsider drinking and smoking in the corny, telling Cyclops he's a pussy and macking on every X-female above the age of consent – the Spike/Jayne of the group, if you will.
In many ways, writer Tom Taylor and artists David Lopez and David Navarrot take the character a step further in the right direction – focusing in on Laura's character development, but still harking back to Logan's role as a mentor, so that when Laura reveals the classic outfit, it feels earned. Finally, a version of this character whose backstory isn't a knot of contradictory retcons and red herrings, who is free to pursue heroism on her own terms whilst still learning about her limitations the hard way.
Unless they totally screw the pooch and just have her marry Angel or something.
Speaking of red herrings, there is, predictably enough, one in this triple bill. All-New Hawkeye #1 definitely gives us value for money with not one but two versions of Hawkeye, as well as a plot spanning a time-jump of 20 years (what is with the timelines, btw? Let's not forget how much of an arbitrary ballache everything from Pre-Crisis through Zero Hour to New 52 and the One Year Later run of DC became due to dicking around with time).
But despite the renumbering, it supposedly follows on directly from Jeff Lemire and Ramón Pérez's previous run on the character from earlier this year, one which I'm not especially familiar with and which is apparently so far removed from when I was briefly reading Matt Fraction and David Aja's run that it may as well be on the dark side of Europa for all the good rehashing it in a pithy front-page caption would achieve. So I guess it's new to me, at least.
Basically, Kate is pissed off with Clint for being an asshat (quelle surprise), which leads to them falling out and Team Hawkeye breaking up, which apparently leads to a future where the mutated children from the previous arc go on a rampage, Clint comes out of retirement to help Kate deal with it, and the episode cliffhangers on Kate wounded and the two of them at the mercy of the Mandarin, who appears to be taking fashion tips from Al on Quantum Leap.
Whilst it's refreshing that most of what I've seen of the All-New All-Different run hasn't been wasting a lot of time explaining what is and isn't still in continuity and is instead plowing on regardless, I really felt the disconnect of picking a book back up after a long absence and not really being able to recognise it as such. Is this meant to be representative of Lemire and Pérez's run so far? Was the Clint Barton of the Fraction/Aja run this breathtakingly tone-deaf (no pun intended) and incapable of adult communication with Kate over something that is treated as an incredibly big deal? To borrow the Joss Whedon analogy from earlier, the tendency to make Hawkeye the Xander of the Avengers is kinda funny, until you realise that Xander never really grows up, no matter how much bad shit happens to and around him; that's not a character trait that ages well, oddly enough, and whilst his more down-to-earth problems acts as stark comic relief next to Earth's Mightiest Heroes, here he seems only slightly more emotionally mature than the guys from It's Always Sunny. Also, the whole future plot seems a little too sketchily drawn with regards to who the children are, where they are, what they are doing and why we should care.
I'm probably the least qualified to judge this book based purely on its story arc, but barring the issues with the continuing plot and Clint's douchebaggery in both the present and the future, it hangs together well enough. Is it going to make me carry on reading and catch up with the books I've missed? Honestly I doubt it, but again, it promises at least some intrigue down the line.
And finally, one of the first of this flood of new series I read is Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino's Karnak. Okay, by now you should all know that I was always going to be an easy lay for this – it's Warren F*ck-Mothering Ellis revitalising a second string Marvel character no-one has really touched in years; of course I'm down for it.
A member of the Inhumans and until recently an adviser to the throne of Attilan, and whose powers allow him to see the flaw in literally everything (so essentially a super-powered version of every online critic), Karnak has returned from the dead and become Magister of the monastic Tower of Wisdom, only to be called upon by SHIELD to help retrieve a kidnapped boy undergoing Terrigenesis. It plays out somewhat procedurally, as these things are wont to, but achieves a minor miracle in managing to somehow make me interested in Phil Coulson for the first time in three years. Ellis' dialogue crackles with wit and intensity, with Coulson serving as a straight-shooting Lestrade to Karnak's high-functioning sociopath/world's greatest detective routine.
In fact, this owes more than a bit to Stephen Moffatt's run on both Sherlock and Doctor Who (the opening scene at the Tower bearing more than a slight resemblance to the beginning of "The Bells of Saint Johns"), but with a tighter, harsher focus. The environments, much like Karnak, are bleak, isolated and cold, a man unbound by human fancies like tact but with a keen sense of humour nonetheless. There is no pretension that Karnak is a nice person, even if he is on the side of the angels.
Whilst this is technically a late review, the reason I'm writing this book up at all is that it stuck with me. Zaffino's art perfectly gels the bizarre and (In)human stylised look of Karnak and his powers with the more conventional SHIELD characters and environments, as well as making moments like Karnak's torture of a double agent gruesome with only a limited amount of gore. I'm not so cynical that I'd call this reworking the most retroactively obvious sure thing to come out of Marvel just yet, but it's definitely got me interested in what's to come.
So that's my first triple bill of the new Marvel status quo. Will a particularly strong one emerge? Which will be the first to be cancelled? When the hell are they bringing back Nextwave? All these answers and more, next time. Maybe. Possibly. Probably not.
Adam X. Smith is writing a play for his Masters degree. He is also probably going to be working in a cinema the weekend Star Wars opens. Suffice to say, he may be gone a while, but fear not – our new alien overlords will soon walk among us.
*Sorry, but I just have to interject and say that Laura Kinney makes me think of Laura Linney and Laura Palmer. A combination that is intriguing to be sure, but not exactly what I had in mind. Ours is not to reason why, I guess.
Jeb D. stares forlornly as the latest Marvel Universe whizzes by him, even more All-er and New-er than ever before, while he continues sifting through the shards of the last one…
Secret Wars #7
I'm perfectly happy to continue defending this series as the best portrait of Marvel's most compelling character since Ed Brubaker's Books of Doom… but it does share with Brubaker's miniseries a passiveness with regard to its central character: the world-weary Victor Von Doom that we meet here may be preferable to the de-armored metrosexual who's evidently going to be Doom model year 2016, but writer Jonathan Hickman continues to short us on the insane grandeur of Doom in action (presumably, some of this is being saved for the big finish, though the sneak peek at the Alex Ross cover of issue #8 suggests a showdown between Galactus and Ben Grimm, instead). Seven issues in, I think it's fair to call that a disappointing aspect of the series.
Issue #7 also brings us more evidence that (for whatever reason), the series really hasn't paced itself to its page count: unless you're reading some of the tie-in miniseries, where the cracks in Doomstadt have been showing for a while, the revolt against Doom comes on pretty abruptly here, and feels too easy.
Whatever behind-the-scenes folderol may have affected Secret Wars publication schedule, Esad Ribic's art remains regally involving, and he makes the most of both the epic action, and some nice comic moments for Sinister and Star-Lord. Fans of the snarky bromance between Namor and T'Challa will be pleased to see that they're playing key roles in the denouement, with an odd choice of allies.
Squadron Sinister #4
There's always been a certain arbitrariness to the hierarchy of super-powered characters in the comics, and it's never been more so than in this series, as the version of Hyperion presented here has run roughshod over equally "supremely powered" characters from other teams, dimensions, etc., only to come a cropper as Nighthawk uses the Archonite gem to go all Dark Knight Returns on his former compatriot (artist Carlos Pacheco even tosses in "FM WOZ HERE" in one panel of a fight scene that's a direct homage to / copy of the climax of DKR, just in case we don't get it).
Though that scene is the action climax of the series, writer Marc Guggenheim winds things down with a few pages of Doom getting to the bottom of the mystery of the murdered Thor, which might be a more compelling surprise if the entire series hadn't, in fact, been premised on watching Nighthawk scheme and murder his way to power. Seeing the Utopolis citizenry reject the aging Starbrand's intervention because, at least with the Sinisters, they knew where they stood, might be worth exploring further if we expected these worlds to survive the end of Secret Wars. But with the dissolution of Battleworld, and the promise of an all-new Squadron on the way, this is yet another Secret Wars tie-in that ends with a bit of a shrug.
Jason Aaron's straight-faced commitment to his Asgardian-cop procedural at least has the virtue of its convictions: everything that goes down in this final issue lines up nicely with every cop show/movie you've ever seen where the rogue cop makes his final stand against his erstwhile partners, hectoring them for their feeble morality (I like to think of it as the David Morse scene).
Chris Sprouse gets more opportunities to cut loose this issue (with terrific support from inker Karl Story and colorist Israel Silva): his Jane Foster Thor has the requisite blend of nobility and gee-whiz, and he brings real savagery to the fratricidal finale. If Thors hasn't exactly been a bounty of surprises, it's been sufficiently dark and well-paced to hold the interest even apart from its connection to the main series.
Up until this series, I'd never particularly wondered what different names the various iterations of Thor might go by; it was amusing enough to discover that the series antagonist was called "Rune Thor"; it's delightful to learn that his nickname is "Runey."
Jeb D. is ready for Jessica Jones.