So I’ve been reading some funnybooks! Let’s see how they were…
Avengers 1 & 2
by Jason Aaron and Ed McGinnis
So these were fun. I normally wait to read Jason Aaron work-for-hire stuff until I can find a digital trade on sale, but I decided to give this new Avengers relaunch a shot because… Well, I dunno. Because what the hell, I guess. I like Aaron’s larger than life, hell-bent-for-leather approach to the big corporate toys. As long as I keep in mind that it’s a light read without much to chew on beyond the spectacle, I enjoy the work. And you don’t get to play on a much bigger stage than Avengers, so I was curious to see where he’d take it. As it turns out, he took it straight to Kirby, and one of his more problematic creations.
The Celestials were never really intended to be part of the larger Marvel Universe, and in some ways they’re not a great fit. By the time they were introduced, the Marvel cosmic landscape was already pretty well-established, with Galactus and the various Elders of the Universe, and the truly grand, nature-of-reality stuff introduced by Ditko and Starlin. The Celestials don’t really work in conjunction with all that. They’re grander and less… human than the rest, simultaneously seeming both above entities like Eternity, and far lesser in terms of motivation and power. Kirby (wisely) kept so much about them a mystery that it’s hard to say exactly where they fit in the cosmic pecking order, and that adds immeasurably to their mystique.
Aaron, characteristically, cares a lot less about mystique. Not that he’s humanizing the Celestials, or (thus far) answering questions about them. But he is pulling a corporate spandex writing trick that I’m not fond of: sacrificing a previously-indomitable threat in order to show how bad-ass his new bad guys are. In this case, those newbies are the Celestial Final Host…
…some kind of hunter-killer Celestials who carry out Celestial judgment on races they’ve targeted for destruction. Which is fine, I guess. At least these new Celestials are still Celestials, rather than some other new cosmic threat. But their story starts with the Celestials we know raining from the sky, dead at the hands of the new guys. Which kind of rubs me the wrong way. I mean, if Aaron and McGinnis were replacing them with something better, I’d be okay with it. But so far, these new Celestials are just busier designs. They’re cool, don’t get me wrong. But they lack the faceless implacability that made the originals so awe-inspring. And that’s disappointing.
It is a fun comic, though. There are super heroes! And they punch things! BIG things! Some stuff blows up! And, in the grand tradition of “slap a buncha characters together for no good reason” team comics, you get some surprising and unexpectedly entertaining team-ups. Like… Dr. Strange and the Black Panther!
It’s cool to see the core team in action together again, too: Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, and Captain Marvel. Because let’s face it: at this point, Carol Danvers is every bit as big a part of the Avengers DNA as the other three. In fact, she’s kind of the “responsible adult” of the team now, in contrast to Cap’s boy scout, Thor’s honorable lout, and Stark’s rich douchebag. It’s a fun mix, and Aaron handles it well. None of the characterizations are particularly deep, but they’re solid. Entirely serviceable. And sometimes, on these big splashy team books, that’s all you really need.
That, and stories with a big WOW factor. The jury’s still out on that side of it, mind you. For all the punching and grimacing and heroic derring-do, not a whole lot has happened so far. Aaron’s pulled the trigger on the Celestials’ final judgment (or so it seems), and Loki’s in the mix somehow, and the core Avengers team is back in the clear-cut heroing business after years of being stuck in various moral quagmires. But it’s time for this story to kick into high gear, so I think issue three will be where it stands or falls.
Whether I’ll be around to see which way it goes… remains an open question. As I’ve said before, I don’t really like spending this much money on a comic that I don’t love, printed on shiny toilet paper. I’d far rather pick this story up later, when the digital trade hits some kind of half-off sale and I can enjoy the empty spectacle of it all a bit more. I mean, I’ve got nine bucks invested in this story so far, and I have NOT gotten nine bucks’ worth of entertainment out of it. But if I’d paid nine bucks for the whole thing, I could afford to be a lot happier with it. And it stands now, though, I give it a cheerful…
by Brian K. Vaughn and Marcos Martin
This is something of a retro review, I suppose. This strip originally debuted as a web comic over at http://panelsyndicate.com/, and wrapped up there almost a year ago. This is its print debut, being released weekly, a heady pace that’s helping to propel the story forward. It’s especially helping do that for me, since my local funnybook store got shorted on issue one the first week, and I wound up reading the first two back-to-back.
Anyway. This is an inventive little comic about the things that separate us. It follows two characters: Liddy, a female rancher in Texas; and Oscar, a Honduran trying to sneak illegally into America. They’re drawn together when, one night in one of Liddy’s pastures, they’re abducted by aliens.
Liddy speaks no Spanish. Oscar speaks no English. The aliens speak only in colors.
So the theme here would seem to be communication, and learning compassion in spite of the things that stand between us. Well… Compassion for Liddy and Oscar, anyway. The aliens, I’m less sure of.
I have no idea where this book will go in its concluding issues. But I’ll be picking up the rest to find out. The story is intriguing, the artwork is beautiful, and the format is unique. Since this was originally done for the screen, every page of Barrier is widescreen, and printed sideways, on paper that’s the same width as a normal comic, but about half an inch taller. So it’s non-standard size, but not so much that storing it becomes a problem. Plus, it’s printed on really nice paper, with cardstock covers. Now, THAT’S a package worth four bucks.
Batman: White Knight 8
by Sean Murphy
Sean Murphy’s alternate-future Batman comic wraps up with this issue, and it’s… Well, it’s not disappointing, exactly. It’s a big super hero finale, with plenty of punching, kicking, car chases, and explosions. The fighting winds up being a little generic (always a danger with this big a cast), but Murphy managed to keep things exciting and fast-paced, and that’s pretty much what I should have expected.
But somehow, I was expecting something… more. I’m not sure what, though. I guess the idea of Batman and the Joker reversing roles lead me to expect more of a downward spiral for the Caped Crusader. A more extreme personality. A deeper descent into madness. Something more… troubling… than what we got. Instead, by the end, this wound up coming off as something that could almost – not quite, but almost – have been done as a regular Batman story in the regular Batman comic. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, mind you. I like heroic Batman just fine. I was just expecting something with more BITE than this, and I didn’t get it.
Still, it was a fun ride, so I can’t really complain.
Well, okay. The damn thing DID cost five bucks, so I suppose I COULD complain a little. That doesn’t make the story any less good, mind you. But it does raise my expectations, and much as I enjoyed it… I’m not sure this final issue of White Knight gave me five dollars’ worth of entertainment.
A Walk Through Hell 1
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
I don’t read everything Garth Ennis writes, because he works in such a wide range of genres, styles, and tones that not all of it appeals to me. But this is Garth Ennis doing a straight-up, no-nonsense horror comic. That’s something I haven’t seen him do in quite some time. I’m not even sure Preacher counts, honestly, because that book was as much about comedy and sensationalism as it was horror. But this…
Look. We’re only one issue in so far, and…
I admit, not much has actually happened yet, but…
I don’t think this book is going to be funny.
I don’t think it’s going to be funny at all.
And I like that. I like the restraint of it. I don’t think it’s going to stay restrained for long, mind you. And if it winds up exploding into the usual over the top Garth Ennis bullshit, I will be greatly disappointed. But for right now, with this first issue, he and artist Goran Sudzuka have done a marvelous job creating an atmosphere of impending dread, and I’m looking forward to seeing where they take it. Especially if we find out where the ghosts have been taking the children all these years…
The Wicked + the Divine 36
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
This is an issue that takes some serious narrative chances.
The entire first half of the comic is the same scene repeated, panel after panel, across the centuries: the initial meeting of Ananke and Persephone, in every Pantheon from the first to the last.
Usually, Ananke takes her head. Sometimes, they hug. On rare occasions, Persephone kills Ananke. And every once in a while (like in the present, with Laura), she gets away. But regardless of how each meeting goes, we see them all. Down through the centuries. On page after page after page.
It’s fascinating, trying to figure out exactly where and how each Pantheon manifested, what cultures steered humanity in what centuries and why. That’s impossible from just the brief glimpses and sparse information we get, and honestly there are so many of them that I gave up trying long before the sequence was done. Maybe one day, when I go back and give this series the in-depth, scholarly re-read it deserves, I’ll give it another go. For now, I just think it was a really ballsy way to open an issue.
Then, in the back half, where the present-day story advances, we get this:
Three full red pages, each with one very short sentence, and nothing else. Filler, you say? A waste of space? No. Those pages work, and work well. I won’t say it’s the most impactful sequence in the series to date. But it’s in the top five. So there’s another book that gives me my four bucks’ worth, through sheer audacity if nothing else.
Ether: The Copper Golems 1
by Matt Kindt and David Rubin
We’re running out of time this week, but I would feel remiss if I didn’t at least mention that one of my favorite new funnybooks of last year has started its second season. The story of a man caught between a magical faerie world and his all-too-real human life, the first volume of Ether was at once whimsical and horrifying, delightful and sad. The new volume… seems to lose some of the darker side of that dichotomy right off the bat, and we’ll just have to see how that affects the book as time goes on. Here in this first issue, there’s still a bit of sadness (and horribleness, too, how that I think of it) as Our Hero says goodbye to his old life… and it’s hard to tell how much he really cares.
I like that ambiguity, though. Boone Diaz is complicated, and not always easy to like. But I wouldn’t have him any other way.