So it’s time to get back to the funnybooks. After two weeks of talking movies, I’ve got a nice little backlog piling up, including the conclusion of Heroes in Crisis, the beginning of the end for Ed Piskor’s X-Men: Grand Design, and new issues of Stray Bullets and Criminal. But first, the comic I enjoyed most from the last two weeks…
The Green Lantern 8
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp
Y’know, just about any issue of this book is likely to be filled with ridiculous fun. But this one… Holy crap.
From the cover alone, you know you’re in for a wild ride. This issue is an homage to the classic Denny O’Neil / Neal Adams run of Green Lantern / Green Arrow, complete with Liam Sharp doing his best Adams impersonation throughout. But once you start reading the actual story, you swiftly realize it’s WAY crazier than that.
First, we’re introduced to Hadea Maxima, a (possibly other-dimensional?) hell-planet inhabited by a race of space demons for whom murder is not a crime, but an accepted cultural norm. One of the leaders (I guess?) of this place is a demon space-mobster named Lord Brotorr (!), who’s very very angry that rival demon space-mobster Glorigold DeGrand (!) is cutting in on his profits with a new drug that’s connected in some way to Earth. So Brotorr orders the murder of not just his rival, but also of THE ENTIRE PLANET.
Cut to Earth, where Green Arrow’s dealing with a deadly new street drug that leaves its users in a blank, zombie-like state. Green Lantern shows up to help, and we’re off to the races. Before it’s all done (without getting into too many spoilers), we’ve had twists, turns, psychedelic trips, drug dealers in pointy black hoods, and what may be only the second-ever appearance of Jack Kirby’s Xeen Arrow (the Green Arrow of Dimension Zero, which is of course an other-dimensional world inhabited by telepathic super-giants).
It is complete insanity, a frothy mixture of Silver Age goofiness and 2000 AD attitude that somehow manages to maintain the heroes’ dramatic dignity while still playing things for laughs. It’s a tightrope walk of an approach, and it’s not easy to pull off. Too far one way, and it all gets too cute for its own good. Too far the other way, and you’ve got the idiocy of a Rob Liefeld comic. But when you hit that sweet spot in the middle, you’ve got a potential classic.
And though it’s not perfect… Though sometimes Morrison’s scripts lean so far into dream logic that they don’t quite make sense even as comedy… I’m leaning toward this being a classic.
Immortal Hulk 18
by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett
Another classic in the making is Al Ewing and Joe Bennett’s Immortal Hulk. This one’s been gathering quite a buzz, picking up readers as it goes along, to the point that the early issues (which had low-expectation print runs) are now going for a pretty penny on the collector’s market. I’m sure the prices will eventually level out, but it’s nice to see a comic going for big bucks on the basis of actual reader demand, instead of the usual “it’s worth this because we say it is” reasons for that sort of thing.
The buzz it’s getting is deserved, too. Al Ewing’s horror take on the character has been quite a bit of fun. It dragged a bit during the Hell storyline a few issues back, but otherwise this has been great stuff. Joe Fixit (aka the gray Hulk) recently reappeared, and this issue we discover that he’s been in control of Banner’s body for quite some time. It’s not entirely clear how long, or what he’s been up to, but he’s definitely had time to amass a little money. And grow a mustache.
As the story moves on, we also get a crazy new version of the Abomination WHO HAS A FIST FOR A FACE.
So, yeah. This one’s a lot of fun, too. Not as good. But a lot of fun.
X-Men: Grand Design: X-Tinction 1
by Ed Piskor
My favorite X-Men book since Grant Morrison left in a huff has begun its final chapter here. If you’re not familiar, Grand Design is Ed Piskor’s attempt to cover the history of the X-Men as if it was all one long story that was planned out from the beginning. The first volume covered the original series, and the second covered the first 100 issues or so of Chris Claremont’s long run.
This time around, he’s really got his work cut out for him, because he’s covering what might be the absolute nadir of the Claremont run: the Trial of Magneto through Inferno. This was the period when I started losing interest in the book, and finally stopped reading it entirely. These stories left a bad taste in my mouth that’s still lingering 30 years later, and I found that I didn’t enjoy revisiting them any more than I enjoyed reading them the first time through.
Piskor does his best with them, though, condensing and conflating events in a way that streamlines some of Claremont’s more over-extended plotlines, and completely skips the more forgettable stories in favor of the stuff that continued to have repercussions down the line. His one misstep in that regard, I think, is the short shrift he gives to the Trial of Magneto, which I’ve always though of as the real climax of the first half of Claremont’s run. But I suppose that ultimately had more of an impact on the New Mutants book than it did X-Men proper, so maybe he was right to only mention it in passing. This is really Storm’s issue, and he rightly focuses things on her character arc (which might be the one really interesting thing from this period of the book).
Still. Holy crap. The latter two-thirds of this issue is concerned entirely with demons and Mr. Sinister. And just when you think you’re done with the demons, MORE demons show up. It’s interminable. And there’s only so much even Ed Piskor can do to save it.
Still, though, I have high hopes for the next issue. Because I have no idea whatsoever where X-Men goes next, and I can only think it would have to be better…
Ed Piskor’s Grade for Trying Hard:
Chris Claremont’s Grade for Writing Such Execrable Source Material:
Heroes in Crisis 9
by Tom King and Clay Mann
On the one hand, it’s comforting that this book died the way it lived: telling a story that I liked in some very important ways, but hated in others.
On the other hand… DAMMIT, Tom King! Why do you have to be so good and so bad at the same time?!
I don’t care enough to go into great detail on what I liked and didn’t like in this final issue. So I’ll just hit the highlights. On the down side, King engaged in some time travel shenanigans to change the solution we already saw to his locked-room mystery, and that feels like a cheat.
But on the up side, that cheat gives us an ending that’s messy but life-affirming, rather than neat but tragic. And that ending, unsatisfying as it is from a narrative perspective, feels very real. Because life is often messy and unsatisfying. “Nothing ever ends,” as Alan Moore once told us. But this ending also fits the book better than the neat ending would have. Because the ending we got (Wally West lives) offers a chance at healing and a hope for redemption. Which is what Heroes in Crisis has been about from the outset.
So I suppose I shouldn’t complain.
But I do.
Stray Bullets: Sunshine and Roses 41
by David Lapham
With the Lodger side project over, David Lapham gets back to his (or maybe my) first love, Stray Bullets. And, holy crap, things are really getting out of control.
It would take far more time than I have tonight to explain the vast web of plots that are coming together here. So suffice it to say that the entire huge ensemble cast, which Lapham has spent the last 40 issues meticulously establishing, is finally converging, and I have no idea how any of them are going to survive.
Except that I know most of them do.
Because this entire series essentially takes place between issues seven and eight of the original Stray Bullets series, published more than 20 years ago. And I know what happens afterwards. In most cases, that would take some of the… excitement, I suppose… out of seeing how it’s all going to end. But not here, really. Lapham’s done a sufficiently good job putting this story together that, even though I know that Beth, Orson, Nina, Spanish Scott, and so many other characters will be surviving this bloodbath, I want to know how they’re gonna do it. And then there’s a handful of other characters who seem conspicuously absent from future events, and I’m dreadfully worried about all of them.
Or, if not worried, per se, at least really curious.
Because honestly… Annie probably deserves whatever she’s got coming. Unless, of course, Lapham finds a way to make her fate even worse than I can imagine. He’s good at that…
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
This fifth issue begins what Ed Brubaker has said will probably be the longest Criminal story arc to date. Which is a little weird for a series that he’s also said would feature more short pieces. But Brubaker’s a criminal at heart, as we’ve already learned, so you kind of have to take his proclamations about this book with a grain of salt.
Anyway. This new arc’s called “Cruel Summer.” It’s set in the summer of 1988, and it involves a private detective being hired to find a woman, but getting in a little too deep. Pretty standard noir premise there, and though the story’s well-told, I won’t tell you that Brubaker and Phillips really offer that much in the way of new twists on it. Where things get interesting is at the end, when Our Hero gets whacked on the head with a wrench by none other than Teeg Lawless.
That’s the same Teeg Lawless around whom every story in this current volume of Criminal has in some way revolved. Or if not revolved, INvolved. Even if it’s only in a spectral, influential sort of way. And next issue, we’re told, is all about Teeg. And, I would presume, this mysterious woman we meet this time around.
Which is just a really long-winded way of telling you that this story’s much like all the others in this series: clever, well-constructed, and more complicated than it looks on the surface.
A Walk Through Hell 10
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
Garth Ennis’ searing look at the horrors of the Trump era continues, with an issue that calls into question the value of empathy when you’re dealing with people who have none themselves. It is not a cheerful or especially pleasant read. But it is a compelling one. It questions liberal values even as it presents the rich and powerful in a very ugly light. While it’s clear who the biggest monsters are, it doesn’t let anybody off the hook. Which is horribly unfair, but there’s also a grain of truth in it. Maybe more than a grain. Maybe. Probably. Maybe.
It’s into that opening of doubt that Ennis shoves his pry bar, and starts applying pressure. And that’s where the real horror comes from. This is a story about evil men taking advantage of people’s doubts. But they have those doubts for a reason, and sometimes that’s enough to break them.
And that is Hell.
Or at least, that’s my reading of the book at this point. I withhold the right to change my mind in light of future evidence.
And on that cheery note, it is time to bid you adieu.