So we’ve got a big ol’ stack of funnybooks to talk about this week: Donny Cates and Tradd Moore’s take on Silver Surfer, the launch of Brian Bendis and Alex Maleev’s Event Leviathan, Frank Miller and John Romita Jr’s Superman: Year One, and new issues of perennial nerd farm favorites like A Walk Through Hell, and many others. I suppose we ought to get on with that, then, starting with what may have been my favorite book of the month…
X-Men: Grand Design: X-Tinction 2
by Ed Piskor
Not only did Ed Piskor stick the landing on this book, he did it in such a way that it makes me want to go back and re-read the entire six-issue epic, preferably with a stack of old X-Men comics beside me, just so I can make sure he did what I think he did.
And any explanation of that statement is going to involve SPOILERS, so you might want to skip ahead to the next review if you don’t wanna know. Or rather, you might want to skip ahead… just as soon as you’ve feasted your eyes on the greatest panel in X-Men history:
The premise of this book, if you’ll recall, is that the first 300 issues of X-Men is one continuous story, planned from the outset to achieve a specific ending. Well, this issue we get that ending, and it involves the one X-Men trope Piskor had skipped along the way: time travel. The story has barreled along at such a breakneck pace (each issue covering roughly 50 issues of the original series) that I hadn’t even noticed he’d not only skipped most of “Days of Future Past,” but also the introduction of Rachel Summers as the time-traveling Phoenix of the future. So when we get to the Siege Perilous / Genosha sequence this issue, everything’s rolling along fine when all of a sudden… the world ends.
I knew something wasn’t right at that point, but since I never actually read these issues, I couldn’t be sure. I mean, I have read later stories showing Genosha after a nuclear strike, but I was pretty sure the X-Men hadn’t been killed by it. So something was up, obviously. But Piskor just keeps telling the story the way he has from page one, rolling right along into a nightmare world combining the various alternate futures seen in pretty much every X-Men time travel story published up to this point. So instead of Kate Pryde, Rachel Summers, and Bishop all going back from separate timelines to prevent their own separate horrorshow realities, they all go back at once from the same future, each arriving at a different key point in history in the hope that at least one of them will avert the catastrophe. It’s only then that we get the actual events of “Days of Future Past.”
And that’s when it hit me: Piskor hasn’t been telling the story of the X-Men as published. He’s been telling the story of the X-Men as it happened before all the time travel started. He changed the events of “Days of Future Past,” a story I know pretty well, and I completely missed it. There’s a lot of reasons for that (including the speed with which he has to tell the story, and the number of years it’s been since I actually sat down and really read the original comics), but mostly it’s because I wasn’t reading well enough. I knew the stories he was covering (or thought I did), so I read carelessly, and missed him doing something clever.
So now I want to go back and see if he changed anything else. But I also want to see how well Grand Design rewards a re-read. I want to go back, knowing what I know now, and look for hints dropped and seeds planted. I want to really dig in and appreciate the work Piskor put into this thing.
And that makes this damn fine comics.
Superman: Year One 1
by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr
Nobody knew quite what to expect from this book, myself included. But I’m betting that nobody thought we’d get a considered and decidedly wholesome look at Clark Kent’s upbringing in Smallville. And that is precisely what Miller and Romita have given us here.
There are some potentially troubling details here and there. There’s an implication, for instance, that something in the Kryptonian tech of the rocket that brought baby Clark to Earth influenced Jonathan Kent’s brain so that he took the foundling infant in, rather than calling the authorities like most sane people would do. That same tech seems to have been calming young Clark during the journey, and may be speaking to him throughout his adolescence. The voice seems benevolent, but lord knows how bad that could go, if Miller’s of a mind to take it there.
But for the most part, this first issue is about how growing up on a Kansas farm instills the young Superman with solid Midwestern values of humility, honesty, and self-sufficiency. It’s the story of a heroic boyhood filled with friendship and romance, the only real conflict coming from the usual school bullies that Clark protects his flock of outcasts from. There’s even an opportunity for him to learn the value of a strong free press. It’s… nice. Sweet, even. Which is the last thing anybody was expecting.
I suspect that things will get more complicated as the story continues. Young Clark’s rather naive decision to “see the world” by joining the Navy at the end of this issue makes perfect sense for a kid from Kansas, but I’m thinking he’ll be faced with some moral dilemmas once he faces the realities of war. Or, hell, I dunno. Maybe issue two will be Gomer Pyle with super powers. That might be fun, too. Miller would write one hell of a Sgt. Carter, I bet…
At any rate.
This was a pleasant enough read, but the focus on corn-fed learning means that it’s also not really anything new. I was ultimately left feeling like we’ve seen all this before, and didn’t really need to see it again. Maybe it’s just the necessary groundwork for more innovative ideas to come. Miller’s discussion of Clark training as a SEAL would seem to suggest that this book will ultimately go places we’ve never seen before, anyway, and I’ll be curious to see where and how it gets there. For now, though, it’s not much more than pretty good.
Event Leviathan 1
by Brian Michael Bendis and Alex Maleev
So as long-time readers may know, I think “EVENT” comics are dumb. They’re disruptive blind cash-grabs in which Marvel and DC take advantage of completists by asking them to buy not only the EVENT comic itself, but also a million half-assed crossover comics that detract from the story being told. And while Event Leviathan doesn’t look to be as egregious on that front as the recently-completed War of the Realms, it’s still an EVENT, and as such I am suspicious of its quality, and resentful that this didn’t just happen in the pages of Action Comics, where it’s been developing, and where I’ve been enjoying it quite a bit.
That said, I can’t complain too much about this first issue. It’s an espionage mystery thriller starring Batman, Lois Lane, and Steve Trevor (with appearances by Green Arrow and the Question), and the stakes are high. A mystery man named Leviathan (that’s him on the cover) has taken over Talia al Ghul’s organization of the same name, and toppled every major spy organization on Earth. Or at least destroyed their various bases of operations, which in the short term amounts to the same thing. Why? We don’t entirely know yet, but he claims it’s because he wants to make the world a better place.
We’ll see how that works out. But in the meantime, this was a good first issue for such a tale. It recaps the stuff that’s happened in Action for the benefit of those who haven’t been reading, and sets the ball rolling deeper into the mystery. And it does all that in fine style, with the best artwork I’ve seen from Alex Maleev in some time. Seriously, this stuff’s almost at the level of the first series of Scarlet, and that’s the best work of his career. I wish he’d been turning stuff like this in on the most recent volume of Scarlet, too; I’d rather read that than this. But this ain’t bad, so I suppose I’ll have to settle for it.
Silver Surfer Black 1
by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
Holy crap this book is beautiful.
Tradd Moore is trading in cosmic psychedelia here, and the results are breathtaking.
It’s like an updating of Steve Ditko’s Sixties Dr. Strange work, and I love it a bunch.
I mean, Donny Cates’ story is alright, too. It spins out of a different comic that I didn’t read and have only peripheral interest in, though, and I suspect that I wouldn’t find it nearly as intriguing without these visuals.
But luckily for us all, it DOES have these visuals.
So I guess we’re all happy.
A Walk Through Hell 11
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
Garth Ennis’ Trump-era horror story rolls on this issue, with fewer stomach-churning realizations than recent issues, but introducing a rather chilling thought: that this whole thing, from the creation of our untouchable child-murdering villain to the manipulation of the investigation into his crimes, was one big trap designed to ensnare the collection of good souls entrusted with bringing him to justice, and damn them to Hell.
It didn’t have to be these specific people, I don’t think; any collection of law enforcement officers who could be driven to desperate acts in the name of justice would have done. But these are the people who fell into the trap, so these are the people being punished.
At least, that’s how I read it. I’m not sure I completely buy it, or that I read it right. I’ve been sick for a week and a half now, so my faculties may not be what they need to be. But it’s intriguing. The implication is that removing government officials who are unwilling to let go of wrongdoing because there’s money and power behind it is more damaging overall than a serial child-killer.
Again, I’m not 100% sure I’m reading this right. I’ll go back for a re-read after I’m off the cold medicine. But for now, that certainly SOUNDS like a complaint about the Trump era…
But now we’re running out of time, so here’s a few capsule reviews just to play catch-up…
In the twelfth issue of Andrew Maclean’s Head Lopper, the “Knights of Venora” story arc comes to a close with a revelation about the head of Agatha Blue Witch, and why Norgal carries it around. No spoilers, but it adds a new mythical layer to a story that was already pretty mythic.
Meanwhile, things get crazy in Redneck 22, courtesy the usual team of Donny Cates and Lisandro Istherren. Bartlett’s resurrection begins, Perry confronts Evil, and one of Our Heroes get arrested by the Vampire Police!
The fourth issue of Chip Zdarsky and Mark Bagley’s Spider-Man: Life Story moves the action into the 90s, when a middle-aged Peter Parker confronts the ghosts of his past: Doc Ock, Norman Osborn, his own clone, and the ashes of his marriage to Mary Jane. It didn’t grab me as firmly as last issue, but it’s a successful continuation of the “Spider-Man in Real Time” idea, so I have no complaints.
Gideon Falls 14 continues its exploration of the multiverse with a bit of classic time-tripping. Not much in the way of chills this month, but Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino do develop their underlying plot, and that offers entertainment enough.
The eighth issue of Isola starts a new story, this one built around some kind of forest witch who saves Our Heroes after they’re beset by a strange bird, but then proceeds to drive a wedge between them. Brendan Fletcher and Karl Kerschl continue to knock it out of the park with this book, delivering fantasy adventures that are both charming and weird.
And finally, Stan Sakai has brought Usagi Yojimbo back in style, with a new color series (most of the previous once having been black and white). The opening story this time revolves around a puppet theatre that’s haunted by demons. Big fun, as always!
Aaaannnddd… That’s all there’s time and energy for this week. See you next time, when I’m hopefully feeling better…