So it’s time to finally get caught up on this big stack of funnybooks we’ve got here. Lots of good stuff in the mix this time, including the conclusion of Garth Ennis’ A Walk Through Hell, the penultimate issue of The Wicked + The Divine, a second helping of Donny Cates and Tradd Moore’s Silver Surfer: Black, and a whole slew of new number one issues, including the one we’ll be starting out with today…
Powers of X 1
by Jonathan Hickman, RB Silva, and Adriano di Benedetto
So, yeah. Jonathan Hickman’s not playing around with this X-Men relaunch.
Or, rather, he IS playing around with it, and it’s that spirit of play that makes it so much fun to read. This is not staid, professional, business as usual work-for-hire comics here. This is somebody coming in and flipping over some tables on a corporate property, while staying true to previously-established themes. And it’s Hickman, so those tables he’s flipping over have revealed incredibly complicated, smartly-detailed plans that’ll be taking us god knows where before he’s through.
Also, I now know why he said that the X in “Powers of X” is actually a Roman Numeral 10: the story he’s telling in this series jumps around in time by the power of ten.
Secret pasts and potential futures are nothing new to X-Men fans, of course. Those are a couple of the themes Hickman’s staying true to, but I think it’s actually the sheer scope of this thing that makes it so impressive to me. He’s worked out the consequences of Charles Xavier’s actions, and he’s showing them to us, extrapolated out across a thousand years. It just feels like a lot more thought went into this than your usual Terminator-style “dystopian future invades the past to change history” scenario. Plus, Hickman’s potential futures are more intriguing than most.
The “Year 100” period is maybe the most exciting, with a group of X-Men fighting against the oppression of a Human/Sentinel alliance dedicated to controlling or destroying mutant-kind. The characters we meet here have fleshed-out personalities and relationships, and the whole thing feels like a scenario that could carry its own series. I don’t want to delve too deeply into spoilers, but some fishy genetic experimentation’s been going on in this era, blurring the line between hero and villain a bit more than you typically see in this kind of corporate super hero stuff.
We learn less about the “Year 1000” era in this issue, but that only makes it more intriguing. The “human-mutant-machine war” is long over by this time, and it looks like the mutants and machines have come out on top. I’m assuming that’s the case, anyway. That blue-skinned dude from the timeline rundown up above seems to be a telepath, at any rate, and we see him wearing a helmet that looks like a souped-up version of the one Xavier’s sporting in the present. And humans… Well. Humans are no longer a problem. But we spend more time in the Year One era than we do here, so nothing is entirely clear. Speaking of Year One, though…
The Year One section shows us the first meeting between Charles Xavier and Moira MacTaggart, on the day that Xavier first conceived of the X-Men. Only I’m no more sure that this is the Moira MacTaggart we know than I am that the Xavier of Year Ten is the Xavier we know. She seems to already know him, for one thing, but also there’s this:
Those Tarot cards show characters and locations from the two future timelines, and that makes me wonder if this Moira doesn’t have some connection to the future, too. Then there’s this Powers of X ad they’ve been running, too…
…so, yeah. I think it’s safe to assume that something’s up.
“Something’s Up” is a pretty good description of this new Hickman X-Men run in general, though. Because something is most definitely up, on pretty much every page, and potentially involving every character. He’s obviously having fun keeping the readers guessing, and that fun is contagious. Following this thing weekly is going to be pretty bloody expensive, but (so far, at least) it’s worth every penny.
A Walk Through Hell 12
by Garth Ennis and Goran Sudzuka
Garth Ennis’ meditation on the horrors of current Western society concludes this issue, and hoo boy. It’s not his most uplifting of endings. The whole thing turns out to be an Anti-Christ narrative (something I should have tripped to before now, honestly), and we’re left with the cheery proposition that not only is it too late to save the world, it’s always been too late. The rising tides of intolerance and racism aren’t an aberration, the argument goes. They’re human nature, and modern politics is just an outgrowth of it. The right has chosen willful ignorance, and the left has chosen blind self-righteousness. That’s what we’ve always been, and what we always will be. For the brief time we have left, that is.
Of course, it’s the Anti-Christ himself making that argument, so maybe we should take it with a grain of salt. On the other hand, he DOES win in the end. So I suppose we can’t entirely write the idea off, either.
“Bleak” might be the word for it.
Or perhaps “cautionary.” I don’t know that anyone writes this kind of polemic without at least a secret hope that their dire predictions can’t be undone. And while Ennis can be pretty damn cynical about human nature, he’s also written some of the better stories I’ve ever read about the power of basic human decency. So I’m not really sure where he stands here. But the story as presented… is pretty damn ugly.
It’s brilliant, too, though, some of Ennis’ best work in ages, and I’m glad to have had the privilege of reading it.
The Wicked + The Divine 44
by Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie
Only one more issue to go for this book, and I can’t say I ever saw it going where this issue goes. I mean, I TOTALLY saw THIS happening eventually…
But after that… I don’t know what I thought the aftermath of the gods rejecting the godhead would be, but it wasn’t…
SPOILER ahead, FYI…
…It wasn’t a murder trial.
ANOTHER murder trial, I should say. It makes sense, mind you, and it makes me even more eager to see what happens in the final issue. Now that the story Ananke and her sister wove so many thousands of years ago has ended, I’m really curious to see what the “gods” will make of the world now that they’re going to live. I’m hoping for a time jump, ahead a few decades, so we can see the long-term ramifications of everything that’s happened in the series to date. Will they change the world in more subtle ways than they would have otherwise? Will they have no affect on it at all? Will they train others to recognize the power within themselves? Will those others choose to burn out rather than fade away?
None of this makes a damn bit of sense to anyone who hasn’t been reading the series from day one, I realize. But we’re at the end. If you’re not reading it already, you either need to start at the beginning, or just ignore it (and this review) and move on.
I’d argue for reading it, though, just so you know. I haven’t always been entirely thrilled with this book. There were rough patches, about a year in, when I actually considered dropping it. But there’s something about it, some degree of quality or mystery or… something… that always brought me back. It’s a deeper book than it seems on the surface, and if you’re not enamored of celebrity culture (which I am most decidedly NOT) there will be things about it that irritate the hell out of you (they irritated the hell out of me, anyway). But if you like mythology and the sociology of religion and other academic kinds of things, it’s worth the irritation.
It’s SO worth it.
Silver Surfer: Black 2
by Donny Cates and Tradd Moore
I don’t care on iota about the story being told in this comic. I mean, there’s nothing wrong with it, really. I just don’t care about it. There’s something about the “god of symbiotes” (which makes him, like, a cosmic Spider-Man villain, I guess?) and how he’s trying to break free from whatever… thing… has been keeping him away from the wider universe, and… I dunno. I don’t care enough to figure it out beyond that.
But, holy crap, is it ever pretty.
SO VERY PRETTY.
And, in this case, that’s enough.
(Plus, you know… EGO THE LIVING PLANET! So that’s cool.)
Aaaannndd… We’re not moving nearly fast enough to get through this stack. So I tell you what: for this pile of first issues I’ve got here, we’ll just go directly into capsule review mode. No grades, just commentary. Starting… NOW!
History of the Marvel Universe 1
by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez
So this book is a lot of fun. It tells the story of the Marvel Universe (just like it says on the label!), from the death of the previous universe through the birth and development of this one, stopping along the way to visit with some of the most ridiculously cosmic concepts ever tossed onto a funnybook page.
And, like Silver Surfer: Black, it’s also damned pretty.
I read this thing in chunks, I must admit. A few pages here, a few pages there, over the course of a week. It was toilet reading, basically, and as that, it served its purpose mightily well.
I am a bit concerned that this issue brings things all the way up to the end of the 19th Century, though. Once it starts dealing with characters rather than concepts, I may find it less intriguing. But that Javier Rodriquez artwork’s gonna bring me back for issue two, regardless. So I guess we’ll see.
Second Coming 1
by Mark Russell, Richard Pace, and Leonard Kirk
There’s been a lot of controversy surrounding this book, because of its depiction of the second coming of Christ, in which he becomes the sidekick/mentor to a super hero. DC Comics was going to publish it through its Vertigo line, but then canceled it at the last minute. It’s come out now through Ahoy Comics, and now that I’ve read it, I’ve gotta say…
This is the book that DC balked at publishing?
I mean… We’re talking about the company that published Preacher, here! The company that, last time I checked, still keeps the trades of that series in print, and has been proudly advertising its (admittedly watered-down) television adaptation on the back covers of its comics all month. And while I realize that fundamentalist Christians are even touchier now than they were in the 1990s (and lord knows they were pretty freaking touchy back then)… I just don’t understand why they wouldn’t publish this.
Because here’s what I took away from it: Second Coming makes exactly the same argument about the nature of God as Preacher: he made the universe because he was lonely, and has since become an absentee father. But this book is one hell of a lot nicer about the whole thing. Mark Russell’s God just comes off like a cranky dad, tired of dealing with humanity’s crap, and disapproving of his son’s peaceful-to-the-point-of-sacrifice ways (which, you know, actually tracks fairly well with the Old Testament God). Garth Ennis’ God in Preacher, on the other hand, is the villain of the piece. A pathetic tyrant so desperate for love that he made a whole universe just so he’d have somebody to worship him.
In comparison, Second Coming is a freaking Sunday School lesson.
And, you know, as a comic, it’s pretty good. There are funny jokes, and Russell’s take on Jesus is genuinely heartwarming. He’s a being of pure love, and that’s exactly how he’s being written. Russell’s super hero second lead is also an interesting character, a Superman style sun-god type who wrestles with his responsibilities, and tries his best to do good. It’s just that he tends to kick the crap out of evil-doers, and that’s not really Jesus’ style.
So, yeah. It’s fine. A good little comic and a pleasant enough read. I’m not sure I’ll be buying the rest of the series, to be honest, but that may ultimately be because it’s too… NICE… for my taste. I tend to want my satire to have a bit more bite to it, and that’s not what this book does.
Which is all the more reason for DC not to have canned it, of course. Seems like a pretty gutless move, to me. But, hey. As Mark Russell said in a recent interview, being offered a free ticket away from Vertigo these days is kind of like being offered a fully-stocked lifeboat off the Titanic. So maybe it was for the best.
Batman: Curse of the White Knight 1
by Sean Murphy
This is the sequel to last year’s very successful Elseworlds series White Knight, which was pitched under the premise that Batman turns bad, and the Joker turns good. It’s more complicated than that, of course, with the real set-up being that Batman’s war against crime is out of control, and the Joker undergoes radical sanity treatment to stop him. In the end, though, they wind up working together against a greater threat. The Joker’s hard-won sanity is lost before it’s all over, and Batman learns to reign himself in a bit better.
Looking back on it, that ending doesn’t ring quite true for the explosive premise. And this sequel series rings even less true. This time around, the Joker (nowhere near sane anymore) breaks out of Arkham Asylum to bring Batman down again, and does it by inspiring a hallucinating Jean-Paul Valley to become Azreal.
Which… Yeah. At this point, we’re just looking at a fairly typical Batman story set in a slightly edgier version of Gotham City. It’s much less exciting, and maybe more importantly much less revolutionary, than the original. There, Murphy brought up all the sticky social problems inherent in a city police department working so closely with a dangerous vigilante. That story had a cool “fight the man” punk rock sorta vibe that elevated it. Notsomuch here.
It’s still well-done, you understand, and I’ll probably keep reading it. It’s just a little disappointing in comparison, and it makes me think that doing a sequel at all was probably not a great idea.
Batman Universe 1
by Brian Michael Bendis and Nick Derington
This book, on the other hand, was a pleasant surprise. It reprints the Batman stories from the Wal-Mart 80-Page Giants, and (unlike the companion Tom King Superman book) it’s really good. Bendis turns in a fun, witty little Batman story, an intriguing mystery with a global scope that doesn’t take itself too seriously, but also doesn’t diminish any of the characters or descend into being cute. I really liked it, and I’m looking forward to the next issue.
Giant-Size X-Statix 1
by Peter Milligan and Mike Allred
The best X-Book of the 21st Century (or at least the best one not written by Grant Morrison) returns for this special one-shot by the original creative team! The story’s about Doop and Mister Sensitive getting the band back together… even though the vast majority of the band is dead. But, between mysterious resurrections and previously-unknown offspring, they make it happen anyway.
This is the sort of book that could be a real damp squib, but Milligan and Allred pull it off. The original series was enough of a parody that this feels like a natural extension of it. And even though the story doesn’t go anywhere, really, I’m okay with that. It’s a fun read, and…
…it’s also just the launching point for an all-new series! Something to look forward to, then…
Superman’s Pal Jimmy Olsen 1
by Matt Fraction and Steve Lieber
I wanted to like this book more than I did. It’s fun and silly, as it should be, but… Fraction crosses the line into “cute” here. And (as long-time readers know) I can’t abide cute.
If you have a greater tolerance for that sort of thing, though, you might really enjoy it. It IS an awful lot of fun. And I’ll be giving it at least a couple more issues, just to see if it settles down into something I like better.
Aaaanndd… I guess that’s about it. I still have a few more books in the stack. Solid issues of Criminal, Redneck, and Gideon Falls, among others. But I’ve gone on at length about all those series before, and don’t know that I have anything new to add. So I think I’ll just let those go, and call it a night. See you next time, with… Well, hell. I don’t know. Whatever strikes my fancy, I guess…