So a weird thing happened at the funnybook store last week: everything I bought was published by Marvel and DC Comics. I couldn’t tell you the last time that happened. I mean, there’s usually a couple of Big Two books in my stack. But not this many, and not to the exclusion of any other publishers. So let’s take a look at this pile of corporate spandex, and maybe see what the attraction is…
House of X 2
by Jonathan Hickman and Pepe Larraz
I usually try to start these columns with the best or most interesting book of any given week. So let me just say how surprised I am that Jonathan Hickman’s won that spot three weeks in a row. I’m even more surprised that he’s done it when he’s up against a Grant Morrison book. But this issue… Holy crap.
I can’t engage in any meaningful discussion of this thing without completely SPOILING it, but I’ll wait a bit to start that. For now, I’ll just say that this is good super hero comics. Big relaunches like this one often involve some kind of convoluted ret-con that requires a PhD in continuity to fully enjoy, and I am sick to death of that sort of thing. But Hickman pulls a ret-con here that’s not only genuinely surprising, but easy to understand and fun to read about. I found the whole issue terribly exciting, and my jaw dropped more than once along the way.
It dropped again on the re-read I did in preparation for writing this review, too, so this is also a book that rewards careful and intelligent reading. You can’t ask for much more from a mainstream super hero comic. So if you’re a fan of that sort of thing, and you’re not reading this weekly relaunch of the mutant books…
On with the SPOILERS.
Okay. So it turns out that Moira MacTaggert is actually a mutant with the power of reincarnation. Or rather, perhaps, rebirth. She lives her life over and over again, from birth to death, with full memory of all her previous trips through the mill. The Moira we know is on her tenth run-through, and dedicated to shaping events so that the mutant race is not wiped out or enslaved in a war with humanity.
With that one addition, Hickman has managed to change nothing, and everything, about X-Men history. It’s not quite clear yet how much influence Moira’s had on events as we know them. But that scene from last issue where she lets Xavier read her mind…
…now has some pretty freaking deep implications. Because this issue covers all of Moira’s previous lives (except, I’m sure significantly, Life Six), and over the course of that exploration, we see all kinds of future scenarios play out, featuring all the major players in all the various mutant wars of nearly 50 years of X-Men comics: Magneto hijacks nukes, Mystique’s version of the Brotherhood appears, Apocalypse wars on homo sapiens, Xavier’s Dream plays out in different variations (all of them ending in genocide), and the Sentinels always always ALWAYS play a role.
So if Xavier’s known all that, since the day he first thought up the idea of the X-Men… What the hell has he been playing at all these years? And why is he changing strategies so drastically now? Why wait so long? But Xavier is an interesting character here, in general. Moira meets him when they’re both studying at Oxford, and college-age Xavier is a charismatic and arrogant idealist. In history as we know it, experience grounds him, and tragedy teaches him a bit of humility. But the Xavier we’ve been seeing in House of X thus far kind of reminds me of that younger version we see here. Has the reserved schoolmaster thing been an act all this time? Or is it just that it’s finally time to make his dream a reality, and he can’t contain his happiness?
But this issue’s really all about Moira, and she’s even more fascinating than Xavier. The knowledge and experience she’s gained over her many lives have given her an advantage in some ways, but not in raw power. That point’s driven home in her third life, when (believing at the time that her mutation had ruined her life) she isolates the X-Gene and derives a “cure” for being a mutant. But before she can take it herself, she’s killed by Mystique and the Brotherhood, and dies a slow, agonizing death by fire. Since then, she’s tended to act through the agency of powerful men, presumably thinking that they’ll be able to protect her until her plans come to fruition. Hickman doesn’t spell that motivation out, but I think it’s very much there.
The thing I like most about Moira’s multiple lives, though, is that Hickman’s not treating her as someone with a master plan of clockwork precision. She’s more like a scientist, working things out through trial and error and learning from her mistakes. Of course, because this is super hero comics, there’s also a bunch of epic emotions in the mix. So her decisions are not always fully rational. She spends lives eight and nine, for instance, working with Magneto and Apocalypse, and those are the decisions of a desperate radical who’s seen too much death.
What that says about her plans here in Life Ten, I’m not entirely sure. She’s decided that all the old ways don’t work, and knows (from Life Seven, when she assassinated the Trask family) that the Sentinels are an inevitability. So this time, she’s trying something entirely different. The thing is, her “entirely different,” up til House of X, looks an awful lot like the previous variations. And even what’s going on now, with Xavier establishing a mutant homeland on Krakoa, looks a bit like things they’ve tried before. The timing’s different, and there’s less isolationism, but it still feels like just a variation on a theme. There is one difference, though, mentioned not in the story itself, but appearing as a blip on the six-page “Many Lives of Moira X” timeline Hickman put together for the back of this issue:
Now, even though that’s only pages five and six of the timeline, that’s still a lot to take in. So I’ll point out the blip I’m talking about for you: Life Ten is the first time Moira marries Joe MacTaggert, and the first time she gives birth to Proteus, a powerful vampiric mutant with the ability to alter reality.
But I’m sure that won’t be important in this story about a woman who’s spent 500 years reliving different versions of her life, trying to find a happy ending. Nope. A child with the power to alter reality couldn’t possibly be of any importance at all…
The Green Lantern 10
by Grant Morrison and Liam Sharp
Another fun, disjointed, completely insane issue of The Green Lantern here, this time featuring the Guardians of the Multiverse, and a threat to all creation from the Anti-Verse! This has actually been a running sub-plot throughout Morrison and Sharp’s Green Lantern run, coming to fruition here in this series’ usual meandering way. They have a lot of fun introducing the various alternate-universe Green Lanterns here, including the Emerald Knight (a Green Lantern / Batman mash-up from an old Elseworlds comic), and (my personal favorite) the Magic Lantern (from a reality where all the heroes have a 1960s counter-culture theme).
Far out! I especially dig the Blue Meanie inspired aliens there. AND the Galactic Guru, of course.
The comic pretty much stops making sense after that, though. I mean… I understand what happens, and there are some nice moments, especially as Morrison plays Emerald Knight and Magic Lantern off each other. But the story doesn’t come together, quite. Not that any issue of this book is entirely coherent, but whereas I normally don’t see that as a problem, this time things go off the rails.
I think maybe it’s because there are just too many new things to deal with, and none of them has time to quite sink in properly. Each Multiversal GL has their own unique spin, and we’ve also got to absorb the idea that this Multiversal team even exists in the first place. Then there’s two different callbacks to last issue’s Superwatch outer space team (one of which calls back to the anti-matter mining colony referenced briefly back in issue one), a weird anti-matter giant who pops up for one panel (who looks different from the anti-matter giant we saw last issue, but I think may be the same one), a seemingly pointless appearance from Uugo (a “conscious planet” GL who hasn’t been seen since Green Lantern #24), and a trip to Earth 15, where the heroes of that now-dead world are resurrected via necromancy for a cryptic interrogation.
All this stuff is very cool, and a lot of fun to read about. But none of it gets enough space to have much impact. It just spills over you, one thing after another, and you don’t have time to appreciate any of it before you’re on to the next thing.
And before all that, we’ve also got last issue’s cliffhanger to deal with: the threat of the Anti-Man! This is the same weird anti-matter vampire thing initially freed by the Blackstars back in issue one, and he’s been built up as this mysterious and incredibly deadly threat. But he’s disposed of too quickly for us to really get a feel for how dangerous he’s supposed to be, so Morrison has to tell us in dialogue after the fight’s over. That is literally textbook bad writing, and I expect better from Morrison, who’s normally quite good at establishing concepts in a limited amount of space.
So in the end, I’m left feeling like this issue is less than the sum of its parts. That’s exactly the opposite of how I usually feel about this book, and I must admit that I’m a bit disappointed.
Doom Patrol: Weight of the World 2
by Gerard Way and James Harvey
This new Doom Patrol series is just as disjointed and nonsensical as the previous one, but somehow the artwork of James Harvey makes me not care so much.
Somehow, I think the more grounded work Nick Derington did on the previous volume lead me to expect a story that made sense on more than a dream-logic level, and that detracted from my enjoyment. Harvey’s more surreal imagery matches the tone of the story much better, allowing me to go with the flow.
So Negative Man gives birth to three orbs of positive energy that get into Casey’s anthropomorphic cat and turn him into some kind of guru who performs marriage counseling via hug therapy for a couple of planets seeking a divorce?
Yeah, okay, sure. I’m down.
I’m also digging Harvey’s hand-lettering on this book. It’s perfectly legible, but lacks the professional slickness of most modern comics. It’s idiosyncratic and cool, and fits the overall visual package perfectly. They go with a more standard print font for the issue’s amazing-but-text-heavy two-page spread featuring a map of Dannyland…
…but that’s probably for the best.
So… yeah. I think I like this new Doom Patrol book. It’s finally realizing whatever it’s been grasping at since the Young Animal relaunch, and that’s a good thing indeed.
Immortal Hulk 22
by Al Ewing and Joe Bennett
This book is so much fun. I love the horror-tinged take on the Hulk, but I’m also a big fan of how much of a roller coaster ride the last six or seven issues have been. We’ve got multiple Hulk personas manifesting, Betty Ross as the Harpy, Rick Jones (and now General Fortean) as the new fist-for-a-face version of the Abomination… We’ve got Doc Samson hanging out with Alpha Flight and the Absorbing Man, all of whom have become part of the supporting cast… It’s nuts!
I know comics fandom at large has jumped on this particular bandwagon, but I’ve been here since issue one, and it’s been a great ride. It’s not god’s gift to comics or anything, but it is a book I look forward to every time a new one hits the stands. The bi-weekly release schedule makes it a bit expensive to follow, and you figure that’ll have to burn Ewing out eventually. But for now, it’s a welcome part of my funnybook experience.
Lois Lane 2
by Greg Rucka and Mike Perkins
I think I want to like this comic more than I actually do. It’s solid heroic journalism stuff, coming in an era when we very much need a few heroic depictions of that particular profession. It’s taking all the right shots at all the right people, juxtaposing gossip journalism against hard news, and just generally giving us the tough-as-nails Lois Lane we need right now.
But something about it feels flat. We’ve seen the noirish lady investigator schtick before. The jokes about Lois’ bad spelling were old when I was young. And if I never read another Greg Rucka story featuring Renee Montoya as the Question again, I will not cry. Not that I’ve got anything against the character, but… I just feel like we’ve been here before, and I was more entertained by it then.
So I dunno. It’s a solid mystery story with very nice art from Mike Perkins, and I really want to like it. I’ll keep reading it for a while, even. But I want it to be better than it is.
by Chip Zdarsky, Lalit Kumar Sharma, and Jay Leisten
So I had decided to drop this book last issue. But the new one came out, and I bought it because it was still on my pull list, and I don’t like sticking my local funnybook store with merchandise. And, because I was doing this column, I read it, and…
I think Zdarsky might have pulled me back in.
I’m still less than interested in Matt Murdock: Parole Officer, nor am I all that enamored of Cole North: Good Cop in a Bad Department. After Matt gave up being Daredevil a few issues back, in fact, it looked like North was being set up to take on the mask, and I decided that I didn’t really want to read that story. And it might still go there, for all I know, but this issue, Zdarsky does something really interesting: still torn over how best to use his abilities to help people, Matt Murdock rescues a missing teen who’s gotten in over his head, using his heightened senses and ninja training to take on a completely defensive fighting style.
Ignoring the less-than-ideal execution of the scene by guest artist Lalit Kumar Sharma, THAT is an interesting idea. Granted, Matt’s taking on a bunch of VERY low-level thugs there, and their leader still nearly takes him out on the next page. He’s obviously going to need to work on this new fighting style a bit. But I could really get behind a super hero who wins fights without ever throwing a punch.
So we’ll see where this goes, I guess.
And that’s all the comics I bought last week. So! What have I learned about why I buy corporate spandex comics? Nothing very surprising, I’m afraid. I buy corporate spandex comics for the same reasons I buy any comic: because they’re interesting or fun, or because they surprise me in some way. Ultimately, I’m looking for something with a spark of creativity to it. Something a bit beyond your average workaday genre fiction (or that at least stands to one side of it). And I don’t much care who publishes it.
I suppose the mainstream super hero stuff does have an edge when it comes to nostalgia. If I like a character or concept, an interesting take on it is more likely to catch my attention. The Hulk was my first favorite comic, for instance, and X-Men meant a lot to me in my high school years. And I’ve loved the Doom Patrol since I first laid eyes on them, years before I ever read an issue of their actual series.
But then there’s the other side of corporate comics. All that mainstream nonsense that gets in the way. The editorial mandates and the crossovers that hijack storylines and that weird grasping desperation for “stories that matter” when what they really need to focus on is “stories that are actually good.” It’s amazing to me that anything worth reading comes out from the Big Two at all. So to have read this many of their books in a single week is nothing short of a miracle, as far as I’m concerned.
Either that, or I need to start cutting back on my funnybook consumption…