So, whoo boy, do we have a ton of funnybooks to discuss this week. The launch of the monthly version of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men! New Gideon Falls and Criminal! My first time reading Michel Fiffe’s Copra! Frank Miller’s continuing renaissance! And, holy crap, this first book…
Immortal Hulk 24 & 25
by Al Ewing, German Garcia, and Joe Bennett
Issue 24 of Ewing and Bennett’s Hulk run pretty much wraps up the storyline involving General Fortean and the machinations of Shadow Base, who’ve been the series’ recurring “villains” (if such a term can be applied to anyone in this book other than the Hulk himself). And that’s all well and good. Fortean provided plot movement that forced the build-up of the gamma-cursed cast, with all their fascinating and monstrous psychological baggage, and that’s what this book’s really all about. But Fortean was doomed (DOOMED!) to fail, and I was getting tired of him, anyway.
Then it jumps ahead eons, and we find out that Bruce Banner will be the final living thing in the universe when it ends. And when he meets the “Sentience of the Cosmos” on the occasion of that universal ending, this happens:
Well, okay. Didn’t see THAT coming.
Nor did I see what Ewing gave us in issue 25. The story here is told from the perspective of a far-future genderless alien named Par%l, who’s traveling through space on a mission to find out if there’s any other life left in the universe. S/he meets another member of hir own species, a former lover who’s perverted a brood-nest of eggs so that only one survives, one that Par%l (no, I don’t know how to pronounce that, either) declares an “abomination.”
It’s an engrossing read. Ewing expresses this alien mindset in such a way that we can appreciate it, but not entirely understand it. The result, for me, was a reading experience I had to slowly sink into over the first few pages, settling into its tone and rhythms as I went. The whole thing has a sort of patient melancholy about it, a slow steady surrendering to the inevitable.
Then the Hulk shows up.
Okay, so sharing three back-to-back two-page spreads (all of which you can click to embiggen) may be a bit of overkill. But, screw it. The ridiculous Kirbyesque grandeur of that sequence NEEDS to be spoiled. The planet-sized Hulk, the continents of flesh, the way he takes out a world with a cosmic clothesline… Holy crap.
And why does future-Hulk turn into such a relentless destroyer? There’s a touch of cruelty to it, to be sure, and it’s really The One Below All who’s behind it. But I’m starting to suspect that The One Below All is just Banner’s Id in an even scarier mask than it usually wears. And that idea resonates rather well with the reason Cosmic Hulk gives for all this destruction:
He wants to be alone. Yeah. That sounds familiar. I don’t know how many times the child-like Hulk of my youth said that, but in my memory, every time some asshole decided to start pounding on him, he would yell, “HULK JUST WANT TO BE LEFT ALONE!”
Back then, it was charming. Now, however… Not so much.
I honestly have no idea where Al Ewing’s going to take this book next. A beacon is sent back from the far future to stop the above events from happening, and it winds up in very sinister hands. But… At this point, I’ve given up on trying to predict things. I’ll just be going along for the ride.
by Jonathan Hickman and Leinil Francis Yu
The big-picture introduction to Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men being done, we’re now moving on to the monthly adventures, with the focus shifting from the overview down to how Our Mutant Heroes actually live in this brave new world they’ve created. And if this first issue is any indication… I don’t think I’m going to like it as much.
I know what the problem is. With these long-running licensed characters, I have trouble getting too invested in personal drama. Any change or growth these characters undergo is only likely to last as long as the current creative team, and the next guy might have a conflicting idea that I don’t like. So I tend to prefer either high-quality iconic takes, or stories (like Hickman’s HoX/PoX) that present interesting new situations where the characters’ personalities are developed largely in service to the plot.
If I can’t have real character development, in other words, I’d rather they just not bother. Tell me cool stories instead. Dazzle me with diamonds instead of baffling me with bullshit.
Not that I think this X-Men comic is bullshit. It’s actually rather well-done. There’s a big focus on Cyclops here, as the first and most ardent believer in Xavier’s Dream now finds himself living in a hard-won paradise of his own making.
But the core of the issue is really a big dinner with the extended Summers family, and that includes a few moments of domestic comedy that don’t play well for me. Like the social awkwardness of the third Summers brother, Gabriel. I didn’t find the “cosmic being is confused by everyday life” gag very funny the first time I saw it, and I find this 100th iteration even less so.
I’m also having a hard time buying into Hickman’s hardcore mutant supremacist Storm. We’ve already seen her serving in an evangelical role for the new Krakoan society, and this issue she’s spouting dialogue about how the humans should just surrender to their betters. This is a far cry from the spiritual weather goddess I know, and I don’t think Hickman’s done anything as yet to explain the change. Maybe it’s supposed to be a clue that something’s not right, but it’s not being treated that way, and I’m not sure I’m willing to give him the benefit of the doubt that he’s being that subtle.
Of course, he just tosses Wolverine into the Summers family shindig without comment, and then matter-of-factly shows us an interesting sleeping arrangement for him, Scott, and Jean…
…so maybe I’m not giving him enough credit.
He’s also not commenting on the cult of personality building around Magneto, but if there’s any indication that Krakoa’s already going off the rails, it’s that. I mean, I get it. The X-Men are through with the dream of peaceful co-existence. And that, quite frankly, is a completely understandable reaction to the mass slaughter they’ve faced as a people. But considering the places Magneto’s ego has taken him in the past… Somebody ought to be at least a tiny bit concerned here. Of course, considering the number of coffins their Orchis enemies trot out in the wake of a suspiciously off-camera confrontation with him…
…it may very well be that he’s already violating the Krakoan law to take no human life. Or it may be a dirty trick to strengthen the resolve of the Orchis troops. We’ll have to see where that goes.
Hmm. You know… After talking this issue through, I’m finding more to like in it. I’m still going to have trouble really investing in the character stuff, but there’s enough plot and (I hope) subtlety to get me through. I’m looking forward to the next issue more already. Which is half the reason I write this stuff, you understand: a second, deeper read often reveals things I missed, and makes me like my comics better. So, in spite of my reservations, I’d say that’s mission accomplished on this one.
Still, though… Leinil Yu’s spotty storytelling knocks it down a peg, so I can only go as high as…
by Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips
In contrast to X-Men, we have Criminal, a book that’s all about the characters for me. Well, okay. It’s about plot and theme, too. But I can get invested in the characters more here, because when they get developed, I can trust that it’ll stick.
Which is maybe an odd thing to say about a flashback story like “Cruel Summer,” the current Criminal arc. We’ve seen most of the characters here before, years down the line. So we know what happens to them and who they turn out to be. What we’re really getting here, in many cases, is important background. The events that shape them into the characters we already know. This issue’s chapter, for instance, is told from the perspective of Leo, the sneak thief who was the protagonist of the very first Criminal story, “Coward.”
There, he was a messed up adult. Here, he’s a nervous troubled teen, trained as a pickpocket by his father and uncle, and starting to develop the planning skills that later make him such a careful criminal. He’s friends with Ricky Lawless, an angry and even more troubled teen who grows into a loose cannon of an adult, constantly losing control and ruining his life. They’re a bit of an odd couple, to be sure. The careful planner who fears getting caught, and the reckless asshole who just wants the world to burn. But maybe they have more in common than you’d think.
And that’s why Criminal is a better comic than X-Men.
Gideon Falls 17
by Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino
The deeper we get into this book, the weirder it gets.
Holy crap, right? And that’s PAGE FIVE. While I don’t think the book gets visually weirder after that, the story very well might. In addition to the demonic horror that is the series’ stock in trade, we’re also dealing with alternate realities and time travel, and at this point, it’s all in the mix. And though I still think I liked the book better when it was more of a rural folk horror thing, the broader, more sci-fi story elements are growing on me.
So this one’s still a keeper, a reliable source of entertainment that I look forward to every month.
by Michel Fiffe
This first issue of Copra, Volume 2, was the first one I’d ever read, and…
Wow. Michel Fiffe REALLY likes Suicide Squad, doesn’t he? Not the modern iteration, or the one they made the movie about, but the 1980s John Ostrander / Luke McDonnell series that revived the early-60s spy comic as a super villain extravaganza. I mean, I really liked that book, too, back then.
This thing is essentially Suicide Squad fan fiction. As filtered through Frank Miller and Rob Liefeld. But better than that might sound, because Fiffe is smart about all his sources, and goes all-out with them in a way that Suicide Squad itself never had the guts for.
It’s pretty great.
I don’t know if I’ll ever read another issue, mind you, because it’s not quite my thing.
But, holy crap.
It’s kind of awesome.
Superman: Year One 3
by Frank Miller and John Romita Jr
I am still impressed by how much I’m enjoying this comic. And not in the way I usually enjoy Miller’s work for hire stuff. Which is to say… I’m not treating this book as high camp comedy, and chortling along at its excesses.
No, with this book, what I’m getting really seems to be Frank Miller’s youthful love of super heroes shining through. I mean, it’s still filtered by the adult Miller’s jaded worldview. His Lex Luthor is a rich megalomaniacal control freak, and Superman is hardly coming of age in an idealized world. But Superman himself is pure of heart. Not flawless, and not an unthinking boy scout. His morality is considered, and we’ve been shown how he came to be that way. But that just makes his purity that much better.
It’s not perfect, mind you. There’s a considerable gap left, I think, between last issue’s “King of Atlantis” ending and this issue’s “time to become a reporter” beginning. Some of it’s just the character maturing off-camera, and I admire Miller’s guts in taking that kind of storytelling risk. But one line of dialogue might have been enough to draw a line between here and there, and that would have been appreciated.
There’s also some Silver Age story logic being applied, and I did sometimes find myself this issue thinking, “I don’t think it would be that simple…” But the story’s enough fun, and being told in sufficient shorthand, that I’m willing to forgive it.
As the cover shows, this issue Superman meets Batman and Wonder Woman, and we see the beginning of their relationship. I’m especially fascinated by his Batman here. While Superman is all quiet confidence, Batman is insecure bluster. I think this is very much the Batman of All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder, the one young Dick Grayson called out for doing a bad Clint Eastwood impersonation. He’s decided that he has to strike fear to be effective, and he’s still over-selling it.
It’s definitely NOT the Wonder Woman of that book, mind you.
And that’s for the best. Funny as I found that take on the character, it doesn’t fit in this book. That’s something Miller wrote when he was in the midst of his breakdown, and I don’t think that’s something he really wants to revisit now. Granted, he doesn’t do much with her at all in this issue, and that’s a shame. I liked his battle-hardened DK2 Wonder Woman quite a bit, and I’d be fascinated to see him tackle her at the other end of her career.
So, yes. Superman: Year One continues to be a tale of salvation. Not salvation for the characters, mind you, but salvation for the author. And though he’s not the Frank Miller of old… Well, hell. How could he be? It’s just nice to have him back.
History of the Marvel Universe 4
by Mark Waid and Javier Rodriguez
I really don’t have much to say about this issue. This series has become increasingly less interesting as it’s fallen into just recapping stories as they happened, in chronological order. At this point, I’m mostly still reading it to see if they come up with another ret-con as mind-blowingly bad as that “Siencong War” nonsense they’re using to replace Vietnam.
And for the art, to be honest. Because it’s fun to see Javier Rodriguez draw just about anything. And this issue is especially worth a look, just to see him doing Rob Liefeld.
Heh. If only the original comics had looked that good…