So my stack of unreviewed funnybooks is getting pretty tall. And that means it’s time to clean out the backlog. There’s still new issues of nerd farm favorites like Lazarus, Criminal, East of West, Gideon Falls, Trees, and Ether in the mix, as well as a new Grant Morrison Green Lantern, the entire Dawn of X line of books, and what we’ll be starting with today…
by Simon Spurrier and Aaron Campbell
When I reviewed the one-shot special that relaunched this series, I realized belatedly that I did it a disservice: I quoted a line from the book for my headline, and that quote made it sound like the review was a lot more negative than it really was. I mean, I did have some problems with it, don’t get me wrong. But on the whole, I thought it was a pretty good try at recapturing the things that made the original series so good.
Well, now the new on-going series has started, and… Holy crap. This might be the best Hellblazer comic I’ve read this century. It really captures the feel of the early series. The Jamie Delano issues, when the book was all about ugly urban horror in the heart of London. There’s weird glowing twisty-necked angels who flay people alive with yard-long talons. There’s a drug-dealing street gang run by some kind of Meat Magician.
There’s a no-nonsense lady bouncer who’s got Constantine’s number from the moment she lays eyes on him, and who (in spite of her protestations to the contrary) seems destined to become his new best friend if she doesn’t beat the crap out of him first. And there’s a prominent member of the British government getting up to stuff that makes the guy from that Black Mirror episode look like Mike Pence.
So, yeah. This book is weird and wrong in all the right ways, and I freaking love it. The whole thing could still go off the rails in future issues, of course, but this is one hell of a good launch, and I’m glad I decided to pick it up.
Dawn of X
by A Few Dozen People
The monthly iteration of Jonathan Hickman’s X-Men relaunch has not lived up to the mini-series that launched it. Granted… That was daring, paradigm-shifting work. A whole year’s worth of comics released in three months, designed to surprise and thrill. That’s a difficult story pace to keep up on a monthly basis, and really not something you’d want, anyway. Continual paradigm shifts leave you with the confusing, annoying continuity porn too many corporate spandex comics have turned into. No, for the monthlies, you ideally need a stable, compelling concept around which to tell entertaining stories, with the status quo changing up less frequently.
Hickman has certainly provided a compelling new status quo, but the stories being told around it are… just okay, so far. Not bad, you understand. I’ve read at least one issue of all the various Dawn of X books, and while I certainly like some more than others, none of them are actively incompetent. They’re just… not great. But the fastest way to discuss the line is to run it down book by book, so let’s give that a shot…
Excalibur is the only one I actively disliked, though I think that’s due as much to personal taste as it is to poor quality. Granted, I didn’t think Tini Howard’s script was all that great, and Marcus To’s artwork was likewise only okay. But the book also seems divorced from the new status quo, concerned more with setting Betsy Braddock up as the new Captain Britain. It also features some of my least-favorite X-Men, including the two with maybe the most annoying accents Chris Claremont ever came up with: Gambit and Rogue. And Howard’s leaning into those accents instead of backing off them. So… yeah. Not a winner for me.
I was similarly disappointed with Fallen Angels. Szymon Kudranski’s artwork is interesting…
…but Bryan Hill’s handling of Psylocke feels kind of like a low-rent version of David Mack’s Kabuki. I am intrigued by the series’ primary MacGuffin, though: a technological “drug” that boosts human genetic potential. That allows Hill to play to the X-Men theme of human vs mutant without resorting to the usual hate crime motivations. Overall, though… This one’s not a winner for me.
Slightly better, but weirdly uncompelling, is Benjamin Percy and Joshua Cassara’s X-Force. I feel like I should like the weird stuff about Black Tom Cassidy mind-melding with Krakoa, but it doesn’t quite come off. I should also be happy to see Grant Morrison’s Quentin Quire, aka Kid Omega, back in action, but (like many Morrison creations) he’s not being written with any of the nuance Morrison layered into him, so he’s just a one-dimensional prick.
I was also, I must admit, a bit annoyed that a pretty important Dawn of X plot element played out in this book: the assassination of Charles Xavier. For one thing, the 90s-reject villains who pull it off are dull as dirt, and don’t really seem impressive enough to play such a major role. But mostly… That’s the sort of thing I’d rather see handled by Hickman in the main series, instead of in a secondary title that I don’t enjoy reading. I mean, I realize that’s why they put it here: to boost sales on a book that people are less willing to read than the one written by the big-name superstar who’s masterminding this whole relaunch. And I guess it worked, because I picked up the first two issues of X-Force solely to see what they were doing with that one plot point. But I won’t be buying any more, because I didn’t like those issues enough to keep spending money on them. I can get all the spoilers I want for free on-line, after all, and that’s what I’ll be doing if anything important happens in any of these secondary series. It’s fun playing along with a new super hero world, but six titles is five too many.
Which I suppose doesn’t bode well for my review of Gerry Duggan and Mateo Lolli’s Marauders. I really want to like this one, though. The concept of Kitty Pryde being a pirate in the employ of the Hellfire Club sounds fun and weird, with the promise of Machiavellian intrigue lurking in every corner. But in actual execution, it’s bland. The intrigue is tepid, the drama is middling, and the action is dull. Duggan does inject some much-appreciated nuance into his portrayal of Sebastian Shaw, who comes off as equal parts nervous, hopeful, and wary at the resurrection of his son. But there’s no real spark to any of it, and I wind up bored. Again, it’s not bad work, per se. It’s just… uninspired. And that’s disappointing.
Which leaves us with Jonathan Hickman’s two books. And those are disappointing in a completely different way. Before I get into that, though, I should also say that Hickman’s book are the best in the line. He’s clearly having fun with these comics, and it shows. They’re a mix of action and glib comedy that creates a very poppy sort of reading experience.
New Mutants, in particular, is just a romp. A sci-fi action comedy that doesn’t take itself at all seriously. Which is fine. There’s a place for that sort of thing, and Hickman’s turning in a pretty good example of the genre here. But I’m not laughing enough to make it worth four bucks a month.
X-Men appeals to me more, but that’s largely because it’s dealing so much with the nuts and bolts of the new X-premise. I’m intrigued by that stuff, and this is the book where it’s really being dealt with. Hickman’s also better than most at inserting glib humor in a way that doesn’t undercut the drama when it comes, and I appreciate that. But it’s not a style of humor that I enjoy, to be honest. I’m more into absurdity and transgression, so stuff like issue three’s “old lady super villains who refuse to curse” annoys me more than anything else.
Also, though… X-Men has been dealing mostly with the Krakoa stuff so far, and that’s the aspect of the new premise that I find least-fascinating. I’m far more interested in the global politics and interpersonal weirdness of the new mutant society, and those aspects aren’t being explored very entertainingly anywhere. There’s all kinds of new rules, and people living together who were trying to kill each other just a few weeks ago. How’s that working out? What does mutant culture look like, now that they’ve got a chance to build one? Would the more urban types want some kind of mutant city, instead of the island paradise atmosphere they’ve got now? Is “Bar Sinister” going to become the fabulous mutant hot spot I envisioned when that rumor sheet popped up in House of X?
These are the things I want to read about, but we’re mostly getting a new home base for the same old stories. And the one book that does seem interested in doing something with the new premise (Marauders) isn’t doing it very well. So I’m frustrated.
I honestly didn’t expect any of the new books to be very good, other than Hickman’s. And his are certainly the best. I’ll be sticking with X-Men a while longer, just to see where he goes with it. But (much like his Avengers run from a few years back) I’m starting to think that this may wind up being something I read when it’s nearly over, and the digital price drops down to something more in line with the amount of entertainment I’m getting out of it.
All My Favorite Indies
by Many of My Favorite Funnybook Creators
Normally, I wouldn’t lump my favorite current comics into one big category like this. They’re all pretty different, and would normally deserve their own separate reviews. But there’s a problem with them, from a reviewing standpoint: I’ve discussed them so many times that I wind up repeating myself.
Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips, for instance, seldom hit a wrong note. So the latest issue of Criminal (#10, I believe) is the same great noirish crime comics they always turn out. Likewise, the new issue East of West continues Jonathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta’s apocalypse Western in the same grand style as pretty much every other issue I’ve ever discussed. The horror continues to escalate in Jeff Lemire and Andrea Sorrentino’s Gideon Falls, too…
…and it continues to be the best horror comic on the stands (or at least it did, before Si Spurrier’s Hellblazer came out). The latest iteration of Warren Ellis and Jason Howard’s Trees continues its slow dive into zombie capitalist Russia, and the sci-fi murder mystery therein, but it’s the same patiently fascinating read it’s been from the beginning. And the most recent issue of Matt Kindt and David Rubin’s Ether is in the same fun/sad/imaginative vein as the rest of that series, as well.
They’re all really good comics, and you should really check them out. But, holy crap, I’m running out of nice things to say about them.
Even Greg Rucka and Michael Lark’s Lazarus calls for pretty much the same review I gave it last time: it’s still quite good, but it’s sufficiently complex that the new quarterly schedule doesn’t do it any favors. With its large cast and Machiavellian tone, I’m having trouble keeping everything straight between issues. I’m even starting to have trouble telling the characters of Johanna and Bethany Carlyle apart, if it’s not made clear which one I’m looking at in any given scene. And, you know, they are sisters, so the resemblance is appropriate. But their individual looks aren’t sticking in my head anymore, so I spend a lot of time wondering who I’m reading about.
I’m also not a big fan of the prose stories and Lazarus RPG supplements that fill out each over-sized issue, so I’m really not feeling it for the new format. I mean, I don’t feel like I’m being cheated or anything. I’m still getting two issues’ worth of story for the same price as two issues of the regular comic. So all that stuff I don’t read is basically free. I just feel like the book’s losing focus. If they can only do eight issues’ worth of comics a year, that’s fine. I just think a more regular release schedule for those eight issues would serve the story better.
Green Lantern: Blackstars 2
by Grant Morrison and Xermanico
So Blackstars is all about an altered reality where the Green Lantern Corps never existed, and the universe has instead slowly been coming under the domination of Controller Mu and his Blackstar group. And in this second issue, Grant Morrison has decided use that premise to send up the current state of DC Comics. Bleeding Cool cover the parody in detail here…
…but my two favorite bits are the renaming of the “Dark Multiverse” as “The Depressoverse” (a far more fitting name, I think), and this:
HEH. I’d pay good money to see Morrison write a one-shot about Aunt Harriet as Batman.
So, yeah. This was good stuff.
Aaaannnddd… I think that’s about it. There was a cool Tom King Batman Annual in the pile, too, as well as two or three issues of Jeff Lemire and Keith Giffen’s Inferior 5, and that new over-sized Question series from Lemire and Denys Cowan, too. But I’m running out of time and energy, so I think they’ll have to wait. There’s always next week, after all…