Friday, September 30, 2016

Quarter Bin 96 "Nova #1"

Nova #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016

writer: Sean Ryan

artist: Cory Smith

A few years back Jeph Loeb introduced Sam Alexander, whose touching backstory included a dad who was a Nova, and no one believed him until he went missing, leaving his Nova helmet behind, at which Sam did believe him, and became the new Nova (who like Green Lantern over at DC is actually a whole space cop corps, as represented in Guardians of the Galaxy).  Then Marvel decided to ditch the poignant angle, and just keep Sam as a Nova, a new Nova, and basically leave it at that.

This relaunch teases a father/son reunion, but the end of the issue predictable disabuses us of such depth...Sorry, this is another one I just didn't get.  I get that comics are supposed to be fun, and that there ought to be plenty of stuff for readers who don't want to be bothered with too much backstory and such, which is to say young and/or immature readers, but when you have Jeph Loeb create something, you don't immediately ditch what he set up for the sake of convenience.  And maybe he himself was okay with what Marvel did with Sam, knew it right from the start, but as a reader, I just don't get it.

It's like everyone who's disappointed with DC movies trying to be too dark.  Well, my Marvel stereotype is that their stories are too dim.  And stuff like this doesn't help. 

Thursday, September 29, 2016

Quarter Bin 95 "Karnak #1"

Karnak #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Warren Ellis

artist: Gerardo Zaffino

Warren Ellis is one of the elite comic book writers I don't normally have much time for, but he's got at least one project (Supreme: Blue Rose) that I think truly does warrant his genius reputation, so I always like to keep his work in mind.

Karnak is an Inhumans series.  The Inhumans are Marvel's attempt to try and replace the X-Men as the dominant subset group of its publishing line, because currently the X-Men belong to 20th Century Fox as a movie franchise (Marvel has taken the Fantastic Four completely off the board for similar reasons, but it would be foolhardy to try and do the same with the X-Men, but darned if it doesn't try really hard to do so).  I don't know much of anything about Karnak as a character outside of what I've read in this very issue, but the Inhumans in general seem to have very little definition and a lot of suggestion about them, and I'd never heard of Karnak until I saw this series on the shelves for the first time.

I wish I could bother uploading images, because it's the cover of this issue that always had me semi-interested in it (I finally read this because of a handy comics package). It's a great, impressive cover, Karnak's face imposing itself so that he looks completely badass without really having to do anything to achieve it.

But Karnak turns out to be a little like Doctor Strange mixed with the Spectre.  Ellis tends to write genius characters because there's so little work involved in actually establishing their genius.  It's just assumed that whatever they do is genius.  I mean, it's practically a comics staple, and in that regard, Ellis is right on target.  (He ought to write a Doctor Doom series.)

Grumpy Karnak is asked by Phil Coulson (who's one of those characters Marvel is using a lot these days because of the movies, but whose appearance here totally justifies it; Ellis should be writing a Phil Coulson series instead of a Karnak series) to look after one of the many, many humans recently exposed as an Inhuman because of a McGuffin (Ms. Marvel is the most famous example; she otherwise has absolutely nothing to do with the Inhumans, except for a few early issues).  Karnak proves to be a dick, because he can get away with it.  Pretty much end of story.

Bottom line is, I have absolutely no idea why Karnak exists.  Doesn't really rate such a killer cover.

Wednesday, September 28, 2016

Quarter Bin 94 "Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1"

Howling Commandos of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Frank Barbiere

artist: Brent Schoonover

I have little enough to say about this one, which I think is dedicated to the kind of hardcore Marvel reader who will care about this attempt to keep the Howling Commandos brand alive, but I will say that I love the idea of Dum Dum Dugan as the lead, and I'll expand a little on why:

First, it's a Marvel tradition I don't normally get to see a lot of, because it usually turns up in all the stuff I don't read from the company, because I've just never been a dedicated Marvel fan.  Dugan is officially a Life Model Decoy, which in the past has been a gimmick used to explain away (retcon) things that didn't prove popular among readers.  Dugan is part of the original Howling Commandos, who fought with Captain America in WWII (they're in Captain America: The First Avenger to prove it, and Dugan is played by Neal McDonough, who's long been a favorite of mine).

Dugan as a LMD plays into my DC/Star Trek roots.  Cadmus is a cloning facility familiar to "Reign of the Supermen" fans as the secret origin of Superboy, plus it employs the Guardian, another WWII legacy character who looks like the blue/yellow version of Captain America (which I'm sure is no coincidence), who's also a legacy clone.  In Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, the Vorta Weyoun appears in various clone units throughout the series (the last one dies in the last episode).

So Dugan dealing with being a clone is the best thing I can take from this, and the fact that he dies this issue, and his replacement is activated, and asks where S.H.I.E.L.D. keeps his trademark bowler hats.  That much is good stuff, and I'll just leave it at that.

Tuesday, September 27, 2016

Quarter Bin 93 "Hawkeye #2"

Hawkeye #2 (Marvel)
From February 2016

writer: Jeff Lemire

artist: Ramon Perez

To call Jeff Lemire one of my favorite active writers would probably be an understatement.  He's been writing some of my favorite comics for years now.  If anyone could follow up Matt Fraction's Hawkeye with something with even a slim chance of being as clever, it would be Lemire.

(Never mind that it would've been perfectly acceptable to keep the same numbering.  Uh-uh.  Not Marvel.  Not these days.  DC at least let a bunch of its New 52 series actually reach fifty-two, consistently-numbered consecutive issues.  Marvel now has seasons, which only makes sense for the dedicated monthly readers.)

Lemire even keeps Clint Barton and Kate Bishop working alongside each other in-tact.  I love that.  I've been a fan of Kate since she debuted in Young Avengers.  If any of those characters were going to extend their shelf lives, I'm glad it was her.  It doesn't hurt that she's following in the footsteps of a less-than-giant.  (As if to punctuate that, Marvel recently had Clint murder the Hulk, and so that's probably the end of him.)

In true Lemire fashion, however, he's not just content to keep things the way Fraction had them, but have a look at the future, with the past and future converging.  It shouldn't work but it does. 

I love that the art keeps general pace with the Fraction era, too.  I mean, that's Marvel really letting a good thing continue, in the best possible way.  Bravo, Marvel.

Monday, September 26, 2016

Quarter Bin 92 "Hail Hydra #1"

Hail Hydra #1 (Marvel)
From September 2015

writer: Rick Remender

artist: Roland Boschi

Yeah, I had no idea this one even existed, or at least what it was, among the glut of Secret Wars spin-off mini-series.  Someone over at Marvel had a look at what DC was doing with Convergence, and decided they'd like some of that action, and so a lot of old storylines were revisited in one form or another, and apparently one of them was Rick Remender's run on Captain America, by Rick Remender himself, and that Secret Wars spin-off mini-series is this very title.  Again, I had absolutely no idea.  The title doesn't exactly give it away, now does it?

There were apparently four issues of this, all of them written by Remender.  It's a follow-up, specifically, to his notion that Arnim Zola had a son who in Damian Wayne fashion ended up being mentored by Steve Rogers.  While the greater story around Hail Hydra draws on the bonkers kit-bashing reality of Secret Wars and thusly dumps Leopold Zola/Ian Rogers into an alternate reality where Arnim Zola rules with an iron fist, it at least puts him into a situation where he must confront his past all over again.

Remender's Captain America was easily one of my most pleasant discoveries of the past few years, something that broke free of the pseudo-earnestness of the Ed Brubaker years and just had some fun with the core concepts.  I love that Marvel gave him a shot to revisit it.  I don't know if it was Marvel's or Remender's idea to completely bury the result, but it at least becomes another pleasant discovery, because this is once again one of the best things I've read from Marvel recently.

I also love that Roland Boschi, whether at Remender's direction or otherwise, ends up depicting the alternate Leopold Zola Ian finds himself confronting exactly like Tom Hardy's Shinzon from Star Trek Nemesis.  It can't have been a coincidence one way or another.

Sunday, September 25, 2016

Quarter Bin 91 "Captain America: Sam Wilson #1"

Captain America: Sam Wilson #1 (Marvel)
From December 2015

writer: Nick Spencer

artist: Daniel Acuna

Lately Marvel has been given a whole franchise to one writer, be it Brian Michael Bendis and Iron Man or Nick Spencer and Captain America.  Recently, Spencer debuted his second series, Captain America: Steve Rogers, which ignited a lightning rod when he revealed Steve has kind of been a Hydra agent all along (pay no attention to the Cosmic Cube behind the curtain).  So what about his Sam Wilson series?

Following on the heels of the earlier Sam Wilson/Captain America (which featured artwork from Stuart Immonen), this reboot picks things up in medias res, quite literally, with Sam in big trouble with everyone because he dares ask Americans to pay attention to crime around them.  Anyway, it's Spencer's bid to make Sam's Cap socially relevant.

If you had no idea why Sam even was Captain America, this issue is not going to help you.  It's part of Marvel's increasingly clumsy efforts to keep sales good by rebooting every series without a good reason, because for a lot of these series, the only thing changing is the creative team, such as the case is here.  Otherwise, there's no reason to have a new first issue if there's nothing but some engineered controversy to try and make it stand out.

That makes it ironic that Spencer's own Steve Rogers series has a real controversy, but then, it also has a rejuvenated Steve Rogers, who for a little while was an old man without super-soldier serum anymore.  This one just has Sam Wilson, randomly being Captain America, because he used to be his partner, as the otherwise totally unrelated Falcon (who has a falcon as an ally).

Sorry, I'm sounding negative again.  I swear I'll tone that down.

The art is from Daniel Acuna, who's been a Marvel guy for a few years now, but I still best remember as a DC guy, doing Freedom Fighters comics.  Here his work, whether intentionally or not, evokes Stuart Immonen's.  (See the note above.)  Still, I like his work and won't complain about that.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Quarter Bin 90 "Captain America: White #1"

Captain America: White #1 (Marvel)
From November 2015

writer: Jeph Loeb

artist: Tim Sale

I'd already read this issue when it was originally released, but it came in one of the packs of slightly oldish comics I picked up recently (I love that comics are being packaged and sold in diverse retail environments again), so here I am, reading and writing about it again.

I've continued to be a fan of Loeb/Sale even after they've stopped being popular (I tend to do that), especially in a project (this one) that didn't seem to interest anyone, even though Marvel does few enough projects like it, and for fans like me it's an ideal way to read a company that more often than not alienates me.

Like Loeb/Sale's other Marvel projects over the years (Spider-Man: Blue, Daredevil: Yellow, and Hulk: Gray), Captain America: White is a kind of origin story that takes the form of a reminiscence over a lost loved one.  In this case, Steve Rogers lamenting Bucky Barnes. 

It's kind of odd, because Bucky finally came back from the dead (you may have heard about it), and so trying to get people interested in a concept that's now completely retro is probably one of the reasons nobody cared about this.  Marvel fans are hopelessly nostalgic to a fault, but they also love the idea of being eternally current.  If that makes any sense.  Very few Marvel stories stand the test of time in the ways DC's routinely do.  It's more about nostalgia, like I said, and whatever's happening now (heh). 

It comes off as a little homoerotic (not that there's anything wrong with that, but unlike Batman & Robin I don't think anyone ever really suggested such a relationship before) for Steve to be pining away for Bucky in the classic Loeb/Sale/Marvel manner, which I think is another reason fans skipped over this one.  The biggest problem is that other than Peggy Carter or her descendant Sharon (a thing that mostly has its roots in the movies), Steve Rogers has never been depicted as someone with any close relationships.  He's a soldier, and soldiers bond with other soldiers.  But Bucky is usually depicted as much younger than him (Loeb describes the relationship as father/son).  The great irony of Steve that few writers choose to spotlight is that in a lot of ways he's still the skinny little guy who originally couldn't make it into the army.  Loeb/Sale bring this up in terms of his relationship with women, but even in that it just makes it seem that much more that the real problem is that he's gay and just doesn't seem to know it.  You don't have women throwing themselves all over you and remain totally oblivious to it, just because of who you used to be.  You can probably ask any given celebrity about that sort of thing.

The issue prints not only the first one but reprints the zero issue as well, from nearly a decade ago.  For whatever reason there was a massive delay between the start and completion of this project, whether because Loeb got too busy in Hollywood or Sale just wasn't feeling motivated, or whatever.  Neither really deals with Steve's transformation, but rather throws him and Bucky into the war (there's a little contradiction as to whether the story starts with their first or last excursion).

Regardless, if you'd never read Loeb/Sale before, I'm sure this would all read a lot better.  I tend to read too much into things, or think too much in general.  But then, this series hasn't exactly been a blockbuster, either.  But it's definitely worth a look, as a curiosity at the very least. 

Friday, September 23, 2016

Quarter Bin 89 "Black Widow #1"

True Believers: Black Widow #1 (Marvel)
From November 2015/January 2014.

writer: Nathan Edmondson

artist: Phil Noto

Ever since Scarlet Johansson showed up in the movies as Black Widow, Marvel has made tepid efforts to make the character more visible in its comics, including a number of solo series attempts.  This reprint of the second-most-recent attempt (Marvel's recent penchant for restarting titles about once a year is a really weird business practice for anyone attempting to keep track of what's actually working and whether they're just goosing sales for everything to mask such things) comes from a few years ago.

But you can see how achingly Nathan Edmondson follows the movie template of the mysterious Natasha Romanov.  I know first issues tend to generalize in order to contextualize the concept, but I felt like I was reading an impression of the movie character rather than someone who's existed in the comics for decades.  This is a very, very bad thing. 

I mean, I get corporate synergy and all.  I scratched my head for years while Marvel failed to sync up the movie and comic Tony Starks (which finally the only man capable of doing so, Brian Michael Bendis, did, only to set up a teenage black girl to replace him).  But a character who does exist in the comics, who theoretically has a richer history than has so far been depicted in the movies, should have something better than this. 

I also get that the whole point of these particular True Believers reprints were meant to spotlight Marvel's rich crop of female-led comics it's got going on (part of a complete diet of diversity that's kind of hard to argue with).

In this context, Black Widow becomes like Wolverine.  No, not the current Wolverine, who of course is a girl, but the original, part of whose mystique was that for years he didn't and we didn't know much about his origins.  But the strange thing about Black Widow is that she exists in an Avengers universe where the movies, for those members lucky enough to get their own movies (unlike Black Widow or Hawkeye), have been all about origins.  I honestly don't know if the comic book Black Widow has always been this mysterious, and I honestly don't know how this benefits her.  Because she's a character who's literally a Russian spy who inexplicably works alongside Americans without really referencing the fact that historically and in the present, Russians and Americans really only get along in the International Space Station.

But Edmondson seems perfectly happy writing a comic where such nuances don't exist.  And we just sort of vaguely follow along the movie template.  This is shallow writing.  I don't blame Edmondson, but the editors who sanctioned this series, and the filmmakers too cowardly to handle Black Widow the same way they've handled nearly every other Avenger.  (I mean, sure, Captain America: The Winter Soldier was as much a Black Widow movie as it was a Nick Fury movie, and only vaguely a Captain America movie, and even more vaguely about the Winter Soldier, but...)

I don't mean to sound so negative, but it's just that it's offensive for Marvel to handle Black Widow like this in two mediums.  The least it could do is let someone do a Black Widow comic like the excellent Hawkeye comics of the past few years.  I mean, if you're going to not even pretend she's anywhere near the guys anyway, at least let the series be fun to read, right?

Friday, September 2, 2016

Quarter Bin 88 "Marvel's All New, All Different"

Back issues of the recent past this edition: All-New All-Different Avengers #1, the Uncanny Inhumans #2, Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1, Secret Wars #5, Secret Wars Too, Spider-Woman #1, Star Wars: Darth Vader #11, and Web-Warriors #2.

All-New All-Different Avengers #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
The Alex Ross cover doesn't exactly scream the same "youth" as the lineup and interior of this revamped team, featuring characters from the Ms. Marvel generation.  Written by Mark Waid and drawn by Adam Kubert (the brother who worked on Action Comics with Geoff Johns, not the one who worked on Batman with Grant Morrison), this is exactly an updated version of the kind of stuff Marvel has been doing since the '60s, and hey, it seems to be working quite well for them, right? 

The Uncanny Inhumans #2 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
With the heavy role the Inhumans are playing lately, not just in Civil War II but generally speaking (Marvel is kind of desperate for them to replace the X-Men, whose movies are not currently controlled by Dr. Disney), it was kind of crucial for the comics to be good.  I knew Charles Soule had it in him, and Steve McNiven has been a heavy-hitter (collaborations with Mark Millar on the first Civil War and the original "Old Man Logan," for instance) for years, so creatively, I have nothing to complain about.  The comic is good, too, with Black Bolt falling out with his lady Medusa, and their son Ahura falling under the influence of Kang, an arc that accelerates giddily throughout this issue.  I have plenty of evidence that Soule knows how to write great comics (his Secret Wars version of Civil War, for instance, in case you thought I'd referenced that title for the last time), so it's good to see that he started out well here, too.

Agents of S.H.I.E.L.D. #1 (Marvel)
From March 2016.
This is stuff adapted from the TV series, which I've never particularly made a habit of watching (I'm a Flash guy, with some real effort toward DC's Legends of Tomorrow tossed in), but I knew Agent Coulson had a flying car he calls Lola.  Apparently he named it in honor of his ex-wife.

Secret Wars #5 (Marvel)
From October 2015.
As A DC guy, I tend to be amused at the way fans and creators alike treat Dr. Doom like a god.  I just never understood it.  In this entry of Jonathan Hickman's ultimate Fantastic Four (sendoff) saga, Doom literally has become a god, and the entire issue is just kind of Doom complaining about it with a lackey, because he recently offed Dr. Strange and no longer feels challenged.  You know what?  I'm not even going to talk about this issue.  Let's just move on, because Hickman's got better material in:

Secret Wars, Too (Marvel)
From January 2016.
This is literally Hickman and Marvel joking around about the whole Secret Wars concept.  Marvel has gotten to the point where it either publishes straight-out humor titles, titles obviously inspired by successful movies, or the handful of serious stuff it allows itself to do, so it's not at all surprising that something like Hickman literally laughing about his apparent inability to finish his story happens in something Marvel itself published.  Marvel has become the House Wizard Created.  All throughout the '90s, Wizard was a massive Marvel fan service, and introduced the cartoony approach to fandom that has since gone mainstream.  Hickman's piece is brilliant, in which he imagines a conversation with Dr. Doom about what the conclusion should be.  Then there's some middling stuff that's just kind of there, and then indy creators Rob Guillory (Chew) and Eric Powell (The Goon) provide some of their trademark wit.  I actually have to give Marvel props for releasing this.  In another era, this would've been a jump-the-shark moment, but this one's all about that kind of irreverence.

Spider-Woman #1 (Marvel)
From January 2016.
This one's famously the cover advance solicits spoiled as feature the pregnant Jessica Drew.  Dennis Hopeless somewhat hopefully assumes readers would be familiar with Spider-Woman's somewhat odd supporting cast (the guy who's dressed up as a porcupine), so he spends the entire issue presenting the awkward situation of superhero being unable to superhero while pregnant.  It's bold in an era where it's kind of anathema to be pregnant (or something) to have a pregnant superhero, but one wonders if this latest calculated move to corner every market didn't miscalculate.

Star Wars: Darth Vader #11 (Marvel)
From December 2015.
Kieron Gillen normally gets pretty high marks from fans, but he apparently is somewhat uninterested in featuring Darth Vader as the lead of his own comic...

Web-Warriors #2 (Marvel)
From February 2016.
This series was recently cancelled, and Mike Costa announced to be moving on with a new Venom series, which I think will be right up his alley.  I've been a vocal of supporter of Costa for years, and long for the day he'll be a major player at the Big Two (I can't believe he's gotten less than the Greg Rucka treatment).  It may be that he simply finds it hard to use his Cobra style outside of his IDW work.  Not in this issue, though.  This one reads like a straight-up Web-Warriors edition of Cobra, detailing Electro's romp through the Spider-Verse, with Spider-Gwen (this is what Marvel thinks of as witty) filling in for the good guy Costa frequently traps in his webs (phrasing it that way totally helps make sense of Marvel thinking of him as a Spider-Man guy).  Maybe I'm just as guilty as anyone else in not giving Costa's non-Cobra work a fair shot, but it's always nice to come across work that rings so true to what I know best, because Costa's best is among the all-time best.