Marvel Comics – Daniel Way (w); Francisco Herrera (p); Carlos Cuevas (i)
Another week, another Tsunami release (I know, I’ve not yet reviewed Runaways and Mystique; they were good though). I’m starting to feel like a broken record here though, because this is yet another example of a book where the story might have made for a decent mini-series, but I just don’t see how it’s going to have any legs under it as an ongoing (I felt that way about Human Torch, which I didn’t like, and I think it even applies to Sentinel, which I basically enjoyed) series.
The plot itself isn’t bad, though not terribly original. In scripting this book, Daniel Way quite clearly borrowed heavily from a variety of pop culture sources, most notably the Alien and Thing from Another World films, although a case could be made for the lifting of certain elements from Greg Rucka’s Whiteout mini-series.
Robertson, a communications specialist in the U.S. Army, is stationed at a military outpost some fifty miles north of the Arctic Circle. While on a routine patrol, she encounters a civilian installation that is apparently in dire need of attention. The evidence? A desperate whispering for help is the only answer she can summon on the front gate’s intercom. Summoning her courage and investigating further, the sights she encounters within physically sicken Robertson. The bodies of the facility’s staff are strewn about the cafeteria and lab areas, mangled and broken. Most curious, however, is the presence of an inky black substance clinging prominently to the walls and corpses alike. Returning to her home base with the only survivor that she can find, Robertson soon begins to question the wisdom of leaving the building so quickly, as she wonders who could have been pleading with her over the intercom when the scientist she found was huddling in a locker. As if in answer to her doubts, that selfsame researcher begins to go into unexplained convulsions as the issue closes.
I shouldn’t have to point out the similarities between that story and Alien / The Thing from Another World. They’re pretty obvious. And I think they’re supposed to be that overt, so I guess that’s a little bit more acceptable. But all the same, it doesn’t make for a real thrilling read, since you feel like you’ve already seen this story done before and done better. Compound that with the fact that this book is clearly being marketed to Spider-Man fans (see the cover for simple proof) and you’ve got a fairly mediocre book on your hands.
Like I said before, I just don’t see where this is going as an ongoing series. If this were simply an attempt to take the Venom symbiote concept out of its natural habitat in circa 1990s Spider-Man books and try it as a science fiction/horror mini-series, I’d probably be a lot more lenient in my rating of the book. Because, quite frankly, anything you could do to make Venom interesting to me at this point would be commendable. But, as it stands, I have this sinking suspicion that the initial arc of the book will center on Robertson discovering that the government is attempting to bioengineer a version of the symbiote that can be used to create super-soldiers (an attempt that has clearly gone awry). About midway through the arc, Robertson will be “infected” with the rogue symbiote. In the conclusion, she’ll learn to control it and harness its powers for good, leading to her being a half-ass version of a lousy ’90s character. And frankly, that’s a best-case scenario here.
Marvel Comics/MAX – Brian Michael Bendis (w); Michael Gaydos (a)
This is a simple book to summarize.
Remember how in Forrest Gump, our simple hero was at least present, if not responsible, for a large number of the major events of the latter half of the 20th century? That’s basically what happens in this issue of Alias, a book that normally reads as a remarkably smooth synthesis of the detective novel and comic book superheroics.
A quick synopsis for the uninitiated:
Jessica Jones makes her living as a private investigator, the owner and operator of Alias Investigations. For a not-inconsequential portion of her life, she operated as a member of the Avengers, though the exact nature of her powers was never clearly defined. For that matter, neither were the specific reasons for her choice to retire from the lifestyle of a spandex-clad vigilante. And lastly, possibly most importantly, the book has lasted almost two entire years without anything even resembling an origin sequence.
Well, that all ends now. Or, at least, some of that ends now, because for the next two issues, Bendis is treating his readers to The Secret Origin of Jessica Jones.
Essentially, this entire issue is devoted to a singular Silver Age theme, including the art by Gaydos, doing his best to ape the visual stylings of Steve Ditko and Jack Kirby. It opens with young Jessica Cambell’s teenage years, including her schoolyard crush on infamous wallflower Peter Parker. Following Parker to a demonstration on nuclear power, she plans to make her move for the introvert’s affections, but is thrown off course when he abruptly races from the building. Feeling dejected, she walks out of the high school, only to narrowly avoid being run over by a speeding truck, itself carrying a payload of unstable radioactive isotopes. At home, at night, in the solitude of her bedroom, she fantasizes about the smiling visage of Johnny Storm, his image plastered on her walls along with the usual menagerie of pop stars and teen idols. Following an auto accident during a family vacation, Jessica gazes out her hospital window to see chaos atop the Baxter Building, with the object of her affections battling alongside his famous family a cosmic giant.
It’s a quiet sort of issue. Her actual superhero origin sequence happens abruptly (as it should, since it’s an accident), ending seemingly before it’s started. Instead, Bendis focuses on the girl that Jessica used to be, quiet and withdrawn, a character portrait made all the more powerful by the caustic, jaded individual that we know she becomes. As well, it’s both clever and amusing to see Bendis work his character into Marvel’s continuity. In a way, it explains why no one would have heard of her prior to this book: she’s always sort of stayed in the background, never taken center stage at any phase of her life.
So just do yourself a favor and pick up the book. If you’ve never read Alias before, now might be a good time to start (and, on top of that, there are two reasonably priced trade paperbacks already out and a third on the way).
The Authority Vol. 2 #1
DC Comics/Wildstorm – Robbie Morrison (w); Dwayne Turner (p); Sal Regla (i)
Let me be brutally honest here: this book is a sad, empty shell of its former self.
I, personally, loved the Warren Ellis run on Authority. The Mark Millar run was good, I thought, but his temporary hiatus and the exit of Frank Quitely killed my interest in the book (leading to me never actually finishing the original run of the title). So, for me, what made the book fun was never more perfectly defined than in Ellis’ opening salvos: the often-praised “widescreen action” mostly, but also the pseudo-real world problems. In the years that followed those issues’ publication, much has been made of DC editorial’s supposed distaste for the characters and subject matter of the book, as well as their alleged attempts to dilute, neuter or outright kill the franchise. And, really, I never paid too much attention to the conspiracy theorists that made those claims.
Not until now, that is.
From the opening scene, itself featuring a fairly stomach-turning human rights violation (included for no apparent reason than for shock value and to quickly establish that “yes, those are in fact that the bad guys”), I could feel my expectations just plummet. When the clichéd macho posturing that follows The Authority’s arrival on the scene ceases, the plot exposition not-so-cleverly masquerading as dialogue takes its place. And once it does, you quickly realize that you’re not going to find anything new in this “new era” for the team that the cover blurb promises, because they’re back in Gamorra, once again attempting to topple a corrupt, morally bereft government that treats its own citizens like nothing so much as cattle. And what’s more, those in power of the rest of the world’s nations again begin to question the viability of the moral high ground that The Authority purports to stand on. This is followed by a quick reminder that Apollo and The Midnighter are still gay and a cursory update on the status of Jenny Quantum (the reincarnation of the team’s former leader). Then the arc’s mandatory mysterious new villain appears and begins killing civilians, prompting some cosmic commentary by a group called Reality Incorporated and some more punching of things by The Authority. And that’s about it.
And what “that” is, my friends, is a sketch of The Authority in their most basic, poorly written form: a dime-store Justice League, being written into adventures that crudely ape Ellis’ Authority issues, as well as Grant Morrison’s JLA.
So if you missed The Authority and were hoping that this relaunch might fill the void that its absence had left in your weekly stack of books, I’m afraid you’re going to be sorely let down.
Just move along, people. There’s nothing worth seeing here.
Marvel Comics – Chuck Austen (w); Clayton Henry (p); Mark Morales (i)
I’m a late convert to this book, coming on at the beginning of the series’ original writer Judd Winick’s final story arc. To be honest, I simply couldn’t see the purpose of the series when it debuted (apparently, that purpose was to be damned entertaining) and despite repeated recommendations from customers in my store, I avoided it until finally, during a slow business day, I randomly read the series’ third trade paperback. And loved it.
Now, as I said, Winick has finally abandoned the child that he ushered into the harsh business world of the Marvel Universe, jumping ship for the most stable shores of the AOL/Time Warner conglomerate. He leaves behind a successful run (both critically and financially) of twenty-five issues, placing the creative reins in the competent hands of Chuck Austen.
But if this is a sign of things to come, I fear for the Exiles’ future.
And I don’t mean that in a “ooh, how is the team gonna get out of THIS one?” kind of way. No, I mean the issue sucks.
The Exiles, reality-hopping Quantum Leap-style superheroes (meaning they jaunt around their alternate versions of the Marvel Universe, working for the greater good through timely intervention), arrive in Japan on the eve of its destruction at the hands of Moses Magnum. The reality that they have popped into is one where the Heroes for Hire corporation, run by Danny Rand (Iron Fist), Luke Cage (Power Man), and Peter Rasputin (Colossus) employs nearly every superhero in the world and, as a result, is capable of withholding metahuman aid from the besieged Japanese government (which they do). Initially thinking that they have arrived to rescue the people of Japan, Mimic and his team learn that they are, in fact, in place to prevent the island nation from being saved. After a conflict of wills and much spouting of philosophy, the team decides to “define themselves as heroes” by going against their mission’s objectives. However, one member of the team does not feel so strongly about the sanctity of lives in a reality not her own and goes rogue, throwing a wrench in the well-laid works of Mimic and Sunfire.
It should. Judd Winick only told this story every other arc or so.
The difference though is that this arc lacks any of the charm of Winick’s run, reading like a Taiwanese bootleg of Exiles. Sure, the packaging looks authentic enough. And when you open it, there are your heroes, just like last month. But when you read it, you come to realize that Morph isn’t funny anymore, he’s just a horny guy in a funny hat. And the melodrama just doesn’t seem to resonate emotionally the way it used to. When the heroes make gut-wrenchingly personal choices about whether or not they can go against the grain and save the people of Japan, it just feel forced, shoehorned in to fill up pages and break up the monotony of people in goofy costumes punching each around a blasted cityscape. Because, like I said, they’ve done this multiple times before.
Anyway, Austen’s on the book for a six issue run, I believe. With any luck, Marvel will promptly replace him with someone more talented as soon as those six books have seen the light of day. But at this point, the seed of doubt has been planted in my mind and I’m not sure that anyone can truly take Winick’s place at the helm of the good ship Exiles.
Uncanny X-Men #423
Marvel Comics – Chuck Austen (w); Ron Garney (p); Mark Morales (i)
My impromptu week of Chuck Austen-bashing continues apace. I hadn’t planned on reviewing this book, despite it being a fairly high-profile release, what with the twenty-five cent price and all, but I felt compelled to do so after reading it, because you might actually be getting ripped off at that price.
The book opens with some heavy-handed, overused stock commentary about the cohabitation of violence and religion, followed by a mutant crucifixion scene that I’m fairly certain I’ve seen in this book before (a scene which, naturally, ignores the question of how exactly any group of religious zealots could manage to nail six people to crosses on the front lawn of Xavier’s mansion without anyone noticing). Amongst the dead and dying is Jubilee, a character whose absence from the X-titles no one had bemoaned. Frantically, the fallen heroes are ushered into the mansion’s emergency room, where they are all hooked up to Warren Worthington’s bloodstream, which was recently discovered to be possessed of remarkable regenerative powers. The ploy appears to fail, then suddenly reverses its course, though only enough to save Jubilee, apparently. The X-Men then gather around a war room of sorts to discuss who they think could be capable of committing such an atrocity. There follows a glut of childlike temper tantrums from Cyclops (though that’s no surprise) and basically no conflict with the enemy.
What’s most bothersome to me, however, is the attitude of Cyclops’ brother, Havok, who repeatedly questions not only why Nightcrawler would have wanted to join the priesthood but also how he expected to do so, basing that question solely on Kurt’s physical appearance. It’s an oddly superficial line of questioning, given the fact that part of Xavier’s mission is equality for all people regardless of their appearances. And apparently no one on the team is offended or surprised by this outlook, as he brings up the topic more than once.
Additionally, there’s no attempt to explain the presence of Cyclops at the mansion. It’s interesting to see him there, given the fact that when last he appeared in New X-Men (the book that he supposedly “belongs” in), it was to flee the complex immediately preceding the discovery of Emma Frost’s shattered body. So why is he running around with the team here? I have no idea. Presumably, the events of this story arc take place prior to Murder at the Mansion, but that’s never explicitly stated and it sort of breaks the narrative flow (such as it is) of the issue.
In the end, I found myself actually feeling sorry for Chris Claremont (whose current title, X-Treme X-Men is regularly the target of much hatred in this column). Apparently his run on the core X-books is so ill thought of around the X-Editorial Offices that they’ve allowed Chuck Austen to turn one of his major plot lines (Nightcrawler’s induction into the priesthood) into nothing more than an elaborate dream sequence. And as bad as Claremont’s last run on the book that he made famous was, this current shift in writers isn’t proving to be any better (despite what I had previously held as lofty hopes for it).