Thursday, February 26, 2009

Magic - Captain America

As I mentioned the other day, I will run something different on the days that I do not get to write an entire blog entry. This is one of my other geeky aspects, Magic: The Gathering! I used to play a lot when I was in high school, and although I never really joined a tournament or anything, playing it with my friends was always fun. I hope at least some people enjoy this, as I tie Magic with comics. Today I bring you:

Captain America

This one was fairly easy color wise, as Cap has a lot of white attributes. The tap ability is supposed to represent the use of his shield.

Wednesday, February 25, 2009

The Rise and Fall of Elseworlds

One of the first comics that my father ever bought me was called "Batman - Brotherhood of the Bat", back in the mid-90's. At the time, I did not know it, but this was my first exposure to the DC imprint Elseworlds, where "heroes are taken from their usual setting and put into strange times and places - some that have existed, others that can't, couldn't or shouldn't exist." In hindsight, I should have realized this wasn't a regular story (the fact that Batman is dead was a sure giveaway), but back then I was just getting started to read comics and I did not know about ongoing comics, or mini series, or elseworlds and it was all the same to me. This particular story stuck with me for a long time, because it is a cool concept (or at least it was to my pre-teen mind), Ra's Al Ghul comes back to Gotham 50 years after Batman died and uses a gang of people dressed in different bat-costumes, including some never seen before. In repeated readings, it has not stood to the test of time, with some of the dialogue being particularly cheesy, but back then I remember me and my friends discussing which Batman costume we wold wear if given the chance. Today I wanted to talk about the Elseworlds imprint, which is sadly no longer among us, and why I would like it to come back.

First of all, a little bit of history: "imaginary tales" have been around for a long time in comics ("Not a dream! Not a hoax!"), where writers could come up with the weirdest stories they wanted to and run with it without fear of repercussion from fans. It wasn't until 1989 that DC published the successful Gotham By Gaslight (by Brian Augustyn and Mike "Hellboy" Mignola) which led to the creation of the Elseworlds imprint and retroactively named that title the first official Elseworlds comic. Over the years, DC has published many Elseworlds of many different natures, while not all of them have been critical or commercial successes, some of them rank among the most favorite stories among fans. Superman - Speeding Bullets, JLA - The Nail, and Batman - In Darkest Night are all very popular among comic book fandom, but there's two Elseworlds that rank higher than all the others: Superman - Red Son and Kingdom Come. Red Son is the tale of what would have happened to the world if Superman's spaceship had crashed in Soviet Russia. Kingdom Come, on the other hand, is a tale of the latter days of DC superheroes, which must fight a new and more violent generation of superhumans. Both of these stories usually appear in "Best-Of" lists, or recommendations for new readers to the DC Universe, and both of them were popular enough to warrant their own set of action figures. Additionally, in the current JSA title, by Geoff Johns, a lot of events are inspired by what happens in Kingdom Come, to highly positive fan reaction.

According to Wikipedia DC stopped publishing Elseworlds title around 2005 because of low sales and lack of critical acclaim. The mini-series Batman - Year 100 is the last official Elseworlds published. That same year Infinite Crisis hit the stands and re-established the multiverse which was previously eliminated during Crisis on Infinite Earths, and many of the popular Elseworlds officially became one of the alternate 52 Earths that existed in the DC multiverse. Apparently, some of them were featured during Countdown, but I do not know to what extent as I did not read that title (a wise decision, I am told by many). Coincidentally, 2005 was also the year that saw the birth of the All-Star line of DC comics, where acclaimed writers and artists are allowed to work on more iconic versions of beloved characters without any restraints from regular continuity. Sadly, not much has been done with the All-Star imprint, only two titles: the critical darling All-Star Superman by Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely, and the commercial juggernaut All-Star Batman and Robin the Boy Wonder by Frank Miller and Jim Lee(as a side note, both titles are/were plagued by delays). Both titles could have easily worked as Elseworlds series, with the exception of the fact that they were ongoing series. To the best of my knowledge, however, all other planned All-Star titles will not be seeing the light of day anytime soon (I vaguely remember some announcement from NYCC, but I could not find it).

DC had a good idea with the All-Star line, in narrowing down the ideas and using the most popular stars of the comic book industry they achieved what they were aiming for. But since it is apparently no longer used, maybe it is time to bring back the Elseworlds imprint. What they could do is combine the best of both imprints, using popular creators to create these new worlds like All-Star did, and stick to mini series or one-shots like Elseworlds did. Furthermore, there is a lot of unpaved ground if DC decided to publish "What-If" titles, like Marvel does. While a lot of Elseworlds work in the same concept of disconvergent time lines like "What Ifs" do, most of them concentrate on the origin of the heroes, but rarely to past important storylines. I think there's room in the market for comics like "What if the Green Lanterns had lost the Sinestro Corps War?" or "What if Batman had not shot Darkseid?". Of course, the most difficult thing to do would probably be to come up with a new title, I think Marvel has the "What If" title copyrighted.

Monday, February 23, 2009

Magic - Spider-Man

As I mentioned the other day, I will run something different on the days that I do not get to write an entire blog entry. This is one of my other geeky aspects, Magic: The Gathering! I used to play a lot when I was in high school, and although I never really joined a tournament or anything, playing it with my friends was always fun. I hope at least some people enjoy this, as I tie Magic with comics. Today I bring you:


Spider-Man was actually very hard to properly portray. The white obviously represents his penchant for law and order, while the green is his ties to nature (and Spiders are usually green creatures, with reach), and finally the blue for his "trickster" and intellectual side (the ability is supposed to represent his web shooters).

In Soviet Russia

Writers, specially in comic books, tend to have fixations with two groups that are normally used as enemies: Nazis and Communists. I don't know where this fixation comes from, if it is part of the propaganda efforts of yesteryear or just from cultural differences, but there's a big difference in how they are portrayed sometimes. Nazis are always indubitably evil (not saying they were not), while Communists are sometimes portrayed as being caught in the bigger machinations of the political powerhouse that was Soviet Russia. While it would be almost impossible to depict a Nazi character in a wholesome light (and would probably lead to some kind of public outrage), Communist characters can sometimes be portrayed as tragic heroes whose misguided love of their country, led by corrupt individuals, turned them into something they were not originally. Today I wanted to look at two specific books about the fallout of the Cold War and the implosion of the Soviet Union, coincidentally both put out by the Wildstorm imprint, The Programme and The Winter Men. Both titles are about Soviet super powered soldiers, although very different in nature.

The Winter Men was a neat little mini-series that wrapped up last year, which suffered from tremendous delays (three years for six issues), created by Brett Lewis and John Paul Leon. The protagonist of the series is Kris, a former soviet super soldier of some kind (his powers are never really clearly defined) who finds himself useless and drowning his mind with vodka and doing some odd jobs for the local government. There is a couple other remaining super soldiers that were part of the same program, all working different jobs in the new Russia, a very different country from the one that originally produced them. This is the greatest strength of the series, showcasing a post-communism Russia and how citizens must work in the new world order. Our protagonist, much like every other person that inhabits this world (with the exception of those in power) are just doing everything in their power to survive. The series also introduces the concept of how Russians setup, both in government and in mafias, their organizations: always arranging countermeasures and competing parts inside a system, a knowledge that Kris uses to his advantage later in the series. The plot centers around how a little girl is given a transplanted liver from a former super-powered individual, only to be kidnapped because of this. The protagonist attempts to recover her from her captors, a trip that takes him through the underbelly of society and leads to many discoveries about the super soldier program. Despite his many flaws, the main character of Winter Men is shown to be inherently good person, willing to put himself in the way of danger in order to protect this girl, even if he commits plenty of criminal acts along the way much like other anti-hero archetypes (such as The Punisher).

The Programme was a twelve issue mini-series released in 2007 through 2008, created by Peter Milligan and C.P. Smith. The Programme features some very different Russian super soldiers, they are insanely loyal to the government and system that created them and will do anything that is asked of them and are (apparently) completely amoral. Originally created during the Cold War, they are revived in modern times and wage a war against the "imperialistic empire" that is the United States. Of course, the United States government is not very happy about this and decides to unleash their previously-failed super powered individuals against the Communist ones. In this series, their powers are never exactly defined either, almost to describe how inexact the process of creating them was, but we see them using some kind of eye beams, super strength, force fields, and some strange method of offensive teleportation where the subject of the teleportation disappears for some time only to reappear days later. The battle that follows is one of the most brutal and realistic ones, very reminiscent of the London battle in the pages of Miracleman where civilian passersby suffer the consequences. The ironic twist that the book delivers is that, in trying to battle it's enemies, the United States goes to the same lengths that their enemies have, essentially becoming like them. The same thing happens to America's super weapon, Max, initially a person just trying to survive in the world, and quite a "spineless liberal", turns into a ruthless killing machine that does whatever his government asks of him. The end of the series is quite shocking and it definitely tries to make a political statement about the nature of empires and how events can unite them, with hints of themes familiar to readers of Watchmen.

Both series are great reads, about the nature of the beast that was Soviet Russian and how it would have been if our world had been in fact populated by super beings during the Cold War. But at the same time, I think that both series make a point of saying "we are not so different after all", we are all either trying to survive in this world to the best of our abilities and trying to help our country during hard times.

Sunday, February 22, 2009

Expect the Unexpected

X-Factor has been the name of three different groups or organizations, but currently it is the name of a detective agency that deals with issues and cases regarding mutants. The current X-Factor, which spun out of the events that happened House of M and the previous success of a mini-series called "Madrox", is one of the best titles out there on the market and most definitely the best "X" title on stands right now (and there's plenty of competition from Carey's X-Men, Kyle and Yost's X-Force, First Class by Jeff Parker, etc.). While it is not a huge commercial success, it is very different from other team books. One of the tag lines of the series when it began was "X-pect the unX-pected " and Peter David, after forty issues as the sole writer of X-Factor, continues to deliver the unexpected. The series has struggled during it's run for various different reasons, which I is what I want to talk about and explore in this entry.

First of all, the most obvious shortcoming the series had is the protagonists: none of them are A-listers and probably (at least before the series started) no one's favorites characters. The leading role belongs to James Madrox, also known as Multiple Man, a character that Peter David has written before in the old X-Factor team (from the late 80's) and the aforementioned mini-series. Rounding up the team are two former teammates of Jamie, Strong Guy and Wolfsbane, a former Generation X character, Monet, two former members of X-Force, Syrin and Rictor , and an almost-original character, Layla Miller. Like I said, not exactly popular or well known characters, but Mr. David has fleshed out the personalities so much on the course of his run that it would not be weird to hear comic book readers proclaim James Madrox or Layla Miller as one of their favorite characters. Even though Multiple Man is the clear leading man of the drama that is X-Factor, every character gets the spotlight at one point or the other, where they get to shine or at least deliver some great lines. A great example of this is issue thirteen of the series, called "Re-X-amination" (they just love to use those X puns), where the whole team is psychoanalyzed by Doc Samson, and all the personalities are wonderfully showcased by Peter David, with each character having his or her own voice and personal psychosis. The fantastic character work done is complimentary to the noir aspect that title often dwells in, something not very common in mainstream comic books, and it probable lead to the title struggling to find the right audience during it's beginnings.

Another aspect where X-Factor has struggled is in the art department: if comic books were bands, X-Factor would be Spinal Tap. All jokes aside, it is incredible just how many artists this series has gone through: Ryan Sook, Dennis Calero, Ariel Olivetti, Renato Arlem, Roy Allen Martinez, Pablo Raimondi, Khoi Pham, Valentine De Landro, Scot Eaton, Larry Stroman and Nelson (no last name, apparently) have all contributed to the series. This is especially troubling when you consider that the series is only forty issues long, an average of less than 4 issues per artist (although some have repeated their art duties, and some others only contributed for only one issue). In my humble personal opinion, and not to undermine some of the great artists that have contributed to the series, Pablo Raimondi is the X-Factor artist (he also provided the art for the original Madrox mini) as he seems to have the best handle on all of the characters. I wish he could be (and I have no idea why he is not) the regular artist for the series month in-and-out, that way X-Factor could have a look as consistent as the writing. Sadly, X-Factor suffered from having what I consider to be the worst art I have ever seen in a Marvel series from the last couple of years, at the hands of Larry Stroman . I have mentioned before that I do not like to complain about art, because I have zero talent when it comes to drawing, unless it is completely detrimental to the story. Stroman's art definitely falls under that category, and I was not the only one to think so. I heard plenty of people stopped following the title when he came on board and sales numbers seem to confirm that, with issue 33, the first one he was in selling around fifty thousand copies, while subsequent issues selling around thirty-four thousand or so units.

And the final hardship that the current X-Factor series has had to suffer is something that many fans complain about, and something I have mentioned before, event fatigue. Since X-Factor is not a straight out superhero title like all others, the events tend to hinder the normal plot and character development of the series which is normally more down-to-Earth, at least in the "missions" that the team goes through. X-Factor has been affected by almost every major event in the last couple of years (with the exception of World War Hulk), and the title hits some of it's lowest points during said events. During Civil War, the team made a stand against the registration act, which put it in an awkward position, as the rest of mutants stayed outside of the events (well, for the most part). Endangered Species did not effect the title very much, as it was more of a status quo than an actual event. The real damage came from the event that affected all X-Men teams called "Messiah CompleX", which lead to X-Factor losing not one but two of it's members (and Multiple Man got a tattoo). Wolfsbane ended up joining X-Force, a good book, but one where she is extremely redundant and almost not her former self from X-Factor. Additionally, Layla Miller got stuck in an alternate dystopian future (that's comic books for you) with apparently no means back. Trying to read the title during this event without additionally reading the other titles involved in the event is almost futile, as most of the current plots take a back seat to the events involving the rest of the X-teams. I hardly doubt that this was part of Peter David's original vision for the book, and during Secret Invasion, he filled those empty roles in the form of Longshot and Darwin. Sadly, during Secret Invasion, the book also fell to the standard "Who's a skrull?" game that every other book was doing at the time.

Despite some of the misgivings and missteps that X-Factor has gone through, it is still an excellent read. The last two issues (thirty-nine and forty) have driven the title back to the original "expect the unexpected" form of storytelling, where the reader is not sure what is going to happen next. I wish I could say more about it, but Mr. David has urged readers and reviewers alike not to spoil it for anyone, and I intend to listen to him. After all, he has provided me with plenty of entertainment and I owe at least that to him. But if you are not reading X-Factor, because you stopped during the events or because of the art or you just never bothered to check it out, you are seriously missing out on one of the best titles in stands today.

Saturday, February 21, 2009

Blogily Planning

You may have perhaps noticed that I have been slacking in updating the blog. This is not without a reason, for I have started a new job that consumes a good chunk of my day and because of the circumstances surrounding it, I don't have as much free time as I used to have. Does this mean the end of the blog? Most definitely not! I just have to start managing my time better, and for that, I have started doing this...

The mix of the bad quality of the picture and my "chicken scratch" (as my old boss used to call it) handwriting may hinder your ability to make out what it says, but the headline is "Ideas for Blog" and a bunch of things underneath it. Basically, during the public transportation ride to the place of my employment, I'm going to be writing down ideas and rough drafts for my writing pieces. This way, when I get home I already have a good idea of what I want to write about and how my post is going to look like. I have also something planned for the days that I do not get a chance to update with a full piece, which I hope some people will enjoy (not sure how many, as it deals with one of my other geeky habits).

Also, on the pictured, you may notice there's some entries with check marks (the ones I have already written) and some are marked as NMR, which stands for "Needs More Research". This means that I need to go back and re-read something before I write about, that way I avoid making a fool of myself like I did the other day with the Sandman/Batman entry. These entries are the ones that take longer to produce, so they are on the backburner until I get more free time (such as on the weekend) to read said comis. Some of the ideas I have written down are tied to specific events, releases and dates, so it may be a while until I actually get around to writing them (akin to the Valentine's day post). And finally, that is me behind the notebook, and I must say that I do not have big bags around my eyes as the picture would lead you to believe.

Thursday, February 19, 2009

Marvel's New Noise

First of all, I would like to say that I am a bigger Marvel fan than a DC fan, both in the comics I prefer to read and in the quantity that I consume them. The whys and wherefores of this are a matter of discussion for another day, but I wanted to point out before I go about today's blog. It feels to me than Marvel is better at attracting and helping new writers develop a fan base than DC. I am obviously not saying that Marvel has better talent (not to mention that such a claim comes to down to a reader's preference), as DC has some great writers such as Geoff Johns, Grant Morrison, Greg Rucka, Gail Simone, Kurt Busiek, etc. These writers are all great professionals that have been in the industry for a long time, and that's where the "problem" comes about. It is important for a company to foster new or rarely heard voices in the industry in order to create new ideas and stay relevant. I believe that Marvel does a better job in this aspect of their company, "grabbing" and fostering new writers and giving them high profile jobs.

One of my favorite writers currently working at Marvel is the wonderful Jason Aaron. According to Wikipedia, Aaron's first work was for DC's Vertigo imprint with the The Other Side mini-series and the still ongoing Scalped series (which I highly recommend). Even though he is still working on Scalped, Aaron has moved on to writing for Marvel, getting exponentially bigger assignments over time: first a back-up Wolverine story, then a critically acclaimed four issue story on the same title (Get Mystique), the main writing duties of Ghost Rider and a fill-in for Black Panther's Secret Invasion tie-in which I have already mentioned. Finally, Marvel has given him a new title, featuring our favorite short Canadian superhero with metal claws, called Wolverine: Weapon X. In just a couple of years, Jason Aaron has gone from his Vertigo critical-darling creator owned work to writing one of Marvel's most profitable characters, earning plenty of praise from fans and critics along the way.

Five years ago, Matt Fraction was writing comics and graphic novels in indie presses. Much like Aaron, Fraction was given increasingly important writing jobs, first working alongside Ed Brubaker in the popular revival of the Immortal Iron Fist. A couple of years later, and he has under his belt a two year run on Punisher, a ten issue almost-creator-owned series in the form of The Order, and a group of very critically acclaimed Thor one-shots collectively known as the Ages of Thunder series. Fraction is currently writing two of Marvel's flagship titles, Invincible Iron Man and Uncanny X-Men. Even if Fraction is somewhat hit or miss for me, to the point where I either hate or love his work (and I will abstain from going into a full list of which titles fall under each category), I have to admire the man for getting so many promotions in such a short period of time so he must be doing something right.

I could go on for a very long time, but it's usually the same story over and over. Marvel has writers like Greg Pak (who in a few years single-handledly reinvigorated the Hulk franchise among other works), Fred Van Lente (writing one of the best ongoing series, Incredible Hercules, and other fun mini series), Jonathan Hickman (co-writer of Secret Warriors and who is set to take over Fantastic Four), Christos Gage (having written more awesome fill-ins and mini-series that I can count) and Duane Swierczynski (currently writing Cable, Immortal Iron Fist and Punisher: Frank Castle) to compliment their older veterans like DnA, Warren Ellis, Mike Carey and Peter David. Of course, DC also has some new or young writers, like John Rogers (Blue Beetle), Marc Andreyko (Manhunter), G. Willow Wilson (Vixen), Sterling Gates (Supergirl) and Peter Tomasi (who has been working in the industry for long time as an editor but only recently started writing comics), but it seems to me that other than Tomasi the new writers get stuck in the back alleys of the DC universe and it is a lot harder to get a spot in the flagship titles. DC has a lot of up and coming writers, but they are mostly under the Vertigo and Wildstorm imprints and only some of of them also write super hero comics for the main universe.

In conclusion, it seems that either by design or by practice, Marvel has a younger set of writers than DC. I personally believe it is good that the company foments new talent, even if it is not always a commercial hit or critically acclaimed. I personally have been enjoying the current direction in the Marvel universe, and so have a lot more readers if the sale numbers are to be believed. Should DC start tapping into younger writers to help shape their universe? Or is it fine as it is, being handled by professionals that know what to do with the characters?

Tuesday, February 17, 2009

Putting My Bias Aside (The Umbrella Academy)

My Chemical Romance is a popular pop-punk/emo band (although I don't think they can really be considered either) known for it's popularity among what is commonly known as the "Hot Topic" crowd. I will openly admit that I did like a couple of songs from their first and second album (Give'em Hell, Kid was one of them) but found them for the most part not interesting enough to consider myself a fan of any kind. Eventually, the band got really popular and relied way too much on theatrics rather than music, which led to me disliking them. This is the same reason for which I do not like a lot of other bands that rely on an appearance or theatrics to gain popularity only to change the style once the fad is over. Anyway, this blog is mostly about comics and there is a reason why I am writing about My Chemical Romance. Front-man and lead singer, Gerard Way, wrote a comic series for Dark Horse called Umbrella Academy.

When they first announced it, I found myself groaning (a big part of the music community was groaning too), thinking that this was just another blatant attempt to cash in on the popularity and image of the band, and that the storyline was probably going to pander to lower common denominator of their teenage-girl fan base. The comic, written by Way and illustrated by Gabriel (from Casanova), eventually came out and started getting very good reviews. At first I just dismissed it, maybe out of the dislike for the band or maybe out of lack of interest. But I kept coming across people mentioning how good it was, so I finally decided to check out what all the buzz was about. I have to admit that I thoroughly enjoyed reading The Umbrella Academy - Apocalypse Suit.

The story, in it's core, is about a very dysfunctional family of superpowered individuals that do not get along. Pretty straightforward basic set-up, something that the Fantastic Four did more than 40 years ago. Using this formula, Way delivers a very fresh of breath air, even if the characters are a bit of cliches (the rebel, the good guy, the loner, etc) their strange superpowers and personalities help make this family stand out from the comic book racks. When you see the way the siblings argue, you know exactly how they feel because we have all been there in one point or the other in our lives (unless you are an only child). The world of Umbrella Academy is very fantastical and left (purposely) open to interpretation so either the reader can guess how the world got there, or leaving options open to explore further in other series (another series, The Umbrella Academy - Dallas is being published now, although I have not read it). There's a few missteps here and there like some disjointed storytelling or some lines that were just a little too cheesy, but overall, I have to say that it was a very fun read. Bá's art was also very fitting to the story and delivered a really memorable team. There's all kinds of insane and surreal things that inhabit this world, and delivers plenty of material to entertain the art and compliment the plot of the series. I do not want to go into a full summary, because there is a lot going on and you will probably enjoy it more from reading it yourself.

As research for this story, I checked the sale numbers that this series had and they were surprisingly low. The first issue sold about 37,000 units, not exactly a hit but not a complete bomb either, and the collection of the series sold around 7000 books, the fifth highest selling on that month, but numbers quickly and abruptly dropped the month after that. I have to say that this comes as a surprise for me, because My Chemical Romance (and Gerard Way by default) has some very rabid fans that would probably buy anything related to the band. While I did not expect the book to be the highest selling comic that month, I sure expected some bigger numbers on the collection. But then I realized, the numbers posted on the website I use for research are for "comic specialty stores", which I am guessing does not include Borders or big bookstores like that. As I mentioned before, My Chemical Romance is very big among the "Hot Topic" or sometimes called "Mall" crowd, so I would not be very surprised if a good majority of the sales (and I particularly remember both Borders AND Hot Topic carrying single issues of Umbrella Academy) came from stores in malls, that to my knowledge do not count as specialty stores and therefore do not post their sales on Diamond.

Monday, February 16, 2009

Addendum - Part I

Addendum - Part I

One of the best parts of the blogging and Internet journalism as opposed to written, old-fashioned journalism, is that nothing is ever static. Sources are always updated, details are always added, and corrections are always made. Of course, one of the downfalls of this, much like when newspaper print corrections, is that not all of the readers will see the corrections or updates. Because of this, I feel that the best way to go about this is to dedicate a whole entry entirely dedicated to such matters. And that is what "Addendum" is for, to catch everything that fell through the cracks. I will be running these as needed, if there is nothing of importance to be added, then you won't see them pop up. So here is the first part!

During the first round of the Eternal Debate, where I discussed Martian Manhunter's death in Final Crisis, reader bottleHED pointed out that we do not yet know the nature of the Black Lanterns, and they could possibly be like "cosmic undead", which would mean that they could go back to being dead after the event is over. This is a good point, we are still in the dark (no pun intended) about the Black Lanterns. I still feel they could have left Martian Manhunter rest, but I thought it was worth mentioning.

I also mentioned my surprise at the lack of spin offs from Final Crisis, which despite some polarizing reactions, sold well. Not too long after my original post, DC announced during New York ComicCon that there would be four mini series dealing with the aftermath, including one with the Super Young Team. Sadly, I feel that these mini series should have started coming out the moment Final Crisis was over, instead of May, where the DC Universe will be right in the middle of the next big event, The Blackest Night. That is some pretty bad timing, if you ask me, unless they plan to tie in the Aftermath issues with Blackest Night.

When I made my post about Loeb on the Ultimate titles, two readers (amd098 and Kozmic) mentioned the well-known rumours of Mark Millar eventual return to the Ultimate universe he co-created. As above, during New York ComiCon, Mark Millar announced/confirmed that he would be working on a title called Ultimate Avengers, one of the couple of Ultimate Comics that will launch after the events of Ultimatum, which will end with the cancellation of all current Ultimate comics and some special "Requiem" issues.

In my analysis of Neil Gaiman's latest comic book, Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader, I compared it to one of his previous story arcs on Sandman and concluded that maybe this is Batman's dreams or at least an exploration of said dreams. I am surprised none of my readers mentioned it, but in the very first page the mysterious co-narrator explicitly states that Batman is not dreaming. Woops, my bad. I got so lost in all the excitement of the issue, that I probably forgot that line completely. Can you blame me? Additionally, Kevin over at Comic Book Legacy made an excellent point/conclusion about the kid that is watching cars in crime alley: he is probably the pre-Crisis Jason Todd, known for trying to steal the Batmobile's wheels.

And finally, during the my latest post about NextWave , I mentioned that even if no other NextWave series was ever published the characters would still live on in the Marvel Universe. In Warren Ellis' (very very active) Twitter account had this to say: "Also, I seem to have accidentally had an idea for a new NEXTWAVE comic. Hmm." Additional twitters also had the following messages "NEXTWAVE: STRONTIUM WHORES OF THE ATOMIC LIGHTHOUSE BRIGADE is a title I just thought of that will not be used on a new NEXTWAVE comic." Confusing messages, but then again, this is what Warren Ellis is all about.

Sunday, February 15, 2009

NextWave is Love

To continue with the theme in yesterday's post, where I discussed love in comics, today I will discuss one of the more primal reasons why I love comics. Sure, characterization is important, and a compelling storyline is almost essential for most readers. Most people first fell in love with comics when they were young children, and what caught our eyes the most at that age were huge explosions and mindless violence. NextWave - Agents of H.A.T.E., a 12 issue series from 2006, is basically explosions, mindless violence, taped together by an insanely thin plot. Warren Ellis, the writer of the series, admittedly came up with the idea when drunk, and basks into the decadence of the super-hero genre. Instead of trying to give the readers something deep and thought provoking, it completely embraces the insanity of comic books and created (what I think) is a modern masterpiece of comic books.

The series only lasted a bit more than a year and was never a huge commercial success, with sales number usually in between twenty and thirty thousand units (even with a Civil War tie-in cover). The real success, fueled by Warren Ellis' absurdity and Stuart Immonen's sometimes surreal drawings, was the lasting impact it had on the characters. The team was made up of four rather unpopular heroes (Photon/Monica Rambeau, Machine Man/Aaron Stack, Elsa Bloodstone, and Boom Boom/Tabitha Smith) and one original creation (The Captain) and put them together. The members of NextWave were crude, mean, petty and sometimes downright stupid, constantly bickering and insulting each other, a great departure from their previously heroic personalities. Besides, the out-of-character persona of the protagonists, the story in NextWave also feature flashbacks into other Marvel characters acting oddly, such as Captain America telling Photon to get him dinner and the Celestials calling Machine Man a "total $#!&". From the beginning, it seemed like NextWave would be set outside of regular Marvel continuity (Ellis and Quesada both stated so), but once the series ended and the dust settled, a lot of other creators picked up on the events in NextWave and slowly did their best to make the 616 universe mirror the series.

For example, during Civil War (by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven) we see Monica Rambeau wearing the same trench-coat that she wore during NextWave (and according to the script by Ellis, the coat was part of the uniform of the team)

The whole team appeared in a promotional art/cover for Avengers - The Initiative (right under the "THE"). And in the pages of Civil War - Battle Damage Report, it says that they all have registered with the Super Hero Registration Act.

In a story from X-Men - Manifest Destiny (by James Asmus and Chris Burnham), Tabitha Smith has the airhead and materialistic personality that she had in NextWave and she even claims to have been part of the team (and Beast doesn't know what that is).

Additionally, after the marriage of Black Panther and Storm (by Reginald Hudlin and Scot Eaton), the newlyweds receive a gift from a certain "Kirk" of the Beyond Corp. (one of the antagonists of the NextWave team).

The big winner of the whole series was Aaron Stack, after NextWave his popularity skyrocketed. He appeared in the pages of Marvel Comics Presents (by Ivan Brandon and Niko Henrichon), where it is revealed that he was currently living in the floating city that NextWave stole at the end of the series and he also mentions the part with the Celestials.

Machine Man also appeared in the pages of Ms. Marvel (by Brian Reed and company) where she joined the regular cast of Ms. Marvel's team. In this series, Machine Man solicited, as part of his deal with SHIELD, a Life Model Decoy of the aforementioned Monica Rambeau which he ends up using as his back-up body.

And finally, he was given the main role in the third series of the popular Marvel Zombies franchise (by Fred Van Lente and Kev Walker) where we see more of his now trademarked dislike for the "fleshy ones", especially of the undead kind.

So as you can see, I was not the only one that loved NextWave - Agents of H.A.T.E. Hopefully the higher ups at Marvel will decide to grant us another series, Warren Ellis himself stated that he would like to continue working on the team. And even if that never happens, at least I know that the characters will continue to receive love from all the other writers that also seemed to enjoy the explosions, insults and mindless violence.

Friday, February 13, 2009

Peter and Mary Jane (Or How I Came To Hate Joe Quesada)

Perhaps hate is a strong word, more along the lines of dislike. Tell the truth, I respect the man for helping Marvel out of bankruptcy, but I find that every time he gets involved in trying to tell the stories for the writers, the outcomes is horrendous. The biggest screw-up in his career, in my humble opinion, was the debacle of One More Day, where Peter Parker sold his marriage with Mary Jane Watson to save his octogenarian aunt from death. It has been more than a year since that happen and I have not bought any single issue or collection of Amazing Spider-Man since then in boycott to what I consider to be incredible lazy and uncreative writing. Am I bitter? Maybe, but I think I have a good reason to do so.

I have always been a fan of Spider-Man ever since I was a kid, but I never really started reading the ongoing comics until the J. Michael Straczynski years. Despite what people think about him and his run on ASM (I think Sins Past was a stupid idea as much as the next guy) one of the best things that JMS did was making Peter Parker grow as a person. While responsibility has always been a tenet of the Spider-Man mythos, during his tenure on the title, he gave Peter Parker something else, stability and maturity: Peter was no longer a freelance photographer, he got a job as an elementary school teacher, he had to finally face Aunt May about his alter-ego, and he worked out the problems and issues him and Mary Jane were having (another writer had previously separated them). During the writer's run, Peter and MJ's relationship went through trials and tribulations, but at the end their love was strong enough to mend all injuries. One More Day's greatest crime was not the fact that it undid the marriage (I'm hardly a "sanctity of marriage" kind of guy), but the fact that it destroyed the long-time relationship that these two characters had over time. They weren't always the perfect happy couple, they argued and sometimes they became jealous of each other, but those are things that all real couples must face at one point or the other. Their interests aren't exactly the same, Peter is probably not the kind to be interested in the modeling world and MJ is probably not going to be cracking open a biochemistry book, but that's how people are in real life too.

One of JMS' points about their relationship was that these characters loved each other so much, that without each other they could not function, and that is something that reverberates with me. I have a lovely wife, Janett, and together we have gone through so much that we both have grown as human beings, because our love has kept us together. When we first started going out, her hair was long and red and I have always been the perpetual nerd, so I would jokingly call her (in what is either really cute or really geeky, depends how you view it) "The MJ to my Peter Parker". In an almost petty way, it feels like Quesada and Marvel took that away (even if we still have the older stories), in order to reverse the character to what it was 30 years ago. What is the message that I am supposed to get from this? Married people are not interesting? That if the devil offered me a really good deal, I should give up my wife for it? Or maybe that I am just not the target audience for Amazing Spider-Man anymore (even though I am not that old)? In that case, I guess then it is not incredible petty of me to decide not to buy the comics anymore.

And to end this post of a happier note, I would also like to wish a very happy Valentine's Day (it already is the fourteenth here, but the blog seems to be on U.S. time) to my wife, who I love very much and who also likes to read my blog. I really did hit the jackpot when I met her, and no editorial mandate is going to take her away from me.

Whatever Happened to the Dream Weaver?

Out this week is the first part of Neil Gaiman's highly anticipated Batman storyline called "Whatever Happened to the Caped Crusader?", which many expected to be a recap of the Dark Knight's whole story. What we got instead is something altogether different, but it's already earning comparisons to Gaiman's previous work in Sandman, specifically "The Wake" (it is a funeral too, after all) and "World's End" (both stories are a gathering of people that tell stories). To me, however, this story reminds and evokes some of the themes that Gaiman presented during "A Game of You", probably one of the least liked (although not exactly disliked) Sandman stories.

It is easy to see why some readers do not like "A Game of You", as I was one of them when I first read the story: on the surface, the plot is basically a fairy tale about a Princess coming back to her land after being gone for a long time, and much has changed. The dream land is filled with magical creatures and fantastical places, but Morpheus and the overreaching plot-line of Sandman plays a very small role for this story (other than the introduction of Thessaly). It feels that Gaiman was more interested in exploring the nature of dreams, how they are affected by our worldview and personality and vice versa, which is a theme that is touched upon many times during the entirety of Sandman. The main character in "A Game of You" is a woman called Barbie that was briefly introduced during the previous storyline as having very vivid and colorful dreams of a fantasy land, and a real life personality to match. After going through a separation with her husband (Ken), Barbie's life becomes exponentially weirder and her attitude and personality go through a drastic change. As a result of this, she no longer dreams and the land she used to visit on a nightly basis goes through unbelievable trials and tribulations. Once Barbie comes back to the dream world, she tries to fix matters with the aid of a handful of anthropomorphic animals, finally facing the adversary that had taken over the land. As the story reaches the end, we learn that while Barbie did not create this dream world (it was Orpheus who did) she did populate it with a mixture of her imagination and memories: the animals, for example, were all childhood toys and the enemy's base was her grandparents summer house.

As I mentioned above, I originally did not like this storyline, but upon a second reading I found it surprisingly more interesting. Some of the stuff that Gaiman describes, such as dreams being a mixture of our memories and completely original notions, rings very close to home for me. I happen to have very vivid (and at times fantastical or weird) dreams, sometimes with recurring themes and places, and I usually remember what happens in them. For example there is a mall or group of shops that I remember being more than once in my dreams but not really an actual memory, even though it has aspects of places I really have been in. Another time, although I do not recall specifics, I remembered in a dream something else that had happened in another dream but had never occurred to me in real life. A couple of years ago I visited Key West and saw a huge fossil jaw of a prehistoric shark, and days later in one of my dreams I was swallowed whole by a shark just like that (I was rescued and survived to tell the tale too). And there's a couple of dreams where I have super powers, I admit it is kind of embarrassing that a grown man has dreams where he finds himself web-slinging like Spider-Man through a city (one of my favorite dreams I've had). What I am trying to say is that Gaiman understands very well how dreams work, and because of that I find "A Game of You" to be very appealing. I understand, as well, that not everyone dreams in the same way and I probably expect that those people did not enjoy this particular story as much as I did.

How does this all relate to Batman again? Maybe this is Gaiman portraying Batman's dreams, which are at points based on reality but quickly evolve into something that we know is not true, to explore the character and all of his history. Dreams do not need to make sense, or abide by the laws of reality, which would explain the conflicting reports of Batman's demise. It is not a very explored aspect of Bruce Wayne's life, and one imagines his dreams to be dreary and painful, while at the same time he lives in a world full of colorful characters, maybe his dreams are equally vivid. I guess I will have to wait to see if this is a dream, but all signs point to "not bloody likely": Batman is talking to a woman, which means it is not Dream of the Endless. The woman, if she is one of Gaiman's Endless, could be either Death, Desire, or Delirium. My money, if it is not Dream somehow having gone through a sex change, is on Delirium. Hopefully we will find out next month when the second part of this story is slated to be released.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

An Apology, a Mission and a Plea

First of all, I would like to apologize because of the lateness of the last two posts. I had to make a last minute interstate trip that threw a monkey wrench into my schedule. I had planned to update from the hotel I was staying at, but I could not get my laptop to connect to the hotel's WiFi. My iPod seemed able to connect, but no way I am writing one of my posts (someone lovingly called my blog a wall of text, and they are mostly right) from that touch screen keyboard. I did finish the entries as soon as I got home, but it was already two days late.

Second, I want to make it my mission to be better prepared for situations like this. I want to have some back-up posts and entries that I could use to post if on a particular day I do not get to finish writing. I do not know what I will do or how, but I will see. Additionally, I want to start promoting this blog on more places. I posted the links on certain forums and whatnot, and I got huge spike in my hits but it seems that those people did not come back for the days after.

And finally, a plea to my apparently loyal readers (yes, all 20 of you). Please keep checking back daily and I would love to get some more comments. I realize that this is kind of faux pas, like when a band you are seeing is asking the crowd to "move around", but I am doing it anyway. I would love to hear more feedback, even if it is to tell me what you would like to see or what you would like me to stop doing ("Stop making your sentences so long!") or just to let me know that you are enjoying what I am doing. Feedback has been all positive so far (and boosts my ego), but I do not believe I could be doing everything right from the get-go. I am also aware that for any given site, only a small fraction of the readers take their time to post a comment.

Oh, and just a little easter egg from this post


AMP! I am so freaking clever!

The Eternal Debate - Conclusion

And by eternal, I mean for the past 12 or so months. You could not go anywhere in the Internet (well, at least the sites I frequent) without finding a conversation about either Final Crisis or Secret Invasion. Or both. This year's events from the Big Two felt incredibly long, by design or by circumstances, but they are now officially over (Legion of 3 Worlds notwithstanding), which allows us to look at both events objectively, or at least as objectively as comic book readers can get.

That is where I come in. I want to look at the different aspects of both events, measure them up against each other and see who comes up on top. To do so, I have chosen several categories (or rounds) which will allow me to compare both sides of the 2008 Special Edition Event Coin. If you have not yet read both series in their entirety, there will be spoilers ahead. Oh, yeah, and the point system may or may not be arbitrary or what most people consider fair. You have been warned.

The Conclusion

The Eternal Debate, at least for this humble blogger, is officially over with the final score being Secret Invasion 4 - Final Crisis 3. I feel this represents my feelings about the events quite nicely. Secret Invasion worked better as an event: it was reader friendly and it will probably be a huge commercial success once the final sale numbers are posted, the repercussions of it were felt all across the Marvel Universe garnering interest from readers and creating new opportunities for writers, and presented an uniform look that came out in a timely and organized fashion. Final Crisis was the better story, rewarding and entertaining in it's own way, but I feel it would have worked better as a stand alone story, rather than a huge summer event.

In case you have missed it, here are the links for all six parts of The Eternal Debate:

Part I - The Death
Part II - The Return
Part III - The Spin-Offs
Part IV - The Tie-Ins
Part V - The Art
Part VI - The Story

Wednesday, February 11, 2009

The Eternal Debate - Part VI : Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion (The Story)

And by eternal, I mean for the past 12 or so months. You could not go anywhere in the Internet (well, at least the sites I frequent) without finding a conversation about either Final Crisis or Secret Invasion. Or both. This year's events from the Big Two felt incredibly long, by design or by circumstances, but they are now officially over (Legion of 3 Worlds notwithstanding), which allows us to look at both events objectively, or at least as objectively as comic book readers can get.

That is where I come in. I want to look at the different aspects of both events, measure them up against each other and see who comes up on top. To do so, I have chosen several categories (or rounds) which will allow me to compare both sides of the 2008 Special Edition Event Coin. If you have not yet read both series in their entirety, there will be spoilers ahead. Oh, yeah, and the point system may or may not be arbitrary or what most people consider fair. You have been warned.

Secret Invasion is leading against Final Crisis 4 - 2 as we reach the final lap of the Eternal Debate.

The Story

Not to undermine the very talented people that contribute the art to the stories, but for many readers, the story is the deal breaker when it comes to purchasing a comic or not. I have heard from many people that they will put up with insulting art as long as the story is good enough. In this post, I will not be re-telling, summarizing or annotating the totality of what happens in either Secret Invasion or Final Crisis, and I will talk about spoilers freely, so I urge you to go read the stories first (and form your own opinion, hopefully). For the purpose of this review, I will only be talking mostly about the events and writing of the main mini series and none of the tie-ins. I understand that both events benefit from reading the tie-ins (more so for Final Crisis, something that I have mentioned in one of my previous posts), but I feel that to be more objective with my review I must judge this from the eye of a casual reader who will only pick up the main event and not shell out the extra money for the tie-ins that Marvel and DC put out.

Secret Invasion, a story apparently long in the making inside the mind of Brian Michael Bendis, was a very good idea but not properly thought or fleshed out. The main idea behind it is that the Skrulls, a shape-shifting race of aliens, want to take over the Earth because one of their religious books claims that it rightfully belongs to them. To do so, they came up with a new technology that allows them to clone the superpowers and appearances (that no earthly means could apparently reveal) of any superheroes that they could get their hands on, and used it to infiltrate various super-teams and organizations of Earth. The Skrulls' plan, which was planned for years, seemingly fails with ease once Reed Richards is freed and their Invasion only lasts one miserable day. The events of Secret Invasion effectively portray how worldwide the invasion is, we see plenty of places around the world face the alien invasion (albeit briefly), even if the majority of the forces and events happen in New York (the home of most super heroes in the Marvel Universe). The problem arises from the fact that this invasion force declared victory (and announced it to the whole world) way too early, before all the heroes were defeated or accounted for. Bendis did not properly evoke the feeling that the Skrull army was victorious, and the lack of the passage of time only made matters worse (as I said, the mini series took 8 months to come out, but only one or two days passed in the story). There were also problems with the power set of the skrulls: the camouflaging effect wasn't explained in the series (you had to read the tie-ins for that) and just how powerful they were (some supposedly had the power of Black Bolt, which even at a fraction of the original, is pretty damn powerful but they could be taken down by Wolverine or Hawkeye). Additionally, the whole skrull armada fell apart the moment the Queen died, which leads me to believe that every one of the skrulls was a foot soldier and there were no commanding officers (even though some were shown in the series). Finally, the series ends with the President of the United States disbanding SHIELD, a United Nations-sponsored organization that is not controlled by one single nation. The plot holes and mistakes range from rather subtle to obvious, but they are still there and they affect the story that Bendis wanted to tell.

Grant Morrison was at helm of writing Final Crisis and it is very easy to tell. The story picks up on a lot of themes that Morrison has written about in the past, such as the nature of stories and the fourth wall in comics (Animal Man), international heroes (New X-Men) and Superman as a symbol of hope (All-Star Superman). The story is dense and full of details to go over and over, as proved by all the sites that provide annotations for the whole event. To provide a summary of the events of Final Crisis would be beyond the scope of this blog and would take me way too long, so I would recommend reading it yourself at least twice. I originally read Final Crisis in the monthly format it came out in and found it extremely disappointing, but as preparations for this blog, I re-read it and found myself liking it more with each additional reading. To say that Final Crisis is without flaw, however, would be an outright lie. First of all, Final Crisis is as not-new-reader-friendly as events can be: to get a full understanding of all the events, characters, and themes you would need a very good knowledge of the DC universe and a good portion of Morrison's previous work (such as Seven Soldiers, which I have not read and lead to me not knowing what Frankestein was doing in the DC universe). Even long time readers claimed to have trouble following the story, even though events are usually used by the Big Two to attract new readers. The writing style, I've seen it referred as "channel-zapping", is supposed to portray how chaotic the events of this crisis are, but I found to it to be detrimental to the story because of how much information the reader is being bombarded. It just feels that there is too much information and too little space to show it all or expand on what we see (for example, Aquaman shows up for one panel and then we know nothing else about it). As previously discussed, the Morrison-penned tie-ins for Final Crisis are very important, so the events shown on the main mini-series seem disjointed or just missing information (like Superman stepping out on Lois and then showing back 3 issues later).

The obvious allegory between Secret Invasion and Final Crisis is that between a good action movie and an ambitious art film. One is aimed to entertain, especially if you turn the suspension of disbelief all the way to eleven, while the other one is a study of certain topics, characters, or situations by the author, and your enjoyment of it is relatively tied to your interest of the topic. One will have you repeating awesome one-liners ("My God has a hammer" or "Nick Fury was right") with your friends and the other one makes you question the real meaning behind certain scenes (like Batman being hit by the Omega sanction or what Superman's wish for a happy ending really meant). Secret Invasion had a wider appeal and was entertaining for what it was, but Final Crisis is something completely different: Morrison told the story he wanted to tell, and it is not meant for everyone. Like I mentioned above, I disliked it at first but the story grew on me after repeated readings while Secret Invasion's repeated readings led to its misgivings becoming more apparent. Because of this, I feel that DC's Final Crisis, and Grant Morrison, wins this final round.

Monday, February 9, 2009

The Eternal Debate - Part V : Final Crisis vs. Secret Invasion (The Art)

And by eternal, I mean for the past 12 or so months. You could not go anywhere in the Internet (well, at least the sites I frequent) without finding a conversation about either Final Crisis or Secret Invasion. Or both. This year's events from the Big Two felt incredibly long, by design or by circumstances, but they are now officially over (Legion of 3 Worlds notwithstanding), which allows us to look at both events objectively, or at least as objectively as comic book readers can get.

That is where I come in. I want to look at the different aspects of both events, measure them up against each other and see who comes up on top. To do so, I have chosen several categories (or rounds) which will allow me to compare both sides of the 2008 Special Edition Event Coin. If you have not yet read both series in their entirety, there will be spoilers ahead. Oh, yeah, and the point system may or may not be arbitrary or what most people consider fair. You have been warned.

After yesterday's interlude, we now resume the Eternal Debate with the last round being a tie and Secret Invasion leading 3 - 2 against Final Crisis.

The Art

If I am completely honest, I have to admit that I am probably the farthest thing from an artist. Ask me to draw a person and you would probably get a stick figure out of it, I would have no idea how to ink the finished result, and I would also probably struggle to color inside the lines. I remember my wife once saw an old drawing I had to do for school and she pointed out how I have a good understanding of perspective but sadly, I do not have much of anything else in terms of artistic skill. Therefore I feel a bit hypocritical to point out flaws and misgivings in any art, and especially so for comic book artists who work under stressful deadlines and illustrating the ideas of someone else, which is no easy feat. Unless the art is completely distracting or harming the story, I do not feel the need to make a huge deal out of errors or mistakes in it. Luckily, the Big Two always save up the best artists for events like Secret Invasion and Final Crisis.

The art duties for Secret Invasion were handled by the team of Leinil Francis Yu (penciller), Mark Morales (inker), and Laura Martin (colorist). Additionally, Gabriele Dell’Otto provided gorgeous painted covers for the whole mini series. Yu's artwork is full of kinetic energy, the panels are very clear and easy to read, and his work on facial expressions conveys the right emotions (most of the time). The script by Bendis gives Yu plenty of exotic locales to draw, such as the Savage Land and outer space, and a great load of heroes to fill the pages with. There's plenty of huge group shots and double page spreads that Yu uses effectively, channeling the detailed work of George Perez at times. The only complain I have about Yu's artwork is that he has a tendency to make the chin of his male figures very protruding. For characters like Thor and Luke Cage, who have a bigger body type, it is not as noticeable but when he draws it the same way on Spider-Man and Iron Fist, who have a smaller frame, I can't help but notice it. The work of Morales and Martin is incredibly well done, complementing Yu's work greatly. The colors are sometimes a little too bright to the eye, giving a very shiny aspect to materials that shouldn't be so reflective. The ink lines and shadows are rather thick and noticeable, which I like, but might not be to every reader's liking or preference. Overall, the art of Secret Invasion is quite pleasing to the eye and only suffers from minor missteps.

Final Crisis' art was handled by what can only be described as an ensemble of creators (according to Wikipedia): J.G. Jones, Carlos Pacheco, Doug Mahnke (pencillers), Jesus Merino, Christian Alamy, Tom Nguyen, Drew Gerasi, Norm Rapmund, Rodney Ramos, Walden Wong, Dough Mahnke (inkers), Alex Sinclair, Pete Pantazis, Tony Aviña (colorists) and Marco Rudy (the Wikipedia page files him under "Artists" with J.G. Jones, but I am not sure what he did exactly). There is a reason behind this extraordinarily long list of artists: J.G. Jones was originally set to be the main and only penciller of the series, but circumstances caused him to be late and DC decided to bring Pacheco and Mahnke to help him and eventually take over him. By the final issue of the series, Doug Mahnke took over all of the penciller duties (even doing some of his own inks), but because the book was already late, DC did all within its powers (in this case, bringing a number of colorists and inkers) to get the book out on time. J.G. Jones, however, did provide some beautiful covers for the entirety of the series. As for the interior, Morrison's script gave the artists plenty to work with, filling the pages with strange characters and some very particular panel work (somewhat reminiscent of We3). In turn the artists delivered some very memorable scenes such as Superman holding Batman's corpse and Barry Allen making his return. Alex Sinclair, the colorist that worked on the greatest portion of the series, conveyed a world that is at times filled with bleakness and destruction and at times filled with hope and the incredible. There was, however, one very noticeable mishap on the pages of Final Crisis 06, Shilo Norman who was previously shown as being black skinned was colored in a way that made him look Asian. In the end, the biggest feat by the huge art team was to emulate the original artists properly and finish thsis series in a timely fashion.

Both Final Crisis and Secret Invasion featured top notch art by some of the best artists in the medium. There is no denying the fact that Jones, Pacheco, Mahnke and the rest ofthe team delivered some great pages for Final Crisis, but for me the deciding factor for me is the uniformity of the artwork in Secret Invasion. I understand that DC is not at fault here, J.G. Jones himself admitted that it was his fault, and I understand that you can't plan for the unexpected (unless you are Batman). The end result of this was that Final Crisis' ending pages look different than the ones at the begining and I think that harms the flow of the story, especially when you consider this is a mini-series. I feel that at the end of the day, I must reward this round to Marvel and Secret Invasion for the consistent look that was provided by their art team, even if both events had great artists.

Saturday, February 7, 2009

Interlude: Loeb On The Ultimate Line

We interrupt the special programming of "The Eternal Debate" to bring you this news report. Sadly, it has to do with much maligned Jeph Loeb. Rokk , when I started this blog, gave me some friendly and good advice: "Be careful not to become an Internet echo chamber". He is right, it is very easy to be just another snarky jester in the ocean of snarky jesters that is the Internet, but I just read an interview with Jeph Loeb from the New York ComicCon and I face-palmed from the stupidity of this man. Allow me to elaborate, and for that we have to travel all the way back to early 2001...

In 2001, Marvel decided to create a new line of comics: The Ultimate Universe. The whole point of the Ultimate Universe was to re-imagine classic Marvel characters such as Spider-Man, X-Men, Fantastic Four, and the Avengers without any of the continuity baggage that they have been lugging around for the past 40 years. The experiment, at least in the early years, was considered a wild success, it became a popular, commercial, and critical success. The two biggest masterminds behind the new Ultimate Universe were Mark Millar, writing Ultimate X-Men, and Brian Michael Bendis, writing Ultimate Spider-Man. Following the down-to-basics success of these two titles, Marvel expanded the line and created The Ultimates: a re-imagining of Marvel's beloved Avengers. The Ultimates received two mini-series written by Mark Millar where characters like Captain America, Thor, Iron Man, Giant Man, Wasp and Hulk operated as government agents (working for SHIELD) and every one of them had very distinct personalities (especially when compared to their mainstream counterparts). The series was very politically-minded without coming across as downright preachy, entertaining without coming across as just eye-candy, and interesting but very new-reader friendly. I personally loved both mini-series and would recommend them to almost everyone (the only exception being old-school Avengers fans who might not like the new interpretations and their personalities). But then, tragedy struck...

Alright, so maybe I am exaggerating a bit, but Jeph Loeb was giving the helms of a new mini-series concerning the Ultimates. The new series was very, very, very bad. The characters just became cardboard cutouts of their former selves, moving through the motions without any of their previous personalities. Questionable writing is nothing new and something that all comics readers are in someway used to in one way or the other. Jeph Loeb almost completely ignored everything that happened during Millar's run, turning the Ultimates more and more into their original versions in the 616 Marvel Universe:
  • Ultimate Thor started speaking in "ye olde" speak and carrying a stone hammer instead of the usual battle metal axe/hammer combination he had before.
  • Ultimate Wolverine and Ultimate Spider-Man make an appearance. At the time, Wolverine and Spider-Man were also part of the New Avengers.
  • Ultimate Pyro went from being a hero to being a villain.
  • Ultimate Scarlet Witch lost control of her powers, just like in House of M. Her outfit also resembled her mainstream version.
  • Ultimate Wasp stopped being Asian (without explanation) and became the de facto leader.
  • Hank Pym went from using the codename Giant Man to using Yellowjacket instead.
That is just off the top of my head, I am sure there were more disregards for the stories that came before. Of course, this isn't always inherently a bad thing: Alan Moore on his first (or was it second?) issue in his legendary run of Swamp Thing completely changed the character to great results. The problem raises from the fact that Jeph Loeb is no Alan Moore. The writing in Ultimates 3 was as subtle as a bull in a china shop, full of cheap "shocking" moments, and with atrocious dialogue. For some mysterious reason Ultimates 3 sold well (I'm blaming Joe Madueira, the artist), but the series was almost universally panned by critics. Marvel additionally gave Loeb another mini-series called Ultimatum, a continuation of the events in Ultimates, in which many of the original characters are dying left and right and the writing continues to be equally underwhelming. During an interview with CBR, Loeb had this to say:

"The problem became that – specifically pointing to what Bendis was doing on the Avengers – he took some of what Mark [Millar] had done and made them much more dark and unpredictable than they'd ever been before, and that book took off...justifiably. But pretty soon, the line between what went on in the Marvel Universe and what went on in the Ultimate Universe became very blurred, and you didn't have that same unique quality that the Ultimate Universe had when it was first born. So that needed to be addressed. That was what we first set out to do, and I had an idea as to how to do that...called "Ultimatum." "

A fair idea. If the two universes are too similar, they become somewhat redundant and something needs to be changed. The problem rises from something else he said:

"Well, "Ultimates 3" took it out of the political arena and made it closer to what the Avengers originally were. It took place in Tony Stark's world. It was run by Tony Stark, and it was put in a place where the conflicts were internal. The Scarlet Witch was murdered, and everyone reacted to that. The villains they were up against were superhero villains. They were not characters that were recreations or rethinkings of characters that had been in the Marvel Universe."

In case you are not following, Loeb did not like that the Ultimate Universe and the 616 Universe were too similar, so his solution was to make Ultimates 3 as close possibly to the 616 Universe as he could. Flawless logic! To make matters worse, instead of making the Ultimate characters grow to be different, his solution is to kill as many characters as possible and have the survivors deal with that. This is not an incredibly original idea and when you couple it with the fact that his writing is horrendous, I fear for the future of the Ultimate line. If anything, at least I know that I am not the only one that feels this way. In an unrelated interview , Mark Millar was talking about the possibility of other writers exploring the world he created (much like he co-created the Ultimate Universe) in the pages of Old Man Logan:

"One thing I have noticed sometimes is that whenever something is successful – and this is at DC and at Marvel – then there's always a cheap, shoddy follow up by the wrong creative team usually. And then there's an even worse creative team to come and follow them. And then the thing just dies on its arse."

Well, there you have it, my personal rant is over. We now return you to your scheduled program.