November 30, 2012

The Pull List: 28 November 2012

Okay, come on Marvel. This is taking the piss. You are fooling nobody. It was only last week that I was complaining about having to buy Iron Man twice in one month due to double-shipping. Now I find myself at the comic shop buying second issues of Thor: God of Thunder, All-New X-Men and X-Men Legacy only two weeks after buying the first. You might have got me to keep trying Uncanny Avengers past the first issue - I was on the fence after issue #1 - but there are only so many comics I am prepared to purchase in a single week. If I wasn't reviewing them for this blog, I'd probably be buying even less.

There is one reason for Marvel to double-ship all these relaunches in a single month, and that's market share. They want to be able to claim their sales dominated the market, and smashed those of their "Distinguished Competition" (am I the only one who used to love the way they used to write that in the letters columns?). Except they won't have, not really, and I think in the long term it'll do them damage. You only have to look at The Amazing Spider-Man, whose sales declined further and further once they started publishing it three times a month.

I had no problem sticking with quite a lot of fairly average DC New 52 titles because they were only costing me $2.99 a month. A lot of Marvel's comics cost $3.99, and if they double ship them I'm paying $7.99 a month for the privilege of their company. That suddenly makes a lot of the mid-list a much less attractive proposition, and if you take a close look at the sales figures you'll see a hell of a lot of Marvel's range is mid-list. The slack I gave DC from last September is simply not an amount of slack I'm going to be willing to extend to Marvel. Iron Man's gone - after the first two issues I've decided to drop it. I'm going to take a pass on Uncanny Avengers as well. Indestructible Hulk and X-Men Legacy are currently on the fence - they could go either way. If I'm asked to buy either title within the next two weeks, they're toast.

Under the cut: reviews of (deep breath): All-New X-Men, All-Star Western, Aquaman, Batman Incorporated, Bedlam, FF, The Flash, Journey Into Mystery, Multiple Warheads, Nowhere Men, Planetoid, Revival, Thor: God of Thunder and X-Men Legacy.

All-New X-Men #2
Marvel Comics. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Stuart Immonen.
In this excellent second issue, we pretty much get what I think most of us were expecting to get in the first: the X-Men of the past get to meet the X-Men of the present. The shocks are sometimes played for laughs, as in the case of Iceman. Sometimes they're played for drama, as in the case of young Jean Grey. This is a beautifully characterised comic, and deftly balances elements of humour and melancholy. Immonen also manages to draw the cutest sleepy Wolverine of all time - if you read this comic, you'll know which panel I mean. My only issue with this comic - and it's hardly an issue really - is that I can't see the endgame of this storyline. We're two issues in and history has already been changed. This storyline either ends with a tedious slap of a reboot button, and an actual reboot of X-Men (and Marvel) history. (5/5)

All-Star Western #14
Written by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti. Art by Moritat. Backup art by Phil Winslade.
Now that Bendis has left The Avengers, I think Gray and Palmiotti's run on Jonah Hex and All-Star Western might just be the longest running writing gig in superhero comics at the moment. They've been writing Hex's adventures for years, and I think they've been sorely undervalued by comic book readers. The interplay between Hex and Jeremiah Arkham in this series is comedy gold, highlighted this issue by a short conversation about Arkham's sleepwear. Meanwhile Gray and Palmiotti have managed to slowly fill this title with female vigilantes, which I appreciate - the western is usually such an overwhelmingly male genre. My only beef with this issue is their depiction of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde - maybe I'm misremembering the novel, but isn't Hyde of a smaller build than Jekyll? Every time he's represented in film and comic books he's shown as being significantly larger. It annoys the purist in me. (4/5)

Aquaman #14
DC Comics. Written by Geoff Johns. Art by Pete Woods.
This issue is the calm before the storm - an issue that gently pulls all of the elements from the first 14 issues of this comic together, and points them in a singular direction. Black Manta? Check. Ocean Master? Check. Ancient Atlantean artefacts? Check. Those hideous carnivorous creatures from the very first storyline? Check. This issue has some strong writing by Johns and absolutely great artwork by Pete Woods and Next up is a five-part story split between Aquaman, which I continue to read, and Justice League, which I don't read. Screw you, DC. You'd better make sure that the Aquaman issues are readable in their own right, because I refuse to play this crossover game with you any more. On its own merits, this is a solid four out of five, but I have this sinking feeling... (pun intended, naturally.) (4/5)

Batman Incorporated #5
DC Comics. Written by Grant Morrison. Art by Chris Burnham.

This issue marks a return to the Damian Wayne Batman of the future, last seen (if memory serves) in Batman #666. It's a fantastic, deeply apocalyptic vision of the Caped Crusader, where Gotham City is lost to a runaway Joker virus and the only survivors are holed up inside the old Arkham Asylum. Maybe it's just me, but I would love to see Grant Morrison write a full six-issue miniseries about this future Batman. There's an inventiveness and a sense of play about this issue, filled with little tips of the hat to Batman's past and present (Barbara Gordon's back in a wheelchair, for instance). This comic really is beginning to pull together into a massive, cohesive hole, running from "Batman and Son" several years back, right through Morrison's run on Batman, Final Crisis, and now two volumes of Batman Incorporated. When people ask me why he's my favourite comic book writer, I point at issues like this. (5/5)

Bedlam #2
Image Comics. Written by Nick Spencer. Art by Riley Rossmo.
The first issue of Bedlam was an unexpected knock out of the park. The second is nowhere near as arresting or vivid, but does clarify what's going on a little and sets out what the comic is likely to be about. Fillmore Press is a mentally unwell victim - he used to be a diabolical mass murderer, but another supervillain captured him, undertook brain surgery on him, and now supervises the "rehabilitation" of whatever man is left. Riley Rossmo continues to knock the ball out of the park when it comes to his artwork. This is a very distinct book that benefits immeasurably from his art. It's a dark, strange twist on the superhero comic, but a very welcome one too. (4/5)

FF #1
Marvel Comics. Written by Matt Fraction. Art by Michael Allred.
My goodness, Reed Richards is an insensitive prick.'Hey there, I know your daughter just died. How do you feel about minding an academy full of children while I'm off exploring the universe for kicks?' This companion volume to Fantastic Four #1 details the Four's efforts to recruit a set of temporary replacements to defend the universe for the four minutes that they'll be away. Is it just me or does that smack of a ridiculous amount of arrogance? Is Reed Richards really trying to suggest that the world, with Captain America, Iron Man, the Incredible Hulk, Spider-Man, Doctor Strange, the X-Men, Thor, SHIELD, Daredevil, Captain Britain, MI-13, the Avengers, the Defenders and all of the other numerous Marvel superheroes and teams, can't survive four minutes without him? What a dick! This issue has good dialogue, great art by Mike Allred, and a completely ridiculous premise. (3/5)

The Flash #14
DC Comics. Written by Francis Manapul and Brian Buccellatto. Art by Francis Manapul.
The New 52's most sorely underrated comic continues. It's not that it's being underrated, actually, so much as just generally ignored. Beautiful art, and amazingly inventive layouts second only to Batwoman. And Batwoman doesn't have super-fast giant killer gorillas rampaging through the city. As with Aquaman, The Flash currently feels like all of the threads introduced since the relaunch are being pulled together. I don't think I've ever enjoyed reading a Gorilla Grodd comic this much. (4/5)

Journey Into Mystery #646
Marvel Comics. Written by Kathryn Immonen. Art by Valerio Schiti.
(I missed this comic last week, so I'm reviewing it this week instead.) In the last two years or so, Journey Into Mystery has been a fabulous comic book written by Kieron Gillen, detailing the adventures of a youthful Norse God (and Thor antagonist) Loki. It's been the closest thing Marvel's published to Neil Gaiman's legendary Sandman comic, filled with myth and carefully worked elements of popular culture. With Gillen's story at a natural end, Marvel has taken the opportunity to refashion the title for Marvel Now. Instead of Loki we're now following the warrior princess Sif, and instead of Gillen the comic is now written by Kathryn Immonen. It's great. Sif is a strong, likeable lead, and the comic keeps a lot of Norse myth and language without every feeling inaccessible or dry. It's great to see Marvel publishing another female-led comic, and it's nicer still to see them giving a female writer the job. "Verily, can you dig it?" the comic asks on the first page. Verily yes, Ms Immonen, I certainly can. (4/5)

Multiple Warheads: Alphabet to Infinity #2
Image Comics. Story and art by Brandon Graham.
This comic is so far up my alley that Brandon Graham may as well have named it Multiple Warheads: This One's For You Grant Watson #2. Graham has a serious thing for Moebius, but for once he's a writer/artist who actually has the talent to pull a proper Moebius pastiche off. It's clever, it's funny, it's strange and it's deeply surreal. It's also amazingly good value. The idea-per-page ratio is off the scale, past even Hickman's Manhattan Projects. I don't think there's another comic book quite like this in America today. We should treasure it. If you read this column, and generally stick to buying superhero comics, do yourself the Meldrum-esque favour and check Multiple Warheads out now. Plus: another decent science fiction comic. If the 2013 Hugo Awards are still nominating the likes of Schlock Mercenary, then they really have no business talking about comics. (5/5)

Nowhere Men #1
Image Comics. Written by Eric Stephenson. Art by Nate Bellagarde and Jordie Bellaire.
If Multiple Warheads is Brandon Graham doing his best to emulate Moebius, then Nowhere Men is absolutely Eric Stephenson doing his best to emulate Jonathan Hickman. The only problem is that while Graham is taking a dead French creator's style and re-creating it for a contemporary American audience, Stephenson is taking a very-much-alive contemporary American creator's style and re-creating it for the same contemporary American audience. They even share the same publisher: awkward, surely? (2/5)

Planetoid #4
Image Comics. Story and art by Ken Garing.
Hey, Hugo voters, check it out! Another science fiction comic book that's better than Schlock Mercenary! For some reason I thought Planetoid was a four-issue miniseries. That led to no small amount of surprise at this issue's open-ended conclusion. I've checked the Image Comics website, and it turns out that there is a fifth issue coming down the line. This issue kicks the plot up a notch with the arrival of the alien Ono Mao to capture Silas and decimate the human settlement. Once again, it's a solidly written science fiction story with great art. This isn't setting the world on fire, but I'm sure as hell entertained. (4/5)

Revival #5
Image Comics. Written by Tim Seeley. Art by Mike Norton.
(As with Journey into Mystery, this comic was actually published last week. I'm only getting to it now.) I've really been enjoying Revival so far. It's been a strange sort of David Lynch-esque horror comic, with a good developing storyline about the dead returning to life and strange glowing entities in the woods of Wisconsin. Sadly this issue seems mostly dominated by a foul-mouthed self-appointed exorcist hunting down two women in the snow while spouting a string a misogynist, woman-hating bile. I get that it's the character, and not the comic itself that's saying these things, but it left an unpleasant taste in the mouth reading it. So I'm giving this issue a pretty low score. Unfair? Possibly, but these scores are based purely on my enjoyment of the issue, and I didn't particularly enjoy this one. (2/5)

Thor: God of Thunder #2
Marvel Comics. Written by Jason Aaron. Art by Esad Ribic.
Jason Aaron continues to write a wonderfully original take on Thor. His afterword to this issue lays his creative strategy out: this comic will not simply feature the Thor of today, but also a young Thor before he is worthy of bearing Mjolnir, and an ancient, one-eyed Thor fighting out the last days of the universe. It's a great, epic conceit worthy of a comic about a god, and Esad Ribic's painterly artwork more than does the title justice. Here the Thor of the Past has his first near-fatal encounter with the mysterious entity that is killing off gods one by one. It's a great, well-paced issue. I was particularly impressed with one sequence where, over several pages, we see Thor's pitched battle in the skies with the anonymous god killer while extensive narrative tells a short story about an earlier encounter in Thor's childhood. Stuff like this not only accentuates the old-world, godly feel of the book - it's a clever manipulation of what a comic book can structurally offer. This is definitely the standout book of Marvel Now, double-shipping be damned. (5/5)

X-Men Legacy #2
Marvel Comics. Written by Simon Spurrier. Art by Tan Eng Huat.
Charles Xavier is dead, and his super-powered ultra-psychic son David is on the loose. Inside David's head there's a prison full of several hundred super-powered personalities, and he's trying to avoid or control every single one. It's this kind of set-up, and David's crazy hair, that's making this comic remind of the glory days of DC Vertigo and titles like Doom Patrol and Shade the Changing Man. While David's on the run, a team of X-Men are tracking him down. They include Chamber, a character with a blazing fire where the bottom half of his head's supposed to be. I think he's from Generation X. I'm not sure. This is the first comic I've ever read with him in it, but I've always like his visual aesthetic. I enjoyed this comic quite a damn lot, which surprised me. The first issue left me on the fence, but I think I'm pleasantly convinced to stay on with this one. (I have to also note the incredibly shoddy paper that this comic was printed on. Apparently it was a printer's error and not yet another cost-cutting measure by Marvel.) (3/5)

Dropped titles: As I'm sampling more and more new titles for this column, financial constraints (and common sense) are leading me to drop some other titles at the same time. So, goodbye to Uncanny Avengers and Talon - I'll probably catch up with both via trade paperbacks in the future.

Winner of the week: Batman Incorporated #5. Oh Grant Morrison, you had me at 'hello'.
Loser of the week: Nowhere Men #1. Just oddly redundant.
Average score this week: 3.9

1 comment:

  1. Agreed on the double-shipping. I dropped Amazing Spiderman, which I liked quite a lot, simply because it came out too often. There are a couple of X-Men titles I don't mind buying more often, but your point about DC books is a good one - I give a lot more leeway to a comic that comes out once a month for $2.99.

    I was pleasantly surprised by M-Men Legacy too... didn't really expect much from it. I gave up on Flash quite early because I found it a bit dull (in the same way a lot of single-character books bore me if they don't have a strong supporting cast). But I've read a few good reviews of it now...

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