Wednesday, October 27, 2010


There is a theory out there in the blogosphere that JLA/Avengers is not all it could be, because it's "nothing but fanservice."

To which my response is, "Yeah, well, that's kind of the point of intercompany crossovers are for. What else did you expect?"

I suppose part of it may be because it came out at a rather unfashionable time for that sort of thing--late 2003 was the end of the big Marvel creative renaissance, and the genuine revitalisation was giving way to its own type of excess and there was a general sense that this kind of old-school superhero stuff wasn't very hip anymore and, as I remember reading reviews at the time that were sort of "Oh well, let's look at this, then . . .it's OK for what it is. *sigh* . . .I guess."

In a sense, it's kind of the end of an era for both JLA and Avengers, as Busiek's more backward-looking run was soon to be supplanted by Bendis' vision for the Avengers franchise and Morrison's big epic JLA paradigm would soon be undermined by . . .well, Joe Kelly's inexplicable love of The Elite, really. This is kind of the last hurrah for that mid-90's moment, I'd say.

That aside, and with seven years of hindsight, we can say that while JLA/Avengers is fanservice, it's mostly very good fanservice and manages to weave the insanely tangled and convulted continuity headaches that characterise the publishing histories of these two teams, provides the requisite level of spectacle, and also gives you more than a few Easter Eggs to enjoy in the bargain (seriously, there's probably a web page out there with exhaustive annotations on all this stuff). While on one level that is that woeful bugbear of "comics about other comics" as it occurs in a controlled self-contained environment story-line wise, it just about gets around it.

Not that it's perfect--the forcible inclusion of Hal Jordan and Barry Allen in the third chapter and their amount of screentime turned out to be a bit of unintentional foreshadowing, both in their reintroduction to the DCU and the clumsy way in which they're dropped back in and forced importance is . . .well, that also turned out to be a premonition too, dinnit?

Anyways, enough pre-amble, let's get to the story. After a Crisis on Infinite Earths homaging beginning we get to to cases pretty quickly. Krona and the Grandmaster agree to play a game, wherein the JLA and Avengers compete to collect a number of famous McGuffins. The first issue wisely concerns itself with setting things up--we see the JLA fight Terminus (who once again goes out like a bitch--Terminus must be the most oversold and least successful Big Threat Marvel ever devised--seriously, there has never been a Terminus story where he wasn't played for a giant-size schmuck) Meanwhile, the Avengers fight Starro, there's some travelling to each other's respective worlds and we get our first good bit--Heroes in the DCU are idlolised and super-famous, Marvel heroes are outsiders and viewed with suspicion by the general public. This also helps to build in some animosity between the two teams and better justify the obligatory "heroes fight until they figure out it's all been a misunderstanding, thing." The Avengers think that the JLA must have set themselves up as figures of worship as an oppressive force, and the JLA think the Avengers are dangerous loose cannons.

The two teams don't acually meet until the last page, and then the fight's on. It's a good use of pacing to use the first issue to build the stakes up to that point--these are the two biggest superhero teams out there and there'd been decades of buildup to seeing them meet, so the moment when they finally face off should, ideally, be a Big Thing, and the first shot in their battle is a hell of a cliffhanger to leave things on (especially since there was a bit of a delay between the first two issues and that made the anticipation even more unbearable) but you actually feel the catharsis when the fight begins and escalates in issue #2

The second issue concerns itself with the battle between the Avengers and the JLA and the subsequent quest for all the McGuffiny Basically half the issue is taken up with the main casts having a rumble, and during the treasure hunt for the second half, we get various reserve JLAers and Avengers getting some face time whilst Batman and Captain America try to figure out what's really going on (we also get a cool image of Darkseid with the Infinity Gauntlet, which was a great "oh shit" moment). Finally, we get one last throwdown in the Savage Land before the cliffhanger of this issue--Krona goes nuts and attacks Galactus, and the Grandmaster reveals the purpose for the various McGuffins and seals everything up in a nice little pocket universe . . .

. . .the results of which we see in issue #3 (Did anyone ever name everyone who was on the cover? Are they still sane?) which starts as a succession of riffs on the old JLA/JSA team-ups that were a staple of Justice League of America for . . .ever, really and this is pretty much the "all fanservice" portion of our program as damn near everything that is possible to fold into an invented shared history for both teams, including (insanely) the aborted JLA/Avengers team-up from the 1980s. The "shared history" bit soon unravels as it becomes plain that Krona is planning to shred the universes apart and only by going back to the way things should be can things be set right.

This is set up to be a hard choice for both teams to make, but I was more amused that it involved more or less the characters accepting that they'll have to endure more than a few shitty retcons and/or dying. This is where Hal Jordan and Barry Allen get shoehorned in, to the slight detriment of the story--considering they soon get folded back in the main plot, their inclusion here at best is only to add more weight to the "hard choice" that must be made, but when you consider that their replacements show up again in the last issue, well, it makes the whole thing seem like a digression and makes their successors look like second-stringers. Which, for a certain segment of the comics-reading population, I guess they always will be.

Anyways, it's all to set up the big cathartic moment where the Justice League and the Avengers put aside their animosities and team up to fight Krona. It's a great punch-the-air moment too, not least of which because it's been earned over the course of the story and there's been the weight of expectation that they would, ultimately, team up.

And issue 4 delivers on that as damn near every Justice Leaguer and Avenger that ever was teams up to fight every Justice League and Avengers villain George Perez felt like drawing (SPOILER: A lot) and it pretty much delivers on the promise of grand-scale action, ties up neatly and just . . .really works. I'm glossing over the specifics of the plot here basically because 1) it's better if you read it and 2) really, the plot's just a vehicle for the spectacle of the crossover, and really, no surprise there.

Ultimately, JLA/Avengers exists to create a broad canvas for two of the linchpin superteams in the Big Two, tell a reasonably coherent story, provide enough big moments to justify itself, and then get off the stage. It doesn't blaze any new trails, but then if you're doing an intercompany crossover, it's not the greatest time to try and blaze trails--that way leads Deathmate or Spawn/Batman--and it succeeds in what it was designed for with aplomb and efficiency.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

A Brand New Brand New Day!

(Note: Originally published on my other blog, the following is revised and expanded--and no less demented--for your entertainment and delectation. Enjoy!)

Ok, so it is no secret that Spider-Man comics have been locked into a rather dreary holding pattern for some time now and are in desperate need of a shot in the arm to move things forward. Marvel has decided the ideal way to do this is to give him some kind of silly-ass Tron-like costume (like you do) but in the name of really shaking things up, really kicking the whole Spider-Man concept into high gear, I offer the following proposal. I am confident that the following bold new direction I propose, will reinvigorate the franchise by basically saying NOT ONLY is everything you thought you knew about Spider-Man TOTALLY WRONG, but everything you're going to find out will BLOW YOUR FUCKING MIND out of your skull and into that ditch behind your house. Yes, that one.

Our story begins as these things usually do, with Peter Parker being yelled at by his Aunt May. Aunt May will henceforth be portrayed by a large black man in unconvincing drag (Think Tyler Perry's Madea. Can you see that now? Good, that means it's working) with a shrill, sassy voice, who proceeds to throw things at Peter, declaring "you can make your OWN goddamned wheat cakes!" Peter finally runs out of the house, recoiling in horror at the shrill, emasculating transvestite, and Aunt May returns to her meth lab, which he/she is busily snorting up all the potential profits and acting like a chicken for no adequately explored reason.

Cut to Gwen Stacy, alive and on a plane a mere hour away from New York. She will arrive with news that with change everything Peter Parker knows about himself. She stares out the window and thinks wistfully of Peter Parker for a while before being killed in the next panel by a falling safe.

Peter arrives at the Daily Bugle, which is in utter disarray. J Jonah Jameson has decided to stop selling Spider-Man as a threat and/or menace and decided to take the fight directly to the wall-crawler by creating crude Play-Doh sculptures of him (with abnormally large genitalia) and smashing them with his fist. The staff stands around watching him do this several times, then decides he's just old, goofy and drunk and decides to get back to work selling PCP to the nudist colony in the offices two floors above them.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane is walking through Central Park, looking wistfully into the sky as she thinks of Peter Parker, the man she loves and the man for whom she carries a secret that will tear them apart. Before her internal monologue continues, a bird flies into her head, makes its nest in her hair, and suddenly explodes, killing her.

As this is going on Spider-Man fights the Green Goblin for what must be the one millionth time. Having decided he (like the rest of us) is tired of seeing Norman Osborn in every respect, Spider-Man punches him so hard the Goblin's head flies off his body, whereupon he learns a mind-boggling secret--The Green Goblin's body does not contain organs. Rather, it has the same stuff as Cadbury Creme Eggs. Torn by his hatred of the Goblin, his love of Creme Eggs (which in all fairness are delicious), and the fact he didn't really mean to decapitate him, Spider-Man does the only thing he can do and eats the Goblin, triggering a sugar rush which will rock Spider-Man's world to the core.

On the other side of town, Gwen Stacy, once again not dead, is crossing the street and heading for Peter Parker's house to reveal something which will change his world forever. Unfortunately, before she can reach his house, two Chinese Vampires push a cow off of a tall building and it falls on her, killing her again.

Now completely out of his mind on sugary goodness, Spider-Man is going apeshit. Deciding that real Spider-Men would fire their webbing out of their posterior, he sheds his pants and tries unsuccessfully to poop webbing. This, thank God, doesn't happen, so Spider-Man instead decides to simply swing around New York, gibbering like a lunatic with no pants on on the one day, when New Yorkers decide to look up. We cut briefly to a shot of Doctor Doom, who is crying because this is really fucking funny to him.

Meanwhile, Mary Jane, also not dead. . .again . . .is trying to get the the Daily Bugle, desperately clutching at a letter, the contents of which will rock the world of Spider-Man to its very core. Before she can enter the offices, Joe Don Baker leaps from a mailbox and devours her.

Later, Spider-Man continues his pantsless, sugar-fueled madness and runs into the Shocker, who is just recovering from a crisis of confidence. He explains to Spider-Man that since he doesn't actually shock anyone and he refuses to be called The Vibrator, he has decided to become "The Shocker" in the sense that he will do weird and unlikely things to shock people. He demonstrates this by boring holes in walls and having sex with them, because "man on building sex is SHOCKING!" Spider-Man pretends to listen, steals the Shocker's pants, and fashions an crude and utterly idiotic kilt before swinging off, now declaring himself to be Scottish.

In the Village, Harry Osborn sits alone and despondent. Despite his best efforts, no prostitute will have anything to do with him, because they keep confusing "Harry Osborn" with "Rusty Trombone." I bet you thought I was going to kill Gwen or Mary Jane again here, didn't you? Despondent, he gives birth to an egg, because we've all done regrettable things when depressed.

Meanwhile, Spider-Man, now deep into the sugar blues, starts feeling sorry for himself, goes back home, and reveals his identity to Aunt May mere seconds before he punches her through the wall. Then, upon realising that not only is Aunt May is not filled with Creme Egg stuff and he has no idea how to make his own wheat cakes, cries for the next twenty pages, wallowing in his sweet, sweet, angst until he sniffs out the meth lab in the basement and decides to snort all that up in the name of making the voices stop.

Cut to the next morning, with a big splash page featuring Spider-man, now clad in nothing but his mask and a kilt, completely brainfucked on meth, shouts to the blue skies above those immortal words: "IT BEGINS!"

Monday, October 25, 2010


(Post #200 at last! Join us as we commemorate this momentous event with a look at one of the seminal comics a young Kazekage would read, even if the conveyor belt in the checkout lane at Farm Fresh nearly derailed his reading the first chapter. Long awaited, we present to you the following . . .)

In 2003, when Brian Bendis wanted to portray the Avengers' darkest hour, he relied on everyone acting out of character and used a terrible story from twenty years ago to buttress his decision. It was a half-baked mess of a story meant to clear away everything so he could get to the stuff he really cared about and hoped the reader's goodwill would see them through the rather sloppy deck-clearing exercise that preceded the real work.

In 1987, Roger Stern portrayed the Avengers' darkest hour by having a coalition of villains unlike any seen before strike the Avengers at a low ebb. The villains, the Masters of Evil, waited for their moment to strike, split the Avengers, invaded their home base, inflicted grievous physical and psychological damage, and even though they won, it was a costly, Pyrrhic victory that would have genuine repercussions ten years later, when the Masters of Evil masquerade as the Thunderbolts.

Avengers: Under Siege is a tight, efficient little story, and one that uses a lot of Avengers history to give the battle between the Masters and the Avengers some resonance, but thankfully it does so without being so beholden to older comics that it required a reading list to be understood. Basically the Masters were culled from the individual Avengers' rogues gallery, they decide to band together and defeat the Avengers. Everything you need to know about their motivations (specifically Baron Zemo, who leads the Masters, and his grudge against Captain America) are all in the story.

A couple of things before we begin--as Roger Stern notes in his introduction, the Masters, despite being an early attempt to create an evil opposite for the Avengers, were never entirely successful, primarily because they got their asses handed to them fairly quickly. One of the ways to successfully sell a villain as a threat is to have them credibly defeat a hero or hero team (without jacking their powers up to stupid levels) in such a way as to where the villains look good and the reader can't wait to see how the good guys are gonna beat them definitively.

Also, and Under Siege provides an excellent test case here--it's not necessary for villains to be murderous rape-crazy thugs to present a threat--many times in Under Siege the Masters prove themselves to be utter bastards, but it's done more with implication than showing the gory details on screen. As a matter of fact, one of the most brutal scenes in the story involves Zemo tearing up Captain America's mementos in from of him. His old shield is crushed, a picture of Bucky is torn to shreds, the only photo he was able to save of his mother is torn to shreds. When Captain America fails to break, Zemo ordered Mister Hyde to beat and cripple Jarvis in front of Cap and the captured Avengers. We don't need to see the result of a superpowered maniac wailing on a geriatric butler--it's all played off their horrified reactions. As with all things, a little goes a long way.

It also shows that not every battle has to end in a slugfest with someone who's overpowered and godlike (*cough*Sentry*cough*) sometimes, the final battle can just be the unraveling of the bad guy's elaborate plan after we've been taken, along with the heroes to the limit, and just when it looks like there's no hope . . .the good guys win.

Anyways, enough preamble--on with the show! Our story begins at a rather puzzling time for the Avengers (The Wasp leads a team of Hercules, Sub-Mariner, Captain America, Captain Marvel, and the Black Knight) and it's a pretty fractious team--Hercules is a full-on sexist asshole, Black Knight has got a thing for the Wasp, and the Sub-Mariner is very soon going to leave the team (this feels a bit perfunctory and I doubt very much this was the original plan) and generally Earth's Mightiest Heroes are not on top of their game.

The Masters, meanwhile, have been watching them and studying how to make the fractures that keep the Avengers apart into full-blown fissures. The story begins with Moonstone (not quite the master manipulator she becomes in Thunderbolts, but a definite challenge to Baron Zemo's leadership) stirring up public protest against the Avengers inducting the Sub-Mariner into their ranks. A perfunctory battle starts and Moonstone ends up delivered into the hands of two of the Masters, and that's left to tick over as the Sub-Mariner fucks off and heads into the Alpha Flight crossover that's starting in 2 months' time.

Meanwhile, The Wasp has to deal with Hercules' having enough of being ordered around by a woman and elects to go on an epic bender through New York City's Skid Row, and on the way to question the new Yellowjacket (not Henry Pym this time) runs into more of the Masters, and while the Avengers can't quite figure out this is the beginning of an organized assault against them, we begin to get a clearer picture of things--someone is gathering the Avenger's enemies together and while they're contemplating their navels, their enemies are close to implementing their plan.

Of course, before things can move too much further, we have a crossover with Alpha Flight to deal with--as Marrinna's been captured (again--man, was there ever a more useless character than Marrinna?) and Sub-Mariner has to nearly overthrow Atlantis just to get two pages of angst-tastic (4 Claremonts!) dialogue with her, whereupon she buggers off and Sub-Mariner with her. There's not much to say about this--Alpha Flight barely figures in to things, Namor in Atlantis is usually boring as everyone in Atlantis is a bit of a twit to one degree or another and really this just felt like a forced way to get Namor out of the book. Mind, he'd be back soon enough to kill Marrinna when she turns into Leviathan in one of the least tragic tragic endings ever. The less said about it the better.

Just as well, we're back to normal next issue, wherein the Masters assemble and Baron Zemo makes his big speech to the assembles Masters right about the time he reveals his ace in the hole--the psychotic and nearly mindless Blackout, who is the instrument of the titular siege. At the conclusion of the issue, with the Avengers dissolute and not minding the store, the Masters finally attack, storming through the gates of Avengers Mansion, and taking over without much trouble at all.

Now, with the Masters in full control, the shit gets real. Lying in wait for the Avengers, the Masters sucker Black Knight into walking through the front door and getting captured. Blackout sucks Captain Marvel into the Darkforce dimension, rendering the most powerful member of the Avengers (Bless 'em, Marvel was really trying to sell the second Captain Marvel as legit back in the day) Captain America gets captured, and a Hercules makes the mistake of trying to take on the Masters when he's completely drunk off his ass . . .and the Masters beat him nearly to death, throw his body out of the Mansion, and clap a force field around the place.

The Masters keep the pressure on. Hercules nearly gets killed in their follow-up attack on him in the hospital. Captain America's mementos are shredded in front of him in an effort to break him psychologically and when that fails, Zemo orders Hyde to start killing his fellow Avengers, and even though Hercules is going to live, the Avengers backs are against the wall. The Wasp declares she's through taking shit from them and decides the time has come to counterattack.

But who's left to answer the call? Well, it's an unlikely group. Thor returns (though not quite at full force owing to developments in his own book) Captain Marvel returns from the Darkforce Dimension (apparently it's damn easy to get out of if you remember that since every third Marvel character uses the same Darkforce you can pop out of one or the other of them) and . . .Doctor Druid? Well . . .it takes all kinds, and Doctor Druid does perform a useful function in the final act of our little drama.

Namely, our heroes--those inside and outside the mansion--begin their counterattack. And things start going to hell in a handbasket for the Masters--Blackout tries to resist Zemo's control and Zemo basically causes him to have a fatal haemorrhage, the strongest of the Masters suffer a brutal taste of payback and Zemo has to face the one thing that you never want to face--a pissed-off Captain America who is well and truly Sick Of This Bullshit. (Just ask Kang how that worked out.) The last fight between Zemo and Cap in the ruins of Avengers Mansion really tips this thing over the edge to "epic," I think --so much of the early history of the book is tied in intimately with the battles between the Avengers and the original Masters (who were led by Zemo's father) that it actually feels like a completed circle that things should get to this point, which is no mean feat, when you consider that Avengers has for much of existence ran with the notion that without any real mission statement (I mean, who are they really avenging?) they would just do whatever seemed like a good idea at the time.

But what really makes this work for me is the little bit at the end with Captain America finally breaking down amid the ruins of the family he's been a part of and what little bits of his history he was able to hold on to are ruined. Yes, the Avengers won and the they will carry on, but a tremendous price was paid for it (it really was-it was like four years at least before Avengers Mansion was restored in its classic form) and it was good to have that moment play out as a nice little coda rather than just skipping past that and getting on to the next thing.

Bottom line y'all, if you want a classic, competently done Avengers story that manages to work on its own, well . . .this is the book for you. While it doesn't include the few ancillary crossovers that happened concurrently with this (Most especially that issue of Captain America where Whirlwind and the Trapster fight Cap in the Carolinas, which was a nice bit of home team thrill for me) what's here is really all you need, and you should totally give it a shot.

Friday, October 22, 2010


So this here premiered a couple days ago and, given how not-so-great Marvel's attempts to bring their comics have been generally (Wolverine and the X-Men excluded) and how bad Avengers cartoons have been specifically (Avengers: United They Stand was . . .well, not a success, let's say.) there was a certain amount of trepidation.

Well, having now seen the first couple episodes, may I say . . .y'know, this ain't have bad. Sure the animation feels a little stiff and jagged and there's some elements I could do without (Oh look, Maria Hill's here to be boring and indistinct in another medium, now!) But on the whole . . .I really liked it.

People have compared it to Justice League Unlimited, and they have a point--like JLU, there's an effort to embrace as much of Marvel's history as they can fit into the show (witness the cast of supervillains chosen and the fact that the main bad guy in this 2-parter is friggin' Graviton, of all people) and nothing feels all that dumbed down or kiddified (especially considering that easily hundreds of thousands of people probably died in the fight between the Avengers and Graviton (seriously, there is no way there wasn't tons of off-screen carnage here) and I think that we've got something here that people would actually watch, and not just comics fans.

Looking forward to the rest of the season.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010


(Beginning a new installment of a new column which is, apparently and unfortunately, necessary . . .)

So Atlas is done, and cue the wailing an gnashing of teeth amongst the comics intelligentsia about how we can't have nice things like Atlas/S.W.O.R.D./Captain Britain & M.I. 13 because those stupid-ass readers keep buying their Deadpool comics and ruining it for everyone. This is commonly referred to here as the Hive Mind Fallacy.

Because it's always someone else's fault, of course. It couldn't be, for instance, that all of these books were extreme niche products that, however good they were, were never going to find the mass audience necessary to justify their existence as an ongoing series. It was always going to be a niche product in an audience that has contracted to such appalling levels there are no room for niches anymore.

Atlas is a great example of what tries to happen when you try numerous things in the name of addressing this essential and frankly insurmountable. The first miniseries, which I reviewed here and if you'll remember, I liked very much. It took obscure characters that were very much continuity backwaters and set them up with an interesting raison d'etre, and I was interested to read more.

I did, however, assume it would be another limited series, as something this niche would easily support. Lord knows Marvel isn't shy about running yearly mini-series of characters that can't support an ongoing book--witness Pet Avengers--and can be enjoyed partially because they're not around long enough to wear out their welcome.

Instead, Agents of Atlas gets an ongoing book that for the first eight issues or so ties into the Big Event of the time, Dark Reign. And, of course, it fell into the same trap that every Dark Reign crossover (well, any issue of Dark Reign, really--I mean, nothing happened in that damn thing after the initial establishment of the premise, did it?) Character(s) of book swears to bring Norman Osborn down and never get anywhere, Norman Osborn shows up and acts like a jackass, lather, rinse, repeat.

So now you have a book that has an utterly meaningless tie-in (because nothing in Agents of Atlas impacts Dark Reign) and so much time is spent tying into this that the characters can't work in their own milieu for having to plod through this idiot crossover. Result: No one's happy, because Dark Reign was the first crossover in which every issue was a red skies issue and the stuff that was set up in the mini can't be played out because Norman Osborn, who really never credibly should have been in any position of power, is outfoxing them like he'd Grand Admiral Thrawn or some shit. Which makes the main characters of the books look like incompetent buffoons in the bargain, and do you want to read about stupid people?

So they shuffle Atlas into a backup features with Hercules for awhile and do a few mini-series teaming with the X-Men or whatever and then, with a new trade dress to stick on the cover, they re-launch it again as just plain Atlas.

One could hardly say they didn't learn their lesson from last time. Whatever flaws the initial ongoing series had, this version at least led with a story that was germane to the characters. Tragically, it wasn't an interesting story as yet again the 3-D Man gets shoehorned in and drags an uninteresting, impenetrable, and hopelessly contradictory backstory--not that I would have minded having a newer backstory for the 3-D Man, I just wanted it to be, y'know, good--with him. Oh yes, and the art's muddled and dark, so much so it's difficult to pick out what's supposed to be happening at any given time.

Oh, and it's $4 apiece for 5 issues wherein the plot moves at a crawl. Under the circumstances, I can't imagine why it tanked.

Back in the day, of course, none of this would be a problem. Atlas is a middling little cult hit? Well, we'll run a few mini-series, and hope it builds an audience for itself. If it doesn't, well, the fans of it have a couple of great stories out of it and it can be looked back fondly upon as this strange little thing. If it builds an audience, well, great. We'll do a bimonthly or monthly comic and it can be this slow and steady mid-list hit (like Power Man and Iron Fist, Marvel Team-Up, Marvel Two-In-One, or Defenders--this was far enough back when the comics readership was big enough to have a mid-list) that lasts for a few years, then we can rest it and bring it back in a few years.

However, with news that comic sales are tanking even more than the last time everyone went into ball-freezing terror because sales were so far down, (which was last month) the comics companies have no choice but to con as many people as possible into buying as much as possible (making them as expensive as possible too) by perpetrating and perpetuating the twin lies that Everything Counts and You Have To Read All Of It.

I mean, what else can you do? Grow the audience? Well, it appears everyone has forgotten how to do that, even with the gimmie of major comic movies every year or so now--yes, even with the free fucking publicity of a movie, or a cartoon series, or what have you comic companies can not seem to work out how to get people to read comics. I cannot think of a more damning indictment than that.

And that is the problem, ultimately. Superheroes have gotten stupid because the continual contraction the market and the equal continuous soaking of the poor lost souls that are left for every dime that can still be shaken out of their pockets. Don't ask them to support your comic you think is this hip take on superheroes and then rain scorn on them when it doesn't happen, blame the forces that led to such a pitiful market in the first place that no longer has room for a book like this, nor the patience to reach out to newer audiences. The fish stinks from the head, after all.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010


Continuing our look at the Kurt Busiek run on Avengers, we close out his run on the main title with volume 5 of Marvel's collections, and from here we stop in for a cup of coffee with JLA/Avengers, then back to volumes 1 and 2, assuming Marvel will be good enough to reissue them, because paying $200 for a used hardcover is just goddamn foolish. I mean, I was born at night, but it wasn't last night.

Anyhow, this volume is, barring the teaser at the end of volume 4, the entirety of the Kang Dynasty story. Of the various sagas that Busiek did on the book, the Kang Dynasty's probably, warts and all, the best of them. Oh, it has it's usual ropey bits, the art gets inconsistent after Alan Davis leaves, it has two endings too many, has an interlude with the Scarlet Witch and Wonder Man in a concentration camp which is in questionable taste to be sure but suffers mightily because you have two of the most boring Avengers ever trying to carry a story, we revisit the unfortunate Avengers #200 very obliquely and it never really goes anywhere. and there's another one of those even-more-unfortunate-in-retrospect "'Nuff Said" issues right at a critical plot moment, and we stop the story dead for the finale of the 3D man plot, which is annoying, but at least it's over with.

On the whole, though, it works. Kang Dynasty has a sense of scope and real high stakes that have been missing from Avengers stories for quite awhile. It also benefits from being expansive (in that it spans the globe with various beachheads and conflicts) but also being contained (as it's only in Avengers--I think, anyways. Did it end up crossing over with anything?) and unified as it only happens under one writer's direction. What's more, it presents Kang the Conqueror as a credible threat (almost Grand Admiral Thrawn-level, at times) without resorting to plot-convoluting time travel shenanigans and brings in a whole bunch of Avengers and some unlikely supervillians and feels, in its way, like the end of Morrison's JLA run--a summation of all that's gone before cranked up to 11.

So let's get down to it. Last week, we ended volume 4 (kinda) with the appearance of Kang and the Scarlet Centurion, who is not the same Scarlet Centurion who's been previously seen in the MU. This may or may not explain why he has a costume one might theoretically walk out in public without being laughed at.

Anyways, Kang lays down the law thus--as a time traveler, he knows that the human race is in for an assortment of dark futures, and so, in the name of protecting Earth, he will conquer it, and over the generations, build it into the star-spanning empire we saw a glimpse of in Avengers Forever. To put an exclamation point on this, he blows up the UN Building (though he saves everyone else--he's big on destructive object lessons here) and, when the UN Assembly refuses his offer and launches missiles at his Damocles Base (which is naturally a big flying sword. In space.) he lays down just how screwed Earth is: In the midst of his whole spiel about the futures Earth needed to be protected from, he also made an offer to the world--anyone who overthrows their leaders, and declares loyalty to Kang will rule as his vassal. Almost immediately, this leads to Atlantis attacking (yes, again) the Deviants invading China, and the Presence (yes, Busiek dug deep for him! You don't get much more obscure than a Soviet bad guy from the 70s suddenly popping up in a story from 2001. Except maybe Imus Champion, but that's neither here nor there) is turning everyone in Russia into a hive-mind of radioactive zombies.

So already the Avengers have a lot on their plate. Our first stop is the battle with the Presence, which is a good bit and appropriately scary, even if the Presence is a bit of a shackle and cackle style villain who's not evil as much as he is utterly irrational, Meanwhile in plots B and C, The Wasp and company turns back the Atlanteans and Jack of Hearts gets to be an Avenger officially because, well . . .I'm not entirely certain why Jack of Hearts gets to be an Avenger. Maybe Busiek liked the guy. Anyways, Stingray shows up on the next page to help out. Stingray is awesome. Oh, and Warbird and company throw down with the Deviants. Oh and Yellowjacket's fading away, and rather than doing the smart thing and letting it happen so we can get back to more interesting characters, we derail the plot momentarily for Avengers Annual 2001 to tie all this up.

I don't want to spend a lot of time on this because Hank Pym's identity crisis is not particularly interesting to me. Neither is the Triune Understanding, which is the lever by which we resolve the "Two Hank Pyms" thing, finally--apparently they split apart because they're two halves which reject the other and need a way to reunite and they do and everyone looks annoyed because they know the Triunes are up to no good and can't prove it (Like the readers have known for the PAST THIRTY ISSUES OR SO) and hey, look, Ivan Reis does the pencils here! It's funny--between this and Ethan Van Sciver on New X-Men, it's amazing how many fill-in guys at Marvel went on to become names at DC.

Back at the main plot, Stingray single-handedly stops the Atlanteans (thanks, Kurt--I like to think that one was just for me) and Warbird deals with the Deviants. One of the ongoing threads in the Kang Dynasty is Warbird coming into her own, which . . .kinda works, but not really for reasons I'll get into in a bit.

Meanwhile, Thor nearly kills the Presence, and we get a good bit where Thor talks a bit about how he likes hanging with the Avengers, but being an immortal god, he knows it's ultimately a temporary thing (like a girl in trouble) from his point of view. There's an attempt to play him against Firebird (who as we know from the whole Contest of Champions sequel, is immortal--did anyone else ever do anything with that?) who is just getting into her whole "immortality" deal, having not become a Presence-assisted zombie and all. Oh, and we learn the US Government's backup plan should the Avengers fail--a whole mess of Sentinels. Yeah, that'll work.

But before that, a new threat shows up--the Master of the World, or just the Master (no, not that one) who magics up an indestructible wall and declares that he will hold the line against Kang. Because hell, we just had the Presence, show up, why not an Alpha Flight villain, eh?

I should also add here that the art team begins its rotation here. Kieron Dwyer had been announced as the new artist after Alan Davis, but doesn't end up doing that many issues for reasons I've never had satisfactorily explained to me. Art generally bounces between Manuel Garcia and Bob Layton, Ivan Reis, Brent Anderson, and Dwyer. They're all sound hands, and the only bad thing I can say about this is that the story feels a bit more inconsistent because there's not a unified artistic vision to complement the writer's vision. It's a minor thing, and while it doesn't kill the story dead any more than all the fill-ins on New X-Men did . . .you find yourself wondering what might have been.

So now the Avengers go off and fight the Master and his Plodex wolves, which have and always will sound like some sort of nightmarish feminine hygiene product that could not and should not exist. It seems his tech can hold off Kang's assault, so it's up to the Avengers to take it and use it against the conqueror, who pops in every now and again to remind us that he's the one behind all this, and when the Avengers try to mess with Damocles Base, he swears reprisal.

Meanwhile, Warbird is having dreams of Marcus, and really, I'd hoped to avoid this bit. Marcus is a hold over from what is often considered the worst single issue of Avengers ever, issue #200. Without wasting too much of your time, it basically involves Warbird (then called Ms. Marvel) spirited away into limbo to have sex with Marcus' son, Immortus. She then gives birth to Marcus, whose presence on Earth causes all manner of stuff to happen, and even though this is basically time-travel assisted date rape and it's a really icky comic and I've read Faust, for God's sake. This comic was so toxic (you can read more about how here, and also here. I don't want to get off-point any more than I already have) that it was near-immediately repudiated in another Avengers issue, quietly buried, and is one of the reasons people don't like Jim Shooter. Seriously guys, it's an absolutely dire story. Avoid it like the plague. Or "The Crossing."

And like all dire stories, it should have just been quietly forgotten after the initial furor. However, Busiek has forgotten more about Avengers than I'll ever learn, but one of those things wasn't this, alas. So we have lots of Warbird fretting that the Scarlet Centurion is Marcus, and while he is called Marcus . . .he doesn't look anything like the Marcus from #200 and besides which, he isn't. That Marcus was the son of Immortus, the Centurion is the son of Kang, which given their former relationship is a clever bit of twinning, but doesn't go very far, ultimately.

So basically what you have is Warbird angsting about someone who only superficially is the guy who date-raped her with a time machine. The Centurion, meanwhile, just seems taken with her because he think she's really hot. And this is a big story problem, because we have the believe that the Centurion will go against Kang for her, but I wasn't ever really convinced enough to believe it--really, the Centurion is rather thinly drawn to begin with--and well, it just doesn't work and really, probably could have been clipped out without losing anything.

Anyways, thanks to Marcus help, Warbird reaches the master's throne room and kills him and they take control of the Master's base. Meanwhile, Cap and company take the fight to Kang (or try to) and the US sends its force of Sentinels to join the battle.

That works as well as you'd expect, as Kang takes control of the Sentinels and lays waste to Washington D.C. In more reflective moments I wonder if 2001 wasn't the year we all decided that Sentinels just were more damn trouble than they're worth, given that in one year they kill a shedload of people in Washington D.C. and Genosha. In the aftermath, the Wasp is forced to sign articles of surrender and we were officially at the Avengers' Darkest Hour.

So, naturally, on the way to the Avengers' eventual triumph, why don't we take a bit of time off and resolve the never-ending goddamned Triune thing, finally. I will not bore you with the wholly uninteresting and inconsequential details of this, except to say there's a big ol' pyramid of evil hurtling towards earth, there are three aliens, three pyramids and eventually the Avengers get control of it and have a weapon with which they can fight Kang on slightly more equal footing. I'm being intentionally vague because it really doesn't matter, as they just got through contradicting all of this in Atlas anyways and really, I'm just glad it's over.

Anyways, we're into the home stretch of the story now--well, if we skip over the Wonder Man/Scarlet Witch in the concentration camp, which we should--The Avengers finally counterattack against Damocles Base, there's a big fight between giant hologram Kang and giant hologram Captain America, which is supposed to be epic but doesn't come off as anything other than a bit silly and ultimately redundant, considering they have an actual non-holographic fight the issue after it. That should have been the ending right there (well, the issue should have been double-sized and covered all of it in one go, but it's split in twain) but things grind on for a bit as we take up the last few threads left in the wake of the Kang Dynasty and there's one more done-in-one issue that's an amusing digression about who has to settle the accounts for all the collateral damage the Avengers cause during the course of a typical day.

And that's Busiek's Avengers run. Following him would be Geoff Johns, whose work on the book is only now being reprinted, now that the statute of limitations has passed, who would go on to deliver the indelible image of Hank Pym, Clit Puncher on his way to pretty much running DC Comics. I'm not sure that these two things are related, and if they are, I don't know if I want to know how, exactly.

Join us next time when we take a look at JLA/Avengers, long-awaited and mostly worth it, and then in the later months we'll catch up with Volumes 1 and 2, which ought to make searching by tag really damn confusing. I'll see you then!

Sunday, October 17, 2010

MAD MEN 4.13--"Tomorrowland"

And so it has come to this. After 13 weeks, small victories, low depths, slowly pulling out of despair, reversal after reversal, near misses from G-Men, aphrodisiacal muggings, dead secretaries, and afternoons driving a Honda moped around an empty stage, Lee Garner Jr. treating everyone like crap, hirings, firings, inappropriate behaviour during The Man From U.N.C.L.E. Lee Garner Jr. throwing our people overboard and Bert Cooper waving his shoes at people on the way out the door Mad Men finishes its fourth season. As SCDP . . .er, Sterling Draper Pryce teeters on the brink of implosion, we begin this, the final run of the most-viewed and least commented on (seriously, I'm going to miss seeing the hits spike so much) for this season.

"The truth is, they're mourning for their childhood instead of anticipating their future because they don't know it yet, but they don't want to die."

"Did you get cancer?"

"If they poured champagne it must have been while I was have been pushing the mail cart"

So, last week, after the shit hit the fan with Lucky Strike leaving SCDP, shit continued to hit the fan as Don decided to write a "you can't fire me, I quit," thing and say that SCDP didn't intend to take tobacco accounts anymore in an effort to cover the whiff of desperation and doom over the firm. This went over . . .well, not so well, as Bert Cooper up and left, saying that Don's an egotistical monster (not that he didn't have a point) and left the firm. Oh and Betty has finally decided to leave Don's house after a close encounter with Torgo . . .I mean, Glen. Only took her three goddamn months.

Oh, and because things weren't grim enough already, we met Midge from season 1 again and she was hooked on heroin. Man, there was nothing about that scene that wasn't just . . .bleak.

This week, we begin in bed. Don and Dr. Faye are soaking in the afterglow of Don and Dr. Faye comparing notes, and the anticipation of Don's meeting with the American Cancer Society, who were just about the only person who liked his little stunt. There's also the notion that he's going to be taking the kids to California (all there in the title) and as this will be the first trip to Cali without working in a visit to Anna . . .well, a cloud hangs over everything.

Especially at the office. Joan is reduced to pushing the mailroom cart though a frighteningly quiet office, which is bad, but she gets the title of operation manager (because, well, she is) and while it won't amount to one penny extra, it's recognition of her role and her necessity to the company, which everyone relied on but was willing to take for granted. Only took them three goddamned years and two companies.

Meanwhile, Don and Pete meet with the American Cancer Society, where he gives them a picture of their plans for an anti teen smoking campaign which is . . .well, a bit maudlin, but it's good enough to get them back for another go. Meanwhile, Ken gets pumped by Don and the boys to have a meet cute with Ray Wise (because I figured you don't get Ray Wise for one day's work, do you?) Ken demurs about being the direct link between Dow and SCDP.

Meanwhile, as Betty's moving out, Torgo pays a visit to Sally, I suspect to tell her that the Master wants her but he can't have her because he wants her. Glen frightens us all by reminding us he'll be old enough to drive soon enough and manages to be awkward even when he tries to be sweet and demands Sally bring him something from Disneyland. On the way out, she runs into Betty, who reads him the riot act and Torgo tosses it back in their face and says just because she's sad, not everyone else has to be. Betty crosses yet another line when she bitches out Carla for letting Torgo say goodbye to her, and fires Carla, who manages to leave with her dignity and get a shot in before she leaves. Betty Draper Francis, ladies and gentleman--an ever-expanding asshole.

This complicates things a little, as there'll be no one to help look after the kids for the big California trip, which Betty probably looked forward to sabotaging anyways. Don elects to hire his secretary (whom he's schtupping anyways) to replace Carla, which seems to be ever so slightly fraught with peril. Meanwhile, we have an utterly go-nowhere scene wherein Harry Crane tone-deafly tries to pick up on Joyce's new girlfriend in a scene that makes absolutely no goddamn sense and yet . . .actually leads to something, oddly enough.

You see--it turns out Joyce's new gal was part of an ad campaign that fell apart and with a holiday weekend coming up, they've got money committed and no time left so they the firm can get the ad if--IF--they don't screw it up.

This is actually a pretty good bit (borne out of a wretched scene--seriously, that damn thing was clunky as hell), because of how slyly it subverts expectations. We've come to expect in these things that Don will sweep in at the last minute and put it all together and everything will end on a high note. That they may come up with a way to pull it out without Don . . .well, it'd be new, wouldn't it?

Cut to California, where Don's kids are fascinated by swimming pools and Don still doesn't know how to dress for the climate. In a rather moving moment, Don takes them to Anna's house, and Don's heartfelt little "Dick + Anna" thing almost comes back to bit him in the ass ever so slightly. It's rather impressive that this season began with the question of "Who is Don Draper?" and the season ends with his child asking "Who's Dick?" It's also very clever that Don says the truth--Dick is his nickname sometimes. Oh, and Jon Hamm once again proves he is the king of quiet painful sadness in the scene that follows, as he broods in his hotel room, though he finally does get the stick out of his butt and joins his kids having fun and planning for the visit to Disneyland.

Meanwhile, Henry gives Betty the business about firing Carla and he, as Kenny Powers says, fucks her up with some truth--no one's ever on Betty's side because that's the way she likes it. She is the empress of spoiled children, a fact that's made explicit when she goes to lie on the bed in Sall's room later.. Meanwhile Don and Megan share a sunset and some sex in Cali and I muse on the notion that Don fools around with brunettes and only has stable relationships with blondes. I'm sure it's meaningful, but I'll be damned if I could tell you how. Don says something about how "we all try . . .but we don't always make it." I really hope this doesn't mean we're in for Sopranos-esque "it will seem like it's changing but it doesn't because people never really change ever," which may be realistic but it's annoying relentless bait-and-switch drama and I'd just as soon Mad Men not go in for that.

25 minutes to go and Peggy and Ken finally sit down with Topaz. Peggy manages to work out on the cuff an idea for how to sell pantyhose that impresses the brass at the company (well, not brass . . .it's two guys in one room, for God's sake--they're as desperate in their own way as SCDP) and we get the notion here that Peggy has broken through, and is becoming--some ways more than others--Don. I continue to like the idea that they company-saving thing isn't coming from Don this time.

Meanwhile, Don confesses his love for Megan and proposes to her with Anna's engagement ring which is . . .uhm, yeah. This is a match made in heaven, like a deserted stretch of road and a 15 car pile-up including a busload of orphans. I don't really get this. There are great arguments for not marrying your secretary (hell, look at how desperately unhappy Roger and Jane are now, and Roger looked at Jane as his ticket back to his lost youth) and never mind he's been getting serious with Dr. Faye and . . .yeah, this is not really a great plan. Roger accepts the news with the appropriate incredulity.

Meanwhile, still boiling in the background, Topaz has given them their shot, which is still very nicely being underplayed in light of Don's bewildering announcement. Thankfully, Peggy shares my concern (not least of which because Don says Megan reminds her of Peggy, which is crreeeeeeepy) and wouldn't you know it, Dr. Faye is on the phone, and Don is shrinking of doing the thing he should. Peggy fulminates to Joan in scene that starts out being angry, then ends with them laughing. though you can see how it would be disturbing: Peggy's had to fight the assumption that she only got as far as she did because she was sleeping with Don. Now, well, Megan isn't going to stay a secretary any more than Jane did when she caught Roger's eye. Where is this going to go?

Meanwhile, Don attempts to break the news to Dr. Faye, who has about the same impatience as I do when it comes to breakups--"spare me your attempts to sugar-coat it, just rip the band-aid off and let me get on with dealing with the resultant pain"-- and she does an amazing job with selling the pain and rage of breaking up with him and fucks him up with some truth--he only likes the beginnings of things, which is pretty much the God's honest truth--Don is never one to be in there for the long haul, he gets bored too easily and like a magpie, he's on to the next thing. I don't know that pissing off someone he confessed his dual identity to in a moment of extremis

Oh . . .and. . . .in other news. . .Joan is either still pregnant or and lying to the ever present doctor rapist who has sadly not gotten fragged and he obsesses over her growing boobs and I just really wish something terrible would happen to him. This raises some questions--either she's had the abortion and she's lying about being pregnant, or she's lying about the kid's parentage. Either way, I sure hope in series 5 they pick this up.

And finally, Betty and Don meet at the house, which is now empty, except for a bottle of rye, and share a drink over the end of things, and the fact that things aren't perfect and . . .this scene feels a bit like padding, as Betty chews over some clunky dialogue that's supposed to summarize the season or something like that, and dear Christ, the episode closes over "I Got You Babe" which does not, in any way shape or form over-egg the pudding at all, and . . .roll credits.

Uh . . .right. Well, I was with the show right up until it ran out of steam there at the end. While I suppose its inevitable that Don would find someone eventually, it feels completely tacked on and doesn't really move things in a direction consistent with his arc this season. Maybe it'll play slightly better in subsequent re-watchings, but this time . . .nahh, I wasn't feeling it.

But I suppose they had to do something to shake things up. Everyone was waiting for Don to save the company, and the company was pretty much saved, but it was played down, and I can understand why. They did that the last two years in a row, and how else could they upend the table? So I guess they had to do something different and so they decided to underplay it this year and lead with this.

I just wish they'd done a better job.

On the whole, this season had it's moments, and I liked the way things were going right up until the end, wherein they decided to have Don marry Megan for what might best be considered rather ropey reasons and that kind of dominated everything in this last episode and it didn't really feel like adequate closure as much as it did kind of springing a whole mess of new plot complications, which is what season finales are for, but it lacked the feeling of summation that season finales--especially Mad Men season finales--have tended to have.

My disappointment, of course, is balanced quite neatly by the fact that I can't wait to see how this all plays out next year. Heaven knows things are sooooo much more complicated now and even less certain than they were at the end of last year . . .

NEXT TIME: I guess next July we'll see how this all shakes out. Has Don made a mistake? Is Betty really gone for good? Will Glenn ever get away from the Master? What's the deal with Joan being pregnant or maybe not? All these questions and more will . . .maybe be answered next season! And if the blogs still around so will I. Thanks for reading these, y'all!

Thursday, October 14, 2010

Witless Dictionary #24--The Fraction Point

Continuing our seemingly never-ending attempt to add to the lexicon of comics criticism!

Fraction Point--The point in which a reader is finally so appalled by a creator's work wherein, if they came late to that creator's oeuvre and missed whatever they made their name on in the first place, that they will not, under any circumstances check it out ever because they cannot conceive that the person in question was ever any good, nor do they want to speculate as to why he or she sucks so bad now.

Or if he wrote Invincible Iron Man #29, new record holder for Worst Comic Book I Have Ever Read Ever.

Can also apply to the nexus of annoyance with a creator's public persona (see Ellis, Warren) or they just say really stupid things that beggar understanding and for the sake of the integrity of one's sanity all contact with said imbecile must be broken and walled off lest they make you crazy/stupid as well.

Wednesday, October 13, 2010


Returning once again to our review of Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers, which thanks to Marvel's trade policy is being done in the most bizarro numbering possible. Last week, we finished out the period of Busiek's run wherein he collaborated with George Perez and also had our last crossover with Thunderbolts. It is generally assumed to be the end of the peak years of Busiek's run.

This week, we begin what could generally be considered the lesser period of Busiek's run. Sandwiched between Perez's work on the book and the Kang Dynasty storyline this run is really neither fish nor fowl possessed of nothing one might consider definitive. What's more, apart from Alan Davis' run on the book, there's no consistent vision to hold things together and the whole thing feels very much like Busiek's tendency to play Subplot Theatre well past any normal human's point of tolerance, when he's not doing comics about other comics.

No greater example of this can be found than the opening story in the book, Maximum Security. Maximum Security was the last of the big crossovers that happened in the Marvel Universe books for quite awhile (I think--this is about the time that Joe Quesada rose to become Editor in Cheif, so things are in a bit of a state of flux, really) and with something like this, it's not hard to see why. All the alien races in the Marvel Universe get together and decide to deal with that damned upstart Earth (I'm sure I've seen this done before, y'know) and in the B-Plot Ego the Living Planet is looking for a seed of another Ego. In plot C, USAgent looks like Judge Dredd now for what I can generally assume is no utterly good reason, acts like his usual asshole self, few care.

To spare you a vast amount of paragraphs about this crossover (which I can assure you is as boring as whale shit--I've read it twice and it's like plowing through concrete) the aliens decide to make Earth a penal colony, which allows for handy red skies style crossovers where the main character beats some aliens ass. Meanwhile, we learn the Ruul, who seemed to be behind this whole thing, are the superevolved Kree (not that this is ever referred to again) and the Ego-seed gets stuck inside Quasar and he can't go back to Earth and Ronan the Accuser shows up and none of this is at all compelling to me, let's move on.

Because I am apparently a glutton for punishment, post-Maximum Security we return to the long-lived and negligibly interesting Triune Understanding plot (trying my patience for what feels like its second decade now. This thing felt like it ground on forever, and I read Chris Claremont's X-Men all the way to the end--I know from interminable subplots) in the midst of a two-parter featuring the Bloodwraith taking over Slorenia, the entire population of which Ultron killed the hell out of back in the "Ultron Unlimited" storyline.

Fortunately, this Triune Understanding thing is lightened by the presence of Pagan, one of the Triune's agents and one of the most gleefully stupid characters I have ever had the pleasure of reading. Pagan is a big strong guy WHO YELLS ALL THE TIME and constantly refers to himself in the third person, e.g. "YOU DO NOT NEED THEM, MASTER! YOU HAVE PAGAN!" Don't we all have a little Pagan in our hearts, when you get down to it? Not enough villains speak in 14-pt Impact Bold, and comics are poorer for it, I think.

His master, by the way, is Lord Templar, who has the power to make midgets of himself and be a patronising douchebag. The less said about him the better. Anyways, the wife of the original 3-D Man shows up to further drag this subplot into an uninteresting quagmire, just as the new 3-D Man made the final issue of Atlas an impenetrable mess of an issue that deserved to be ended lest superhero comics disappear up their own backsides completely and we just . . .I dunno, publish reprints. Seriously, that whole storyline was awful, and I say that as someone who really liked Atlas.

Oh and Goliath Hank Pym gets kidnapped by Yellowjacket Hank Pym because this subplot MUST CONTINUE. Tell me--have I yet successfully persuaded you that we could happily do without Hank Pym in the Marvel Universe? I don't mean kill him, just send him off to contemplate his navel somewhere where it will not result in more comics featuring Hank Pym. He's had his high point, and that was crawling out of the Wasp's vagina. [NOTE: THIS REALLY HAPPENED, in Avengers #71] There is nothing meaningful left to be said about Hank Pym once he added "tiny clit-puncher" to his resume.

Anyways, the second part of this story is pretty damn good, because we're actually dealing with something interesting and not dragging it out for 50 issues. The Bloodwraith is actually a pretty cool nemesis for the Avengers, based as his is on the Black Knight's cursed sword (long used as a macguffin in Avengers stories, too bad he was a contemporary of guys like Annex and Empyrean--there were a few good characters who came out of those Annuals, but they all get tarred by association with the lame ones) and his taking possession of Slorenia plays up a recurring theme in Busiek's Avengers--namely that their follow-through is occasionally lacking and frequently returns to bite them in the ass and they spend all their time playing catch-up. Their solution to the problem--to lock the Bloodwraith within the borders of the country is an appropriately phyrric illustration of limits of that philosophy.

Meanwhile, the Avengers fight Lord Templar and Pagan and the head of the Triunes looks smug and sinister about it all. Jack of Hearts becomes an Avenger by osmosis in an effort to make me care about Jack of Hearts, which I have never been able to do with any degree of success. Whatever. Steve Epting's art is really good over these two issues, I should say--this is the last I remember seeing of his older style before his Captain America work, which is a lot more photorealistic.

We join issue #38 with Diablo causing the population of a small Greek town to turn into Hulks. Meanwhile, the Avengers grapple with new ways to follow-through on their recurring threats to stop things like the Bloodwraith thing from happening again. Meanwhile, Thor rejoins the team and Alan Davis comes on as regular penciller for awhile, and well, he's a relaible hand, innit he?

This isn't bad as a palate cleanser when you get down to it. Diablo is a villain with an established pedigree, but one that can have his ass kicked without it having to become a long involved thing and it gives us page after glorious page of Multi-hulk vs. Avengers mayhem, and while it's generally pretty slight (save for a brief cameo by a certain father and son who will be fully revealed at the end) it's mostly a relief from issue after issue of nothing but Subplot Theatre, so I'm all for it.

Oh, and the father and son show up on the last page--it's Kang and the Scarlet Centruion, and their arrival means only one thing--"Kang Dynasty," y'all!

Or it would be, except we have this annual to get through. I have a high tolerance for comics that use the past as a resource. I also like the retro thrill of seeing old characters return. And yet, I hate hate hate comics about other comics--that being comic stories which exist only to undo other comics and try--typically in vain--to make some sense out of tangled continuity. They're never fun, dry as hell, and they always read like academic treatises in which someone tries to explain how Moby Dick is an indictment of the mercantile system.

Hellcat is the poster child for this. A remanant from Marvel's teen comics (back when they published stuff that was designed to appeal to girls . . .er . . .several generations ago) co-opted into the Marvel Universe as a supporting character then made a super-heroine with someone else's hand-me-downs, then made an Avenger, busted down to Defender, married Satan, died . . .then . . .zzzzz . . .

Yeah, I can't really be arsed to read about Hellcat, especially when the result is so boring and impenetrable and makes NO GODDAMNED SENSE TO ME AT ALL, and if even I can't parse out what's going on (comics nerd than I am) I can only imagine how nonsensical it must read to the completely uninitiated. I mean no slight to the people who created it--Busiek is obviously passionate about the character, Norm Breyfogle does great work here and Richard Howell does a great retro-styled scene, but for the love of Christ, reading this felt like homework.

The plot is that Hellcat goes back to her old hometown, only everyone's part of a cult, the Sons of the Serpent (who are actually racists not cultists, as one of the characters says and if you have the main characters pointing out plot holes . . .) led by Salem's Seven (who are supposed to be dead) and then this snake-guy comes up and the Avengers fight him and OH JESUS FUCK GOD I DON'T CARE ABOUT ANY OF THIS DAMMIT YEARGH BLOO GLERGH.

The final story in this volume is Avengers: The Ultron Imperative, a story which spins out of the finale of "Ultron Unlimited," wherein Ultron's robot bride Alkhema stole memory engrams of several of the Avengers and builds fake Avengers, as you do. The Avengers show up and investigate, Ultron shows up again and there's a big fight Ultron ends up defeated and in the hands of another member of the Ultron family--Antigone--who shows up again in Iron Man, which I refuse to recall reading as it was in the thick Frank Tieri and Chuck Austen's race to the bottom to see who could write the stupidest most insulting to the human intelligence as a whole.

It's by-the-numbers Avengers, which means it's passable and never gets too bogged down in its own history (no mean feat, considering this is a Busiek/Roy Thomas/Roger Stern joint) and there's some good artists at work on it, but as it picks up a plot thread that practically goes nowhere, it's more a curiosity than anything. Light years better than that damned Hellcat annual though. My God.

The backmatter of this issue is from the 2001 annual, wherein we deal with a few niggling continuity questions left over from "The Crossing" (which is damn hilarious, really, as Iron Man says "So am I liable for all those people I killed in "The Crossing?" I feel like I am." and everyone else is like "Naw man, it's cool, it was just shitty characterization. Now let us never speak of that bullshit again, OK?" as if his name was Armand Tanzarian or something) and a few other questions about Cap's shield and whether the Falcon is a mutant, which is really the kind of stuff you should shove into a Marvel Handbook rather than an annual, but better this than a list of top 10 villains or some shit, I guess.

And that's Volume 4. Join us next time for the finale of Kurt Busiek's run on Avengers and the "Kang Dynasty" story, which as grand finales go, is very ambitious and actually succeeds in living up to its ambition for the most part. However, this will not be the finale of the series on Busiek, as following that, we'll be looking at JLA/Avengers. See you then!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010


It's a good things these things are once a year because I am amazingly lazy ass. Once again the time has come to check in with our favourite super-hero parody/ genuine super-hero story, Empowered. Last year we looked at Volume 5, wherein it looked like the main plots of the story were starting to gel and converge--The romantic triangle with Ninjette/Thugboy/Emp was soon to reach critical mass, longtime boogeyman Willy Pete finally took center stage in a battle against the Superhomeys, and things ended on a down note that kind of let one know that from here on in thigs were going to be a bit more on the "serious" side and less on the "parody" side.

So, naturally, with the sixth volume here at last, one would expect that the plot would accelerate as we approached the finish line for these plots, things converge even more, secrets are told, and plot points are paid off.

Well, SPOILER, that ain't what happens here. In the wake of Volume 5's bloodbath Emp is blamed for it--again--her constant haplessness and getting tied up now assumed to be a mastermind in disguise and on the receiving end of more hatred and mistrust than ever before, and it's highlighted a number of times in the volume, but it never quite comes off because well, no one's really that afraid of Emp, because she's constantly been sold as a joke in the superhuman community the idea that she had something to do with it doesn't leaven the withering contempt they have for her so it doesn't really work as well as it should.

Meanwhile, in further fallout from Volume 5, Sistah Spooky, former nemesis of Emp, is shattered over the loss of her ex at the end of Volume 5, a painful realization made even more agonizing because, to better cushion her from the loss, she left a telepathic simulation of herself in Spooky's mind to make her feel better. Unfortunately, it only makes her feel worse, especially when her ex's fate is used as leverage against her, because hey, the demon that accidentally gave her her powers is looking for and he is pissed off.

Further simmering subplots include the truth behind the cape-killing massacre in San Antonio and Thugboy's role in said massacre, and Ninjette's rival clan now coming for her with every damn ninja in the clan ready to kill the hell out of her.

And all this is pretty cool. Unfortunately, these are stray threads shoved aside for the main plot of this volume--Deathmonger, his army of the dead superheroes, and what are called "Bargain babies."

This is actually quite a clever bit, really--Warren is always good for having solid ideas, even if the execution ends up wanting. Bargain babies are heroes who get their powers in some sort of contract, with the upshot that even when/if they die, their superpowers with cause them to live--sorta--even after that. Then Deathmonger comes along and enslaves your or weaponizes your superpower and enlists you into his army of the dead.

All of this is fine, and it leads to a hilarious incidental bit where we learn how Emp got her super-suit in the first place, but none of it really ties in with everything that's going on. Don't get me wrong, the actual story is sound, the fight at the end is cool, and everything seems to be humming on all cylinders, but . . .

. . .this is the first volume of Empowered I can say I didn't think was as good as the last one. Part of it, I suppose is that we're getting into formulas now (Oh look, here's another Caged Demonwolf feature where he describes something in verbose high falutin language, and that was funny . . . the first time) and given the fallout of Vol. 5 and the modus operandi of our main villain this time it just feels like the whole book is a heavy grind of death and morbidity (I hope to God when volume 7 comes out I don't look back on the scene where Thugboy and Emp are fucking while Death watches and sports a . . .uhm . . .boner and say "Yeah, that's the nadir, right there.") and it's just not that pleasant to read. Whereas before Warren balanced the pathos, drama and humour very well, I don't think it works so much this time. It actually takes some effort to slog through all this.

Warren does himself no favours by rolling out even more subplots before tying a few of the ones he already had going off. There's a limit to how long even the most gifted writers can keep all the various plates spinning--if you don't then everything collapses. And while the concept is fairly interesting, the time for a book-length digression is not when things are building to the final confrontation/resolution of whatever you had going before that. I think it might have ultimately been better saved for after the resolution of the Willy Pete thing--you probably still could have done it at a later point in time when it came time for a new story cycle, but I sure as hell wouldn't have done it when I was already in the midst of bringing everything else to a boil. It feels a bit . . .off, somehow. When one loads down a car with too much weight, ultimately you're left with flat tires and a car that's going nowhere. I hope this is not the beginning of that.

Bottom line is, taken on its own, it's not bad--like pizza, when Empowered is bad it's still pretty good. As an installment in an ongoing story it's rather po-faced. Here's hoping Volume 6 was an aberration that was borne out of writer's block in terms of the main plot and/or an idea he felt sufficiently moved to do at once. That said, my ultimate judgment is that this was a disappointment, and I hope Warren will do better with Vol. 7