Friday, January 31, 2014

Rick Remender (and Dan Slott)

I wanted to talk a little bit about Remender today, but because he is, in my opinion, one of the best living comic book writers today, I really don't think I could tackle everything I like about him and his latest comics in one go, so here's a few random things that popped into my mind while I was reading Uncanny Avengers #16 today.

Like Slott (of Superior Spider-Man,) Remender deals with a lot of ridiculous subject matter. For example, in the latest issue of Uncanny Avengers, The Apocalypse Twins, who were raised in the future by Kang the Conqueror, have resurrected several dead friends of the Avengers and X-Men, and used them to subdue the Unity Squad while they waited for the celestial executor to destroy the Earth. In the meantime, Immortus and his Infinity Watch are hoping that the Wasp can destroy the tachyon dam blocking them from travelling back from the 30th (or something) century and saving the world. That's not even the whole story. I just gave a quick, two-sentence summary. There's plenty of more ridiculous shit where that came from.

What I love about Slott is that he never seems to forget that he's writing in a comic book. He keeps an element of campiness and tongue-in-cheek attitude when writing, but still making powerful emotional connections to the characters. If you need evidence of Remender being wacky, and the above paragraph wasn't enough for you, I suggest reading Black Science, which is some of the goofiest shit I ever read.

Slott and Remender know how you feel about comic books. They know that if they threaten one of their main characters with death, you're not going to feel anything. I mean, did you think that Tony Stark was going to die at the end The Avengers? Are you stupid? No, instead, they create tension in better ways than "The Hero's going to fight to the Bad Guy, but is he strong enough oh guess he is."

Slott's strategy seems to be create tension on the periphery. That is, he focuses more on potential damage to the protagonist's relationships to create tension, again, while being blatantly obvious about the fact that the reader knows main characters don't die in comics. A little over a year ago, Peter Parker "died", but if you're paying the slightest bit of attention to the story, it becomes very obvious that he's going to come back. Slott knows that you're not impressed or believe that Peter Parker is going to stay dead, so he doesn't waste any time pretending like he will be. No, instead the focus becomes what the person pretending to be Spider-Man will do with Peter Parker's life, and those changes I believe will be permanent, which creates tension. Prime example, the person pretending to be Peter Parker now has a new girlfriend, and she's a really great character. But, every time she comes up, I can't help but feel bad for her. She genuinely fell in love with the person she believes is Peter Parker, but when the real Peter comes back, he's going to look at her and go, "Who the fuck are you? Scuse me while I go back to dating my tall, hot supermodel girlfriend." Tragic, but great writing.

Remender is taking a different approach, probably because there are no supporting characters in his stories, just the same ten or so people. Instead, Remender treats characters very frivolously, having them get killed off all the damn time, and then making you feel for like an asshole for caring about, because what did you think this was, literature? Instead, Remender wants you to focus on how characters die, why characters die, and what they die before they bite it. For example, Rogue accidentally punches a villain so hard she breaks his neck. You know that the guy is going to come back to life, but the fact that Rogue lost control of herself and took a life is something that doesn't go away. You can't recon shame.

 Like I said, too much to tackle in one day, and I don't want this to get too long, but, yeah, if you have a lot of time on your hands, go read all of Uncanny X-Force by Remender and then start on Uncanny Avengers, both by Rick Remender. If you have a lot of time on your hands, go read Amazing Spider-Man #600-#700 and then Superior Spider-Man by Dan Slott.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

X-Men #9

X-Men #9

I've gone on the record as saying that I really like Brian Wood's take on X-Men, and despite the very painful loss of Oliver Coipel's pencils, it's still a damn good book. In the Korean article, I mention that part of the appeal of this book is its all-female team being done is a way that is not drawing much attention to the fact that it's an all-female cast. Not only is it not a swimsuit issue-type piece of garbage or set up with a ridiculous premise ("Only people without a Y chromosome can fight these aliens!") but it's so nonchalant about having no male members on the team. A threat emerges, X-Men go fight it, and they just happen to all be females. It's exactly the way an all-female cast book should be done.
I want to mention as well that this book is getting a lot of praise for being an all-female team, but it should also be getting a lot of praise for just being a good book. Wood is focusing a lot on the relationships between characters and (particularly with Jubilee) characterization, while keeping a steady pace with action. Coipel's art was amazing but he's gone now and I'm not upset about that EXCEPT FOR THAT I FUCKING AM.
Now that that's out of the way, I'm going to keep talking about the all-women thing.
I want to again repeat that the key to making all-female team work well was the fact that it was organic in its creation; It started with a lot of popular characters who were in the same place at the same time, introduced a new character and reintroduced a few old, all of whom happened to be female, but, again, fit into the story so well that no attention was drawn to that fact. Which is not to say that there wasn't any dudes around. We had Beast and Wolverine, John Sublime, and some male students...Like I said, a very natural situation.
Now, starting with the current storyline, we have two new members of the team, both female, one of which was possessed by this series' main antagonist (comics!) and one who is...kinda an X-Man and kinda friends with Jubilee. And then we have a new antagonist, who is also female and her best friend, female, implanting another character's, female, personality into her brain, and finding a mercenary, female, and working together. See what I'm getting at here? The good thing about having an all-female team was that nobody was drawing any attention to it. A team of women superheroes. No big D. But if it starts shoe-horning female characters into it, it loses that organic quality to it and starts being "a girl comic".
I want to be clear though, it's still a very good book, and the storyline with the two new team members and three new villains just got started, so maybe with further development I will be unconvinced that they were shoe-horned into this book, so I don't want to say that X-Men is bad now, I'm just more apprehensive.

Saturday, January 25, 2014

Marvel Knights X-Men #3 and Avengers World #2

Marvel Knights X-Men #3

Before reading this issue, if you would have asked me how I felt about the Marvel Knights imprint, I would have told you that I felt that it was great in concept, but not so great in practice. Now, I’m reconsidering.
The X-Men series of Marvel Knights started out lackluster for me, and I felt that the unique art style was the only reason this book was made. Starting with this issue, the writing has really come to the forefront, and I dig it. I was really disappointed to see that Wolverine was going to be in this mini-series, because usually whenever he shows up, he’s just Generic Hero Action Guy, but in this issue, he’s acting more like Wolverine – running off and doing whatever he wants to do with a “kill first, ask questions later” attitude. I’m glad to see Revel using Wolverine as he should be used, instead of just inserting him for the sake of garnering attention and sales.
There’s not much going on in terms of plot movement in this issue, but I consider that a good thing. We have more time with the characters, dealing with their opinions of themselves (in the case of Rogue), their relationship with their teammates (in the case of Wolverine), and their relationship with “human society” (in the case of Kitty). Every main character in this issue is exploring issues here, instead of just punching bad guys. I’m very happy to see Rogue’s use of the Blob memory; Wolverine’s right, it does suggest something about herself that she’s not letting on to other people, and that’s an interesting way to use the character.
Probably the turning point for me really liking this series is when Kitty takes a moment to half-panic / half-doubt herself regarding mutants’ roles in society. I’m glad that Revel brings this up, because it is a genuine concern with mutants. We get wrapped up in metaphors for civil rights and gay rights that we forget that we’re talking about actual dangerous people. If there was really a person who could shoot lasers out of his eyes in the real world, you would be concerned for your safety too, and I can imagine Kitty feels ashamed knowing that some mutants do cause damage not out of malice but due merely to the fact that many of them are living, breathing weapons. It shows a self-awareness not only on the part of the character, but Revel as well.

Avengers World #2

A quick note about art in general: I tend to pay attention to art in comics in the same way that I pay attention to actors in movies. It is mainly a tool used to propel the story, and that’s about it. I really only notice it when it excels or fails at two points: Whether it matches or clashes with the tone of the story (cute art with a gritty story, for example), or whether I can understand what’s going on or not. The art in Avengers World has been gorgeous so far, and I think it deserves some praise. I don’t know much about the craft of making comics, but it reminds me a bit of the digital art style of Fiona Staples, so I’m wondering if Caselli isn’t using a similar method.
I never really know how I should feel about Hickman. On the one hand, I understand that he’s a talented writer, but the new characters he keeps creating all seem like carbon copies of each other. Wasn’t Starlord’s origin story remarkably similar to Smasher’s? Can we only make superheroes in the Midwest, ala Superman? And he just keeps making dark and scary villains that make me feel lame for reading it. The Sandman-Expy in this issue is by far the worst example of this.

Friday, January 24, 2014

X-Factor and All-New X-Men

X-Factor #2

Whenever I sit down to read comics, I tend to start with the one that I think will be the worst, and so I’m going with Peter David’s X-Factor first. There are a couple things about this that I’m intrigued and hopeful about. First, I like that we’re going with a “corporate superhero team”. I think it’s an interesting idea, but one that might fall flat. If David can do something interesting with that concept, I don’t think I’ll even care a bit about which characters are in it and what they’re doing.
Second, I have mixed feelings about the characters that are in this book. I like that Gambit and Quicksilver are here, because they are...heroically ambiguous? They’re kinda dicks, is what I’m saying. And while I like an elevating and positive message in comics, a medium that is very conducive to it, I think it’s great that we’re dealing with characters traditionally known for being not totally heroes. On the other hand, this whole book smacks of “Had to give them something to do”. I hate when one character is featured on two or more different teams, handled by two or more different writers. Not only does the reader get sick of that character, but no two writers can ever possibly characterize someone the same way, so there’s bound to be some disconnect between the two versions. Right now, there are three characters here not featured anywhere else, so that’s good, but I’m struggling to come up a reason why they’re all gathered together, and I hope it’s not “They didn’t have anywhere else to go.”
I tried reading Peter David’s run on X-Factor before it got rebooted, but I couldn’t get into it because of the dialogue, which is pretty awful. David has “Whedon-Disease” where every single character has to make a snarky comment all the time, none of which are clever. “Garcon, is this your card”? Says Gambit, as though nobody else could have thought of that “joke”.
And speaking of Gambit, is there a reason he’s wearing a jacket over his uniform? Is he cold? I mean, I get that these characters are corporate now and need a uniform, but is Gambit wearing that waist-length jacket just so that we don’t forget that he’s Gambit, and he likes wearing jackets? Somebody needs to let him know that a windbreaker over a spandex skintight uniform just does not look cool.

All-New X-Men #22

Like I said, whenever I read comics, I always start with what I think will be the worst, and if you can tell from what I thought about X-Factor, you can see that I haven’t been too fond of All-New X-Men so far.
One of the main reasons is that I have no idea why this book exists. The in-universe explanation was lame and contrived, and I’m sick of stupid time-traveling plots anyway. The other thing is that the Marvel universe is so chock-full of mutants and mutant students whose stories are not being told, that I feel like we really didn’t need any extra copies of characters we already had. There are literally dozens of mutant students running around that need characterization that we’re not getting. Why not take the characters that you do have and give them some depth, instead of creating a brand-new version of an old character that is equally shallow? It’s a waste.
But, I’m still reading it aren’t I? The sole bright spot in this otherwise forgettable comic is the young version of Jean Grey running around. This is a rant for another day, but I hate the pointless cycle of death/rebirth with a lot of comic book characters; It removes so much tension from a book, and when you compare it with things like The Walking Dead, which is nothing but tension, you begin to see how good a book can be when the actual threat of death looms over every character. Remender’s take on Nightcrawler and his take on Banshee were pitch perfect. Instead of resurrecting Nightcrawler, he brought in an alternative universe version of the character to fill his role, but in a slightly different way, with a chance to characterize him in a different way. It was good stuff and didn’t feel lame. Banshee is another good example, because he was technically “resurrected” but brought back more like a zombie and less like a “Well, guess I’m alive again.” Compare that with Nightcrawler’s recent, true resurrection, where he just, welp, guess you pulled me out of heaven and I’m a X-Men again. Status quo!
With the young Jean around, it feels the hole that “Dead Jean” left, and also allows a chance for new characterization. I think it’s cool that she’s going nuts. Time spent talking in the cafeteria is a good way to use pages in this book. However, why are these guys involved in so many fights? They get attacked at the base, but there’s no mention of any of the other dozen mutants hanging around there. This doesn’t make any sense to me.