New Comic Reviews! (5-30-16)

Starbrand and Nightmask 6 A

Starbrand and Nightmask #6

“Eternity’s Children (Attend University) pt. 6 – Evaluation”

Greg Weisman (writer), Domo Stanton (artist). Cover by Yasmine Putri.

Though the “All-New, All-Different Marvel” initiative has produced some breakout hits, Starbrand and Nightmask is one of the line’s first casualties, ending with this issue. The series sold itself as a fun adventure starring a tag team of inexperienced, wide-eyed heroes, but tonally, this issue felt decidedly inconsistent with that idea.

For a little context, Starbrand and Nightmask were originally characters from Marvel’s New Universe imprint, which was active between 1986 and 1989. The New Universe was briefly resurrected a decade ago in the ill-fated newuniversal, before Starbrand and Nightmask were brought into the main Marvel Universe cannon a few years ago, as part of Jonathan Hickman’s run on the Avengers. Though Starbrand and Nightmask generally played second-string to more recognizable Avengers mainstays like Captain America and Iron Man, they both played a part in Hickman’s larger plan, eventually sacrificing themselves to prevent the collapse of the multiverse.

Then they came back. And here we are.

The elevator pitch for this series was essentially two heroes with incalculable power going back to college, while at the same time protecting the Earth from cosmic forces who would see our little blue ball removed from existence. This issue concludes what was intended to be the first story arc, as Earth’s Starbrand, Kevin Connor faces off against his Kree counterpart. It’s a simple idea on paper, but instead of the usual superhero punch-up, Greg Weisman takes a stranger and more introspective approach – to the ultimate detriment of the story.

[Spoilers Below]

Starbrand and Nightmask 6 B

There’s a weird message to this book, which posits that sexual attraction is at its core a function of biological self-preservation, which transcends free will. When Kevin meets the Kree Starbrand, he’s immediately and inexplicably attracted to her… in spite of the fact that he knows she just massacred billions of sentient beings by obliterating a planet, and has the same genocidal intentions for the Earth. This is due to a failsafe buried within the Starbrands’ cosmic power sources – to keep them from destroying one another, their aggression towards one another is transformed into attraction. The more the Kree Starbrand would want to kill Kevin, the more she instead wants him to make sweet interspecies love to her. They end up at a standstill, with Kevin promising to follow her around and “make things awkward” if she doesn’t behave herself. It’s a rather cutesy solution that may have worked better if it didn’t take place in the wake of the murder of billions of innocent beings.

And hey, if that weren’t enough to leave a bad taste in your mouth, this issue ends with Kevin figuring out that his recent love-interest, Imani Greene, was the person who was actually supposed to become Earth’s Starbrand, before a cosmic hiccup gave him the power instead. That in turn means that the attraction they felt for one another was part of the same cosmic failsafe, making their sweet college romance into something much more mind-rapey.

While I didn’t like this issue, I’ve got to admit, that’s one hell of a way to drop the microphone on your way off a cancelled title. “Thanks for shit-canning my book assholes. Love is a lie, and free-will is an illusion. Enjoy your existential dread, I’m out.”

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Omega Men 12 A

Omega Men #12

Tom King (writer), Barnaby Bagenda (artist). Cover by Trevor Hutchison.

JESUS. If Starbrand and Nightmask left you somewhat bummed out, Omega Men is here to make you downright suicidal.

The latest iteration of the Omega Men title featured former Green Lantern Kyle Rayner trying to make peace in the Vega System, wherein warring groups from various planets are occupied by the fascistic Citadel. After his attempts at a peaceful resolution quickly broke down, Rayner join the rebel group the Omega Men in their seemingly endless war against their oppressors.

Omega Men is a pretty clear analogy to the American invasions of Afghanistan and Iraq, as well as the larger history of war in the Middle East. Though ostensibly everyone wants peace and tranquility in the Vega system, nearly every party involved has their own political interests – the powers-that-be from Earth are primarily concerned with Vega’s natural supplies of McGuffinium – sorry, that’s *Stellarium* – especially since the destruction of Krypton led to an intergalactic scramble to control the universe’s most precious resources. Not for nothing is Earth’s intervening force in this foreign boondoggle one Kyle Rayner, the White Lantern, who hopes to bring enforced peace to Vega with his trusty White Power ring…

[SPOILERS BELOW]

Omega Men 12 B

…and naturally, he fails. The Citadel is defeated, but Rayner’s erstwhile allies quickly become despotic leaders themselves, or fall to civil war and crime, while the Earth contemplates its next inevitable incursion into the Vega System. Though Rayner does his best to maintain his noble ideals until the bitter end, they’re meaningless in the face of a harsh reality, and he comes out of the quagmire of interminable war knowing that nothing he did ultimately made any difference.

This issue – and the Omega Men series – ends on an oddly metatextual note, as Rayner muses on his past career as a comic book artist to point out that the typical comic’s rigid panel construction resembles the bars of a cage, creating a false disconnect between reader and story. Indeed, this comic itself was drawn using variations on a measured three-by-three formation, with the only major departure being a full-paged splash at the story’s point of climax. Rayner explains how the disconnect allows readers to remove themselves from the conflict or adventure, isolating violence or horror as abstracts concepts, even as the story they’re reading reflects the world around them.

So what do we, the readers, draw from this comic? Is it a nihilistic treatise on the inevitability of war? Is it a criticism of a jaded society so inured to violence that it’s been transformed into a source of entertainment and pleasure (such as in the very book you hold in your hands)? More optimistically, is it a message to stick to your principles no matter what, to do the right thing not for any hope of reward or success, but because it is tautologically the right thing to do?

Hell if I know. Draw your own conclusions. I’m moving on to something a little less depressing.

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Ms Marvel 7

Ms. Marvel #7

“The Road to War”

Willow Wilson (writer), Adrian Alphona (artist). Covers by David Lopez and Pasqual Ferry.

Real talk – I’m not especially excited for Civil War II. I liked the first Civil War story a lot – the main miniseries more so than some of the tie-in books anyway – but it was very much a product of its time, a culmination of years of character evolution, as filtered through the lens of a post-9/11 political climate. Civil War II feels like a cash-in to a successful movie franchise, nothing more.

Thankfully, this nominal tie-in to the upcoming event maintains the expected light-hearted tone that G. Willow Wilson has perfected on this title. Sure enough, it’s Avenger vs. Avenger, as the Ultimate Spider-Man, Miles Morales takes on Ms. Marvel… in a Tristate high school science fair. Though that’s a science fair in the Marvel Universe, mind you, where guys like Reed Richards and Tony Stark frequently rewrite the laws of physics, so things are going to get weird quickly. As much as I enjoy a good superhero dust-up now and then, it’s refreshing to see heroes instead duking it out in the realm of Super Science, with all the explosions and flying sharks that entails.

Ms. Marvel: Your monthly reminder that superhero comics can be uplifting and fun.

New Comic Reviews! (10-17-14)

Batman 35

Batman #35

“Endgame pt. 1”

Scott Snyder and James Tynion IV (writera), Greg Capullo and Kelley Jones (artists). Covers by Capullo, Andy Kubert and Brian Stelfreeze.

Batman versus the Justice League… need I say more? It’s certainly been done before, but there are few things in comics more fun than seeing a creative writer devise ways for Batman to even the playing field against his erstwhile allies – words cannot express how much I love his contingency plan for dealing with Wonder Woman. But why have DC’s paragons of virtue turned on the Caped Crusader? Fair warning, huge spoilers below…

Spoiler Alert

The lead story’s shocking final page reveals the shocking truth – the Joker is back, just in time for his own 75th anniversary, and he’s somehow taken control of the Justice League. And apparently that’s just step one of his master plan… presumably, step two involves finding a new face, since the old one he cut off is still in the possession of the psychotic ingénue Joker’s Daughter (no relation).

So is this issue worth picking up? Are you kidding me? If Batman fighting the Justice League isn’t enough of a draw on its own, we also get the first part of  back-up serial that promises to reveal the Joker’s origin – or origins, as the case may be – with art by classic Batman pencillers of the past. This month’s chapter comes courtesy of Kelley Jones, whose horror-influenced style accompanies a madman’s tale, which casts the Joker as the devil himself.

Seriously. Batman versus the Justice League, as written by Scott Snyder. If that’s not a selling point in and of itself, I don’t know what is.

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Amazing Spider-Man 7

Amazing Spider-Man #7

“Ms. Marvel Team-Up”

Dan Slott and Christos Gage (writers), Giuseppe Camuncoli (artist). Covers by Camuncoli and Cam Smith.

Let’s talk about the new Ms. Marvel for a bit. Kamala Khan is a American Muslim teenager of Pakistani descent. Born and raised in Jersey City, Kamala has grown up just on the outskirts of a world of superheroes that revolves around Manhattan (and the symbolism of being an outsider from that community shouldn’t be lost on anyone). Having had her dormant Inhuman genes activated during the Inhumanity storyline, Kamala begins a career as a superhero, borrowing the former identity of her greatest inspiration, the Avengers’ Captain Marvel. As an awkward teenager trying to deal with both newfound superpowers and the struggles of Real Life, Kamala’s story deliberately echoes the earliest Spider-Man stories, so it only makes sense that they would eventually end up teaming up.

I think the addition of Kamala Khan to the Marvel Universe is a great thing – it brings diversity to the Marvel line, in the form of a well-written and well-drawn series, one that appeals to an underserved audience of younger female readers. The thing is, though, I’m not part of that target demographic. And as much as I appreciate all that Kamala Khan can offer to some readers, as soon as she starts talking about shipping celebrities, I immediately zone out. The character just doesn’t appeal much to me, personally, and while it’s probably a good move to give her the exposure of a two-issue crossover in one of Marvel’s biggest titles, it doesn’t quite inspire me to check back in next month.

This issue is split between the lead and a back-up that ties into the Spider-Verse storyline, where Morlun and his family are traveling through the multiverse, killing and feeding on every Spider-Man analogue in the multiverse. Their murder spree attracts the attention of the Captain Britain Corps’ Spider-UK, who sets out to stop them. Though for the most part, this story just serves as a prelude to an upcoming issue of the Edge of Spider-Verse tie-in, it is nice to see a scene that acknowledges that some of Marvel’s cosmic higher-ups have finally started to notice the major events that have been going on in Jonathan Hickman’s New Avengers.

This comic didn’t exactly wow me, but I’m okay with that. Although the lead story felt a bit short, it’s solid enough that I can easily recommend it as a umping on point for readers curious about the new Ms. Marvel, but who haven’t yet gotten around to picking up her own ongoing series.

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Constantine 18

Constantine #18

“Half a Chance”

Ray Fawkes (writer), Jeremy Haun (artist). Cover by Juan Ferreyra.

After being shunted to Earth-2 last issue, John Constantine battles the powerful sorcerer Wotan, leading up to his inevitable meeting with his extra-dimensional counterpart. Of course, Earth-2 isn’t doing so well at the moment – the Wonders of the World have fallen, and Darkseid’s forces are running wild like Hulkamania in the late Eighties.

Despite his ties to the occult, Constantine has traditionally been a character grounded in a relatively realistic world – in a way, that’s kind of the appeal of the character. Yet here we are, seeing him hopping dimensions and running across Parademons. It feels unnatural, like aliens in an Indiana Jones movie, or that time Jonah Hex was transplanted to a post-apocalyptic future setting. Other than the science fiction trappings, this is your typical New 52 John Constantine story – he’s threatened by a magical MacGuffin, survives by being a rat bastard, and grumbles about the cape-and-tights set. It feels rather perfunctory, without any of the intangible factors that might have given it a little extra oomph. If might be because I don’t care about the current version of Earth-2 – like, at all – but this issue just doesn’t do it for me.

—–

Rocket Raccoon 4

Rocket Raccoon #4

“A Chasing Tale pt. 4”

Skottie Young (writer and artist). Covers by Young, Pascal Campion and Alex Kropinak.

The latest issue of Marvel’s sleeper hit of the season sees Rocket learning the truth about his evil doppelganger, and battling an army of his angry ex-girlfriends. Has the lovably unrepentant bastard really found another anthropomorphic raccoon like him? Or is this just another plan by his most devious enemy?

Like the movie that rekindled interest in the character, the Rocket Raccoon series absolutely over-delivers. It’s wickedly funny, with a surprising amount of heart. It’s also another great example of Marvel Comics’ willingness to champion a title that’s just a bit outside the norm, because there aren’t many mainstream comics out there that look or read anything like this.

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Trinity of Sin 1

Trinity of Sin #1

“The Wages of Sin pt. 1- Nightfall”

J.M. DeMatteis (writer), Yvel Guichet (artist). Covers by Guillem March and Cully Hamner.

Well. That certainly was terrible.

The latest venture for the Trinity of Characters I’m Not Sure Anyone Actually Cares About sees them individually confronted by a trio of generic demon monsters, led by a similarly generic big bad, in a comic that I can at least credit for helping me with my chronic insomnia. Between the endless dreary monologues and the “shock” deaths that are completely ineffective and unnecessary, Trinity of Sin did more to knock me out than the tryptophan in my Thanksgiving turkey dinner. Maybe it’s just my personal rule to avoid any comic that contains child rape as an afterthought, but I absolutely loathed this book, and despite some above-average artwork, I can’t imagine how it could appeal to anyone outside of the creative team’s immediate families. Seriously, this might be a late contender for DC Comics’ worst series of 2014, and that’s some stiff competition it faces. Avoid this one at all costs.

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Earth 2 World's End 2

Earth 2: World’s End #2

“Drums of War”

Daniel H. Wilson, Marguerite Bennett and Mike Johnson (writers), Eddy Barrows, Tyler Kirkham, Paulo Siqueira, Jorge Jimenez and Scott McDaniels. Cover by Ardian Syaf.

I wanted to wrap up this week’s reviews by looking at the new issue of WWE Superstars. Based on solicits, that comic would have involved a retelling of the classic Marvel story “Secret Wars,” only with wrestlers, and the preview pages I saw featured the Iron Sheik fighting Daniel Bryan in a Roman gladiatorial arena. It sounds like a very silly concept, but also one that’s a lot of fun. Sadly, WWE Superstars was sold out. As such, we’re stuck with this hot mess – a comic that’s not only stupid, it’s also completely nihilistic and joyless, and badly produced to boot.

The story here features the latest twaddle about the Wonders of the World fighting their losing war against the forces of Darkseid, and because this is a New 52 DC Comic, that involves murder, torture, and the always lovely image of a guy jabbing his thumbs into another bloke’s bleeding eye sockets. But even putting aside the abhorrent subject matter, on a purely technical level, this comic is absolutely terrible. The dialogue is sloppy and repetitive. The story is badly paced, with scenes that end abruptly, often without resolution. More than once, the book cuts to and from an ongoing scene, but with major “off-panel” changes that throw the entire narrative cohesion for a loop. The artwork is uneven in terms of both style and quality, which provides yet another way for the book to alienate its readers.

The reason for all of this is painfully obvious, if you take a moment to look at the credits – despite being just the usual twenty pages in length, “Drums of War” somehow required the input of three writers, and no less than eight pencillers and inkers. The whole affair absolutely reeks of a book done by committee to follow editorial mandates, with no regard for cohesion or quality control. But then, that pretty much sums up all of DC’s problems these days, doesn’t it?