Friday, April 27, 2007

Captain America: What went wrong?

When a comic book makes news, every fanboy begins to get asked to fill their non-reader friends in on what's going on. Some hidden need to feel a sense of belonging through knowledge kicks is, and worried about perhaps saying something ill-informed down the line and even though they will in all likelihood never read the comic in question, they must know.

The was the case with Captain America when news of his death was published in the news papers the morning issue 25 was released. I was asked to tell my friends and coworkers what was going on, feeling a little like a front-line analyst with a khaki vest and rugged five o'clock shadow.

Now, it's not at all that I mind talking about comics, but rather the opposite. If I could, I would surrounds myself with interested people and talk comics all day long, so when asked to break down the events leading up to the death of Cap here, I was on that like white on rice. White rice. But, as is customary, I must provide the standard spoiler alert, as I will be going into the plots in order to cover what happened.

*Spoiler Alert*

There. Sigh. Huh, now that I'm at the part of this post where I'm actually going to write about the comics, I'm no longer sure of where to start. Captain America has been around since 1941, so there's a lot of Cap history. Between his own book, being in the Avengers, and all the appearances he's made in other titles, he's got a huge library already written about him. I'm just going to assume you all know his origin and skip right up to more recent events.

There's sort of a timeline of "events" that set Captain America towards his fate, and they are as follows:

*Secret War
*Avengers Disassembled
*House of M
*Civil War

If you would like a detailed account of those story lines, I don't think I could do it better than the wikipedia articles, so don't don't be afraid to take advantage of the hyper-text, it's good reading. Basically, Nick Fury took some heroes on a covert mission and then mind wiped them. Then the Scarlet Witch lost her mind and in the ensuing battle between her and the Avengers, with her reality warping hex magic going wild, Hawkeye, Ant-Man and Vision were killed and Captain Britain and Wasp were badly hurt, and She-Hulk was taken into custody after hulking out and ripping Vision in half in a rage.

They beat her, and gave her over to Professor X and Doctor Strange to tend to her now shattered mind. When all hop had been lost, a discussion about what to do with her led to some dark suggestions, and her brother, Quicksilver, decided to wake her up. Bereft with guilt over what she had done, Wanda decided to call a big "do over" on the world, and ushered in the "House of M".

Boy, this is long. It's taken me like a week just to get this far.

In the House of M, Wanda remade the entire world, trying to give the people she knew what they wanted from life. Magneto was a king and mutants were revered, Spider-man was happy, Hawkeye was alive, and Wolverine was the head of SHEILD, etc. But cracks in reality started to show and a band of heroes realised that this world was fake. The went after Scarlet Witch, and had to cut through her father's forces to get to her, but when it was all said and done, she returned the world to normal, disappeared and all but a few hundred mutants had their powers, down from the millions they numbered before her meddling. Notable mutants to lose their powers were Xavier, Iceman, Quicksilver and the Blob.

Okay, I'll get to Civil War and Cap's murder in the next post.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Comic Book Ramblings: Conan, X-Men

I had some friends over last night, and one of them grabbed a copy of "Conan" I had lying around as we waited for supper to be ready. It got me thinking that "Conan" from Dark Horse is really one of the easiest comics for non comic readers to get into. There is no convoluted continuity that would prevent you from diving right into the story, but read sequentially the plots do flow into one another. Every issue offers the reader what he or she wants from Conan. Sword and sorcery, Conan fights something, and sinister plots unfold.

He sat there reading without looking up to ask me "Who's this guy?" or "What's that?" as other books would have caused him to be lost in the narrative. Aside from that, Cary Nord is a brilliantly gifted artist, whose work has really evolved whilst on Conan and just makes it that much easier to slip into.

So if you're not reading it, why not? It's fun, it looks great, and it's easy to get into.


I used to be such an X-Junkie. Now, I'm only reading "Astonishing X-Men" and that only comes out once every couple of months. What happened? How did such a fan of the series drop the books without remorse?

I'll try and break it down.

Saturation. Too many damn x-books out there made it too hard to follow what was going on from month to month. Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, Astonishing X-Men, X-Men Unlimited, New X-Men, Excalibur, X-Factor, Wolverine and Cable/Deadpool are just too many titles to follow. Even at my peak, I wasn't able to pick them all up.

Quality. I'll be damned if the books didn't take a nosedive over the past five years in terms of their quality. Rotating creative teams and a lack of a-list talent on many of the books sapped my excitement from month to month, eventually losing their spots on my pull list to titles that seemed to give a damn. I would be on the message boards commiserating with other fans about how much we longed for the good old days and invariably someone would appear in the thread and say "Then why are you still reading them if they leave you so unsatisfied?" Why indeed.

Characters. I say "X-Men" to the people in my office, and they think "Wolverine, Cyclops, Storm." They don't think "Polaris, Mystique and Bishop." There is a place for second-tier X-Men, but you have to keep the marquee players in play, or else the branding fails. The books have the teams watered down to a point where there are so spread out, it's hardly worth it to read about them any more.

Marvel, if you want to steal me back to the X-Books, you had better realize that Astonishing has it right, and that once it's over, if you don't have the big hitters lined up to replace Joss Whedon and John Cassaday, I'll be long gone.

My suggestions: Cut back to three team books and Wolverine and Cable/Deadpool. Uncanny X-Men, X-Men and New Mutants. Get one of your top writers on one of the books. Bendis, Heinberg, Vaughn or Millar. Get a stable artist on each of the books. Regulate the look of them and lock them in for a couple of years. Have editorial stop all the roster changes. When I read Spider-Man, I know Spider-Man is the star. X-Men should be the same. Don't be afraid of Wolverine, but don't overdo it either.

That's all for now, folks.

Friday, April 20, 2007

52 - Love it or Hate it?

I've been reading "52" from DC Comics since its inception. It was a bit of a mixed bag for me, since I had been reading "Infinite Crisis", but hadn't really cared for any of the "One Year Later" stuff. It was the creative team that tipped the scales and had me add it to my pull list, though, as Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, Mark Waid and Greg Rucka are all favorites of mine, and Pat Oliffe ("Untold Tales of Spider-Man") was gonna be doing some of the penciling, and I've always liked his stuff.

Since it began however, I've been very hot and cold on the book. I'm not really sure, even now after 50 issues, of how I feel about it. An issue a week for a year is great fun, and really keeps you excited, but there were so many plot lines running that even the frantic weekly schedule didn't seem fast enough. I think all that I can do is open the floor up for debate, and as I am the sole master debater on the internet, I am forced to debate my self.

So, here's why "52" is great:

"52" gathers DC's top writers to work on filling in the gap left by their "One Year Later" event, showcasing some of the DCU's b-list heroes. The writing team have formed a great unit, not succumbing to their egos, and drawing on the strengths of each to really define the DCU today.

It's always great to see cult or fan-favorite characters grab a little of the limelight. Lobo and Animal Man, Renee Montoya and the Question, Elongated Man, The Metal Men, Lex Luthor and Black Adam all shine and serve to add depth to the DCU, displaying the variety of toys that the creators have at their fingertips. Each writer leaves his fingerprints on the work, and there is a lot of fun and excitement to be had.

The weekly schedule is great. DC knows this and has another weekly title lined up for the next year ("Countdown"), and I'm sorely tempted to add it to my pull. Knowing I have at least one book every week draws me back to my shop to keep up to date, and once there, the siren song of the impulse buy is ever-present.

If you aren't reading "52", then the DCU is being redefined in every aspect and you're just being left behind.


Why Scott is so wrong, and how "52" is a lemon:

Well, I do sound pretty smart, so I won't fault you for listening to me earlier, but it's now time to listen to me.

"52" was such a big "almost great" book, spectacularly failing to really say anything. A book designed to set the ground rules for the DC Universe should actually have some interaction with it, rather than being limited to bland guest-stars making token appearances awkwardly jammed into the stories.

For "52" to really make the impact the hype said it was going to do, it had to be less isolated on the pet "b-listers" the writers chose to work with. Sure, everyone likes a little campy fun, but I just don't care about the new Infinity Inc. or Batwoman, and all the horrible things that happen to them miss touching me emotionally in any way. For that, I blame the writers.

Each of them have stated that they have all loved working with one another, but I can see in the finished product far too much compromise from each of them, preventing them from really cutting loose. Morrison's stuff isn't odd enough, Rucka doesn't get enough time to flush out his drama, Waid doesn't get through with the richness of the DCU and Johns can't get the momentum he needs to run away with his plots. Great ingredients do not always make a great soup, and there have been too many times where I was reading pages hoping to get back to something I gave a damn about.

Also, just as too many cooks spoil the broth, too many plots spoil the drama. What good is a cliffhanger if it is dropped aside for so long that all sense of drama is lost. The payoff is often only given long after the tension has worn off, giving me more of a "Oh yeah, that's what was going on with that guy." sense of revelation. There were some good scenes in individual books, but characters are left on the shelf and forgotten about by the readers.

I'm terribly worried that I'm being played, and "52" is going to wrap up much in the way that "Infinite Crisis" did; with moderate ramifications for mediocre characters, and a half-hearted "oh, I guess." reaction from me.


So there you have it: "52" I love it or hate it.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

A Comics Blog - Day One

Several years later, I'm back. It's been a hard time with out a place to rail and rant about comics, but after a few other opportunities died on the table, I figured I would have to take matters into my own hands and, *gasp* start a blog about them myself.

If you're looking for my old archive, you can find it here. Though it is a few years old, there's still some fun there.

To the matter at hand: comic books.

Well, what can I say? I love comics. Stories of action and adventure, very nice art, modern allegory and nostalgia all play into the medium. I haven't had cable TV in years, but I have to have my comics. I'm a fanboy, and there's nothing you can do to fix that.

I'll start of simple, I guess, and tell you what I'm reading these days. I'll get more structured later on, or less structured, or, well, I'll get more interesting, but I think my pull list is a good place to start.

52 - DC Comics
Mighty Avengers - Marvel
New Avengers - Marvel
Avengers: The Initiative - Marvel
Conan - Dark Horse
The Goon - Dark Horse
The Spirit - DC Comics
Savage Dragon - Image
Justice League of America - DC Comics
Star Wars: Legacy - Dark Horse
Usagi Yojimbo - Dark Horse
Astonishing X-Men - Marvel

As well, I always am on the lookout for a spicy looking trade paperback to add to my book case.

So you can see, I have what I would like to consider a wide variety of taste in genres for my comics. I started out an x-fan, but most of the new books fail to call to me. I'm not historically an Avengers fan, but Brian Bendis brought me on board a few years ago, just like Geoff Johns did for his stuff at DC. Also, in the spirit of clairity, I didn't get "Identity Crisis", but got "House of M". I also got "Infinite Crisis" and "52" over "Civil War". What does that say about me? I'll let you decide.

All right. I suppose I should say something here that has some content.

I declare 2007 the year of Iron Man. He is the most prominent comic book hero thus far, and I believe he will continue to be a major catalyst for a long time to come. Sure, everyone thinks he's a jerk and a bully, but I like the way he's being written. He's a guy who made a bad decision, but said so much about it, that he cannot back down from it without losing face. Like that time I grew really huge mutton-chop sideburns. I talked the talk, and then I had to wear them for weeks longer than I wanted to.

Iron Man will continue to be the focal point of the Marvel Universe for a good long while. Tony's stepped up his game and taken on the mantle of the elite hero, the first amongst Avengers, and leader of the most powerful people on the Earth. Watching him scramble and fight to stay there will be a lot of fun. New Avengers #29 had Danny Rand and his lawyer shut Iron Man down like nobody's business in one of the best scenes I read in weeks. I don't want to spoil it, but it was fun.

So I'm calling it now. The biggest story of 2007 will be the fall of Tony Stark.