This Week in Comics (And Other Tales)
Matt Smith (not that one) is running a Kickstarter for his short film, Amigone. I asked him to write up a few paragraphs about it for the blog. He sent along the following:
Hello Philip Sandiferites!
I’m writing because Mr. Sandifer offered me a space to talk about this short film I’m producing and trying to get off the ground. It’s called “Amigone” and I wrote it with my good friend John Scherer who had this delicious idea about a world in which everyone knows the date of their death (as an expiration date, not a hit-by-a-bus date). In it, we have a main character (Mark) who’s known his day for the past nine years and is coming up on his last forty days on this planet. He’s got everything figured out, everything planned, no stresses, but first he has to spend a weekend with his father.
It’s a project John and I are incredibly proud of. John is a marvelous (and award-winning!) director and I’m producing all the various bits and kibbles. We have an awesome team (our cinematographer is fantastic and our assistant director has a great head on his shoulders) and a script we really believe in. It’s looking to be about 17-20 minutes long and will feature bungee jumping! Who doesn’t love bungee jumping?
We’re kickstarting it because it’s looking to be more expensive than either John and I can afford, but we’re making it for as dirt cheap as we possibly can without sacrificing any quality. Hopefully it looks like the sorta thing you would like to support, and if times are tight then just spreading the word is a wonderful gift. You can find it here.
(And of course thanks to Phil for being wonderful and giving me this space and being so supportive. He’s an awesome person.)
It’s a neat looking project, and I hope you’ll consider backing it.
On to comics reviews, now with some non-Marvel things because it was a better week for that. And next week I know there’s non-Marvel stuff because the first issue of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s The Wicked and the Divine hits, and it’s going to be awesome. All titles link to Comixology pages for the books.
Hm. For a while, Brian Michael Bendis’s X-Men comics have been the first thing I read in a given week. Not because they’re my favorite comics, but because they’re usually quick and fun reads, and while his X-Men runs are in no way perfect, they have a sort of vintage X-Men feel that’s usually quite satisfying. Unfortunately, with this issue I find myself hitting the problem I usually have with monthly comics, and, historically, with the X-Men in particular, which is that I apparently can’t remember what happened last time. There’s a mess of future X-Men I only sort of remember the individual backgrounds of, and they apparently attacked last issue and… yeah. This will presumably be better next arc. C+
Captain Marvel #4
Despite having one of the best fandoms in comics, I have to admit, I’ve never quite had the moment where I’m convinced that I want to buy what Kelly Sue DeConnick’s Captain Marvel is selling. I want to love it, but I find I only like it instead. The second run of the series, which this is the fourth issue of, has decided to go do Captain Marvel having space adventures, which is a tried and true thing to do with characters when all else fails and is usually blithely adequate. This is, I fear, no exception. B
The Last West #10-6
(The book’s issue numbers are a countdown, so these are the first five)
Sent to me as a review copy, as the people making it are doing a Kickstarter for the back half of the book. It’s a flawed comic – I suspect they wanted ten issues and inflated their plot to try to get there, leaving them with something that’s a bit flaccid. The book is very much in the Jonathan Hickman style – lots of thought about the nature of progress and technology, and even similar territory to Hickman’s The Manhattan Projects. Where that book is “what if everything went wrong,” this one is “what if everything just stopped, fixing technology and culture in the 1940s.” It wants to do a sort of Watchmen structure of being an intricate piece of clockwork, but the weight is ever so slightly off. Still, this is interesting, and worth seeing finished, so I do recommend checking out the Kickstarter. B+
Mighty Avengers #11
One of the oft-chased ideas in Marvel Comics has been what we might politely call the black team. The premise of Mighty Avengers, which is, broadly speaking, to have a white British writer tackle it is, on the face of it, a bit absurd. And yet against all odds, this book has generally worked. A combination of being methodical in research and good at juggling an ensemble cast has made Ewing’s Mighty Avengers a real treat. In this issue we get a big flashback to the 70s that Ewing has said is in no small part about him reveling in the sliding timeline of Marvel history that means that the 1970s now exist in its pre-history, thus getting to treat them as a genre and iconography. It’s a good approach, and this is a promising first issue of the arc. A-
New Avengers #19
Jonathan Hickman’s propensity for vanishing up his own ass is at times infuriating, and his Avengers run has threatened to do it several times, but this is a strong issue that serves as a useful reminder of why I stick with Hickman even when I’ve long forgotten what the hell is going on in the books. At its heart this is a tight, intimate character piece that shows off the potential of the entire New Avengers arc. Very strong stuff. A-
Original Sins #1
Bought in the hopes that Ryan North on Young Avengers would be awesome, which it almost is. North is smart enough to find ways of following logically and usefully from what Kieron Gillen did with the characters, but the compressed format makes it a bit slow. I wish he had a full issue instead of a slot in an anthology. A painfully drab Deathlok teaser that spent ten pages on four pages of story makes the whole thing feel badly overpriced, although the two-page Lockjaw story at the end is delightful. C-
Charles Soule has suddenly become a hot writer, which makes this, his odd and slightly esoteric project, quite interesting. It’s got the humor a She-Hulk book should have, and a nice focus on being a legal drama. We’re finally paying off what Soule initially set up as his Big Storyline, and thus far it seems interesting, but this is an issue of teases and setup. There’s a reason this wasn’t issue #1, basically. Worth checking out the book, but try issue #1 or #2 first. This arc will be good, but the opening doesn’t sell it. B+
Uber #14 (Pick of the Week)
I actually want to geek out about this one for a few paragraphs.
I’ve been really interested in Uber, which has very much felt like Kieron Gillen doing Warrior-style Alan Moore – looking at how a fantastic conceit deforms familiar narratives. Gillen opened the series by saying he wanted to make Nazis scary again, and fair enough, but there’s a larger story of horror here that has been unfolding majestically. This is a lovely one-shot that throws some wonderfully large kinks into the plot, and while it will certainly hit better if you’ve read the preceding thirteen issues, you can pretty much pick this one up and get a slice of how Uber works and what sort of book it is.
There are, to be sure, flaws. It’s an Avatar book – what that means is that Gillen was given free rein to do some seriously disturbing and adult stuff. Avatar is a publisher that makes no concessions to “comics are for kids.” Their specialty these days is stuff with a big name recognition writer and an unknown artist who will work for cheap, often but not always one who lives outside the United States. They publish some extraordinary stuff and have some phenomenal artists who work for them, but they also often pair great writers with mediocre artists. Uber in particular is no exception to this. Its art is not bad by any measure, but the degree to which this would be a phenomenal, massive and always enduring hit like its most obvious source material, Miracleman is hobbled by the fact that Gillen is not writing for Garry Leach, John Totleben, or Alan Davis. He’s usually writing for better than Chuck Austen, but.
In particular, in this issue there’s an easy-to-miss time jump. The issue is framed around this flashback, but it’s easy to miss its significance, and the issue doesn’t really have any pointers around it. It could use something – the sort of thing that Totleben or Leach would do with a change in visual style. There’s one marvelous splash page that Gillen rightly highlights in his end-of-issue essay, the inclusion of which in each issue are one of the real highlights of the book, as Gillen is an extremely solid critic in his own right and is capable of applying those skills to his own work in an extremely compelling way. Gillen talks about 80s Alan Moore essays about his creative process, and I can’t help but feel as though I might have had something to do with him reading those at that moment, although the presentation he’s working on about what everyone failed to learn from Watchmen is surely the more likely influence.
All of which is to say, this is going to be a sizable work in Last War in Albion someday, and deservingly so. It’s not his Miracleman or even his Invisibles, but with better artists it could be. Still, only Avatar would publish something this daring, and they deserve a genuine round of applause for a great and compelling book that could only have been made under their business model. This is a solid issue to pick up and try to see just how weird and mental this book is – if you’ll forgive spoilers, it opens with the immediate aftermath of Hitler being murdered by a superpowered soldier, and speculates about the ramifications of Winston Churchill also being killed, all in 1945 after the war should have ended. It has horrific monsters in it. It’s very violent and very weird and very, very angry and strong. I recommend having a look if it sounds interesting.
Also, next week he has a first issue out for a new book called The Wicked and the Divine. I strongly recommend just picking it up, and I’ll definitely be reviewing it here and giving a link to the digital version. It’s the comic of the summer, and is going to be his big, solid hit – the one that’s universally acknowledged as his signature work. His Transmetropolitan or his Sandman. The artist is phenomenal, and they are just going to kill with it. It is also nothing like Uber.
In any case, Uber #14 is an A- and pick of the week.
The United States of Murder Inc. #2
Still early enough in that it’s difficult to quite figure out where it’s going, and with Bendis’s usual trick of setting up the premise in the first issue and then kind of overtly wandering away from it, this could still go in a number of ways. But it’s got some solid characters, and Bendis can keep an issue moving like few others, even if I am at times puzzled by his multi-issue planning. Interesting and worth looking at. A-
Next Week: Avengers, Daredevil, Iron Man, Manhattan Projects, Original Sin, Sex Criminals, Silver Surfer, and The Wicked and the Divine
June 12, 2014 @ 1:16 am
I don't read Marvel anymore (I quit after Civil War), but I do try to stay abreast of their big storylines. From the wiki plot summary, Original Sin looks like it may be the dumbest, most incoherent thing Marvel has put out in recent memory. Your thoughts?
June 12, 2014 @ 2:24 am
Seriously, there's a comic called "New Avengers" and it's not about Steed, Purdey and Gambit? Disappointing.
June 12, 2014 @ 3:22 am
Interesting that your better week for non-Marvel things includes one non-Marvel book you bought and one sent to you as a review copy. You're a Marvel kid, Phil, and that definitely surprises me.
June 12, 2014 @ 4:26 am
From his writing, Phil appears to almost exclusively prefer assembly-line comics to comics by single cartoonists, and he obviously also enjoys shared worlds; so when he's buying current American comics they're extremely likely to lean towards two publishers. His writing also shows a huge preference for, within these tastes and across media, stories that can be attributed to ~a writer~. The other publisher presently, under Didio & Nelson, actively discourages this latter trait – in both authors and audiences.
June 12, 2014 @ 7:14 am
Dumb, certainly, but only if followed by the word fun. primarily worth checking out for reusing Oubliette and Dr Midas from Grant Morrison's Marvel Boy; and having the Mindless Ones gain sentience, quote Gertrude Stein and attempt suicide via the Ultimate Nulifier.
It's not brilliant, and let down primarily for the current vogue for dismemberment, but when one of your villains has a giant eyeball for a head you know it's not for taking seriously.
June 12, 2014 @ 8:07 am
The comic it reminds me most of – in a very compressed way – is DC's 52 weekly from 2006, where part of the aim seemed to be a shaggy dog travelogue of the wackiest areas of a fictional universe. Where Original Sin is fun it's fun in a similar "embrace the strange" way – The Orb, the Mindless Ones, Ego the Living Planet, Oubliette, lots of cool creations you don't always see much of. And come to think of it, where OS isn't fun is in its wayward tone – cosmic weirdness one page, dismemberment the next – which it also shares with 52, though that was a function of the four-writer setup.
Marvel is an old universe now, it's older than DC was when Crisis came out, and it's had a lot more comics consciously published 'within' its shared boundaries – it's no surprise there's a generation of writers keen to use all that stuff as a playground (particularly as there's zero commercial percentage in contributing much that's new). In a way it's a surprise we haven't seen an event series take the weird romp approach before – but then this is really the first one since House Of M not to be obviously driven by the universal metaplot. Though it is also very much the kind of crossover that fits the All-New phase of Marvel Now, where broad cross-universe themes have been replaced by gleeful bets on a diversity of storytelling styles (and the one stab at a universal metaplot – Inhumanity – looks from the outside something of a personnel and scheduling trainwreck). Here you get all that confusion and tonal shifting in one giddy, messy comic.
June 12, 2014 @ 11:10 am
I think calling United States of Murder Inc. a Marvel book is ultimately unhelpful in this context – notably the word "Marvel" appears nowhere on it. It's not a book that being a Marvel fan is ultimately going to affect one's preference on – I similarly don't tend to think of Vertigo books as DC, or, at least, I didn't while Vertigo was still a remotely vibrant line.
More broadly, I don't really pick up licensed properties, so a wealth of publishers just fall through for me: IDW, for instance, may put out some great stuff, but I'm never going to pick up the Angry Birds comic, nor even the Transformers comic.
So most of what I pull is Marvel or Image, and Marvel get some extra sales through a combination of usually putting out 50-100% more books a week than Image and the fact that the shared universe can cause me to buy a book out of fondness for characters (Original Sins for the Young Avengers) or out of grudging concession to the realities of the shared universe (Original Sin itself).
For the most part, I buy for writers. I was buying more DC a few years ago, but a few years ago DC was publishing comics by Grant Morrison and Greg Rucka. Now I buy a lot more Marvel, and notably, Marvel is publishing comics by Greg Rucka, Kieron Gillen, G Willow Wilson, and Warren Ellis, all of whom I would buy on any property whatsoever. If you put Scott Lobdell, Tony Bedard, and Peter Tomasi on Marvel books and Jonathan Hickman, Brian Michael Bendis, and Kieron Gillen on DC ones, I'd be buying DC again. And notably, those are all writers I excitedly follow to their indie books, regardless of publisher. (Although I confess I have no idea what the hell is going on in East of West – at this point I buy it because Jill reads it.)
June 12, 2014 @ 11:12 am
Someone pointed out that it is a comic that's unusually well-designed for the purposes of having a crossover. Its main hook – big secrets come out – is one that can be integrated into any ongoing title without rancor. It doesn't screw up anyone's storytelling meaningfully, because "a secret is revealed" is such a useful plot beat. Which is a good point, I think.
June 12, 2014 @ 11:57 am
There was an Avengers comic published in 2012/3 called Steed and Mrs. Peel. No idea if it was any good, but Mark Waid did the first four issues and he's usually excellent.
June 13, 2014 @ 1:51 pm
Must admit Hickman's Marvel work hasn't impressed me, drifted away from his Secret Warriors & Fantastic Four runs and haven't bothered with his Avengers work either. I love his work with Image, especially Manhattan Projects. East Of West is intriguing enough to keep reading for the world-building, and it helps having Nick Dragotta's art work.
Have to agree with you about Uber and Avatar's output. Personally I would prefer if they went for a more primitive/punk aesthetic rather than the shiny over-coloured style. I'm uncomfortable criticising the art work but it takes me completely out of the story if you're drawing very famous real life people and they are obviously 'off-model' so to speak.