Tag Archives: comics

December Bonus Review #2: Civil War

 

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I’ve talked about two big comic events, not including Marvel vs DC. One was average, the other really damn good. Since I talked about DC for the more average event and Marvel for the really superb one, it seems only fair to talk about Marvel again for the event that’s actively shit. Wouldn’t want to be accused of favouring one company over the other. Back in mid ’06, Marvel started an event headed by writer Mark Millar. It went on for about half a year and it has a lot of severe problems. Some of which relate to continuity while others are just with the content of the story even when divorced from all those issues it has in the context of the greater Marvel universe. I’m talking, of course, about Civil War. Why is this event such hot garbage? Let’s take a look. Like with Blackest Night, I’m not going to cover all the tie-ins, just the main event itself. So, keep that in mind.

Story:

In the light of a tragedy the American government decides to curtail some freedoms and force people with super human abilities to register and work for the government in an official capacity. This results in heroes being split with those who believe in surrendering freedom going head to head with those who want to keep it. Stupid shite follows.

Let’s start with the very first narrative problem. The reasoning behind the registration act is nonsensical. So, we have an accident when the New Warriors are being completely out of character and they get into an altercation with Nitro, resulting in him going boom and killing a bunch of kids. And the American government decides that the best way to prevent accidents like this is through superhuman registration. First off, the New Warriors have identities and powers that are known. They’re on reality television. As does Nitro. He’s certainly been arrested enough. It’s almost like knowing the real names and powers of super humans does nothing. Secondly, there have been super human battles in the Marvel universe with a lot more civilian casualties. Remember Maximum Carnage? How about Inferno? It’s almost like this incident is turned into a massive deal for incredibly flimsy reasons to excuse a really stupid event. That’s exactly what’s happening.

Another issue is with the extreme over reactions on the part of the pro-registration side. First, we have the head of SHIELD decide to have Captain America arrested when he hasn’t done anything wrong. He seriously just says that he will not hunt down his friends who refuse to register. At that point he hasn’t even decided to fight against it himself. As strange as that is, given how much Cap loves freedom. The same thing happens with Spidey later on. He tells Tony off and says outright that he’ll still work with SHIELD, but that he won’t fight Cap’s team or be a part of the Avengers. So, they open fire on him and send super villains to beat the shit out of him. Even though he’s already registered and is in full compliance with the law.

Speaking of the registration law, let’s talk about that mess. This event tries to turn it into an actual debate by comparing registering super powers to getting a gun license. The problem is that it fails to work on multiple levels. First of all, someone chooses to buy a gun. Most heroes in the MU didn’t choose to get super powers.. Secondly, they don’t just want to register them, they also want to force them to work for the government. At that point it would be like getting licensed to carry a gun and then being forced to work for the military because you own a gun. And we see with those aforementioned examples of Cap & Spidey that the heroes actually have no choice in the matter of working for the government. Because if they fail to follow orders they’ll have agents ordered to arrest them and get shot at. I’m pretty sure there’s a term for being forced to do labour against your will and that term is slavery.

In other arenas where the pro-registration side is made up of rusty old cock rings, these guys come across as cartoonishly evil. They build a robotic clone of Thor, which murders Bill Foster in cold blood. They keep using the damn thing too. Yeah, use the unstable construct that just killed one of your friends. That’s a great idea. They construct a prison in the Negative Zone. For those of you not familiar with the Negative Zone, it’s a dimension in the Marvel Universe where exposure to it causes severe depression. Yeah, let’s give our friends and comrades severe depression with all the trauma that comes with. They also bring in a bunch of psychotic super villains to work with them and hunt down the resisting heroes.

You want something else extremely stupid? We’re told that ninety percent of the American people support this measure. There is nothing out there that ninety percent of people will support. You could have an initiative to give everybody some free chocolate and you’d get more dissenters than that. If the measure was just about registration, you might be able to manage a high number, but even then ninety percent would be absurd. Once you add the forced labour, there’s no fucking way. I have to give Americans credit enough to assume that ninety percent would not support slavery.

Let’s talk about Bill Foster’s death a bit more because this is absolutely atrocious. First off, he dies pointlessly for cheap shock value. Secondly, they wrap his body in chains. So, in an event about forcing super humans into slavery they kill off a black guy and then wrap him up in chains. Either this is a really unsubtle visual metaphor or the people behind this are really stupid and clueless. It’s probably both, given the general quality. In the event they try to excuse it because “they couldn’t get him shrunk back down to his normal size” but I call bollocks on that. They have Hank Pym on their side. A man who invented a particle that makes things and people shrink. Couldn’t get him back to normal size my well-toned bum.

The event also ends with a complete anti-climax. There’s weird semi-incestuous stuff with The Invisible Woman & Human Torch. Their new identities are a married couple and the way he carries her when they’re fleeing is super questionable. So, they couldn’t have gotten new identities that were just unrelated? I knew that Bendis had a weird ass incest fetish but I didn’t know there were more people at Marvel with one.

Let’s go on the subject of follow up stories for a moment. When I discussed Secret Wars I mentioned that a lot of good stories came from the event, including the classic symbiont story for Spidey. So, what did we get from this event? A bunch of other horribly written comics, including the notorious One More Day. Thanks, Civil War, for giving us one of the worst Spider-man stories ever written.

Characters:

If I cover how each and every character in this event is taken out of character, we’ll be here for ages. So, instead, I’ll focus on a few of the more egregious examples. Let’s start with Iron Man. A lot of the more evil moves on the part of the pro-registration side come, at least in part, from Tony. He’s involved with the robot Thor débâcle. The Negative Zone prison is partially his idea. The event just consistently portrays him as a fascist . Captain America doesn’t come across as much better. He’s not fighting the good fight for any ideals. He’s just angry because the idiot at the head of SHIELD tried to have him arrested for not enforcing the registration act for them. When Tony tries to talk through things with him, he refuses to listen and acts like an ass. He actively insults people because he doesn’t like their choices. This is Captain America, before Marvel decided he should be a Nazi because modern Marvel is the worst. He should be giving inspirational speeches that have his comrades’ loins swelling with idealism, not throwing a tantrum.

We also have Bishop. I know, Bishop is a weird character to bring up since he’s barely present in the event proper but, for as little as he appears, they manage to royally fuck him up. For those of you who aren’t familiar with Bishop, he’s a time traveller who journeyed to our time from a dystopian future where Mutant registration passed and mutants, as well as other super humans, were rounded up and either killed or forced into camps by Sentinels. Then, with them out of the way, the Sentinels quickly dominated ordinary humans turning everything into a horrific mess. Bishop chose to come back to our time to try and prevent those atrocities from repeating. So, he must see the registration act as a terrifying precursor to this future, right? Maybe, but he decides to join the pro-registration side anyway. Even though it goes against everything he’s ever stood for and everything that’s ever motivated him. Did Mark Millar never read a single issue of the X-men? Or maybe he only read Grant Morrison’s run.

Art:

There are a lot of problems with Steve McNiven’s artwork. The faces look terrible at least half the time. The posing is uncomfortably awkward, including the Human Torch/ Invisible Woman incest flying formation and that panel where She Hulk’s ass talks to you. I don’t imagine that Mark Millar put that in his directions. “Show the siblings flying chest to chest while she makes an ‘o’ face. Make sure She Hulk’s bum is in the foreground talking to us.” The proportions are frequently borked. Morry Hollowell’s colouring has a lot of issues too. The colours of things shift from issue to issue with She Hulk looking olive green sometimes and her regular shade others.

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Final Thoughts:

Civil War is an absolute, bloody mess. The writing has holes so massive that Unicron could easily slip through them. Not to mention a whole lot of things that are so massively stupid that you feel a bit dumber just from having read them. The characterisation is garbage. The art looks bad. There is nothing in any of these seven issues that’s remotely redeemable. My final rating is going to stand at a 1/10. This event can go fornicate itself with something long, thick, sandpaper textured and spiky.

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December Bonus Review #1: Secret Wars

Back in October I talked about DC’s Blackest Night .  It was an event comic that suffered a lot of the pitfalls that modern event comics always seem to suffer from: cheap character deaths, tie-ins that are five times longer than the event itself, & characters who don’t serve much of a purpose to the event being a part of the whole thing just to make it seem bigger. So, what would an event look like if it had none of those problems? For the answer, let’s turn to a Marvel piece I’m very familiar with, The Secret Wars, and not the shit one from a couple years back. We’re going way back to the mid 80s for this one. 

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Story:

We open with a group of Marvel heroes finding themselves aboard a strange ship, floating through space. They introduce themselves and notice another ship nearby, this one full of villains. It turns out that both groups have been taken from Earth by the Beyonder, a cosmic entity who’ fascinated by Earth’s super beings. So, he’s chosen two teams to pit against each other. One team made up of those with selfless motivations. The other made up of those with selfish motivations. Can our heroes stop the villains who have been promised anything they desire, should they triumph? 

I actually only have one criticism of the narrative here. There’s a bit of a tryst betwixt the Wasp & Magneto. Which comes out of nowhere, doesn’t really do anything and ends pretty quickly. I think it’s just here to establish that Janet is a strong independent woman who doesn’t need her abusive ex-husband.

Aside from that, I like that the division for the characters is based on relative selflessness instead of something overly simplistic like “good vs. evil.” I also appreciate the way that the series gives all of the participating characters a chance to shine. The conflicts in this story are very interesting as well, particularly those that arise from philosophical differences within the ranks. Seeing James Rhodes tell off the Human Torch for being a racist fuck is pretty damn magnificent.

Looking back on it, this event also established a lot of elements that led to interesting stories later on. This was where Spidey got his black suit, events started that led to Colossus and Shadowcat having a falling out, The Thing got to have solo adventures in space, She Hulk joined the FF and there were other things too. And, thanks to the event being self-contained, the pacing is able to proceed at a good, steady pace without anything feeling left out or time skipping ahead awkwardly. We also don’t have any elements being mentioned but nothing really happening with them in the main event. It’s almost like writing a story that doesn’t include a bunch of supplementary materials leads to a stronger story. 

Characters:

Here’s another area where I have to give the Secret Wars complete credit. Jim Shooter doers a good job of naturally & concisely introducing our colourful cast. So that those readers who don’t pick up every title in the Marvel universe can keep up without any problems. He also does a fantastic job of showcasing those factors that make the characters who they are, in spite of having a pretty big cast and only twelve issues. He also does a good job of introducing us to some new characters, the second Spider Woman, Titania & Volcana. 

To use an example, let’s look at what is quite possibly the best explanation for Magneto’s character. Magneto is, naturally, put with the selfless group. This leads to him being confronted by Ben Grimm & Monica Rambeau (The Thing and Captain Marvel). After she calls him a murderer he becomes indignant and says this: “I am many things. A mutant, master of magnetism, an avowed enemy of humankind, but a murderer? A slayer of innocents? Never! I fight in defence of my race! My cause is just…” He goes on from there but that is actually a perfect explanation of Magneto’s character. I also like that, in the comic itself, there are a lot of pauses in that bit to illustrate how carefully he’s choosing his words. I also think it’s very telling that the pauses stop shortly before he declares that he has never been a slayer of innocents. 

The dialogue in this is very well crafted, is where I’m going with that. 

Art:

The pencilling for this series was mostly done by Michael Zeck with a couple issues being drawn by Bob Layton. There are times it can be a bit under-detailed, especially in large panels that have a lot going on. But, as a whole, it looks pretty damn good. The grand, alien imagery is really nice. The action flows well. The colours by Christie Scheele, except for that one issue in which they were done by Nelson Yomtov, are really nice. They’re vibrant and bright so they really pop.

Final Thoughts:

The Secret Wars was a superb event. It’s so good that it’s hard to believe it was crafted to try and sell super hero toys. It was dynamic, introduced the beginnings for a lot of stories and it didn’t need to cheaply kill off a bunch of good characters just to show that it was “for serious.” My final rating is going to be an enthusiastic 9/10. If you want to see a comic event done right, look no further. Now, I’ve talked about comic events done right and events done averagely. Next week’s bonus review will focus on how to fail at them really horribly. Because you guys deserve to see the whole gamut. 

In closing, I wish you all a happy and safe holiday season whether you celebrate Hanukkah, Hearth’s Warming, Hogswatch, the Solstice, Yule, Christmas or any other holiday. Consider this month of bonus reviews a token of my esteem for all of you. 

October Bonus Review: Blackest Night

Death is cheap in Western super hero comics. It’s like there’s a revolving door between the worlds of life & death that the popular, marketable heroes & villains can just pass through whenever they like. Turns out, fans aren’t the only ones who noticed this. In mid-’09 an event started based on the idea that the doorway had been left open deliberately. All for nefarious purposes. The event ran for almost a year and had a huge number of tie-ins in addition to the main event issues themselves. To keep things concise, I’m just going to look at the eight issues, nine if you include #0, of the event itself. This is Blackest Night, written by Geoff Johns. A man who did have a pretty good run on the Titans.

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Story:

We open with Hal Jordan & Barry Allen at the supposed grave of Bruce Wayne, this was back when Bruce was presumed dead but he was actually mucking about with history. They talk about death, the things that have happened while Barry’s been dead. With an emphasis on the heroes who have fallen. We end our prelude with a foreboding look at a figure in back clutching skulls while black rings float around. We then start the event properly. Black rings fall from the sky, attaching to corpses, mostly of heroes, and bidding them to rise. Before long, several heroes have been murdered. Because this is a company wide event and they always have to have pointless character deaths to show that things are serious.

But I’ll get back to that later. Basically, the rings are trying to use corpses to get emotional responses so that they can consume the emotional powers of people with their deaths. All as part of a plan to feed off of their emotional energy and gain power for the black lanterns so that everyone can be dead together.

There are some things I appreciate about the event. I like the idea that a doorway betwixt life & death was left open deliberately. I also like the way it tries to basically put a stop to further resurrections. Even though we all know that DC was never going to follow through with that one. I also do appreciate that the series ends with a bunch of resurrections as a part of everything drawing to a close, supposedly the last of them but we all know better. The black rings possessing heroes who had died but come back makes for a really strong dark turn. I also like the lighter turn where certain heroes & villains get deputised into different Lantern corps.

That being said, the whole scenario is cheapened a bit just because we do know that DC isn’t going to stop bringing characters back to life. It also does annoy me that some characters who died cheaply for the event, Tempest & Gehenna being two obvious examples, just stay dead. Because they can bring back a bunch of characters who have been dead for years but these ones died entirely pointlessly just now and they’re staying dead. The entity at the centre of this event is fickle that way.

It’s also established that the character Dove has an immunity to the black rings and is very strong against the black lanterns but the reasons why are kind of stupid and it barely comes into play. The Lantern deputation is also a bit clumsy. Most of the choices make perfect sense. Barry as a Blue Lantern, Wonder Woman as a Star Sapphire, Scarecrow as a Yellow, Lex Luthor as Orange. Then we have Mera. Throughout the event Mera comes across as calm and collected. She’s keeping her emotions in check and doing what needs to be done. But, I guess we were supposed to read her as barely containing her rage because she gets a Red Lantern ring. The problem is that that never comes across. For that matter, Ray Palmer as an Indigo comes across as kind of contrived. It’s also established that a Black Lantern’s bite does nasty things to you but they only use it with Donna Troy & they never really go anywhere with it. My guess is that some of the tie-ins used it to make the Black Lanterns more like zombies & the main event just barely mentions it to pay lip service to that.

Characters:

You’d better know the DC universe really well for this one. I say that about half of the ring choices that work, Wondey & Lex, depend on knowledge of the characters that extends beyond the event itself. Wonder Woman is barely in the event & Lex spends most of the event trying to hide from the corpses of people who might come after him. Johns does do a good job of showing why Barry Allen represents hope and he tries to show why Ray Palmer would embody compassion but the results are kind of meh. The main characters we follow are Mera, Barry, Hal, Ray & the villains. Aside from them, we have a lot of characters who are there as a part of the DC universe and because the big climactic fight needs to have a lot of characters involved. If you don’t know who they are, you’ll just have to ask yourself who is this and why are they even here? Then you might elect to look them up.

To Johns’ credit, he does do a superb job with Barry & Hal and that does lead to the strongest moments in the event.

Art:

The artwork was done by Ivan Reis. This is one area where I can completely praise the mini-series. It looks amazing. The action posing is dynamic. The characters consistently look good. The creepy, uncomfortable atmosphere is definitely there. Reis did a stellar job. This wouldn’t have worked with a bullshit artist who traces their stuff like Greg Land.

Final Thoughts:

In some ways, this is a pretty typical massive company-wide event. It has cheap, pointless character deaths. It features a bunch of characters it’s not really doing anything with solely for the sake of making it appear grander. It has easily five times as many tie-ins as issues. It has… let’s loosely call them “plot points” that don’t really go anywhere. However, it also elevates itself above the average company wide event by having some solid ideas, doing a good job with some of its characters. This might also be the only event where more characters are resurrected than die, in all fairness. But we also get shitty trades like losing Tempest but getting Maxwell Lord back. Because that’s who we want. The villain of a kind of shit company-wide event.

Ultimately, Blackest Night is better than most company wide events but that’s not saying a whole lot. And, compared to comics as a whole, it’s just average. My final rating is going to be a 5/10.

August Bonus Review: Jem and The Holograms Volume 1

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I’ve briefly talked about IDW’s Jem comic before and some things that it improves on when compared with the cartoon. For those of you who aren’t familiar with the cartoon, it ran from the mid to late 80s as part of Hasboro’s line of cartoons based off of toys. It followed the outrageous adventures of the titular Jem and the Holograms, a band made up of four sisters and their conflicts with their rival band, The Misfits. In 2015, IDW began releasing a comic based off of the franchise the comic saw its final issue in June but the characters are still going in a couple of mini-series. So, I’ll be taking a look at the first collected volume of the comic. Which includes the first six issues written by Kelly Thompson with artwork by Sophie Campbell and colours by María Victoria Robado. 

Story:

We open with our heroines trying to record a video for a “Misfits VS.” competition. It’s not going well. Jerrica can’t bring herself to sing in front of the camera crew, all four of them. She hears her sisters venting their frustrations about her stage fright and goes home. A storm knocks out the  power which results in the holographic Synergy’s systems being rebooted. She shows Jerrica and her sisters the amazing technology their father was working on, prompting Kimber to ask if he was a super hero. Using Synergy’s holographic technology and the Jem persona that lets Jerrica overcome her performance anxiety, our Heroines are successfully able to enter the competition. Thereby kicking off their rivalry with the Misfits. Things become somewhat complicated when Kimber and Stormer meet at an event and there’s an immediate attraction. This prompts Pizzazz to forbid Stormer from dating “the enemy.” 

In terms of story-telling, the worst I can say about the comic is that the dialogue can get repetitive at times. we get such nuggets as “Saw your video. It was great. It was beyond great.” Or there’s also “They always get my bad side. Every time.” Which I can’t criticise too much because it is dialogue and it’s not exactly unusual for someone to say something redundant. 

There are a lot more praise-worthy things about the writing. Having the Holograms as an upcoming band entering a competition against the veteran Misfits is a good way to kick off the animosity. Having members of the opposing bands who are trying to make a fledgling relationship work, in spite of that, is a nice method of adding some dramatic tension. Jerrica suffering from performance anxiety and using Jem to disassociate from it provides a compelling reason for her to have a secret identity and Rio being a reporter, and one she meets after they enter the contest, gives a strong motive for not telling him the truth. As opposed to the cartoon where she couldn’t tell her long term boyfriend that they were the same person because… glamour & glitter and she needed a secret identity because… fashion & fame. the comic is also really superb about stopping each issue at a really good point. We get the first appearance of Jem at the end of one issue. The Misfits about to confront Stormer when they see her on a date with Kimber ending another. A light array about to fall on Jem ending yet another. They’re all moments that give the reader a reason to pick up the next issue while also stemming naturally from the events of that issue. There’s nothing that feels contrived or rushed about it. The comic is also very charming and funny. Aja throwing shoes because she wants to keep sleeping while Kimber tries to wake her up is hilarious. There’s a really funny scene where the Misfits argue before going on a television show and those are just a few examples. There are a lot more. 

Characters:

This may very well be the strongest aspect of the comic. Unlike the cartoon, where the villains were just causing trouble because they were the antagonists and it was their job, in the comics there’s a coherent motivation behind everything they do. It’s also nice that the Misfits in this never resort to attempted murder. The worst thing that happens comes from Clash acting on her own because she thinks it’ll please Pizzazz and Clash really wants some mutual pleasing betwixt herself and Pizzazz. The Misfits even react negatively when they find out what Clash allegedly (as far as they’re concerned) did. Pizzazz stops her from admitting to it, though, because she wants to keep the Misfits out of any possible legal issues. The Misfits, in general, just come across as the antagonists because they’re abrasive and needlessly competitive because they see the Holograms as a threat.

The sisterly dynamic among Jerrica, Kimber, Aja & Shana is excellently handled. Which is another improvement over the cartoon where Jerrica and Kimber acted like sisters while the other two acted more like friends. The budding relationship between Kimber and Stormer is, even in this early stage, shaping up to be the best romance I’ve seen in a comic and I find myself highly invested in what’s happening with it. None of that is hyperbolic either. 

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Art:

Campbell’s artwork is gorgeous. The facial expressions are highly expressive. The outfit, make-up and hair designs are consistently appealing. The way she makes up for the lack of music, because it’s a comic and doesn’t have sound, with lively panels surrounded by lyrics makes for some amazing visuals. The action flows nicely. The colours are vibrant and aesthetically pleasing. There are Rainbow Dash and Sunset Shimmer plushies. Yes, this is the same comic company that puts out the Friendship is Magic comic… Which I may have a lot of issues of on my shelf. 

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Final Thoughts:

The first volume of IDW’s Jem does exactly what it needs to. It establishes the characters, scenario and the underlying source of tension between the bands. It demonstrates a deep understanding of those elements that people liked about the cartoon while also establishing what it’s going to do differently. As a whole, it even uses those elements better with more thought and greater care going into it. It is a damn good comic and I do recommend it for anyone who likes slice of life works. Regardless of whether or not you watched or enjoyed the old cartoon. My final rating for the first volume of this comic is going to stand at a 9/10. It’s truly outrageous. Truly, truly, truly outrageous. Maybe I’ll look at the second volume at a later point. But next month I want to look at something a bit different. Preferably not super hero related because I  don’t want my bonus reviews to be too fixated on people running about in tights. 

What’s Really Costing Marvel Sales?

For those of you who aren’t aware, Marvel Comics recently came under fire when VP David Gabriel, made a statement about their sales slump being the result of having “too much diversity.” Because readers just don’t want to hear about women and people of colour. He has since retracted the statement due to the understandable backlash. 

So, what’s really to blame for the lack of sales? Well, as someone who used to buy Marvel comics , let me try and provide some insight into why they lost my money and, I’d wager, quite a few other people’s. 

1.) Consistent Editorially Mandated Events

Remember when company wide events were incredibly rare to the point where you might have one a decade? Remember when those events were basically relegated to their own mini-series and every comic wasn’t dedicated to tie in material? Well, I’m old so I do. I also miss those times. And that’s one of the big reasons I stopped buying Marvel comics. Writers are constantly having the story arcs they’re doing disrupted so that the comics they’re working on can tie into the latest House of M, World War Hulk, Civil War or whatever. You can’t just be a fan of the X-men and Spider-man or of the FF and Iron Man any more because you never know when those stories are going to be disrupted for actual months to tie into the latest event. Which probably makes it hard to find new readers too. How many people do you think want to read all the big books just to know what’s going on? But there’s something else that ties into this. 

2.) The Big Events Themselves

Honestly, I  was a fan of a lot of Marvel’s characters and titles. So, for me, the big events might not be a problem if they were well written. The problem is that, well, they aren’t. Most of them have heroes fighting one another instead of villains for stupid and contrived reasons. Most of them also feature a lot of wasteful character deaths, that may or may not last, for cheap shock value. It’s not even shocking at this point because they do it all the time. That’s not good writing and what it tells me, as a fan of a lot of these characters you’re killing, is that you don’t care about my ability to enjoy your comics. “You like Bill Foster? Well, too bad we’re going to kill him in an exceedingly disrespectful way.” Is it any surprise that I don’t want to give them my hard earned money to see that?

3.) Character Ruination Everywhere

Marvel doesn’t have to kill characters off to ruin the experience for readers. They can just make really stupid changes to them. Hello, Hydra Agent Steve Rogers. But it’s not just Cap losing all his nobility and dignity. It’s a pretty persistent issue. Jubilee was a cool character. Then she was a vampire and sucked, both literally and figuratively. Speedball was cool, then he went full emo- Penance mode and he’s been an awful character since. They tried to fix him, but the damage was done. Luke Cage was a cool character, but then they saddled him with Bendis’ Mary Sue and now he sucks. The Scarlet Witch was a cool character, but then they made her quasi-incestuous and mentally unstable. And those are just a few examples. There are many, many others who have been ruined by a combination of bad decisions and editorial interference. 

4.) The Handling of Legacy Heroes

In theory, legacy heroes are a great idea. Have the old hero step down, bring in a new, interesting one. The trouble is that Marvel’s been handling these heroes in a way that alienates the fan base for the previous hero. Gone are the days when Tony Stark stepped down to let James Rhodes take the Iron Man mantle due to some personal problems. These days, the old heroes die or turn evil, most of the time. Marvel, I know this is complicated but maybe the way to retain your fans is to treat your characters with respect? 

5.) There’s No  Reason to get Attached to the Heroes

This kind of connects a lot of the prior points. For me, as a comic fan, there’s no impetus to get attached to Marvel’s new characters. Because I know that there’s a good chance they’ll be killed off during a lousy event, get completely changed in a way that’s absolutely devastating to their character or turn evil for stupid reasons. If I get invested in that character, I’ll be setting myself up for disappointment later. And it’s, frankly, not worth my time. 

6.) The Writing Aesthetic

This is going to be the final point I bring up. Speaking personally, my favourite Super hero comics are from the Bronze Age. Back when they could incorporate serious themes, ongoing story lines and character development while also maintaining a lot of the fun, goofy elements. You got good stories that could balance serious themes with more light-hearted moments. A lot of modern Marvel comics, in contrast, are fixated on being dark and edgy. There’s a reason so many heroes die cheaply or turn evil. There’s a reason the good points of so many characters have been lost in a bid to make them darker. There may be an audience for that aesthetic, but I’m certainly not a part of it and it seems like I’m not the only one who feels that way.

So, those are the reasons that I turned away from Marvel. And they probably hold true for a lot of other people as well. So, David Gabriel, maybe instead of blaming the levels of diversity you should focus your efforts on helping the company “get good” as the Internet would say. 

February Bonus Review: DC vs Marvel Comics

Anyone who’s familiar with western comics knows Marvel and DC. They’re the big two. The ones with extended cinematic universes and adaptations of widely varying quality. Comic fans have long debated which characters should fight and who would win. In 1996 the companies themselves decided to come together for a crossover that would explore those very questions in a mini-series written by Ron Marz & Peter David that ran for four issues. So, is it everything that comic fans hoped for? The back of the trade promises the showdown of the century. So, let’s take a look. 

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Story:

The walls that separate universes are coming undone. Several heroes and villains are finding themselves transported elsewhere. Spidey appears in Gotham. The Juggernaut finds himself in Metropolis. Tim Drake finds himself right in the X-mansion and those are just a few examples. Everyone wonders what’s happening. The answer comes fairly quickly, two brothers are responsible for creating the universes and, after losing their consciousness from a climactic battle that destroyed everything, they’ve remembered everything and become aware of one another. They decide that instead of fighting directly and letting everything end in the cross fire, they’ll select champions from their own universes. The universe that wins gets to live. And that’s how the battle between these two universes is joined. 

Let’s talk about the writing flaws. The first is that a lot of the battles seem more like popularity contests than an actual examination of who would win given the powers and skills of the combatants. To go into some examples, Wolverine beats Lobo in a straight out brawl. And, as much as I like Wolverine’s character when he’s written by Chris Claremont, Larry Hama and several others, including Peter David. Lobo’s whole shtick is that he’s over-powered and over the top. The bloke can go toe to toe with the Justice League in its entirety. Wolverine is not that strong by half. You get the same thing with Storm against Wonder Woman. You’ve got a woman who’s effectively a Goddess against a lady who can control the weather. And somehow Storm wins with a couple lightning bolts even though Wondey should be able to stand up to far worse without a problem. As much as I love Strom, that’s nonsense. We’ve also got Batman against Captain America. A fight between two experts at hand to hand combat. Two tactical geniuses. With one having a measurable advantage in terms of strength, stamina and speed. And yet the one with the disadvantage wins and in a very lazy way. Which is the general problem with these fights. They can’t even give a conceivable explanation for why the less powerful combatant wins. At least the Spidey and Robin fights show you some cleverness on their part that lets them win. The Aquaman vs. Namor fight is also very lazy. This is a fight that could have gone either way, given how evenly matched they are. But we get bullshit involving a whale jumping out of the water and belly flopping onto someone standing on land. That is really stupid. Is the whale supposed to have super powers? 

There’s also a lot of bluster about these heroes working together, learning from one another and we see very little of that. The series really could have benefited from some extra length to let us see these actual interactions in a more substantial way than a few panels. 

With that being said, I do like the idea of the characters being put against one another by cosmic forces outside of their control. It certainly beats having there be some misunderstanding to clear up or having them all get tricked by some villains so that they can halt their battle and come together later. I also do rather like the big climax. 

Characters:

I’ll give the mini-series some credit here. They use a lot of characters and they’re pretty good at giving them a sense of personality that meshes with their regular characterisation. They aren’t deeply complex and I suspect the aftermath of these events was never dealt with in the comics proper. I don’t remember hearing anything about it in them, any way. But the characters are in character and I think that’s the best you can really expect from an event like this. The worst thing I can say about it is that the “romantic tension” betwixt Tim and Jubilation is really forced. 

Art:

So, we get artwork by Dan Jurgens & Josef Rubinstein. Overall, it looks really nice. There are some good action sequences in the story. They could have certainly benefited from being longer since most of them are over in two or three pages, but what we do get is pretty nicely done, mostly. The character art is dynamic with some really good designs for the Amalgam portion and the colourists did a really good job. There are occasional moments of minor fail. There are a couple panels with Bane where it looks like he was drawn without a top and it was lazily added in by the colourist later. There’s an original character called Access who’s drawn a bit inconsistently. All in all, though, the art fails are relatively minor and rare. 

Final Thoughts:

So, that’s DC vs. Marvel. Is it “the showdown of the century?” Not really. The writing can be lazy. Particularly when it comes to explaining how certain characters manage to win their bouts. The concept is a good one, but it’s not explored all that thoroughly and, when it comes right down to it, the actual bouts are too short for that particular accolade. That being said, it is fairly entertaining and there are things to like about it. In the end, it’s a pretty average read. My final rating is a 5/10. Have any ideas for what March’s bonus review should be? Leave them in the comments. Until then, expect the Wednesday anime reviews to continue as scheduled. 

Western Comics and Matters of Death

For the second time, let’s discuss Western comics. This time, I won’t be talking about IDW but the big two, Marvel and DC. These companies have both had some incredibly talented writers: Simone, Claremont, Gaiman, etc… They’ve also both had their share of crappy writers: Miller, Bendis, Lobdell and so on. There are a few things that they’ve also failed at pretty consistently, regardless of the quality of the writer. To be specific, the subjects of ageing and death.

Ageing is something we all do. It’s just a part of reality. In comics, they generally avoid the subject. Marvel’s heroes don’t seem to age at all and DC’s may or may not age depending on the character. Which really renders characters like Vandal Savage and Ra’s Al Ghul kind of pointless since their shtick is that they’ve halted their ageing, but so has everyone else, apparently.

With some characters, you could argue that this makes sense. Maybe it’s an alien like Silver Surfer or Starfire or an android like Vision or Red Tornado or maybe it’s a character with a magical origin like Wonder Woman or Roma. However, a lot of these characters are supposed to be regular humans or have super powers that have nothing to do with ageing. So, how is it that they can remain active and the same basic age for decades?

Basically, it all comes down to one thing. Neither company has the ovarian/ testicular fortitude to let their characters grow old because if they actually let age be a factor they’d reach a point where they had to deal with the consequences and come up with new heroes.

So, why and how should they tackle this subject? The why is simple. Because it leads to more compelling stories. One of those things that comes with age is personal growth and development. If a character never ages, they’re also going to keep repeating the same mistakes and get stuck at the same point in their life. Look at the mess that got made with Spider-man in the aftermath of One More Day. He’s not the only example, either, a lot of comic characters get the same basic story arcs and always return to the status quo, never growing or developing or, if they do, returning to the way they were shortly after. Furthermore, this is a good, natural source of drama. Think about what it would be like for those few characters who don’t really age to watch as their loved ones grow older around them and, eventually, die. You could have some really touching and provocative stories about that. A third reason is that it allows the writers to actually show some creativity instead of continuously writing the same established characters. Which would infuse both universes with some much-needed fresh titles.

How should they do it? Well, here’s what I would suggest. First off, establish a time line. You really don’t want to have the universe’s time scale coincide with ours completely but, at the same time, you wouldn’t want your comics’ time to be really slow-moving. So, I would suggest that four months of issues equally a month of comic time would be about right. Once you’ve got that figured out, keep track of your characters’ ages and stick to that scale. You probably don’t want to have all your characters start the same age since that would be a right mess when the time came for them to retire.

Let’s move on to our happy discussion on death. One of the big problems with the modern super hero comic industry is that death is really cheap. It’s cheap in the sense that major characters can get over it faster than you can beat a cold and it’s cheap in the sense that it gets used as a crass tactic to make the stakes seem higher in horrible event comics or as a marketing gimmick.

This one also comes down to a lack of fortitude on the companies’ parts. They want to throw in some death because it gets attention, but they also want to risk losing any major characters. Consequently, you get a right mess where a character dies, everyone acts like it’s a big deal and then they come back after a fairly short amount of time so that they can die again later and repeat the process. In the process, death loses both meaning and tension.

That’s perhaps, the biggest reason to make death permanent in comics. As it is, the main response to a character dying isn’t any type of grief or sense of loss for the reader, it’s curiosity over when they’ll come back and what flimsy justification is going to be employed for it. Maybe it was really Xorn’s twin brother, Xorn, pretending to be Magneto pretending to be Xorn. Not even joking, that one happened. Another compelling reason is that giving death permanence would discourage shitty writers from killing off characters cheaply, and shitty editorial staffs from letting it happen. Death should not just be a cheap shock tactic or a way to show that the antagonist is totally serious this time. Treating it as such is just bad writing.

Let’s move into a bit of how it should be used besides just, it needs to be permanent. First off, character deaths should be handled with respect to that character and their legacy. Trust me, most fans will be able to handle it if it’s done well. Let’s talk about ambiguity. If you want to leave an opening for a character to survive you just have to take a lesson from the Silver Age. Have the character fall out of a plane or into a whirlpool but don’t show what happens to them. Leave the possibility that they may have survived. Now, in order for this to have actual tension there are going to have to be cases where they don’t. There’s no tension otherwise. For that matter, you could have one character disguise as another but actually foreshadow it and give the readers hints so that it doesn’t come across as an ass-pull that came after the fact.

If a super hero comic company would actually use both ageing and death as natural, expected parts of the universe, it would lead to better stories, stronger characters and a consistent influx of fresh characters, both legacy and brand new. Which is why I find it disappointing that it’s really not done.

Agree? Disagree? Have your own ideas on the subject? Go ahead and leave a comment.