Aug 062011
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My name is Jet Wolf, and I’m addicted to comic books.

Every week since 1987 I’ve had comics pulled and waiting to fall into my eager hands. It’s a practice that’s survived multiple comic shops, a cross-country move, and the entire 1990s. I’ve always loved talking about them after reading, first boring friends too polite to tell me they didn’t care, then babbling with my future husband in the proto-internet, and finally spreading my opinions all over my blog like a thick paste.

It’s been some time since I talked about my comic books, but The Pull List is eternal. Here’s what was on it this week.

Dungeons & Dragons #9    Secret Six #36    Ultimate Fallout #4

Dungeons & Dragons #9 | Secret Six #36 | Ultimate Fallout #4

Dungeons & Dragons #9 4 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons #9

Dungeons & Dragons #9, Cover by Tyler Walpole

Writer: John Rogers
Artists: Andrea Di Vito, Guido Guidi, Horacio Domingues
Colourists: Aburtov and Graphikslava
Letterer: Denton J. Tipton

You probably think a comic like Dungeons & Dragons wouldn’t be that great. Just hack and slash and treasure and dull. You would be very wrong.

D&D has quickly become one of my most anticipated titles every month. Yeah it’s got monster battles and adventure-seeking, but what it also has, which surprised the heck out of me, is incredibly real characters and so much funny. Every issue has sharp, snappy dialogue and a way of turning the expected archetypes on their ear, all without losing the tension in some genuinely harrowing experiences. If you haven’t been reading this book, start. And if you have any interest whatsoever in the fantasy genre, start yesterday.

But not with this issue. (I’d recommend #8 if #1 isn’t an option – and as the trade just came out, it should be.) This is a necessary installment to move the story along but being waist-deep in plot it’s not the friendliest introduction to the series.

Aside from not being the best jump-on point, the issue isn’t bad, though probably the least fun I’ve read so far. See again, re:, moving the story along. That allows the series’ strength to really come through however, because even as it’s a pretty hefty slice of plot pie, Rogers still takes the time to allow his characters their moments. Of particular note is dwarven paladin Khal who, despite being both a dwarf and a paladin, has probably become my favourite character. This is so outside the norm it’d be like liver and onions becoming my favourite meal. I am totally in love with the “twist” on this character, and his unique solution to a particular problem, as well as the party’s reaction to it, is a moment of pure gold.

This issue may not be the best on its own, but it’s part of a greater whole that deserves way more attention than it’s currently getting. Do yourself a favour and pick up this series.

Secret Six #36 3 of 5 stars

Secret Six #36

Secret Six #36, Cover by Daniel Luvisi

Writer: Gail Simone
Artist: J. Calafiore
Colourist: John Kalisz
Letterer: Travis Lanham

It feels wrong that my first time really talking about Secret Six is also the last time I’ll be talking about Secret Six. Gail Simone sends her team of lovable miscreants out with a bang – several, in fact – as we say farewell to one of DC’s best books and its most inexplicable sacrifice at the Altar of Nu.

Secret Six was a different kind of book. Its protagonists were villains, thrust together quite unintentionally and sticking together quite dysfunctionally. The series wasn’t perfect (I think once per storyline the team would fracture and fight each other), but it was genuine, populated by very real multi-faceted characters who didn’t always do the right thing and sometimes didn’t even try. But despite themselves they’d occasionally prove better than their expectations and sometimes, in the moments that showed the true brilliance of both the concept and Simone’s writing, they’d completely fail to live up to ours. These were characters that had the freedom and the willingness to disappoint you, which made the moments when they didn’t all the more sweet.

Except right at the end, when you’re disappointed and know there’s no chance to try again. I have several problems with this issue, which I’m going to talk about a bit, so beware of the spoilers.

Before I get into this, it’s important to note that the issue suffers tremendously from two major, unavoidable truths-as-I-see-them: 1) Gail had nowhere near the amount of time she needed to wrap things up; 2) DC wanted Bane back to his Batman hatin’ roots for The Dark Knight Rises.

The first is painfully obvious and perfectly illustrated in Scandal resolving her “which girl do I choose?” dilemma between the recently resurrected love of her life (Knockout) and her new, devoted girlfriend (Liana). Scandal’s solution? “I want to marry you both.” No really, that’s the exact line. And she says this mere seconds after introducing the two of them for the first time. Their response? Smiles and enthusiastic squeeing from Liana’s friends. And that’s it because Scandal and Knockout both die(?) with the rest of the Six like eight pages later. I applaud Gail for continuing to push the envelope by both acknowledging and including polyamorous relationships, but I have a bit of a problem with Liana especially – a girl who exists outside the world of metahumans – being “Oh, hey, your dead girlfriend’s back and now we’re all getting married, hooray!” I get the desire for the closest thing we’re going to get to a happy ending in this issue, but the reactions went down so rough I couldn’t hope to swallow the resolution too. Not getting to see this triangle play out is an unspeakable loss. (Could you imagine Scandal taking Knockout and Liana on their first group date? How can I believe there’s a god when Gail Simone isn’t writing this right now?)

The Scandal triangle is really quite second to my biggest problem of the book, that being Bane. Poor, poor Bane. If you only know him from Knightfall, then I cannot encourage you enough to go back and read Secret Six. Gail turns Bane from what is essentially a one-note character into the most righteous honourable villain you’ve ever seen. In your heart you want to call Bane a teddy bear, but that comes with the absolute certainty that he could and quite possibly would rip your head from your shoulders without blinking. He’s like a homicidal samurai, full of honour and will and such badassery.

When we first meet Bane in Secret Six, he is a character searching for something. All that consumed his life up to defeating Batman was defeating Batman. That done, what’s left? He comes to find purpose in Scandal Savage, deciding quite without her buy-in that she needs a father and “adopting” her. This relationship is at the heart of the series, and it’s Bane’s devotion that paves the way for these characters to depend on – and even like – each other.

But toward the end, things change for Bane. Faced with the certainty that he’s destined for hell despite his (to his mind) just and honourable actions, he kinda snaps and again becomes obsessed with destroying Batman, no matter the cost. The others get caught up in the whirlwind, and then they all die. Except Bane apparently, as we learn in the final page epilogue that sees him breaking his bonds and again setting out on his path of destruction.

In the space of two issues, these past few years of development for Bane are tossed out the window. He is literally no different now then he was when he first appeared nearly two decades ago, and for a character that had come so far that’s nothing short of a tragedy. Personally I believe this was a editorially mandated change that would put Bane in line with the Bane Dark Knight movie-goers would expect to see, and with room to explore, I admit that a devolution could’ve been fascinating. But that’s room we no longer have, and so Bane is doomed to a limbo of repeating Bat-obsession. (“Batsession”? Sounds like a musky cologne.)

But that doesn’t take away from the great things in this issue. Ragdoll – by far the most depraved character in a cast of depraved characters – being the voice of compassion and reason was a surprising turn that somehow managed to feel completely organic. Catman and Deadshot almost almost almost admitted they were friends, but it’s so perfect that they never did. And then there’s the Six’s Last Stand. Huntress’s narration hammers home the grey areas while punctuating the inevitable outcome. Heart-wrenching and so very right. Butch and Sundance couldn’t have done it any better.

The final issue in no way does justice to the strength of this series – a series that deserves to live well beyond its apparent life. Fresh, unique, brilliant and surprisingly touching, Secret Six is the book that belongs in the DC universe, Nu or otherwise. I can only hope they’ll realize this and bring it back sooner rather than later. This group of degenerate villains deserve far better than they got.

Ultimate Fallout #4 3 of 5 stars

Ultimate Fallout #4

Ultimate Fallout #4, Cover by Ed McGuinness

Writers: Brian Michael Bendis, Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer
Arists: Sara Pichelli, Salvador Larroca, Clayton Crain
Colourists: Justin Ponsor, Frank D’Armata
Letterers: Cory Petit and Clayton Crowles

If you haven’t been following the Ultimate Marvel universe, Ultimate Fallout is a great place to start. It calls to mind Ultimatum except that it doesn’t make me want to scoop out my brain with a slurpee spoon-straw. The Ultimate universe is, in somewhat DC fashion, heading for a relaunch, but Marvel’s treating it like moving to Harry Potter 4 after you finished Harry Potter 3 rather than stopping Black Beauty halfway through to pick up 1984. Things have changed drastically in the Ultimate universe and this is What Comes Next.

Ultimate Fallout is a six-issue mini-series comprised of vignettes that lead into the next wave of books. They deal with the fallout (hence the title) of some universe-shaking events as well as setting the tone for the world to come. I’m happy to report that, at least from what I’ve seen so far, Ultimate Marvel looks to be settling down a bit. Aside from Ultimate Spider-Man, this universe has not been a very nice place. Hyper-violence, abuse and depravity have largely been its hallmarks, where stories are told less to serve characters and ideas and more to make you say “What the ffff–” as many times as possible in 22 pages. And that was kinda cool for a little bit, but with a “new” universe that’s now over 10 years old, it’s time to show us what else you’ve got.

Happily, it seems like it could be quite a bit.

Spoiler Town city limits. Read no further if you’re not current on your Ultimate universe.

Of the three stories, the one with Reed Richards was the weakest for me. When we last left Reed he was crazy and evil and left for dead in the Negative Zone. But he’s not dead, he’s trying to get back, and he’s about to kill a whole bunch of multiverse Future Foundation members to do it. Given that Hickman (who penned this story) also writes FF, this could be really awesome or really, really awkward. My jury’s still out. Hickman writes an amazing Reed Richards though, so while I’m not yet sold, I’m interested.

Next (though last in the book) is a story focusing on Val Cooper, which will lead us right into the new Ultimate X-Men. It should be of no surprise that I am totally looking forward to that book, so while this segment was essentially two people sitting at a table and talking for five pages, I was pretty engaged. The US government created mutants? And the whole world is going to find out in a few hours? That plus Kitty and Bobby (and Johnny?) planning vanish to a safe haven, Rogue utterly lost and convinced it’s the end times, and Jean brainwashing the Hulk for a mutant sanctuary courtesy of Nick Fury, and hell, I want that book tomorrow. I have no idea what’s actually going on, but I want in.

But of course there was only one real bit of news coming out of this issue, and seriously if you don’t know what I’m talking about, stop reading now okay? If you keep going you’ve only yourself to blame.

Okay so if you’re still with me then you know the event that got us here in the first place: The death of Spider-Man. Peter got a heroic death saving people that he loved and respected, and while not good, it’s the kind of out he deserved. (I mean he could’ve made a deal with the devil, how stupid would that be?) As the city mourns, a new challenger appears! One dressed in a familiar spider costume which everyone can agree is in terrible taste. Who is this new youngster? While unnamed in the book, his name is Miles Morales, and he’s half-black/half-hispanic. And the Internet in the wake of the news? Almost all racist. Personally from what we’ve seen so far I think Miles will make an amazing new Spider-Man, and that this is a fantastic move on Marvel’s part. The lack of minorities in major hero roles is not a new conversation – although it’s certainly one that’s moved to the forefront of late – and I think this is a great way to explore other takes on beloved characters. Miles is obviously trying very hard but his first move might be little more than to shove a foot in his mouth. He’s quippy, but less secure about it. Will Miles be Peter? Of course he won’t. (At least I sure as hell hope he won’t.) But Peter is dead, and Spider-Man lives on. If this vignette is anything to go by, I can’t wait to see Spidey’s new adventures.

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