Aug 152011
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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.

Real-life conspired to make me super late this week but here they are, and before next Wednesday! Also on my Pull List but not reviewed is The Unwritten #28. The Unwritten is an amazing book, but I’m several issues behind. I didn’t have the time to get through my backlog before needing to get this up so I decided to skip the review and will just catch up with #29.

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #3    Fear Itself #5    New Mutants #29    Ultimate Fallout #5    X-Men #15.1    X-Men Legacy #253   

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #3 | Fear Itself #5 | New Mutants #29
Ultimate Fallout #5 | X-Men #15.1 | X-Men Legacy #253

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #3 5 of 5 stars

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #3

Criminal: Last of the Innocent #3, Cover by Sean Phillips

Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colourist: Val Staples
Letterer: Sean Phillips

Criminal is a terrible series, and by terrible I mean amazing. Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips have created a world populated with morally questionable, sometimes unlikable, always incredibly real characters who run around doing just awful things to each other. Last of the Innocent is the most recent tale, and quite possibly the most gripping yet.

This is the story of Riley Richards, a man well into adulthood who is pining for the carefree adolescence he left behind. He married one of his high school sweethearts – the rich and aggressive Felicity Doolittle – but a trip back to his sleepy hometown reawakens feelings for his other young love, sweet girl-next-door Lizzie Gordon. Sounding familiar? It should. If I were to boil Last of the Innocent down to one sentence it would be “Archie gone horribly, horribly wrong.”

It’s a sentiment that the next chapter in the Criminal series embraces. Riley’s story is told in two pieces, both brilliantly put to the page by Sean Phillips and colourist Val Staples. The bulk of the book is filled with dark claustrophobic panels; there’s no beauty in Riley’s world, no light. But then the story turns its head sharply and we catch a glimpse of the past, presented in clean lines and bright, flat colours, all with introductions such as “Life with Riley” and “Riley’s Girls, Felix and Lizzie” and “Riley’s Pal, Freakout.” What makes these momentary flashbacks all the more delicious is how they frame the events of the main story, managing to be both wistfully nostalgic and darkly foreboding at the same time. It’s a simple but startlingly effective technique.

The strength of this series has always lain with the characters. As you might expect with a name like Criminal, these aren’t happy stories of happy people. The inhabitants of this universe are critically flawed and do just the worst things to each other. The amazing part is in those moments when you’re not sure who to root for. Part 3 of Last of the Innocents has me dangling there right now.

Spoilers about to come at you.

The end of the first issue, after Riley discovers that his wife Felix is having an affair with his old high school rival Teddy (further trapping Riley in the past), Riley reaches the only sane conclusion: he must kill his wife. #2 sees him putting his plan into action. This bring us to #3, the immediate fallout. It seems that Riley’s plan has been a good one: Felix is dead, Teddy is framed, and nobody is the wiser. Life with Rliey is looking up. But throughout the issue we begin to see the tiny cracks forming.

Felix’s father, at turns blaming Riley (indirectly) for her death and trying to reach out to him, eventually becomes suspicious to the point of hiring a private investigator. Confronting Teddy in prison only makes it abundantly clear, to Teddy at least, who the real killer is. And then there’s Freakout.

Remember Riley’s pal Freakout? Much like his famed counterpart, Freakout is also a great lover of food, but his were stoner binges, and his drug use eventually ballooned into full-on drug and alcohol addiction. Freakout has been clean for a year however, just celebrated his anniversary in fact. Then Riley intentionally pushes his best friend to fall off the wagon so he has an alibi for the time of his wife’s murder. Riley is internally apologetic, perhaps even sincerely, but it’s clear that he is still unable to see beyond the childhood antics of harmless experimenting and has absolutely no comprehension for what this means to Freakout. His confidence shattered, Freakout has thrown himself fully back into a life of drug abuse, and even as Riley tries to keep tabs on him, all he can remember are high school misadventures.

As for Lizzie, well, we can’t say for sure yet. But it’s notable how she is the only element in the entire world of the main story that is portrayed in relatively bright colours, and has yet to be tainted by the selfishness of Riley Richards. Last of the Innocents is the title, and you gotta think that’s not going to end well for her.

This is the first Criminal story that I’ve read as it’s being released. I am gnawing on my lip as I hungrily wait for the next part. I can think of no higher praise for a comic book.

Fear Itself #5 2 of 5 stars

Fear Itself #5

Fear Itself #5, Cover by Steve McNiven

Writer: Matt Fraction
Artists: Stuart Immonen, Wade Von Grawbadger
Colourist: Laura Martin
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

Fear Itself is the latest company-wide storyline from Marvel. I’m at turns enjoying it and feeling disappointed. On the one hand, I think it succeeds in its goal: creating a decent self-contained story that people unfamiliar to Marvel could follow while capitalizing on the movies most recently in the public’s consciousness. Then I think back to when they were gearing up to this storyline. Do you remember these promo images? Because that looked like a really cool story and here it is part 5 and I’m still waiting to see it.

But we read the event we have not the event we want, and so here it is, part 5 of 7, in which nothing really much happens.

A lot happens while nothing is happening but the end result is still nothing happening. Of 22 pages, 14 are fight scenes, and of the remaining 8 pages only 3 are not either a direct lead-in to a new fight or direct result of one that just happened.

There’s a hell of a lot of fighting in this issue is what I’m saying.

Which yeah, I know. I’ve been a superhero fan all my life. We like our big booms. But the whole thing feels hollow, like a fight-by-numbers. The heroes are fighting because that’s what heroes do, but there’s no real motivation. Steve Rogers, who would arguably have the most reason to really put his heart into this, seems like he’s just going through the motions. I can’t necessarily blame them: the only reason this fight is even happening is to show how hard the next one’s going to be. Consequently, despite it looking like there’s a lot on your plate, you can’t help but feel a little empty after you’re done. That was Fear Itself #5, the chinese take-out of crossover issues.

There’s every chance it’ll work better as part of the larger event – the weak issue is ever the peril of serial storytelling – but on its own merits there’s not much here beyond a surface shine. (Yeah Thor vs. Hulk was kinda cool, but then some major dialogue quirks pop up which throw me right out of it.) We got zero payoff from the two significant events of interest (to me, anyway) from #4, and the supposed major event that happened in this one was done with so little emphasis or reaction that I frankly forgot all about it by the time I got to the end of the issue, all of seven pages later. Definitely a low point in the crossover thus far.

New Mutants #29 4 of 5 stars

New Mutants #29

New Mutants #29, Cover by David Lafuente & Val Staples

Writer: Dan Abnett and Andy Lanning
Artist: David Lafuente
Colourist: Val Staples
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Is there anything Abnett and Lanning can’t write? No, there is not.

DnA’s New Mutants (this is their fifth issue on the title) is exactly the kind of book that I love to read. It’s full of meaty plot, engaging and multi-faceted characters, and a smooth natural cadence to the dialogue. I’ve never read a book by these guys and walked away feeling I didn’t get my money’s worth. DnA rank among my top writers in comics today.

While this is a Fear Itself tie-in, it’s actually one of the few that makes it work for them. While Asgard is in turmoil in the wake of The Serprent’s return, Hel seems relatively untouched. Until the opening pages of this issue, when everything goes to *cough* hell. Enter Dani Moonstar who, if you remember your New Mutants, is sort of a Valkyrie and all. This right here elevates this issue above most of the other event tie-ins with a hook central to the book’s characters and history rather than “Wouldn’t it be neat if X fought Y?” Even better, Dani’s not actually in the book much beyond the first couple pages as the focus shifts to the rest of the team figuring out what happened to her and going to help (and messing up in a thoroughly delightful way I cannot wait to see play out).

I’d also be remiss to not mention David Lafuente’s art. It’s relatively simple, almost Andy Kubertian in places, but he has a wonderful way with facial expressions – Illyana is downright creepy sometimes. It’s also a delight to see what he has Warlock doing in the background of any given panel, which helps to keep the book feeling fresh without undercutting the dangerous stuff the kids are playing with.

Every single character gets some love this issue, and it’s fantastic to see the team dynamics in play from the newbie X-Man (yes from “Age of Apocalypse”; don’t ask) to the imprisoned Illyana (yes she’s alive again; don’t ask) and all the old guard. It’s clear that Abnett and Lanning have so much love for the New Mutants, and I love them right back for that.

But if you don’t know the team, don’t let that stop you. It may say “Fear Itself”, but don’t let that stop you. This issue is a perfect starting point, celebrating what’s come before but not bogged down by it, and setting up for what could be an amazing storyline; that final splash page is just about perfect. If they keep it up, DnA could effortlessly turn New Mutants into one of my favourite books.

Ultimate Fallout #5 3 of 5 stars

Ultimate Fallout #5

Ultimate Fallout #5, Cover by Adam Kubert

Writers: Nick Spencer, Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Luke Ross, Billy Tan
Colourists: Jason Keith, Guru eFx
Letterer: Cory Petit

As Ultimate Fallout begins to wrap up, Ultimate Marvel prepares its next chapter, and things are looking to be very interesting indeed. The two stories this week focus on Quicksilver and Nick Fury, with Pietro getting the lion’s share. While neither story would rank as my favourites of this mini, both are drawn and written well and do their job serving up a small taste of what’s to come.

Fury’s story can be sliced fairly evenly down the middle, with one half foreshadowing upcoming conflicts for SHIELD and the Ultimates and the other upcoming conflicts for SHIELD and bureaucracy. I suspect both are going to be rife with villains. At only 8 pages there isn’t much time to flesh things out for Fury, but the limited space works to this story’s advantage. Nick barely gets a second to breathe, and every time he does he just gets more bad news. While I don’t relish spending a hell of a lot of time on funding and budgetary issues, it could work well an underlying factor for what is or isn’t done.

Everything else this issue revolves around Quicksilver, and it’s interesting to note that for as many pages as he talked – and make no mistake, he talked a lot – I don’t actually know what the heck he was going for; I’m going to hope that was by design. Pietro seems to be putting some master plan into effect and at first glance has it all together, right up until the moment he begins to have a conversation with the Scarlet Witch in his head and kind of crumples like a paper doll. Which you know, if that was supposed to be your big reveal for the issue? Maybe not put giant puppetmaster Wanda on the cover, just sayin’.

The handling of Wanda in the Ultimate universe fairly well encapsulates everything I dislike about it, seeming to incorporate shock and taboo merely for the sake of shock and taboo (otherwise known as “Jeph Loeb”). I still haven’t quite gotten over that knee-jerk reaction when I see her, like some geek form of PTSD, and that definitely coloured my view of the story. But that’s my problem and no fault of the creative team who, while taking some time to get there and having their big moment spoiled the second you pick up the issue, did a decent enough job. Nick Spencer looks to be a writer not afraid to take the time to tell his story which helps make Ultimate Comics X-Men by far my most anticipated title of the new Ultimate line-up.

X-Men #15.1 1 of 5 stars

X-Men #15.1

X-Men #15.1, Cover by Jason Pearson

Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: Will Conrad
Colourist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Wow, I paid money for that. That’s a bitter enough pill to swallow for someone who’s been buying X-Men every month for nearly twenty-five years, but there’s some poor soul out there somewhere who was interested in Marvel’s “Point One” initiative and made a conscious decision to give money in good faith for this thing. I’m not sure it was possible for this book to fail more in its intended purpose.

So what is – or was, since Marvel’s been doing this since freaking February – the, erhm, point to Point One? I’ll let Marvel tell you in their own words.

[…] each of these special Point One issues serves a perfect jumping on point for Marvel’s flagship series while dropping hints for each series’ next year of stories. Each Point One issue is guaranteed to supply pure, high stakes action for only $2.99. Think of each Point One story as self-contained launch pad into the Marvel Universe for new readers and old fans alike – and, to get there, we’ve brought on board some of comic’s most acclaimed writers and artists to make set Marvel’s top heroes off their greatest adventures yet.

You lied to me, Marvel. Me. After all we’ve been through.

About the only thing this issue did that was promised was to charge me $2.99. Pure, high stakes action? There are 98-year old stroke victims in Miami who are complaining that this story was dull and boring. A launch pad? This thing didn’t even really feature the X-Men and it certainly had nothing to do with anything found within the pages of the X-Titles themselves.

Hell, the cover has Colossus front and center and he doesn’t even appear in this book.

That’s a brief look at what we didn’t get, how about what we did? This story is about Cyclops, Gambit, Storm, and Pixie accompanying Dani “Hi I’m an Indian, that’s the only reason I’m here” Moonstar to somewhere in the American southwest to stand around and watch everybody else do things. That’s about it. There’s as little heart to this issue as there is sense. Supposedly an old woman has fallen into a coma, but rather than bring one of the dozen or so most powerful telepaths in the entire world to try and reach this poor woman they bring Gambit, and when saying “Hey, can you hear me? Hello?” doesn’t work, the townspeople start sealing her up in an adobe tomb just like everybody there agrees she wanted.

I’m only on page two, folks.

Fastracking this thing to save me taking another whole week to post, the new Ghost Rider shows up out of nowhere to plug her upcoming book, demons appear in humanoid form for no reason, none of the X-Men sound even remotely like themselves, the old woman still dies, and the X-Men sort of drift away with a Hallmark cliche about how they lose sometimes but will keep fighting.

So I’m new to the X-Men. This is the issue specifically tailored to try and hook me, to get me to come back month after month. What I have learned is that the X-Men all sound the same, speak like they just stepped out of a pale imitation of a Joss Whedon show, and are unable to effectively do anything at all even in their own title. Good job, Marvel.

The only thing giving this book any star at all is a) that I forgot to make up a 0-star rating and am already way behind on getting this up, and b) Will Conrad’s art. It shoulders all the storytelling burden in this horrible script. For all the ways in which the characters are interchangeable dialogue-wise, Conrad makes the extra effort to make them visually distinctive in more than just costume, and he’s clearly put a lot of work into the details of this story. If only the writer had felt compelled to do the same.

X-Men Legacy #253 4 of 5 stars

X-Men Legacy #253

X-Men Legacy #253, Covery by Mico Suayan

Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Khoi Pham
Inkers: Tom Palmer and Craig Yeung
Colourist: Marte Gracia
Letterer: Cory Petit

If you know anything about me and about my comics habits, then you know two truths: I love the X-Men and I love Rogue. But that comes with a price. My eye is keen and my standards are high. Lucky for me, I live in a world where Mike Carey writes X-Men Legacy.

Legacy is without a doubt the best book in the X-franchise right now, and while having Rogue doesn’t hurt, it would still be great without her. It’s all about Mike Carey. He has a love and dedication to these characters – to all of these characters – that hasn’t been seen since Chris Claremont was at his peak. There is no one that Carey can’t write uniquely and convincingly. While most writers have their “pet” characters (and Carey certainly does as well, see above, re: Rogue), certainly as far as the X-Men goes, those writers don’t so much play well with others. Not so for Carey. Give him anyone, and he’ll zero in on not only what makes them interesting but what makes them tick. It’s a pleasure to watch him work his magic month after month, and a privilege that he’s chosen to do it with my favourite character along for the ride.

But that’s the series in general, what about this issue specifically? We’re coming in at the end of a story arc where Rogue, Magneto, Xavier, Gambit, Frenzy and Legion are on the hunt for a few of Legion’s personalities that have broken free and are on the loose. It’s been a thoroughly engrossing storyline; Legion is one of those characters who, when done right, is one of the most fascinating ever created. It’s even more interesting to watch this seemingly random team (a specialty of Carey’s it seems) try to work together to accomplish a goal.

Of course the team isn’t random, at least not thematically. Each member has a troubled past filled with questionable decisions, each trying to escape the shadow of what they were and remake themselves into what they’d like to become. It gives the team a razor’s edge with Rogue at its moral center. So naturally she’s been hurt and is out of action as the finale opens.

And speaking of that finale, it feels a little anti-climactic but ultimately satisfying. The final confrontation with Styx wasn’t exactly a surprise, but Carey as always reaches to the core of what’s happening which can see you through even when the details don’t quite hit the notes you expect. Ironically enough what was probably the high point of this resolution was the smoothly flawless transition into the next arc. One of my favourite elements of the classic Claremont days was how stories were allowed to play out naturally and flow from one place to the next. While Carey is still clearly constrained to the four-issue format (something Marvel can’t get rid of quick enough for my tastes), he works within it better than anyone else in the X-Men stable, allowing his stories to feel organic and natural and, consequently, more real.

Legacy is always an immediate read for me, and I can’t wait for the next arc to begin. And it features Havok, so you know that’s saying something. Can my love for Mike Carey outshine even my hatred of Havok? I can’t wait to find out.

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