Aug 312011
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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.

I’m still playing catch-up after PAX, so these are actually last week’s books. Only a week late! Time now to go to the comic book store and do it all again.

Astonishing X-Men #41    Chew #20    Dungeons & Dragons #10    FF #8    New Mutants #30    Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1    The Ultimates #1    X-Men #16    X-Men Legacy #254   
Astonishing X-Men #41 | Chew #20 | Dungeons & Dragons #10 | FF #8 | New Mutants #30
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 | Ultimates #1 | X-Men #16 | X-Men Legacy #254

Astonishing X-Men #41 2 of 5 stars

Astonishing X-Men #41

Astonishing X-Men #41, cover by Salvador Larroca and Guru eFX

Writer: Daniel Way
Artist: Nick Bradshaw
Colorist: Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Astonishing is a book that’s often all over the map. Is it in continuity or out of it? Is it supposed to be the “X-Men are the badassiest of the badass” or not? Is it supposed to be all major A-list creators or not? I haven’t actually enjoyed this title much since Joss Whedon left it and for the most part this storyline hasn’t much changed my opinion, though I do think Daniel Way is trying hard.

“Monstrous” is a storyline that shows the X-Men going to Monster Island. And by X-Men I mean Wolverine, Cyclops and Emma Frost, because if there are X-Men needing more exposure it’s surely those three. There they fight a mostly ineffectual villain, never quite take anything seriously, and go home in the end. There’s also some stuff with Armor, Wolverine’s latest Jubilee who for whatever reason can’t ever seem to get acknowledged outside of this insular title, making me half wonder if she even exists or is just part of Wolverine’s imagination.

Nick Bradshaw’s art, I must take a moment to comment on. Although all his heads look like they’re caught in a Thighmaster, I do genuinely enjoy his style. It has an Art Adams feel to it, particularly highlighted in an issue like this which is filled with giant monsters. Anything that makes me think of Art Adams is guaranteed to make me smile.

The story? Eh, it’s okay. It’s pretty fluffy with giant monster fights, which as you’ll see when I talk about X-Men #16 is not a premise I can’t get behind. I think my main problem is character fatigue. As much fun as it is to see Wolverine and Emma snipe at a weak little villain wannabe (and that was fun, don’t get me wrong), I just can’t work up the necessary enthusiasm at seeing Logan, Scott and Emma in their 358th book this month. I think I would enjoy Astonishing so much more if we could remember that there are 200 other mutants to play with and tried doing so now and again.

Chew #20 3 of 5 stars

Chew #20

Chew #20, cover by Rob Guillory

Writer: John Layman
Artist: Rob Guillory
Colourist: Rob Guillory
Letterer: John Layman

If you don’t know Chew then you’re missing out on one of the best books being published today. What’s the story? Tony Chu is an FDA agent and cibopath, which means he gets psychic impressions from whatever he eats (except beets). If he eats an apple, he knows where it was grown, what pesticides were used on it, how it was picked, etc. If it’s a steak, he knows where the cow lived, what it ate, and how it died. He can do this with anything edible. Anything. He’s forced to use it on dead bodies, like, a LOT. So that’s fun. The story takes place in a world where chicken has been outlawed due to a catastrophic avian flu outbreak. This has caused there to be underground chicken speakeasies and a world of crime has sprung up around it. Sound crazy? I’ve barely touched the surface. What’s amazing though is how it all just works.

This particular issue sees the end of the current storyline “Flambé”, and while I could say that it wraps things up nicely that would be a total balls-in-face lie. By the end of this issue we don’t know a bloody thing, but that’s part of the strength of the title. Whatever sense of division they may give to the storylines, the world of Chew can’t be broken down into easily digestible (sorry) portions. Perhaps more than any other book I’m currently reading, Chew feels totally organic. There’s so much happening that today’s throw-away joke could be tomorrow’s plot twist, and anything you see and anyone you meet could suddenly become pivotal. That kind of writing takes a real pinpoint vision and confidence where your story’s going, but the feeling is that Layman and Guillory are making up the rest of it as they go along. And that’s incredibly exciting.

Even if it’s not always immediately satisfying. This issue reads less like a Part Five and more a Part One, with new elements and old faces turning up and the major plot point for the storyline not so much resolved as vanished. I admit a little frustration, but come back to the feeling that you’re on a wild carnival ride that’s only barely sitting on the track. But you know that you are on a track, and trust that the guys driving this thing know where they’re going.

Dungeons & Dragons #10 3 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons #10

Dungeons & Dragons #10, cover by Tyler Walpole

Writer: John Rogers
Artists: Andrea DiVito, Horacio Domingues, Vicente Alcazar, Nacho Arranz
Colourist: Aburtov and Graphikslava
Letterer: Chris Mowry

The Feywild storyline hasn’t done quite as much for me as I’d like, but I’m happy to say that as we’re reaching the conclusion, it’s picking up again. This penultimate issue brings Fell’s Five almost to the brink of home, which is nice but the real fun is in how they get there.

In the absence of anything better Fell decides to go with Bree’s plan, deciding that if there’s anything a rogue knows it’s how to break into places and steal stuff. I’ve mentioned before how D&D is an odd title for me and my traditional relationship with characters. This issue carries on that tradition as Bree continues to be my least favourite, something usually unheard of when it comes to rogues. I think I’m still waiting for her to have that moment where everything clicks into place, but as yet we’re still just running around in a standard set of rogue cliches. It’s a little disappointing in a series that has otherwise been so successful in twisting stereotypes.

Still I must admit, stereotype or no, I did thoroughly enjoy her Ocean’s Eleven-style plan of tricks within tricks to guide the party to their goal, so much so that I was actually surprised to see the penny on the tracks that threatens to derail the whole thing.

Although I’ll be glad to get off this storyline and on to the next, I continue to enjoy the heck out of this title. One of the most underrated books out there.

FF #8 3 of 5 stars

FF #8

FF #8, cover by Daniel Acuña

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Steve Epting
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

FF is not an easy book to read. That’s not necessarily surprising when you consider that it’s a title filled with the smartest people in the entire Marvel Universe, but it makes it a little difficult to just sit back and enjoy sometimes. It’s very good, don’t get me wrong. It’s written fantastically by Jonathan Hickman (whose run with the Fantastic Four will without a doubt fall in line with the greatest ever) and Steve Epting’s art is stellar – I’m just not sure if I like it very much.

This is a very ambitious storyline that we’re seeing finally come to fruition. The FF are facing down a council of Reeds from other words who have united together to fix everything, but they all lack our Reed’s conscience and ethics. Which, if you’ve ever read the Fantastic Four, you know can sometimes be muddied at best. And if you want to take out Reeds, what better way to do it than with a group of people who have spent their whole lives fighting him?

It’s sort of like Secret Wars, only with less trust.

There’s a real sense of impending doom (no pun intended) and great tension between the characters here. The argument between Nathanial and Sue was crackling. I also adore Valeria’s ever-increasing time out. Just how do you confine a genius child to her room? The battle of wills between Reed and his daughter is a lovely reminder to his humanity, which is the only thing keeping him from his ostensibly evil counterparts.

All told the whole story feels incredibly busy and a little confused in places, but I suspect that’s less to do with any failings on the creative team’s part and more their ambition; I think in trade or with an uninterrupted reread this is going to work much better.

New Mutants #30 4 of 5 stars

New Mutants #30

New Mutants #30, cover by David Lafuente

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artist: David Lafuente
Colourists: Val Staples & Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Damn I love this book.

When we last saw the team, Dani had been whisked away to Hel and the others took a wrong turn trying to follow and wound up in Hell. This is the basis of our two storylines this week, and I’m pleased to say that both were thoroughly entertaining.

The Mephisto side of things is the more flashy of the two as the Mutants quickly figure out where they are and try hurriedly to get to where they need to be, all the while trying desperately to ignore every word coming out of Mephisto’s mouth. And what words they are. DnA’s Mephisto is the most delightful take on the character I think I’ve ever seen. He’s witty, he’s irreverent, and he’s all the more terrifying for his snake oil charm. It’s like Spider-Man didn’t bargain away his marriage to Mephisto, he bargained away his quips. I can’t recall when I’ve seen Mephisto this fun, but I never want to see him any other way.

The entire sequence in Hell (two “l”s) was amazing. Bobby’s steadfast refusal to have anything to do with Mephisto (“Is this a Catholic thing? It is, isn’t it?”) was fantastic, quickly followed by how spectacularly it backfired, changing the tone of the scene from funny to terrifying in a blink. Doug’s frustration with the slippery nature of magic was also a treat to see. Once again Lafuente did a spectacular job with a book filled with a lot of differing character expressions, and his Warlock continues to be a complete joy. As for how this situation is resolved, well, it looks as though we’ve not seen the last of Mephisto, and this is honestly the first time in my entire comic-reading life that I can say I’m glad for that.

Dani’s story is less overtly fun but much more powerful; I’ve always felt that Moonstar would make a wonderful leading female hero and it’s good to see her proving me right. This portion of the story is more heavy with the plot, but Abnett & Lanning’s gift for dialogue keeps things swiftly moving. Their hordes of Asgardian dead served as a wonderful vehicle for exposition. Dani herself was at turns a fierce and imposing Valkyrie and a young woman pretty irritated that this is where her day has ended up. Fun and exciting every step of the way; I haven’t enjoyed the New Mutants this much in years.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1 2 of 5 stars

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #1, cover by Dan Duncan

Writer: Kevin Eastman & Tom Waltz
Artist: Dan Duncan
Colourist: Ronda Pattison
Letterer: Robbie Robbins

I picked up the new TMNT on a whim. I adored the original Eastman & Laird comic; the gritty seriousness on an otherwise ludicrous concept was thoroughly appealing, and I remained an avid fan of the comic right up until the point where it went completely off the rails trying to appeal to the more broad fanbase of the cartoon and the movies. The original comics were what I loved best though, and so I felt I owed it to my very young self to at least try the new series.

I really wanted to like it more than I did.

Visually, it’s very appealing. I’ve never seen Dan Duncan’s work outside this issue, but he has a nice Eastmain/Laird-esque bent on his pencils that – as you might imagine – works very well in the title. Kevin Eastman gets credit for the layouts, and combined with Duncan’s art the style feels right at home.

It’s the story that doesn’t sit right, and the problem really lies in the details. I get it’s a reboot and that in the manner of all reboots there must changes, but it feels to me as though it’s riddled with them just for their own sake (or to give the middle finger to Laird? Who knows.) We only get a sample of the Turtles’ origin in flashbacks, but what we can see is a Splinter who’s still just a rat and a tank of little turtles who all come to be named by, of all people, April O’Neil. Then we flash to the present day where Casey Jones makes a cameo appearance as a pre-teen being beaten by his father who is subsequently saved by Raphael.

Obviously these are just hints and we don’t yet know what will happen to turn the turtles into the Turtles, but I didn’t see much here that gave me hope for subtlety. Casey, for example. Not only are we already going the route of the abusee trope but we’re forcing in pathos for Casey’s origin as well as upsetting the dynamic for the Raph/Casey friendship right out of the gate. And don’t even get me started on April naming the Turtles. What works better, the nosy intern wrapped up in her first semester of art appreciation or the hyper-intelligent rat who taught himself to be a ninja and who enjoyed a book that he found in a storm drain? You tell me.

Unfortunately the sticky fingers in the origin flashbacks also served to taint the present. Hob’s major hate-on for Splinter was something that immediately interested me, but then finding out that this “lifetime” grudge could only have happened, at best, a few months ago, undercut all sense of drama.

Like I said, I enjoy different takes on stories and origins, but changes made have to be for a reason. It felt more to me that they were afraid to let the new TMNT unfold naturally so they had to shove in all the characters you remember and suddenly make them vital parts of this new universe from moment one. And all of this without any hint of the parody that was at the heart of the title in the first place, serving ironically to make a comic book take itself too seriously when the joke was always about it taking itself too seriously.

The Ultimates #1 3 of 5 stars

The Ultimates #1

The Ultimates #1, cover by Kaare Andrews

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Esad Ribic
Colourist: Dean White
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Sit down fast children, because Ultimate Marvel is back and it’s not going to wait for you to get comfortable. This issue feels very much like cresting that first major dip on a roller coaster, if Ultimate Fallout was the inexorable chain-clanking ride to the top.

The events of the story are revealed with a series of morning debriefings for missions in-progress. At its center is Nick Fury, checking with the critical players in each major squad and issuing orders before moving to the next. Nick is our touchstone. The majority of the action takes place through his eyes, and the urgency of unfolding events comes to us as he deems them important. But the world is far too fragile and his team stretched far too thin. Fury begins the morning sitting straight in his chair, cool and calm. Slowly, as we watch, he begins to crumble, first his composure dropping then his body language betraying his complete loss of what to do next.

I don’t think it’s a coincidence that Nick Fury, and not Spider-Man, is the first character we’re given to identify with in this new chapter of the Ultimate Marvel universe. This Nick is fallible and oh so human. It’s further indication that the Ultimate MU has matured, that Fury himself can grow from an utter but one-dimensional hardass, the sort that personified Millar and Loeb’s runs.

It doesn’t stop with Fury. The scenes with Thor and Captain Britain were also brief but amazing (I can’t wait to actually get to hear what they’re saying), and the scene with Tony and Jarvis-not-Jarvis did more to show a depth to Tony’s character than the previous few years’ worth of Ultimates.

This was an issue that immediately slammed down on the gas – which has always been a major characteristic for the title – but it managed to do it while promising so much more. It’s the most excited I’ve been for The Ultimates since the series began ten years ago.

X-Men #16 3 of 5 stars

X-Men #16

X-Men #16, cover by Jorge Molina

Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: Jorge Molina
Colourist: Guru eFX
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Welcome to X-Men, which could otherwise be known as Marvel Team-Up featuring the X-Men. You know, if you wanted a suckier title. This storyline’s guests? The Future Foundation!

In much the style of the old Marvel Team-Up, this is a fun issue. The FF make an interesting dynamic with the mission-bound X-Men, though I’m a little sad that the group didn’t also include Namor for the ultimate Smug-Off between him, Doom and Magneto. I would read that book every day of the week.

The impetus for the groups to team up is pretty straightforward: A strange buoy appears in the Bermuda Triangle where Spider-Man just happens to be taking the FF kids on a field trip. It contains a “help me Obi-Wan Kenobi” style holographic distress call from Lee Forrester (remember her?) calling out Cyclops and Magneto by name. Reed plays it for Scott, Scott assembles a team to help, and Reed and the FF tag along because he’s curious. That’s really about it, and you know? That’s refreshing. It’s just a straight adventure, and I hadn’t realized how much of that was missing in comics until reading this issue. Everything always feels so dire and world threatening that you just get inured to it after a while. Remember when super-heroes were about fun?

As to the characters themselves, there are a few notes where it doesn’t ring entirely true. Victor Gischler was also the writer on the absolutely terrible X-Men #15.1, and as I criticized there, he has a tendency to lean on Whedonesque dialogue crutches. That can work fine for some characters, but Wolverine being all “hey this is like that movie I saw” feels awkward as hell. But for all the moments that don’t feel right there are more that are just fun as heck. Ben flinging Logan around to disastrous results (“Never throw me again.”) and the perfect levels of pompousness from Doom and Magneto were a delight.

This doesn’t feel like a storyline that’s going to go down as anyone’s all-time favourite epic, but for me that’s the point. This issue felt like a modernized story from the 70s, with a friend to save, other dimensions, and giant dinosaurs. Sometimes comics just need giant dinosaurs is what I’m saying.

X-Men Legacy #254 2 of 5 stars

X-Men Legacy #254

X-Men Legacy #254, cover by Mico Suayan and Martegod Gracia

Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Steve Kurth
Inker: Jay Leisten
Colourist: Brian Reber
Letterer: Cory Petit

I hate being disappointed in Legacy. It’s especially painful to be disappointed in it when I know that Mike Carey will be off the book soon. All I want to do is savour every moment he has left, and instead I feel like I’m trying to suck a piña colada out of a stiff dry towel.

This is the start of a new storyline, the one where the X-Men finally finally finally bring back Rachel (YAY!), Polaris (yay), and Havok (oh god no) from where they’ve been marooned in space for like the past five years. I’ve really loved how Carey has been weaving this storyline into prior plots, making it feel like something huge and inevitable. Unfortunately that may have backfired when instead of something interesting we land square in the middle of twenty-something pages of exposition. I know it’s necessary – Rogue drops everybody in a warzone and it’s important (or will be, I’m sure) to know who’s fighting and why. That’s tough to pull off and make it interesting, and despite trying admirably, Carey doesn’t manage to do it this time around.

It’s not helped by the art. Steve Kurth is competent enough in telling the story in a broad sense, but most of his characters wind up looking dead and soulless, which only seemed to emphasize the dryness of the script. The colours don’t help either, with the meat of the exposition set in locations entirely dominated by browns and greys. The Gambit/Frenzy/Magneto scenes absolutely pop in comparison, having the luxury of being exposition-free and set in a locale that has heard of the colour green.

The issue ends on a much higher note, with Rogue getting as sick of all this crap as I was and punching out a dude for talking too much. The others also get some choice moments, particularly Frenzy’s “that’s why I became an acolyte” comment which just rang so perfectly for the character. Of course the whole thing soured with the gigantic “HERE’S HAVOK!” splash page, but that’s my own cross to bear.

I still have high hopes for the storyline; just having Rachel wake up is going to improve my outlook tremendously. Hopefully with all the exposition out of the way we can get to the rollicking space adventure that this issue tried to convince us was forthcoming.

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