Oct 042011
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My name is Jet Wolf, and I’m addicted to comic books. Since picking up my first issue of X-Men way back in the late 80s, comic books have been a focal point of my life. I can’t imagine a world without superheroes flying around in brightly coloured and impractical costumes, punching out bad guys and sometimes each other. May the Pull List be eternal. Here’s what was on it this week.

Angel & Faith #2    Astonishing X-Men #42    Dungeons & Dragons #11    FF #9    The Fury of Firestorm #1    New Mutants #31    Ultimate Spider-Man #2    The Ultimates #2    X-Men Legacy #256    
Angel & Faith #2 | Astonishing X-Men #42 | Dungeons & Dragons #11 | FF #9 | The Fury of Firestorm #1
New Mutants #31 | Ultimate Spider-Man #2 | The Ultimates #2 | X-Men Legacy #256

Angel & Faith #2 3 of 5 stars

Angel & Faith #2

Angel & Faith #2, cover by Steve Morris

Writer: Christos Gage
Artist: Rebekah Isaacs
Colourist: Dan Jackson
Letterers: Richard Starkings and Jimmy Betancourt

Angel has a purpose. It’s what’s getting him out of bed in the evening. It’s what’s keeping him sane. It’s inevitably doomed to failure, and Faith knows it.

“Redemption” is still the name of the game, but it couldn’t be anything else with a book all about Angel and Faith. The events of Buffy Season 8 are fresh and bleeding, and it being all Angel’s fault, he’s dealing with things the only way he knows how: killing lots of bad guys. Good plan, right?

Only not so much. Angel isn’t actually dealing, he’s just going through the motions (a Buffy theme if ever there was one) like a head-cutting arm-ripping robot, singularly focused on an end result that can only go terribly, horrifically wrong. What’s more, he’s manipulating Faith into helping him. What’s good for guilt? How about yet more guilt?

Not that Faith isn’t keenly aware of what’s happening. She’s in this for Angel’s own good, fueled by an unshakable loyalty that’s genuinely heart-warming to see coming from Faith. Angel is the only person who cared enough to save her from herself, and for that alone she will always be there for him. (Side note to say that it’s wonderful to see a male/female relationship like this completely devoid of sexual tension.)

If I’m focusing mostly on the Angel and Faith dynamic, that’s because it’s really what’s selling this story. The backdrop – fighting vampires and demons running around London’s underbelly with a group of used-to-be-Slayers who still want to help – is interesting enough, but a backdrop is really all it is. There’s ostensibly a main plot about a couple of superpowered baddies looking for the same thing Angel is, but it takes a distant backseat to the far more interesting stuff Angel’s going through.

My goodness, did I just use “interesting” and “Angel” in the same sentence?

It’s true though. Watching Angel try desperately – NEED desperately – to atone for falling off the redemption wagon is the most invested I’ve been in the character for years. That includes when his show was still on the air. I’ve mostly found Angel relentlessly dull, but there’s something about his portrayal in this series. Something genuinely tragic and delightfully train wreck-y.

Astonishing X-Men #42 2 of 5 stars

Astonishing X-Men #42

Astonishing X-Men #42, cover by Salvador Larroca

Writer: Christos Gage
Penciller: Juan Bobillo
Inker: Marcelo Sosa
Colourist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

This issue brings the second arc in Astonishing to conclusion, and overall I enjoyed it more than “Monstrous” – but I’m suffering pretty badly from Wolverine/Cyclops/Emma Frost burnout; “Meanwhile” was a veritable cornucopia not-them characters, and so better just by default.

This storyline sees us with our old friends The Brood in another slice of rollicking space adventure. Usually when you have X-Men + space + Brood you’ve got a winner, and this storyarc wasn’t too bad. You have your standards: X-Men meet Brood, X-Men get infected by Brood, X-Men defeat Brood. The twist this time was a page right out of Star Trek: The Next Generation, with a young Broodling that’s cut off from the hive mind when he discovers he can feel compassion.

There’s more going on here though, and while I appreciate the attempt to make the story about more than just the Aliens rip we all know the Brood are, I’m not sure it works. Particularly in the last few pages, Christos Gage pours out a 40 of allegory, but rather than making me think, it left me damp and sticky. He’s trying to create parallels here with the violent anger of a dying minority, the isolation of being different, the “let’s bring civilization to the savages” school of thought in dealing with a brutal culture. Which are all fine ideas but when introduced with like five pages to go they just leave the story feeling needlessly muddied.

Then there’s the part where the X-Men (and SWORD) decide to just let the Brood go on about their merry way, saying (repeatedly) that it’s because the Brood are endangered and it’s important to the “interstellar ecosystem” that they survive. Which, you know, maybe works for man-eating tigers and stuff, but I’m pretty sure we’d revisit that idea if the tigers developed sentience, a keen intellect, banded together, and impregnated us all with their evil baby tiger embryos. Plus if the survival of the species was so darned important, maybe you shouldn’t have just straight killed the hell out of two queens. And shall we also perhaps consider that the only method of Brood reproduction that we know of involves the very unpleasant death of innocents? Again I get the attempt at a theme (“compassion” in this case), but it fails completely in the face of the story’s own logic.

All this aside, it’s not a bad story. I like the idea of giving the Brood another dimension and this new little guy could lead to some interesting stuff with these classic enemies down the line. What really let it down was the hurried attempt right at the end to make it more than it needed to be. It’s a symptom of the lack of focus I’ve felt from Astonishing for a while now (read: since Joss left it). I love the idea of a high-concept X-Title, but the execution has been lacking for some time. I’m hopeful that post-Regenesis, Greg Pak help this title live up to its mission statement.

Dungeons & Dragons #11 4 of 5 stars

Dungeons & Dragons #11

Dungeons & Dragons #11, cover by Tyler Walpole

Writer: John Rogers
Artist: Andrea DiVito, Nacho Arranz
Colourist: Aburtov and Graphikslava
Letterer: Chris Mowry

“Feywild” ends with this issue, and while this storyline sagged a bit in the middle, the ending seriously made up for it and reminded me of just why I love this series so much.

As with last issue, the plans within plans continue to whirl around each other, like an out of control gyroscope. Each moment brings new disaster, and resolution comes less from skill and forethought and more from flexibility and a bag of holding’s worth of luck. Adric Fell once again sees his party through, but you genuinely have to wonder just how long he can keep it up.

That constant feeling that things are about to spiral out of control is a large part of what makes the series such a fun read. The action is top-knotch, the pacing is perfect, and the humour is thick and genuine. All of these elements return in full force with this issue.

What’s more, “Feywild” feels like the end of a major chapter. With one very notable exception – which received its first advancement in this issue and is certainly going to drive what comes next – all the major plot points we’ve had introduced since the start of the series gets a nice resolution. What makes it even better is that it all feels totally organic; like the rest of the series, it’s a happy surprise when things work out and not the result of planning. And yet it has been planned, by writer John Rogers. The effortlessness of his storytelling in this series is something many high profile writers of far more mainstream titles could stand to learn.

A consistently fun, funny, exciting read every single month. I can’t wait to begin the next storyline.

FF #9 3 of 5 stars

FF #9

FF #9, cover by Daniel Acuña

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciller: Steve Epting
Inker: Rick Magyar
Colourist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Clayton Cowles

I made the statement last month that FF is a title that I think will read way better in trades than singular issues, and this week only further confirmed that. This isn’t the sort of book you can read casually. This is an intricate comic filled with nuanced characters and an overarching sense that you’re not so much reading a story as you’re reading a chess game. That’s mostly what this issue was: moving pieces around the board. And that’s cool, but it doesn’t exactly make for a satisfying read.

That may sound like a complaint, but I don’t mean it to be, not exactly. Jonathan Hickman is undeniably taking his time with this, but it never feels like padding or dragging heels. He has an epic on his hands, and he has faith enough in both the story and the reader to let it play out as necessary.

And a lot of stuff is playing out here. We’re down from four “Evil” alternate-reality Reeds to just one. The Inhumans are here and Black Bolt is back and they are all kinds of all over this. Things are beginning to go wrong with the High Evolutionary’s machine and while I don’t know exactly what that means I can infer that it’s Not Good. Valeria and Bentley are seven shades of awesome to read. And Doom is so Doom it almost hurts. All of this – and more – in a single issue, and yet at the end you feel you’ve only taken a half-step forward.

Not the most accessible title in Marvel’s stable – this issue especially isn’t bringing in anybody who wasn’t already reading it – but one of the denser comics I’m pulling right now.

Plus it should be noted that I would buy an issue of Doom just spouting indignities and blasting people. I would buy it every day.

The Fury of Firestorm #1 1 of 5 stars

The Fury of Firestorm #1

The Fury of Firestorm #1, cover by Ethan Van Sciver and Hi-Fi Colour Design

Writers: Gail Simone and Ethan Van Sciver
Artist: Yildiray Cinar
Colourist: Steve Buccellato
Letterer: Travis Lanham

Here is exactly everything I know about The Fury of Firestorm before I go to read it:

* It is a DC comic and part of “the New 52” initiative.
* It has an almost ridiculouslly long full title (The Fury of Firestorm: The Nuclear Men).
* Gail Simone has a writing credit.

I bought this issue as a leap of faith for Simone. Let’s see if that bears fruit.

…And yeah, not so much.

It’s a decent enough introduction to the characters I suppose, just that everything is incredibly wooden and forced. The evil group of evil who go around doing evil. The genius kid with a chip on his shoulder and the kinda dumb oaf of a football jock who clash immediately for no particularly established reason. The completely ridiculously over-the-top freakout at the end just so the two protagonists can punch each other around for a bit. And no reason at any step why I should give a damn.

Then there’s the racial tension. Good lord.

So the genius guy is black, and the jock guy is white, and the book is not letting you escape without emphasizing that oh wow there is going to be SO MUCH deep conflict about this you guys. Since (I think?) the two protagonists merged into one form at the end there, I can see that one-body-two-minds tension being the source of some interesting stories. Wouldn’t it have been nice to see that develop? Instead we get thinly-veiled accusations of racism and “Mom, why don’t we have any black friends?” dialogue – yes that is an actual direct quote of a line in this comic book – which sounds like it stepped out of an after school special.

Simone and Sciver practically fall over themselves to show they have a social-themed storyline in the works but they forgot to make us care even for a moment about the characters involved in it. We get Generic Angry Black Guy and Generic Clueless White Guy being equally unlikable for 22 pages and I have zero motivation to go plonk down another $3 to see how much they hate each other again next month.

New Mutants #31 4 of 5 stars

New Mutants #31

New Mutants #31, cover by David Lafuente

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

This issue sees the entire team finally in the same dimension, as Amara’s deal with Mephisto brings them to Hel (one “l”). They emerge in the middle of a warzone, with the dead fleeing for their unlives before the hordes of The Serpent’s warriors, the Draumar. There’s a little backstory (amusingly way more informative and memorable than just about anything from Fear Itself), a whole lot of action, a reunited New Mutants, and a killer final splash page.

Have I been mentioning how much I love this book?

This issue focuses a lot of Moonstar, as has much of this storyline. What I really got to see here for the first time in a long while is Dani oozing leadership. Seeing her emerge from her, erm, “prison” in a burst of full-on warrior glory was amazing, and she immediately formulated a plan, inspired and rallied the troops, and put it into action.

Which of course made that aforementioned final splash page all the more dramatic as you feel the momentum that Dani had managed to gather melt away.

If I had one complaint about the book, I think it would be the inclusion of Nate Grey. I have yet to really feel this guy being part of the team, and I don’t mean in a popular-if-trite “I’m a loner” way; I mean in the sense that I have no idea why he’s a part of the team at all. He adds nothing to the story or the character dynamics. He’s just … there. Hopefully that’ll become a little more clear when we get out of this pretty packed storyline.

(Oh, and I’ll also complain about Cannonball. Where the hell is Cannonball, X-writers?)

It may be apparent by this point that I’m pretty harsh on my mutant books. My standards and expectations are crazy high, precisely because I love them so much. New Mutants though, it’s one of the few X-titles I don’t worry about; it’s easily one of the most consistent mutant books Marvel is putting out right now.

Ultimate Spider-Man #2 4 of 5 stars

Ultimate Spider-Man #2

Ultimate Spider-Man #2, cover by Kaare Andrews

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Sara Pichelli
Colourist: Justin Ponsor
Letterer: Cory Petit

Miles Morales is continuing to grow into his new life – and we’re continuing to learn to accept him.

It’s a gutsy move, replacing the signature hero of your entire comic book universe with someone totally new, even if it’s an alternate universe you’re doing it in. For some people, Ultimate Spider-Man is the real deal now, particularly after so much hurt and animosity in the wake of “Brand New Day” over in the main 616 universe. There’s a lot going on here for a lot of people, and I really applaud Marvel for allowing things to unfold as they have. Readers were given a mourning period and varied characters with varied reactions to grieve through, and now a slow introduction to the boy who will replace Peter. There’s no rush to put in him the mask, there’s no insistence that we like him. Miles is allowed to stand on his own merits, and we’re free to like him or not.

So far, he’s pretty likeable.

Bendis is going to great yet subtle lengths to differentiate Spider-Peter and Spider-Miles, and I think it was a wise choice to go that route. While Miles and Peter will share some powers – climbing walls for example – Miles can do a few things Peter couldn’t, like an electric shock and turn invisible. Pre-built into the new Spider-Man are different options for fighting bad guys, and I think once he gets to doing that it’ll really help minimize the inevitable comparisons, as well keep from disrespecting Peter. (I anticipate some very strong “Peter would NEVER do that!” moments for Miles down the road.)

But Bendis is also working hard to keep Miles relatable. This issue expanded his supporting cast a bit further by adding his LEGO-loving, power-enthusing best friend Ganke (who has Fin Fang Foom for his IM picture and I think that is awesome), with whom he shares his new secret. There’s also some fleshing out of his dad’s history with a conversation that’s an amazingly genuine father/son moment. His dad even gives a little speech which seemed an intentional counterpart to the “with great power” speech; we’ll see where, if anywhere, that goes.

I am thoroughly enjoying this next phase of Ultimate Spider-Man. The story is moving a bit slowly at the moment, but I feel the leisurely pace is completely welcome and warranted. There’s a lot of adventures around the corner for Miles, and I am totally on-board with getting to know him before we take him out for a test-sling.

The Ultimates #2 3 of 5 stars

The Ultimates #2

The Ultimates #2, cover by Kaare Andrews

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

I had absolutely no idea any of what just happened was going to happen. As I finished this book, “Holy shit.” was the only thought in my head.

Jonathan Hickman is doing something I find kind of interesting here with his corner of Ultimate Marvel, and that’s working in the Future Foundation. As a new group Hickman himself recently created for the focal piece of a series that only just this week hit its ninth issue, it’s a pretty ballsy move. What’s more, it creates a tangible bridge between the Ultimate Universe and the 616 that, while I suspect will remain unexplored, lends a certain gravity to the events happening here.

And what events they are.

This issue begins with the history of Tomorrow’s Children, a group formed by a member of Ultimate Reed Richards’ multi-universe Future Foundation. Their society has grown under the protection of a dome, where time flows much more slowly. They have evolved to a state of near perfection over the course of a thousand generations.

The dome appeared five minutes ago.

And now it’s opening.

The action in this issue is insane with a pace so breakneck that I really couldn’t believe what was happening from one page to the next. Things just seemed to get worse and worse on such a scale that I was sure that what I thought I was seeing would turn out to not be what I was actually seeing. But it was. Every single bit of it was. It was savage and brutal and already over before you had time to process. It’s a trick that could easily become trite and overplayed, but Hickman uses it to maximum efficiency here; given the almost cerebral plodding of FF, I especially appreciate him wielding this storytelling technique with a surgeon’s precision.

Unfortunately all this meant that the content of the rest of the issue was completely overshadowed. Hawkeye is apparently just going to stay isolated until his own series is over, and Iron Man got next to nothing to do this issue. It’s all very Thor-heavy, which sits just a tiny bit weird so early in a team book and caused me to dock the rating down a tad, but I feel confident the cast focus will expand again soon.

In the meantime, what a way to go. It’s raining in The Ultimates.

X-Men Legacy #256 3 of 5 stars

X-Men Legacy #256

X-Men Legacy #256, cover by Mico Suayan

Writer: Mike Carey
Penciller: Steve Kurth
Inkers: Craig Yeung with Jeff Huet and Ed Tadeo
Colourists: Brian Reber with Rachelle Rosenberg
Letterer: Cory Petit

I’ll start with the bad news, and that’s “Havok is still alive.” I suppose I knew that would happen with him being in the Regenesis teaser image for X-Factor, but I still find it a near constant source of disappointment.

The rest of the issue is pretty awesome though.

The big aliens vs. aliens plot comes to some kind of resolution as the bad dude who has been manipulating both sides into war is revealed and then sucked out into space in what has to be one of my top ten comics moments of 2011; man it is so good to have Rachel back. The battle is over but the damage is done. Magneto takes charge (and his verbal smackdown of Havok would also make my top ten comics moments list) and quite unnecessarily teams up with Lorna for a little father/daughter bonding moment. Rachel, Rogue and Rogue’s newly-acquired band of Shi’ar pirates join the party, the more pressing threat is revealed (an out of control gravity well sending them and a billion other sentients to certain doom) and Rogue and Frenzy team up to try and fix it but will probably get themselves killed.

Now that we’re out of this whole galactic conflict stuff, this storyline is rapidly picking up speed. Mike Carey is at his best when he’s peppering the story with those little character moments he does so well, and now he’s got a big cast together again, those moment are fast and furious. That makes me happy, not only because it’s awesome but because I really, really didn’t want to not enjoy what’s turned out to be Carey’s penultimate story on Legacy. I wish it had gripped me sooner, but I’ll happily take starting now.

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