Nov 102011
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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.

Action Comics #3    Astonishing X-Men #43    Detective Comics #3    New Mutants #33    Uncanny X-Men v2 #1    Villains for Hire #0.1    X-Men #20    
Action Comics #3 | Astonishing X-Men #43 | Detective Comics #2 | New Mutants #33
Uncanny X-Men #1 | Villains for Hire #0.1 | X-Men #20

Action Comics #3 2 of 5 stars

Action Comics #3

Action Comics #3, cover by Rags Morales & Brad Anderson

Writer: Grant Morrison
Pencillers: Rags Morales and Gene Ha
Inkers: Rick Bryant and Gene Ha
Colourists: Brad Anderson and Art Lyon

And here’s where Action Comics begins to lose me.

I don’t know what happened with this issue. While some of #2 began to drag for me a bit, so far Grant Morrison’s been telling a story that’s focused and delivering the goods. This issue it’s like someone tripped in a comically exaggerated sitcom way and all the contents of the Box o’ Plot went flying through the air.

It opens with a flashback to Krypton. Kal is a baby and the minutes are counting down to the planet’s destruction. Just before the end, “Terminauts” arrive, download all the information Krypton has, and set about “perserving significant artifacts”. This flashback appears to be a dream Clark is having, and he’s rudely awoken by the police bursting in to search his shabby little apartment and deliver a truckload of backstory. Then Jimmy and Clark meet for lunch whereupon we get more backstory, including a rising anti-Superman movement spearheaded by the CEO dude Superman was going after in the first issue. Lois shows up to snark a little. Next is some stuff where Clark is interviewing someone. Then Lois’s dad (he was getting outfitted for that super suit last issue if you recall) gets infected by the Terminauts, and they want Superman. Also, Krypto might be around.

So let’s see, I count 8 to 10 plot threads, with anywhere from one panel to several pages devoted to each. What’s actually relevant? Which bits are important? No clue. I literally could not tell you what this issue is about.

The Krypton stuff, I’m okay with. It’s interesting – particularly from a morbid perspective – to see these final minutes of a doomed world. The art in this piece also has its moments, and those moments are gorgeous; I loved wide-eyed Kal-El soaking in the beauty of the universe, completely oblivious to the petty gossip and other frivolous trappings of the Kryptonians around him. Once the Terminauts attack it gets a little confusing and the art feels rushed, but the scene is meant to be chaotic so I roll with it.

Then we come to the present-day (or at least as “present” as a series set in the past gets) and here it unravels. What exactly are the police doing there? The dialogue indicates that this is a regular occurrence, but why exactly? Clark asks but never gets an answer. Where’s the warrant? What are they looking for? Why does the art suck so very badly? The credits list two pencillers, neither of whom I’m especially familiar with, so I’m not sure which one should be blamed for this, but it’s clear someone should be. The panels are flat and boring and the faces are sunken and haunted. I just want to buy Metropolis the sandwich it so desperately needs. Eat, people! Mangia, mangia!

It’s pretty clear that we’re supposed to be feeling the overwhelming ocean in which Clark is adrift. He tries to do the right thing as a journalist, and he’s harassed at every turn. He’s sticking with the low-money backwater newspaper so he can write the truth, but that truth has to be its own reward and it’s not especially fulfilling. Meanwhile as Superman, the people are turning against him. He saves a lady from getting run over and rescues her cat, and all he gets for his trouble is a beer bottle to the head. Unfortunately it’s as though with this issue Morrison forgot everything he ever knew about pacing, and so there’s no time to give these scenes the emotional weight they need.

The pacing is dramatically off-kilter in this issue. Literally at one point we go from Lois sitting down with Clark and Jimmy at a restaurant to Clark outside on his laptop while a homeless woman tells him a white dog-ghost watches over him, then back to television footage about people hating Superman, then Clark talking on his cell phone, to more TV footage … The whole thing is such a jumbled mess that I kept thinking I’d missed entire pages. Scenes have no beginning and no end, and there’s no continuity to tie the moments together.

Perhaps it would be an easier read if I were already a fan of Superman and could apply my own context, but surely that defeats the entire purpose of the New 52? As it is, this title is losing me. I started out with a huge amount of enthusiasm, but every issue sees that enthusiasm die. At $2.99 it would a toss-up to keep on the pull list, but at $3.99 you’ve got to bring your A-game. That’s not even close to happening here.

Astonishing X-Men #43 3 of 5 stars

Astonishing X-Men #43

Astonishing X-Men #43, cover by Art Adams with Jim Charalampidis

Writer: James Asmus
Artists: David Yardin with Norman Lee and Rachelle Rosenberg, and Gabriel Hernandez Walta
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Danger senses another AI presence out there somewhere, and she enlists Emma Frosts’s help in going to free it. Along the way she learns a little bit more about what it means to be…human. Hackneyed? Oh yes. But in a mostly fun and somewhat charming way.

Astonishing X-Men #43 is a self-contained done-in-one story with a minimalist cast, a little mystery, and a bit of character development. Danger is the focus, and I know she’s a character that rubs a lot of people the wrong way but who has always held vague interest for me. I think she benefits from a little focus, even if it does hit all the “machine looking for humanity” tropes. What helps sell the story is undoubtedly Emma Frost. Not only does Emma pair well with an astounding number of characters, but her endless stream of snark helps undercut the moments that would otherwise be far too saccharine.

This issue has two art teams which help to further the feeling of the book. David Yardin handles the “real” world while Gabriel Hernandez Walta pulls duty on the “virtual” scenes. As a result the two parts of the book stand apart well; the computerized world especially works with flat, very two-dimensional lines that seem at interesting odds for Danger’s exploration of her first … love? No, that implies a greater investment of time and emotion. Her first date then, let’s say. While shared art duties can sometimes weaken an issue and cause it to lose coherency, in this issue it’s perfect.

Is Astonishing X-Men #43 an instant-classic, destined to be fondly remembered for years to come? Not at all. However you look at it, it’s a filler issue. But it does make some strides toward fleshing out the character of Danger, which is something that should probably happen more often, and was an entertaining read with some surprisingly genuine emotion tossed in.

Detective Comics #3 1 of 5 stars

Detective Comics #3

Detective Comics #3, cover by Tony Salvador Daniel and Tomeu Morey

Writer: Tony Salvador Daniel
Penciller: Tony Salvador Daniel
Inker: Sanou Florea
Colourist: Tomeu Morey
Letterer: Jared K. Fletcher

I don’t understand why this book exists.

Like, I get “It’s Batman! Put Batman in a zillion books! HEY KIDS, BATMAN!!” But on a more intellectual, compartmentalization level, I don’t understand why this book exists. I assumed from the “detective” in the title that this would be the book where Batman went around solving crimes and living up to his “World’s Greatest Detective” moniker. I’ve read all three issues of Detective Comics however and that can’t clearly can’t be the case.

In this issue, Batman has his first fight against new villain The Dollmaker and his goons of Secret Six rip-offs, makes absurd leaps of logic, and completely fails to detect much of anything at all.

It’s tough to know where to begin in picking this apart. Okay, I’ll start with the improvements: it actually is getting better, kind of. The thick, mealy narration has been reigned in, to the point where Batman (and Gordon) sound like they could actually be people thinking thoughts. And … that’s all I got.

One place where Detective is NOT scaling back is in the SHOCK!! moments. Every other page is a scene that I feel confident is trying to make me gasp, but I don’t think anybody’s explained to Daniels how desensitization works.

They must also have neglected to explain how “observation” works.

The things that Batman fails to notice in this issue is staggering. Just off the top of my head:

• It’s only after a prolonged and futile ass-kicking that Batman notices the goon he’s interrogating has had his tongue cut out.

• Batman spends upwards of several hours reviewing Gordon’s files on “the Wesley Mathis case” before concluding that Wesley Mathis has something to do with all this.

• Batman completely fails to be suspicious of Olivia, the little girl who brings him information about where Gordon is being kept. This is despite knowing that she’s been kidnapped and missing for days (perhaps weeks), just somehow happens to have been with Gordon long enough for him to tell her how to get a message to Batman and then physically writing out a message for some reason, just so he can write an “R” backward as a tip to Batman that something’s wrong. How do we know he doesn’t twig that something isn’t right with Olivia? Because he leaves an anonymous tip with the police to pick her up, and when the lone cop responding finds her, she decapitates him. I’m going to guess this was Batman being ignorant and not Batman being a dick.

• After careful consideration, Batman suspects IT’S A TRAP, but goes ahead anyway because being Batman he can’t possibly think up contingency plans.

We have Batman being stupid because the plot says he must, we have gore and shock and violence for gore and shock and violence’s sake, and we have a vastly superior Batman title also coming out monthly by Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo. So I ask again: why does Detective Comics exist?

New Mutants #33 4 of 5 stars

New Mutants #33

New Mutants #33, cover by Jason Pearson

Writer: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Penciller: David Lopez
Inker: Alvaro Lopez
Colourist: Val Staples
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

It’s moving day for the New Mutants, the only question is, where are they moving to? In the wake of Schism, each member of the team has to decide where he or she now belongs. That’s what you get in this issue: lots of talking, lots of moments, lots of just the sort of thing that makes comics worth reading. It’s what Abnett and Lanning do best.

New Mutants is an odd book with an odd assortment of characters. The team is largely united by their past, but doesn’t seem to serve a particular function. That’s a fact that Dani herself addresses, noting that of all the mutant teams, hers is the one with the least actual mutants. What’s more, the New Mutants are the neglected middle child of the X-world, always being “kids” to the senior X-Men, but with significant age and experience over the next generation of mutants. They’ve kind of been floating in their own self-contained bubble, and while that serves them well, I’m excited at the prospect of DnA giving them a more realized purpose in the world at large.

This issue also serves well to say goodbye to a couple of staple members of the team. Karma and Cannonball have been absent of late, but it felt right that their decision for the future be set out in the pages of the team they helped to found. It would’ve been easy for Abnett & Lanning to gloss over or relegate their decision to the writers that will receive them, and it felt like a gesture of respect to include them here.

Shan and Sam weren’t the only characters to get their moments however. Everyone was allowed to shine, from Roberto and Amara playing soccer to a brief but wonderful conversation between Doug and Warlock that had them slipping effortlessly from English to binary and back. Nate even got some time with Hope in a sequence that I must admit wasn’t much to my liking – though that has little to do with the scene itself and more my feelings on those characters and deep dislike for the Summers family tree. Then there’s Dani Moonstar, who is rapidly becoming one of the best and strongest characters in the X-Men stable. She’s a character with tremendous depth and natural leadership that’s too often overshadowed by the more popular “core” mutants that surround her.

New Mutants a consistently great book. It’s a fantastic series with a cast of characters who continue to embody the family spirit that’s been sadly lost to much of the X-Men over time. Unlike the flashier banner titles, it’s allowed it to take its time and tell its stories and explore its characters, creating a deeper and more fulfilling experience in many respects. “Regenesis” hasn’t really done much to the status quo of the team (except perhaps to point it in a specific direction), and that’s not a complaint. Month after month, this is a satisfyingly good read.

Uncanny X-Men #1 4 of 5 stars

Uncanny X-Men v2 #1

Uncanny X-Men #1, cover by Carlos Pacheco, Cam Smith and Frank D'Armata

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Penciller: Carlos Pacheco
Inker: Cam Smith
Colourist: Frank D’Armata
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

I’ve delivered my eulogy for Uncanny X-Men. In the finest tradition, it rises once more. The all-new, all-different, here we go again.

We begin this new series with Cyclops laying out – for both his newly-assembled team and the audience – exactly why they’re there. His group is, without exception, a bloody powerhouse. He has here some of the most powerful mutants ever, and created a team with an insane amount of versatility. It’s enough to give anyone pause – and that’s exactly the intent. This is the “Extinction Team” (yes, the rare play on words that doesn’t actually begin with “X-“). This team will be the force that handles the overwhelming threats, the one that the world will see emerge when the need arises, the one that fights the Big Bads, saves the world, and does it all with such power and ferocity that it will make anyone else considering attacking the X-Men think twice. So of course it’s not long before they have their first big test: the rather violent return of Mr. Sinister.

I’ll come out now and say that my 4-star rating this week is probably not going to match my review. The problem is simple, if inelegant: I don’t like this team. This team, for me, is everything that is wrong with and has been eating away at the core of the X-Men for years. This is Cyclops at his most Cyclopean, drawing deep lines in the sand and becoming every bit the zealot he likes to pretend he’s not.

The thing is, I seriously hate Scott Summers. It would take me hours of ranting and raving to even brush the surface of why; it’s enough for now to simply know that I hate him. That is, unfortunately, going to colour a title that has Cyclops at its nucleus.

To escape that, the rest of the team has to grab me tight, and as the roster currently stands I don’t see that happening. I like Emma, but only when she’s not the half-person most writers portray her as when she’s around Cyclops (and I’ve thus far seen little evidence that Gillan is not one of those writers). Magneto’s pretty much awesome all the time and his being here actually really works for me. But that’s about all I’ve got. Colossus and Magik used to be favourite characters, but over the years, and especially recently, they’ve become something barely recognizable. I liked Hope much better when she was angry and suspicious of Cyclops, but it seems her personality’s been siphoned away lately. Namor is at his best when pompous and barely listening so he might still turn out okay, even as this love triangle with Emma and Scott they’re foreshadowing makes me want to throw up in my mouth. I’m quite interested in Danger and loved her “translation” of Dr. Nemesis, but all that really makes me want to do is go buy X-Club. Then there’s Storm, and while I see potential in her being the reluctant conscience of this team, there wasn’t a single panel featuring her in this issue that actually felt like Storm. Also, I’m quite bitter that Storm has been shunted out of any leadership position that she rightfully deserves. Who thinks she’s ever going to get a chance to shine with Cyclops dominating everything? Storm, forever a follower on a team she doesn’t want to be on, taking orders from a man she doesn’t believe in, to do things she doesn’t feel are right. Storm. I don’t even much like Storm and I find this nigh-unforgivable.

So why the four stars then? Because for all my complaining, this issue still was a good read. It did a great job setting itself out there both in purpose and in tone, and in differentiating itself from Team Wolverine, all in a very natural and wholly readable way. This is a polar opposite from the mutants in Westchester, and for all my reservations and my grouchiness, I recognize that this alternative is not only necessary, but healthy. I mean that both in a story-sense and a meta franchise-sense.

I don’t care much for this team, and yet I was still interested in what they were doing and why, and very keen indeed to see what comes next. That’s a seriously tough sell when I so strongly dislike not only the direction but many of the characters involved, and props all around for the creative team for pulling that off. Uncanny X-Men is a terrifyingly powerful team and a far darker book than its counterpart, but it remains grounded in the grim reality of mutants living in the Marvel Universe and carries a promise to deliver unmatched action. I may not always enjoy the ride, but I don’t think I’ll ever be bored.

Villains for Hire #0.1 2 of 5 stars

Villains for Hire #0.1

Villains for Hire #0.1, cover by Patrick Zircher & Andry Troy

Writers: Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning
Artist: Renato Arlem
Colourist: Jay David Ramos
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

Villains for Hire was announced right around the time that Secret Six was ending. I was (and still am) pretty sad about that, and was hoping for a replacement. I’d only occasionally dabbled with Heroes for Hire, most recently when I sat down to read every single last off-shoot and tie-in of Civil War (in retrospect, not my best idea ever). In a sea of glut and pointlessly boring issues, Heroes for Hire was a stand-out. This plus that Secret Six-shaped hole in my heart, and I decided to give Villains for Hire a try.

This is the “Point One”, the first issue of the prelude mini-series that will bridge the gap from Heroes for Hire to Villains for Hire. At the moment, there’s not a whole lot of villainy to speak of. Misty Knight is on the job as always, playing DC’s Oracle to Marvel’s assorted anti-hero mercenary types such as Silver Sable and Paladin and Black Panther, which was a bit of a surprise for me, but then I have no idea what’s up with that character these days. (Apparently, mercenarying is what’s up.) That’s not the only question, as I spent half the book wondering where the hell Colleen Wing was. Still no answer to that one, but I’m hoping she’ll show up again; her friendship with Misty was awesome, and a core buddy duo has always been at the heart of any Heroes for Hire series.

I’m not entirely sold on this book yet. I obviously like the concept and with Abnett & Lanning at the helm I’ve got reason to expect greatness. Still, unto itself, it didn’t grab me. The idea of a transitory as-needed group comes pre-loaded with a certain detachment, but the lack of any unifying idea or emotional bond kept me from caring much about the team, and as individuals, the characters evoke a similar apathy. It doesn’t help that you know immediately from the first page that this isn’t the group that will be in the title you’re actually reading, so it’s difficult to care about what they do and how they do it. Perhaps if I’d been reading Heroes for Hire all along I’d feel differently, but as I’m coming in new, all I have is this issue.

The art, too, didn’t do much for me, feeling like every generic super-hero comic you’ve ever read. The characters are poses on a page, lacking any life or action between panels – there’s a scene early in the book where someone’s falling like ninety stories, and there’s barely any sense of movement, let alone impending danger. The colouring too seems like it’s been done with a palette comprised entirely of green-greys and assorted shades of red. Artistically it’s just bland and actually drags down the feeling of the entire book.

I’m not giving in just yet, however. I am a tremendous fan of Abnett & Lanning and willing to give Villains for Hire a chance. I can only hope future issues find the team – both in the book and creating it – working together better. Hello, Interest. Are you for hire?

X-Men #20 3 of 5 stars

X-Men #20

X-Men #20, cover by Adi Granov

Writer: Victor Gischler
Artist: Will Conrad
Colourist: Chris Sotomayor
Letterer: Joe Caramagna

I’ve been musing over the exact purpose of this book in the post-Schism world. The handy-if-minimalist chart at the back of this week’s Uncanny suggests that this is now the “Security Recon” team, with Psylocke leading Domino, Warpath and Jubilee. (Yeah – I love you Jubes, but you’re here why?) So why exactly this first storyline starts out with Cyclops assigning Storm as leader I don’t know, but I’d be pretty ticked if I were Betsy. Meanwhile with War Machine appearing, it looks like it’ll maintain it’s mission statement of “X-Men Team-Up”, only now Wolverine won’t be in it. Actually, neither was Emma, and Cyclops only showed up for a handful of panels. Did someone slip this book awesome pills?

I’ve been pretty harsh on X-Men over the past few months. Overlong, unfocused stories of inconsistent quality will do that to you. This issue goes a long way toward making amends, with a group of extremely underused characters finally getting some face time, and a story that seems fairly promising: Domino is in eastern Europe and tracking the sale of Sentinels when a third party busts in, guns blazing, killing everyone on either side of the deal and stealing the Sentinels for themselves. The X-Men come running to save Domino and to find out who has the Sentinels now – and stop them. But first they have to deal with War Machine, on a government mission to keep an already unstable region from getting even worse. He wants the X-Men out, but they don’t wanna. So you know that’s going to go well.

This series has burned me before with stories that start promising but quickly fizzle out so I won’t get too excited here. Still, it felt like schluffing off the weight of the same old tired characters has injected new life into this title. I’m not entirely sold on the “security recon” thing, but I can’t deny that this issue felt more focused than any in the run so far, so perhaps even this little shred of direction was all X-Men needed.

  • Jen K

    Detective Comics will always exist as long as DC is a company. Not only was Batman introduced in Detective Comics #27 but the company is named for Detective Comics.

    So I guess the real question is, if they only have enough writing team for 1 good Batman book, why do they have Batman?

    • Jet Wolf

      Yeah, no, I get “Detective Comics is the flagship title the whole company is named for”. I think they take away your right to be a superhero comic book fan if you don’t know that little trivia nugget. The unspoken part of the question is more, “Why does Detective Comics even exist IN THIS FORM.” You’d think with “Detective” in the name it would have, you know … detecting.

      So yeah, imagine the question is being asked in a meta-free zone where we pretend there’s no company legacy or pedigree (arguably an action the entire New 52 initiative INSISTS upon) and is unto itself. If there are superior Batman titles and you aren’t even going to pretend to require sleuthing, why do you even exist, Detective Comics?

      • Jen K

        My brain can’t even grapple with that question.  Even the 70s/80s I never got why they had both Superman and Action Comics or Batman and Detective Comics, unless it’s to have an alternate-Earth or alternate-timeline thing.  

        Maybe they should license a bunch of old pulp detective stories to adapt for Detective Comics? 

        • Jet Wolf

          I’d probably enjoy that, but I think there’s plenty of new detective stories out there to write too. I dunno. Like I’ve been saying, I’m really new to actually reading Batman, so I’m trying to feel out my way. They have something like FIVE Batman books as part of the New 52 I think, so ideally each one would have a particular focus. Sounds logical to me, anyway.

          I’m actually quite disappointed in how little I’ve liked Detective Comics. At least my bad reaction to it urged me to seek out Batman instead, and I’m really enjoying the hell out of that one. So, bright side I guess?

      • Jen K

        Oh…and I really DID mean that’s the reason for Detective Comics.  Because “we’re named for it and Batman debuted in it” is the only reason for it I can see. 

  • Andrew

    I’m considering trying out a X-Men comic, having mainly read stuff like Y: The Last Man, Sandman, the Buffy and Angel continuations and dabbling in Runaways and Joss’ run on Astonishing X-Men. Did they design Uncanny as a jumping-on point or is the renumbering just a symbolic thing? Would one of the other books be better?

    • Jet Wolf

      Uncanny – all the X-books with Regenesis in fact – are designed as a jumping-on point, so you could totally just pick up #1 and you’ll be at a good beginning.

      As to which book, they all have their different tones and focus which is kind of nice when you’re looking for something specific. Your two core titles are Uncanny and Wolverine and the X-Men, each focusing on a “side” of the X-Men after the events of Schism divided them. Each one is going to have different characters, a different philosophy and a different tone.

      My thoughts on Uncanny #1 are, of course, in this post (here’s the jump link). It’s taking a more militaristic approach, and promises to be the more action-oriented of the two series. Also a good start, but lacks all the charm of its counterpart.

      Of the two, I much prefer Wolverine and the X-Men. Not only did most of my favourite characters go with Wolverine, but it’s a much more fun and optimistic series. If you’ve never really read an X-Men series before, I think it’s the one most likely to grab you. I thought was highly accessible to new readers and a wonderful starting point. You can read my review of that issue right here.

      Given your list of comics you’ve read and enjoyed (a very good list it is, too), I would definitely nudge you to  WatXM. If you do decide to try it, let me know what you think.

      Welcome to the X-Men, Andrew! Hope you survive the experience!