This is your chance to win a copy of the Marvel graphic novel The Mighty Thor: Thunder In Her Veins, recently covered in my review. You want to win this one because it’s a damn good read!
On offer is a code for a digital copy of the book, which can be redeemed in the Marvel Comics app. All you have to do is like “The Genre Fiend” on Facebook, then email your name and an answer to the following question:
“Which superhero’s mantle would you want to inherit for a day, and why?”
Send your details and answer to thegenrefiend(at)gmail(dot)com – the competition is open now and will close next Friday, August 12.
You couldn’t have produced a book like Jason Aaron’s The Mighty Thor twenty years ago. Maybe if you had, it wouldn’t be as entertaining as it is now; more likely we’d have something resembling Red Sonja with lightning hammers. The current run has been something of a pleasant novelty amongst the myriad generic capebooks currently on shelves; a clear story-and-character-driven piece which cares little for much of the superpowered crossover shenanigans going on around it. It’s written as both an empowering feminist paean, a thoughtful meditation on terminal illness, and a straightforward drama with superpowers. It’s what you’d get if you fused Supergirl,The Big C, and the political machinations of Game of Thrones. It is, pure and simple, a really great book.
Thunder in Her Veins is the latest volume of Aaron’s epic Thor yarn, which began all the way back in 2013’s The God Butcher. In the years since, the previously-masculine Thor is now the tough-ass Dr. Jane Foster, the Odinson’s on-again-off-again romantic interest. Man-Thor has been told he’s no longer worthy to swing Mjolnir into the faces of unsuspecting supervillains, so the mantle’s been passed to Jane. As the new Thor, Jane flies around saving the Avengers, the Earth and the rest of the Nine Realms whilst slowly dying of breast cancer; wielding the hammer gives her strength, though it purges her system of chemotherapy drugs. While Jane considers the catch-22 of either a slow death from chemo or a quicker one from fighting bad guys, political movements within the Nine Realms threaten to destabilise Asgardia and unleash the evil power of Malekith, Lord of the Dark Elves and insatiable scenery-vore.
I’ve talked briefly about Aaron’s new take on Thor before, and I stand by what I said then as now. Jane Foster is a refreshingly different Thor to the original Odinson, at once embodying the old Thor’s braggadocio but tempering it with a more level-headed, sensible approach to superheroism. Where Man-Thor would’ve knocked Loki’s head off at the first sign of deception, Jane’s Thor instead takes the time to listen to Loki’s explanation of his behaviour, then knock his head off when his words show he really deserves it. She kicks ass, but isn’t the raging bull her masculine counterpart could be.
Her civilian identity’s impending death also lends a tragic element to the affair. Thunder in Her Veins goes to great lengths to stress that there is no way the magicks of Asgardia or the high-tech gadgets of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes will be able to prevent the cancer from killing Jane Foster. The book has a grounded, human narrative enveloped within Thor‘s usually medieval superhero trappings; would you rather try and live longer at the expense of being alive, or cut short the journey in order to go beat up Frost Giants? Unsurprisingly, the book opts largely for the latter, though it adds nuance to the moments when Jane firmly decides she’s going to fly off with her hammer, cancer be damned.
The book also thumbs its nose at errant critics through a meta-undertaking similar to the Captain America: Sam Wilson series. Asgardia’s walls are plastered with WANTED posters declaring Jane’s Thor is an impostor; although the story’s conceit is that Jane’s powers were illegitimately given to her, the subtext, representing some of the wretched real world criticisms the book’s received about a woman wearing Thor’s mantle, is a fairly unsubtle one. Suffice it to say, neither Jason Aaron nor Jane herself seem to give a frosted lump of duck snot about whether their respective critics think she’s “worthy” enough to be Thor.
Without venturing too far into spoiler territory, Thunder‘s biggest problem is its villains. Much like 2013’s big-screen epic Thor: The Dark World, Dark Elf Lord Malekith is once again the least interesting element of the proceedings, an unholy fusion of Dick Dastardly moustache-twirling and gothic hair-metal attire. He wants to discredit Thor and take over the Nine Realms because…he’s got nothing better to do? Besides garden-variety megalomania, Thunder – along with the preceding volumes of Aaron’s run – offers little to make Malekith an engaging antagonist. The scenery-chewing and overly-flamboyant villainy is somewhat fun on a base, Saturday-morning-cartoon level, but seems at odds with the much more thoughtful story going on with Jane. Malekith’s human co-conspirator – a character so completely engrossing and memorable that I forgot his name was Dario Agger until I Googled it just now – is a similarly weak presence.
I’m also mighty (ha!) confused by what’s going on with Odin. Though previous Thor stories have done well in depicting the Allfather as a staunch guardian figure whose antagonism towards Thor stems from a protective outlook, Thunder can’t seem to decide whether he legitimately has problems with Jane or if he’s being influenced by someone else (more specifically, a character whose last comic book appearance was in a story I had multiple issues with). As it stands, Odin’s logic for opposing the new Thor is nonexistent, leaving a feeling that Thunder is making Odin a quasi-villain for some other, as-yet-undetermined purpose.
Dialogue is Aaron’s usual standard of excellence, though Loki’s words make him appear even more slippery and untrustworthy than he already is with that beard made of toothbrush bristles. Having Jane as the new Thor also lends her dialogue a bit of 21st-century-snark to complement the appropriately operatic introspection her Norse alter ego has.
Artwork is…well, it’s hard for me to put into words how much I adore Russell Dauterman’s art. While it’s admittedly a little overloaded with colour and frenetic action in the battle scenes, especially in comparison to how those aspects were handled in past volumes, Dauterman still makes The Mighty Thor one of the most visually delicious books on the shelf (Loki’s toothbrush beard notwithstanding).
Though it ends on a slightly underwhelming cliffhanger, Thunder In Her Veins is still a top-notch volume in a fantastic arc. It’s a decent jumping-on point for new readers as well as an excellent new chapter in Jason Aaron’s ongoing Thor epic, it’s got some quality writing, and it’s very, very pretty; a solid book about a dying woman kicking ass with a big hammer.
PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “[after having his head knocked off his shoulder] *Sigh*.” – Loki
I love Star Trek. My two favourite series are easily The Next Generation and Deep Space Nine. They’re quite literally apples and oranges; TNG focuses on slightly cliche monster-of-the-week episodes, while DS9 gets progressively more dramatic and serialised as the seasons go on. I like both styles of storytelling, though I do lean more to the latter for longer-form narratives. In either case, both series relied on strong, nuanced characters which were well-suited to their respective styles; Jean-Luc Picard may not have had Benjamin Sisko’s wartime character journey for seasons at a time, but the standalone nature of TNG was threaded with subtle character development which made Picard a consistently evolving figure for each new episode’s dilemma.
I say this upfront to let you know that I’m not opposed to more standalone, episodic storytelling in our modern age of binge-watch Netflix and the ongoing serialised sagas of Batman and Thor. This is to then contextualise my belief that the poorly-sketched characters and cliche episodic storytelling of Amazing Spider-Man: Worldwide just do not work.
Peter Parker has somehow won the lottery – I presume, since there’s not much explanation for how he suddenly became a billionaire – and founded the tech company and worldwide (ha!) philanthropy effort, Parker Industries (acronymed to P.I., because math joke). The newly-minted CEO finds his time split between running a global company, being Spider-Man, directing some other guy to be Spider-Man when the first thing conflicts with the second, and having an increasingly tense relationship with SHIELD. Into the mix comes a new incarnation of the Zodiac, a criminal supergroup whose sole purpose is to spout inane dialogue while hitting every star-sign cliche in the book. Though he risks burning his candle at multiple ends, resulting in a big ball of lumpy wax, Peter must save SHIELD, his company, his aunt and, at one ludicrous point, the British Museum from the Zodiac’s machinations.
To be fair, Worldwide isn’t technically its own thing. It comes as the latest installment of Dan Slott’s behemoth Spider-Man saga, where Spidey dies, is possessed by Doctor Octopus, reclaims his body, meets a bunch of multidimensional versions of himself, then founds a billion-dollar philanthropic company (somewhere in there he also, presumably, visits the bathroom). I’ve never been a big fan of Slott’s work, though I did end up appreciating the superlative “villain protagonist” tale of the Doc Ock-possessed Superior Spider-Man.
Slott doesn’t draw me to his magnum opus the way Grant Morrison did with 7 years of Batman, even though he’s clearly trying to move in the same operatic direction the crazy Scotsman did with the Dark Knight. A big part of the problem is that Slott cannot write characters or dialogue to save his life, relying on trite cliches and inane banter at almost every turn. Sure, as per usual Spider-Man riffs on his team-mates with popular culture references and unbridled (mediocre) snark at every opportunity, but even the sterling characters Slott had a hand in creating – notably Anna Maria Marconi, ensemble darkhorse of Superior Spider-Man who’s relegated to little more than a cameo role here – seem to have lost a dimension or two in the interim. Superior benefited from the richness and depth of its ancillary players, making the story feel more like an ensemble piece than the eponymously-named protagonist’s journey it was marketed as. All such depth, as a continuation of Slott’s work, seems to have been filled in with gravel.
The supporting cast can do little but mouth dialogue which sounds like it was written for a badly-acted telenovela. A series of key scenes where Spidey and Mockingbird team up to save Aunt May and some African villagers is crammed with wall-to-wall verbal detritus which merely shows the former is arrogantly cocky and the latter is stern, as if we didn’t know that already. A punch-up between Spidey and the Human Torch – in the refurbished Baxter Building, no less – reads like it’s shooting for a Joss Whedon Avengers-style lackadaisical quality to highlight the fight’s inherently contrived nature, but is instead a juvenile exercise in pitting two young men against each other with the mindsets of twelve-year-olds. A dance at a wedding between Peter and his business partner flits between romantic allusion, corporate game-planning and insinuated threats in the space of less than a page, with no smooth transition between tones. If there’s any intended irony in Slott’s kindergarten-level dialogue, it remains as elusive as a Dragonite in Pokemon GO.
With such poor characters behind the wheel, the story is beyond the help of even the staunchest automotive technician. In contrast to Superior‘s character-based, Doc Ock-led odyssey into anti-villainy, almost everything that happens in Worldwide is plot-driven with minimal meaningful character involvement. You could very easily swap Spidey for any of his Avengers cohorts – Iron Man would probably work best, a fact the story quickly and repeatedly points out in its opening chapter – and no-one would bat an eye, so formulaic and boilerplate is the plot. Each chapter centers around a problem that needs to be solved – usually the Zodiac doing something naughty – which is swiftly addressed before some vague foreshadowing for future problems at the chapter’s conclusion. There are some intriguing notions of Peter’s philanthropic, corporate and SHIELD responsibilities muddying the waters of his regular modus operandi, and how his long-standing promise to always save Aunt May before all else could also compromise his new responsibilities to go with such great power. The notions the story hints at could’ve made for a far more engaging, subversive take on the Spider-Man status quo.
Sadly, such notions are clearly not intriguing enough for Slott to comprehensively develop them. No, Slott would much rather focus on all of Spidey’s new Batman-inspired hardware; go on and tell me the Spidermobile, pictured above, isn’t just a Tumbler repaint. Or, worse still, he’d prefer to develop a latent plot thread which is both utterly asinine and a complete undercutting of Superior Spider-Man‘s emotional ending. I won’t spoil the latter here, but it’s in the first chapter; I dare you not to imprint your palm upon your forehead when you see it.
As with so many other mediocre books, the one area Worldwide succeeds in is the artwork. Giuseppe Camuncoli is a welcome addition, offering a more reasoned and realistic counterpoint to Humberto Ramos’ more exaggerated, cartoonish style in Superior. The panels can be overloaded with colour at times, and several of the fight scenes – including the aforementioned ludicrous defence of the British Museum – are a bit incomprehensible, but for the most part Camuncoli does solid work. The covers for each chapter are also done by Alex Ross, superhero artist parexcellence, so those are welcome additions.
Reading over this review, I realise I’m coming off as overly harsh. Worldwide isn’t a bad book the way One More Day, No More Humans or Great Pacific were bad books. It’d be considered merely “meh” if it weren’t for the surging river of resurgent superlatives that Marvel’s churned out over the last few months. Paired with its compatriots, Worldwide is little more than a bauble, hopefully only a postscript to Slott’s objectively stronger previous work. I understand a writer being passionate enough about a character to stick with their book for as long as you can – this is part of what started to kill the third act of Geoff Johns’ Green Lantern run as it reached its overdue climax – but maybe it’s time for Slott to move to another comic. The logical step after Worldwide is to have Spidey run the Avengers, then the world itself, then the universe. After that, the crossover event Secret Wars: Beat Pete will follow Marvel’s heroes trying to unravel a multiverse firmly controlled by the Parker Empire. Best quit while you’re ahead before we reach the turgid fanfic stage, Mr Slott.
PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “You haven’t known Mockingbird long, Prowler. She says arm up, you break out the nukes.” – Nick Fury
I’ve been penning comic reviews, opinion pieces and miscellaneous ramblings since 2010, back when all I had was a blog called Mind’s Eye and a truckload of graphic novels purchased wholesale from Comic-Con. Six years on, I’d like to think my writing’s evolved to the point that it’s at least somewhat interesting to read now.
During that six years, my work’s gone through a few identities and had a couple of facelifts. First, it was a duo of blogs; the aforementioned Mind’s Eye, which was the next best thing to a sporadically-used LiveJournal account, and Sunday in the Comics with Christopher, a weekly comics review page that simultaneously justified my Comic-Con purchases and poorly utilised a Stephen Sondheim reference while doing so. These two sites did the fusion dance to become The Writer’s Multiverse; originally a team effort with a few other writers, the new site was a platform for my previous work and some attempts at short fiction (“attempts” being the operative word, there).
Now comes the next phase. Now comes The Genre Fiend.
The term “genre fiend” was first coined in Aaron Allston’s Strike Force, a supplement for the Champions roleplaying game. It’s meant as a somewhat derogatory term to describe a type of roleplayer who is “a rabid fan of a certain type of fiction” that they’d like to see applied to the game in painstaking detail (see also: this post about superheroes in roleplaying games).
In that sense, the term could apply to me. I may be a bit of stickler for genre conventions, but I’m not so married to classic molds that I can’t love how a story goes outside its genre boundaries; some of my favourite stories break those molds and do exciting things. No, the term “genre fiend” more readily applies to me in a different sense.
Let’s focus on the last of the three here (though I’m sure my fellow miniature gaming players could occasionally describe me as “very evil or cruel”).
I have been wildly enthusiastic about most forms of genre fiction – predominantly science fiction, fantasy and superheroes – since I was old enough to watch Star Trek (2 years old – you never forget your first love). My home is decorated with posters and Pop Vinyls from various franchises I adore. I have more comic books, sci-fi blu-rays and Batmobile models than I know what to do with. I can quote the entirety of the first two Hitchhikers Guide to the Galaxy radio play seasons. My academic career has so far been spent penning critical work on Batman, Star Trek and Doctor Who, among others. Hell, the pop culture shelves of my apartment have been photographed by police officers to make other police officers jealous of their contents. I am, for all intents and purposes, a passionate genre nut.
So what do you do with a passion? You channel it into something awesome.
The Genre Fiend is my work, from both here and abroad. It collates all my posts from the previous incarnations of my website(s), and collects the majority of my external work from other websites (particularly from Goodreads and Geek of Oz, the latter of which I also write regularly for). It’s the one place where you should be able to find all the words I’ve strung together into semi-coherence. More importantly, it’s the one place where I can enthusiastically share my passion with you.
The site is predominantly divided into four sections:
Chris Kills Comics: The main review/discussion space for comic books and graphic novels. Expect no mercy.
The Mind’s Eye: As it was six years ago, so it is now; a section for rants, ravings and rational(ish) discussions from yours truly.
Draft Material: A platform for pieces of my fiction work, still in-progress. Critical feedback is always appreciated.
External Portfolio: The spot for all the work I do outside of this website, with links to such content covering Anime, Video Games and Books.
In addition, the site uses banner and logo artwork drawn by the incredible, wonderfully talented Laura Wellington – check out more of her sterling work over at www.pizqit.com, and tell her how awesome she is.
This is the place where I extol the virtues of what I love, and viciously savage the failings of what I don’t. I’ll talk about things on the surface and stuff a little deeper down. I’ll be critical, analytical and, most of all, personal.
The following post contains MAJOR SPOILERS for the recent first issue of Nick Spencer’s Captain America: Steve Rogers comic series. Presumably, though, you already know what I’m about to talk on.
As per usual, a superhero comic book has stoked controversy. Of course, I’m talking about this moment:
Yup. It appears, for all intents and purposes, that Steve Rogers, the Marvel Universe’s favoured patriotic son and symbol of ultimate incorruptibility, is and has been a secret Hydra agent all this time.
Except, maybe not really. But we’ll come back to that.
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 is a fine comic book issue. Not a fine example the way an exquisite chardonnay might be, but just plain fine. Functional. Serviceable. It follows Steve fighting a new incarnation of Hydra, run by a populist new version of Red Skull whose motivation of underground crowds perturbs the more comically exaggerated Baron Zemo. Besides the ending, the issue pushes no envelopes, breaches no borders, tempts no fate. It gets the job done; the job, in this case, being to simultaneously reboot Steve Rogers in the Stars and Stripes and garner enough hype that people care about the comic again. In those respects, it accomplishes the task admirably.
Let me back up a second. Ever since Ed Brubaker’s superlative run on the book ended several years ago, the Captain America comic has lagged behind as the greater Marvel juggernaut advances. Rick Remender offered a paltry follow-up to Brubaker’s classic, in much the same way that both Kieron Gillen and Tom Taylor respectively failed to follow in the footsteps of Matt Fraction’s sterling time with Invincible Iron Man. I term these runs as ‘palate-cleanser arcs’, operating between major and more well-received runs from notable creators where the follow-up ends up setting the high bar much lower in order for the next big creator to raise it once more (see also things like Andy Diggle’s Daredevil as a bridge between the Bendis/Brubaker and Waid years, or Tony Daniel’s poor stewardship of Batman between Grant Morrison’s and Scott Snyder’s respective storylines). The weight of subsequent expectation on popular comics is crippling, and so someone has to be called in to produce work that can range from markedly poor to adequately functional. For post-Brubaker Captain America that person was Remender, and his run was, by most accounts, not a very good one.
So here comes Nick Spencer, fresh from his turns on Secret Avengers and the outstanding Superior Foes of Spider-Man. Between this book and its sister series, Captain America: Sam Wilson, Spencer seems keen to make a big mark on the Star-Spangled Man (Men?). He’s a great writer, and given what came before him it wouldn’t be hard for his work to subsequently top Remender’s. Also keep in mind that a new Captain America film has recently come out to rave reviews and insane box office returns, so Marvel might be keen to get some groundswell going for what was once one of the most popular ongoing comics they had in publication.
To accomplish this, they make Steve Rogers a secret member of Hydra. Stun. Shock. Horror.
I am almost completely unfazed.
To dispel the idea of my dismissal of the issues at hand as being down to a lack of love for Marvel’s favourite patriot, I want to state unequivocally that I hold Cap very close to my heart. While not having the same personal weight as Batman, the Captain is nonetheless hugely important to me. Hell, my Honours thesis compared him to the Bat as contemporary, slightly more realistic superheroes. The influence of Winter Solder and The Death of Captain America, the latter being one of my best comics I’ve ever read, cannot be overstated in terms of my development as both a comic reader and reviewer. Cap means a lot, and I certainly understand – to a point – why others are up in arms over this perceived betrayal regarding his new origin.
And if simple disagreement over this retcon was the end of the story, I wouldn’t be writing this diatribe. Of course, this situation eclipsed simple disagreement a while ago.
As of the time of writing, Nick Spencer’s received a slew of death threats over the issue. Social media is in a frenzy over this perceived egregious mishandling of an iconic character; hashtags like #SayNoToHYDRACap have been trending like crazy. Marvel executive editor Tom Brevoort had to defend the issue during an interview with TIME Magazine, explaining that this was part of a much longer storytelling decision. The general consensus from the overreactive beast that is the online comics community has been ferocious, undiscerning and damn near farcical. (I should stress here that not all people in the community are as pissed off about this as the majority – just that said majority is currently turned to a much higher volume.)
My reaction to this boils down to two things. Neither are intended to entirely dismiss the critical feedback the issue has received (except those who criticise with death threats, which, come on guys), but rather to provide context as to why this isn’t the catastrophic alteration many mistakenly believe it is. Also that word, context, is going to be very important here.
So let’s start with the obvious thing: this is a move done in a superhero comic. Superhero comics get changed all the time.
One of the hallmarks of capebooks is that their canon changes at the drop of a hat (or, usually, the clink of company coin). Very little that occurs within a superhero story is something that stays for life; Grant Morrison had fun with this during his Batman days, where he implied that every event of Bruce’s life that had to be retconned was explained as Batman being insanely high at the time. Apart from most of the key essentials of origin stories – the death of the Waynes, Tony Stark’s heart shrapnel, Steve getting the super-serum, Uncle Ben’s death – exceedingly few character changes are ones that are maintained forever without some alteration or outright excision.
That fact results in two possibilities for Cap going forward. One is that the Hydra change is intended as a temporary thing from the start; perhaps this shocking moment now will be recontextualised later on, showing that Steve’s actually a triple agent. Maybe he’s trying for a deep cover thing with Hydra for some other purpose. Right now we have very little context to go on for this reveal (an issue I’ll talk more about in a moment). All we know is that Cap has uttered Hydra’s infamously memetic catch-cry, and that he and his mother had a woman try to convince them to come to a clandestine Hydra meeting back in the 1940s. That is literally all we know for certain, no matter what Brevoort or Spencer himself might say.
The second possibility is that this change will itself be retconned if it proves to be so unpopular. Remember what Morrison did with the infamous ‘Magneto is Xorn’ reveal in New X-Men? Marvel kicked that to the curb not long afterwards with a subsequent retcon that dismissed the reveal entirely as Xorn being some crazy guy who thought he was Magneto. Sure, said retcon was hamfisted and poorly executed, but, much like the Captain America issue itself, it accomplished the task the publishers wanted. Superhero aspects are as fluid and transient as they are subject to continued company approval, especially when new movies are on the horizon. I have no doubt, should Spencer’s storytelling prove long-term to be irksome to Marvel’s accountants, that a mandate will result in Steve saying, ‘No, what I actually said was “Snail Hydra”, because Baron Zemo was so slimy he left a trail behind him to follow!’
(Can you tell that superhero humour isn’t my strong suit?)
The other thing, which I alluded to earlier, is that this is only the first issue of the story. Traditionally, superhero arcs consist of a good five or six issues that make up a whole story. As it stands we have only one issue, and the context it alone provides (again, disregarding statements by Spencer and Brevoort – comic creators like to lie with Moffat-level conviction). We don’t know if Steve isn’t a triple agent. We don’t know if he and his mother went to that Hydra meeting. We do not know anything besides what we’ve seen in this issue – and let’s face it, what we saw wasn’t much.
Steve and his mother are offered the Hydra pamphlet – what if they turned down the invitation to go to the meeting? Steve throws his ally Jack Flag out of a jet before Hailing Hydra – since fellow ally Free Spirit was flying around on a ReBoot-style hoverboard outside, how do we know she doesn’t catch him in midair immediately afterwards? Steve utters Hydra’s line to the captured Dr. Selvig – do we know whether this was an ironic utterance, or an affirmation that the two of them are involved in this false flag operation together?
The answer to all of the above is that we simply do not know, and we won’t know until subsequent issues provide further context. Knee-jerking to a last page reveal is exactly what Marvel would’ve had in mind when Spencer pitched this idea to them: let’s drum up some controversy and convince people to come back next month to see what happens next. In that respect, I’d say they’ve undoubtedly succeeded.
I think io9’s James Whitbrook sums up my reaction to all this quite neatly:
“To be fair, I’m certain Marvel will do something fun with [the reveal]—this is hardly the first example of comics doing something inexplicably goofy for the sake of catchy headlines, and had a ball with the aftermath. Comics are built on gimmicks like this and playing with them. I’m looking forward to seeing where Nick Spencer and [artist] Jesus Saiz take this plot line. It’s always exciting to be at the start of something completely ludicrous, and just see where it goes—because this is definitely right up there in the “ludicrous comics nonsense” category. I look forward to Steve Rogers eventually being revealed as a quintuple agent or something. But please, let’s not pretend this is real, or permanent, or won’t be utterly undone in a storyarc or two.”
I said earlier I’m almost completely unfazed by this issue. I’m fazed in that it’s piqued my curiosity to see where Spencer is going with this. If the issue’s intent was to make me interested in Steve Rogers as Cap again, it’s nailed that to a tee. I want to see what happens next, whether it lasts for a handful of issues or a hundred.
I’m not about to say those who are pissed aren’t entitled to being strongly against this change – you most certainly are. I was infuriated when Morrison “killed” Batman back in 2008, a fury that lessened as context was provided by the subsequent story. If you’re upset at this, you have every right to express your discontent or disagreement with Spencer and Marvel itself. I won’t even criticise most of the reviewers who are currently slaying the issue on Goodreads, though I’d guess a decent percentage of them probably haven’t even read the book itself – hurray for bandwagons!
No, I won’t say you shouldn’t like the issue. But let’s get real here. This is, one way or another, a temporary thing. This is a thing currently lacking appropriate context. This is a thing that has not yet been fully unfurled. This is a thing that should not precipitate death threats.
(I imagine Spencer’s probably off having a few stiff drinks with Superior Spider-Man‘s Dan Slott right now, taking pointers from the latter on how to deal with irate fans who jeopardise writerly mortality when their favourite character goes through a change they abhor.)
Captain America: Steve Rogers #1 is a serviceable, visually decent and adequately scripted comic with a gimmicky ending, no more, no less. Can we stop treating it as if it’s the most heinous betrayal of a loyal fandom since this one, please?
I haven’t seen Despicable Me, but I understand the appeal of the Minions. They’re the now-ubiquitous yellow blobs with coveralls and Homer Simpson hair, starring in your favourite crossover parody posters on the internet (like this one). Within the film they’re the servants of the villainous Gru, capable of making only grunts and vague attempts at coherent speech that some viewers find endearing. Because of how funny they were as a background aspect of a larger story, DreamWorks(EDIT: It was actually Illumination Pictures, because I apparently don’t follow proper research methods) jumped on that bend in the zeitgeist and gave them their own, self-titled Minions film. The resulting mediocre movie didn’t do as well critically as its mothership title, resulting in something passable and adequate rather than the comedy blockbuster DreamWorksIllumination Pictures was hoping for.
Spider-Gwen occupies a similar slot of “background element given its own platform”, and the ensuing comic series feels comparably bland. It’s by no means bad on the level of a Tony Daniel or Scott Lobdell book, but its lack of ambitious substance results in what I’d almost call an entirely forgettable sojourn, if it weren’t for the legion of cosplayers who’ve adopted Gwen’s new getup as their next favourite thing.
Our eponymous webslinger initially made her mark in the Edge of Spider-Verse miniseries, itself a tie-in to the Spider-Verse event that brought together the deep multiversal bench of Marvel’s arachnid-themed heroes. What begins in a cutesy little one-off issue of Edge – helpfully reprinted in this collection – spins out into a continuing series where, in an alternate Marvel universe, Gwen Stacy got the life-changing bug bite. The unaltered Peter Parker, jealous of Gwen’s powers, becomes that universe’s version of the Lizard and ends up dying, leaving Gwen racked with guilt in much the same manner our universe’s Peter is stricken by failing to save his own Gwen. Thusly guilt-ridden, Ms Stacy continues on as Spider-Gwen, the hoodied saviour of New York pitted against a criminal, thoroughly amoral interpretation of Matt Murdock and his clan of Hand ninjas.
Most Wanted? had the potential to meaningfully flesh out what could only be hinted at during the Edge of Spider-Verse tie-in. I was intrigued by the potential of an empowered, rapid-fire-snarking Gwen Stacy who can pole vault across New York with nothing but the web from her wrists. The fact the story resided in its own little corner of the Multiverse, unhindered by the 616 or anything Ultimate-related, was also encouraging: no event hijacking here! It seemed like a good combination of factors that should’ve produced a nice little story.
While I won’t say Most Wanted? is a bad story, it’s certainly not one I liked. A large part of that may have been the truckloads of hype heaped upon the debut of Spider-Gwen’s ongoing series, augmented particularly by cosplayers and feminist readers. Maybe this is once again a reminder of the dangers of hype culture, especially when what worked in a nice little one-off or background moment is suddenly given too much space to expand into.
Not every capebook requires Vince Gilligan-levels of depth, but one would at least expect an attempt at some substance. Most Wanted? falls at that hurdle until the book’s middle, during a wonderfully rendered series of scenes depicting Gwen hesitantly visiting her Peter Parker’s Aunt May and Uncle Ben. Everything until this point relies on flashy montages of battle inexpertly paired with attempts at brevitous witticisms, which run for far too long without offering much in the way of who Gwen is as a character rather than a superhero. Part of Spider-Man’s appeal is in exploring Peter as a young man, using the costume both as a day job and (at least initially) coping mechanism for his Uncle’s death. His wit works because we’re well aware of what he’s been through, what he deals with on a regular basis and what occurs when he takes the mask off and becomes Peter again. Gwen doesn’t manifest this kind of characterisation until that midpoint, where the full extent of her misplaced shame and guilt at failing to save Peter is beautifully and concisely explored during her conversations with Peter’s family.
As much as the story irked me, the Elseworlds-style nature of its makeup also offered some things to like. Top of the list is a deliciously deplorable incarnation of Matt Murdock, who eschewed Daredeviling in order to be the slimiest protector of criminals completely legal attorney person, as well as the Millienially-insane Mary Jane Watson, here depicted as a rampant diva who fronts the eponymously-named band Gwen’s been ostracised from, and an anti-heroic – and decidedly Punishing – police officer named Frank Castle. The stronger elements are aided by the art stylings of Robbi Rodriguez (which, sadly, is not the nomenclature for a formerly famous Grindhouse director). There’s a distinct inspiration of graffiti art in Rodriguez’s work, slanting the illustration towards a grungy, almost French animation style of slight exaggeration and vibrant colouring. At times the art gets a little overloaded with red and purple colours, and Gwen’s body actions occasionally resemble more of a yoga-pilates Jedi Master than her character would realistically suggest, but overall it works fine with the story it’s telling.
By far my biggest gripe is with the dialogue. Now, I understand both that I am not the target audience for this book, and that it isn’t unreasonable for contemporary teen characters like Gwen to speak in modern teenage lingo. But Mary, Mother of God is it annoying. Exceedingly little of the dialogue (again, with the exception of the scenes at Rancho de Parker) doesn’t immediately make me want to bury my palm into my frontal lobe.
This is a book whose cast is led by teens, and by gum does the book want you to know it. A scene where Gwen’s phone’s been snagged drives that point home when Gwen protests, ‘My whole life is in that phone!’ Now, granted, that phone does contain information about her life as a webslinger, but the way the story’s dialogue frames this and several other scenes – including a Gwen-led quip-fest during a ninja onslaught at a rock concert, which includes the phrase ‘Pyjama party erry damn day, yo!’ – indicates it’s targeting a social media addicted, Tumblr-enveloped crowd of Millennials whose lingua franca cocktail consists of ear-burning sarcasm mixed with deplorable attempts at dry wit. Despite me not fitting Most Wanted?‘s intended demographic, I don’t think my reaction is purely a case of misaimed dialogue; the new Ms. Marvel series managed to make contemporary teen characters relatable and not come off as latte-fueled snark machines. But like I said, I don’t think I quite align with Spider-Gwen’s target market.
It’s entirely possible those of you the book is speaking to will find much to enjoy in Gwen’s attempts at sarcastic banter while swinging around New York, but I’m left once again thinking about that Minions comparison I started with. Divorcing a popular element from the mothership narrative means that element has to stand on its own, building a story strong enough for it to support alone. The one major thought that Most Wanted? kept prompting was that the character, on its current trajectory, can’t last for long and maintain her novelty; sooner or later she’ll change from her quirky starting incarnation, and become just another Marvel superhero comic. Where something like Ms. Marvel excels is in the plethora of stories G. Willow Wilson both implies and expands on in her exploration of Kamala Khan’s character, dissecting issues of ethnicity, culture and nascent adulthood alongside all the usual superhero trappings of villains and team-ups. By comparison, Spider-Gwen appears to only have one clear narrative throughline – Gwen’s guilt over Peter’s death – and while it attempts to create another one with the relationship between Gwen and her father, that story doesn’t hold enough water to maintain my level of interest.
Most Wanted? might be a fun diversion for some, but I wouldn’t bank on it as a continuing series. Seeing scenes of Minions within the larger Despicable Me narrative might be fun, but a full film of the yellow potato people feels like indulgence at the expense of novelty. Maybe Spider-Gwen could learn a lesson from that.
PUBLISHER: MARVEL COMICS
BEST QUOTE: “Ah, Felicia, my little black cat… don’t you know it’s bad luck to murder your guests? And even if it weren’t, it’s just flat out rude.” – Matt Murdock
A few weeks back, while the rest of us were busy enjoying the religious family time of Easter – which, in my case, entails a bucketload of chocolate and no small amount of post-egg sugar-twitching – DC Comics took the stage at WonderCon to announce the creative lineups for their new fangled “not-a-reboot-and-it-never-was-shut-up-now” comic book event, Rebirth.
Much as I ripped into Marvel’s heraldic announcement of new books last year, I figure it’s worth making turnabout fair play and giving DC a similar treatment. Because believe me, some of these titles are worth ripping into for good or ill. Consider this a helpful guide for where (and where not) to spend your ill-gotten gains on DC Comics after Rebirth kicks off this June.
Writer Dan Jurgens pits Clark Kent as Superman against Lex Luthor as…also Superman. Also there’s something in there about hitting Actions Comics #1000. Didn’t we renumber all the books in 2011 to avoid this kind of thing?
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Artwork by Zircher, Kirkham and Segovia probably won’t be anything too amazing, so I’d say no.
ALL STAR BATMAN
WHY, SNYDER, WHY?!
I know you got your work bumped from both the ongoing Batman title and Detective Comics, and I know you need to set up your own new series to keep your fantastic run afloat. But goddamn, could you have possibly picked a worse name than one reminding readers of the travesty that was Frank Miller’s 2008 Batman-child abomination All-Star Batman and Robin? Also, where the hell is Greg Capullo, and why did he get replaced by someone as lacklustre as John Romita Jr.?
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: This is one that’ll be decided solely on the strength of its writing talent, so I’m hoping for a yes. Jock and Sean Murphy had better be more than just fill-in artists.
I wasn’t a fan of how Geoff Johns handled the character, so I’m wary of however new writer Dan Abnett will take a crack at him. It certainly looks pretty, but then so does a hormonal flamingo right before it kicks you in the nethers.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Safe bet is no.
Though I’m not familiar with recent Batgirl outside of Gail Simone’s disastrous handling of the character, I’d heard that the recent Stewart/Tarr partnership was yielding sweet fruit. Seems a little odd to shoot a well-received creative team in the feet, but that’s DC for you (remember, these are the guys who ran Grant Morrison out of town after Batman Incorporated wrapped). I’m not familiar with Hope Larson, but the creative direction and art look solid.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yeah, maybe.
BATGIRL AND THE BIRDS OF PREY
This is where you start to lose me a little. I know Barbara Gordon, back in her heyday as Oracle, was once in charge of a Birds of Prey team, but this seems closer to a good-girl revamp of Gotham City Sirens than any kind of Birds book. The art looks gruesome at first blush, and I’m not sure how keen I am to check out a tawdry-looking yarn about sisters doing it for themselves against some villain called The Someone (which, ok then).
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Veering towards “not really”.
I was never the biggest fan of future Batman Terry McGinnis, but apparently the creative team is solid. Sounds like it’ll be continuing a previous run, so maybe existing fans will be into that.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: If you like future Batman, sure.
Apparently Tom King’s Grayson run has been fairly well received, and he’s got a solid art lineup on deck (which thankfully means David Finch can just draw, rather than attempt to also write). I’m leery of any writer thinking he has the chops to take over from Snyder and Capullo’s beloved run, but of the options available I guess it sounds ok. Cover art looks pretty sick.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I want it to be.
Not a fan of the character, but it looks ok if you’re into that.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See above.
Also see above; not a huge fan of the character, and I can’t figure out why he’s scored his own ongoing. Oh, wait, yes I can – he starred in that new Batman v. Superman movie for all of ten seconds, and he’ll be appearing in the ill-fated Justice League movies. Sometimes capebooks being “helped” (read: influenced) by superhero movies isn’t such a good thing.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Same as Blue Beetle.
Wait, written by Christopher Priest? As in, the guy who wrote The Prestige? Colour me intrigued.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: From the cover, the interesting choice of writer and the lineup of hitherto unknown artists, I’ll say yeah for the same reason that I’d agree to try bourbon made from scorpion venom: could be fun.
A (literal) student of the Scott Snyder narrative school, I find James Tynion IV to be hit and miss. Talon was interesting, if a little bit of a one-trick pony, and he wrote some of the better chapters in Batman Eternal. On the other, his work on Batman back-ups left some to be desired. I’d approach with caution, though the notion of a Batman Boot Camp with Bats and Batwoman has me interested (but then again, anything with Batwoman interests me).
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Maybe as a taste-test.
It seems DC are on a roll with hiring writers and artists who are either brand new or ones I’ve never heard of. As such, I can’t offer an opinion on the new Flash team; as with Deathstroke, the cover seems pretty cool.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Hard to say. I’d wait for some results first.
Another creative team I don’t know. Evocative cover, though. Hopefully not too much is cribbed from Arrow for this one.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: See Flash above.
GEOFF JOHNS IS COMING BACK TO A GREEN LANTERN BOOK!! Ok, sure, he’s co-writing with Sam Humphries, but still!
Sounds like the focus will be on newcomers Simon Baz and Jessica Cruz, which has the potential for an interesting buddy-cop dynamic. Not familiar with Rocha’s art, but Ardian Syaf is a solid choice.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Looks like it.
HAL JORDAN AND THE GREEN LANTERN CORPS
How does Robert Venditti reliably pick up new work? After ripping up most of the carpet Johns carefully laid down in Green Lantern, it seems Venditti is keen on continuing to ruin one of my favourite superhero characters. More power to him, I guess. Let’s hope the wonder of Ethan Van Sciver’s artwork is enough to counter Venditti’s storytelling shortcomings.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Once Venditti (hopefully) gets kicked from the book, sure.
I will never understand this apparent surge in Harley’s mainstream appeal. Was it the sexy nurse outfit from Arkham Asylum, her upcoming appearance in the Suicide Squad film, or just DC overcompensating by shilling a similarly fourth-wall-breaking hilarious character a la Deadpool? This mystery may never be solved, but considering we have Jimmy “All-Star Western” Palmiotti alongside Amanda “Female Artists Can Draw Power Girl’s Insanely Huge Boobs Too” Conner, I’d say it’s a safe bet that…
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: …this one’s best left on the rack.
More creatives that are unknown to me, but I do know it’s a shame Ray Fawkes isn’t onboard anymore. Maybe a fresh artistic shot in the arm is what Constantine needs to stay afloat.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yet to be determined.
I’ve said before that artists don’t always make the best writers, so I hope Bryan Hitch keeps in mind that his characters need to be interesting as well as look cool. Tony Daniel on art is worrying given his recent track record, and I pray he isn’t set loose on narrative duties if Hitch falls behind.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: The smart money says no, but I’ve been wrong about artist-authors before.
JUSTICE LEAGUE OF AMERICA
The title is literally all we know of this book at present.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: In the (unlikely) event that it turns out Mark Waid will make a comeback to DC with art by Alex Ross, I’ll say hell yes. Otherwise, probably not.
A Shanghai boy, who isn’t some version of Clark Kent, becomes a new Superman. I’m interested.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Not sure art-wise, but the premise is intriguing.
The return of Dick Grayson’s superhero identity – as well as the trademark blue stripe – is a welcome one. I’m hoping Seeley does some great work here, especially with Javi Fernandez and Marcus To on art duties.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Hopefully.
RED HOOD AND THE OUTLAWS
You’re telling me Scott Lobdell still writes this title? And he’s being joined by Dexter Soy, artist on one of the most narratively compelling but visually confusing runs of Captain Marvel?
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Only to line your birdcage.
Oh look, a team book with the same lineup as the movie they’ve got coming out in August. What a coincidence. Sadly, Jim Lee’s art won’t be able to save this one.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Stick to the movie; at least it’ll only be painful for hours rather than months.
Yet more unknown creatives, but at least Kara’s no longer wearing the ridiculous thigh-bearing corset thing she had in the last run.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Fans of the show will probably dig it.
Tomasi and Gleason on a Superman book? Sign me the hell up. These guys did stellar work on Batman and Robin, so I’m game for whatever’s next.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Sweet merciful Darkseid, yes.
No word on a creative team, but the cover art gives me a strong Muppet Babies with superpowers vibe. I doubt the novelty will last long there.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: As a one-shot, maybe. As an ongoing, I doubt it.
Damian Wayne in charge of a new Teen Titans team is certainly an interesting concept, though that interest will depend on how newcomers Ben Percy and Jonboy Meyers do with writing and art, respectively. Thus far the only non-Grant Morrison writer to do Damian justice is Peter Tomasi, so consider my breath held on that count here.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Is Damian a snotty brat or a slightly punky but good-hearted asskicker? Once that question’s answered, the first one will be similarly resolved.
Call this spurious, but my assumption is that this’ll be the story which was initially slated for the failed pitch of the Titans TV series that got nixed last year. Abnett’s a good choice for writing duty, and the art looks pretty great. This’ll be one for nostalgic fans of the old guard rather than the Tim Drake-led millennial superhero wannabes from The New 52.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: I’d say so.
This is an immediate yes for Francis Manapul’s art alone, but the fact he’s tagged for writing duties only bolsters that yes. Sure, his run with Brian Buccellato on Detective Comics was a little wonky, but The Flash was a solid (and gorgeous) book. I wish only good things for his start here.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Most definitely, even if it’s just because it’ll look luscious.
I’ve only recently heard about the controversy surrounding Marguerite Bennett’s unceremonious dumping from the book, so I don’t have much to offer thought-wise regarding that little turnout. What I can say is that Greg Rucka is a fine choice of replacement; given his recent work on the acclaimed and kickass-women-friendly Lazarus, I imagine this’ll be one to check out.
IS IT WORTH GETTING?: Yup.
So there’s the upcoming state of play for DC Comics. The New 52 is dead, long live Rebirth. Remember, neither of these events were or are reboots, ever. They’re natural in the way a packet of M and Ms is natural; those grow on trees, right?
Compared to Marvel’s post-Secret Wars lineup, I’m not as enthused with how DC’s playing this one. The branching out to new creative teams is ambitious, but it leaves a lot of nebulous results above; the Marvel reboot at least had a lot of name power, where one could recognise at a glance whether what was coming would probably be good or bad (the latter mostly relying on whether James Robinson is writing it). It’s truly a brave new world in many respects for Rebirth, though let’s hope that world doesn’t involve Martian tripods and heat rays.
Actually, no, you didn’t. You were probably too busy watching The Force Awakens. It’s ok, so was I.
I mentioned at the close of my 2014 best and worst roundup that 2015 was going to be a quiet year on the website front for me, and it was. Work, thesis writing and tumultuous adventures (and adversity) with domestic situations got in the way of all those wonderfully mediocre reviews I like to write. As such, the only Chris Kills Comics entry for me in 2015 was a part-sarcastic/part-serious guide to which post-Secret Wars Marvel titles might be worth a look. Not that I’ve yet read any of them at time of writing, but I’m never afraid to judge books by their covers and writing teams. That’s also why it’s unlikely I’d ever stoop to checking out the gonzo mess that is Miller and Azzarello’s new Dark Knight Returns sequel.
But while it was a more sedate year for me comics-wise, 2015 still had no shortage of great titles. I did spend a lot more of 2015 reading novels and non-fiction books, thanks to a new gig I’ve got as a book reviewer over at Geek of Oz, but there was still the occasional moment for graphic diversions. I’ll admit up front that I maaaaaybe read a tenth of the good comic titles 2015 produced. Ok, probably closer to a twentieth. Call it a fiftieth, at least?
PICTURED: Some of 2015’s greatest hits that I haven’t read yet, but totally will. At some point. Yup.
So, in an effort to offer a mea culpa and address the deficit of comics critique from the past year, presented herein are some gems from the few comics I did read in 2015. I promise, once my thesis goes in on February 15th (submission forms are in, markers are being picked…oh God this is really happening), there’ll be more on the comics front from me. In fact, there are some fairly big plans being made for The Writer’s Multiverse as a whole, including one hell of a facelift…
But those will be in due course. For now, highlights from last year:
SAGA, VOLUME 5
Like you didn’t know this’d be on here.
There’s not much I can add to my previous gushing overhow goodSaga is. Suffice it to say, Volume 4 (from the tail end of 2014) was par excellance to its peers, and Volume 5 continued Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples’ overall conquest of the comics industry. Keep believing the hype; Saga is consistently delivering a thoughtful, engaging, nuanced and engrossing story across its gorgeously illustrated pages. Volume 5, while at times feeling a little like a bridging narrative than a story in its own right, closes with a nice hook that has me wringing my hands with apprehension during the wait for Volume 6. I guess what I’m saying, then, is that Saga‘s good for those who like feeling anxious and nervously expectant while they wait for the next book.
Actually, maybe don’t read it if you’re susceptible to that kind of thing.
THOR: GODDESS OF THUNDER
Jason Aaron’s Thor run has been a rollicking sine wave of quality, with some thrilling highs and lackluster bottoming-out. Despite that, I think it’s fair to say Aaron really hit his stride when he made Thor a woman.
Now, let’s be clear: this is not a gender-swap the way Loki’s was handled during J. Michael Stracynzski’s landmark run in the late 2000s; Chris Hemsworth hasn’t been turned into a woman, but instead has lost his worthiness to the mantle of the God of Thunder. Aaron’s new Thor is an entirely different character from her male counterpart (for reasons which become clear in the second book), uncertain of her new powers and bringing a more grounded persona to Marvel’s eminent deity superhero identity. It also helps that Aaron’s got a good story to go with the new protagonist, as well as some stellar artwork by Russell Dauterman and Jorge Molina. In an age where we need more powerful, prominent and well-written superheroines (and in a year where Meredith and David Finch were accidentally allowedto ruin one of them), it’s laudable to have one who’s as approachable, relatable and entertaining as Aaron’s lady Thor. Also, note my lack of capital on the “lady”; she’s Thor, not Lady Thor, Mrs Thor or Thorette. She is, you might say, the definite article.
MS MARVEL: GENERATION WHY
Continuing the theme of female empowerment, G. Willow Wilson’s landmark Ms Marvel run has also shone a light on diversity in cape comics. Muslim action girl Kamala Khan is a Ms. Marvel who couldn’t be more distinct from her contemporaries, or indeed her predecessor (who’s busy flying around space). She’s fun, kicks ass and, much like Bryan Q. Miller’s Pollyanna interpretation of Batgirl, doesn’t ever seem to really be brought down. Generation Why builds on the massive success of No Normal, introducing Wolverine and Lockjaw to Kamala’s world of burgeoning superheroics and navigation of young adulthood.
While the real world issues Wilson wraps her story around can get a little heavyhanded – including a protracted scene regarding seizing your life between Kamala and some misguided young people modeled off socially-inept World of Warcraft players – there’s still a very joyful, bouncy tone throughout. Like Aaron’s Thor, Wilson writes Kamala as an approachable, relatable hero, a character women can look up to as truly realistic; despite her superpowers, Kamala’s still burdened by the everyday problems of work, friends and family that the Muggles among us are plagued with.
Also, Generation Why slips into my highlights for this scene alone:
As much as I adored Death of the Family (it made it to my Best of 2013 list for a reason), I was hesitant about a return visit with Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo to their sickly psychotic version of the Joker. What were we in for in Endgame: more face-cutting and grisly dinner platters?
Well, turns out, not so much. Part of Endgame‘s effort to distinguish itself from Snyder and Capullo’s last Joker story is in having the mad clown come back, not to maim or threaten or cajole, but to kill the goddamn Batman. As part of his “closing up shop” in Gotham, Joker’s out to murder everybody; Batman, Batgirl, Red Robin, the lot of ’em. Deadsies, in the ground, end of story.
With stakes like that, it’s hard not to like Endgame. As always, Snyder’s on point with his writing, and Capullo continues to ably demonstrate why he’s the best Batman artist since Alex Ross. It may not be entirely inventive in parts of the story, and the ending (which, despite the internet spoiling it to high heaven, I won’t reveal here) might lack tension somewhat. But it’s also got a knock-down, drag-out fight between Batman and a Joker venom-addled Justice League, a compelling emotional core, and one of the best Batman-on-Joker fistfights ever put to the page.
I get the sense Snyder and Capullo might soon be saying goodbye to Batman; if this is the last we see of their Joker, the Clown Prince of Crime definitely ends on a high note.
STAR WARS: DARTH VADER, VOL. 1 – VADER
Believe me, nobody’s more surprised than I that a Star Wars comic ended up here, much less one centered on the Dark Lord of the Sith. 2015 was, obviously, a landmark year for Star Wars that really rescued the franchise from the mire (getting rid of its immense expanded universe probably helped with that). Part of that rescue involved Marvel nicking off with the Star Wars comics license, previously stewarded by Dark Horse Comics.
Of the many series Marvel have produced since they got their toys back – including a superb self-titled ongoing, an ill-regarded Princess Leia miniseries and a nice post-Episode VI diversion in Shattered Empire – I’d offer that Darth Vader is the most compelling. You would think, as I did, that an ongoing series based on Star Wars‘ most public face of villainy wouldn’t have a lot to offer. We know what happens to him, and any stakes regarding his survival in a cliffhanger would be removed based on that.
Writer Kieron Gillen circumvents that problem by taking Vader in an entirely different direction than the one I’d envisioned. See, the Emperor’s a little pissed off that Vader allowed the first Death Star to blow up, and as such he’s holding deadly auditions for a new apprentice. Vader has to “compete” against an array of colourful psychotics who are vying for the Emperor’s favour. Assisting him are a young doctor, who’s fully aware Vader will kill her when he’s done with her and only asks for a quick kill from his lightsaber as payment for her services, and a black-clad, evil pair of murderous droids modeled off C-3PO and R2-D2, with a dash of Borderlands‘ Claptrap and Knights of the Old Republic‘s HK-47 thrown in. The whole affair is gorgeouslyrendered by artist Salvador Larroca, whose work I was already in love with from his stint on The Invincible Iron Man.
I’ll have more to say about Vader and the other new Star Wars comics in a Mind’s Eye post I’m working on, but suffice to say I really enjoyed it. It’s not groundbreaking, but it’s definitely a lot of fun. Vader himself makes for a surprisingly interesting protagonist, even though we know almost everything about him from nearly four decades of films, books, comics, video games and breakfast cereal boxes, and his supporting cast are a lot of fun. The plot kinda becomes like a really dark and twisted take on Doctor Who, with the more relatable human companion being our everyman viewpoint for an inscrutable protagonist. Safe bet says Volume 2 opens with Vader and Friends finding their own ship to go around the galaxy, solving mysteries.
One minor criticism: Volume 1’s subtitle is entirely redundant. We know his name’s Vader, guys; you wouldn’t have a book called Batman, Volume 1: I’m Batman. That’s less a title and more of a crazed inner monologue.
To celebrate hitting 50,000 words on my latest draft of The Five Lords, here’s another scene for you to experience with your eyeballs. This is separate to the scene I posted here a few months back; where before we were with Koron and his captors on the continent of Caras, this scene takes place in Kantis, the eastern continental neighbour of Caras. The scene is part of several Interregnums spaced throughout the story, where characters across the world, far away from our protagonists, show how they’re surviving the aftermath of the Great Punishment.
It was a beautiful morning for all of Kantis.
In Mimia’s mind, that was saying something. Kantis was the second-largest continent in the world, succeeded only by their western neighbours of Caras. The nation itself consisted of a multitude of ecological zones and weather systems; one city-state could be falling victim to the fiercest storm known to mankind, whilst another on the opposite end of the continent could be enjoying perfect seaside weather. For the day to be unilaterally gorgeous for all parts of Kantis was no small feat.
Mimia knew the day was so good because she consulted her World Bowl, filled to the midway with Seeing Water. It cast her gaze high above the countries of the Kantis Empire, giving her a Lord’s-Eye view of the ground. No clouds, no rain, no encroaching storms. As far as she could tell, Kantis was in for one of the best days it had ever been gifted since the Punishment.
She smiled, leaning back in her rocking chair, the World Bowl on the table in front of her. The room was at the top of the local Seer’s Tower, several kilometres inland from Kantis’s easternmost shore. The town of Kalab, famed in old days for its spicy food and hospitable locals, lay in ruins not six hundred metres from where the Tower stood.
The thought of that made her smile ebb a little, but not much. A good day meant the Five – or, at least, one or two of them – were pleased.
Loud footsteps from the Tower’s staircase told her Strenna had returned from her hunt. Sure enough, the younger woman reached the top of the stairs with an expertly-slain deer wrapped around her shoulders. She deposited it on the floor in front of Mimia’s table wordlessly, then took a long gulp from the water pitcher on the mantelpiece.
‘How many were there?’ Mimia asked, leaning back and closing her eyes for a moment. The breeze from outside gently kissed at her cheeks pleasantly.
Strenna swallowed loudly, then regained her breath. ‘I counted sixteen, at least. This one was a little slow.’ She prodded the deer gently with the tip of her boot. ‘We should be fine for a few days.’
Mimia nodded slowly, eyes still closed. ‘Can you remember the last time we had a breeze like this?’
Strenna put down the pitcher and stepped out onto the balcony. From there, Mimia knew she had a full view of the ocean, the shore and the border jungles that lined it for kilometres. The younger woman stood there a moment before turning back to Mimia and wryly remarking, ‘Doesn’t take much to make you happy, does it?’
‘Not these days, no.’
‘Good. Means I don’t have to try hard.’ More footsteps told Mimia that Strenna had walked over to the table, probably to peer into the World Bowl. She confirmed that by asking, ‘See anything good today?’
‘Only the lovely day ahead of us.’
‘What did you give up for it?’
Mimia opened her eyes, regarding Strenna with sardonic expression. ‘If I could tell you, I would.’
‘Uh huh.’ Strenna flicked a finger through the water. ‘Seems an odd price.’
‘Maybe. But it’s worth paying. I’ve told you that the last fifteen times.’
‘If I could, you know I’d throw this thing out,’ Strenna said seriously.
‘You’ve told me that the last fifteen times, too.’
‘Yeah, well, history has a way of repeating.’ Irritated, the younger woman went down to start skinning the deer. Her knife flashed quickly into her hand before making the first cut.
‘Do you really have to do that here?’ Mimia asked lightly.
Strenna grunted in the affirmative. ‘Might attract bandits if they see me downstairs. I think I saw tracks near one of the jungles.’
That wasn’t good. Mimia hadn’t presumed they’d be found so quickly. Granted, Strenna might only have seen animal tracks that looked like those of ruffians, but it was better not to take chances. They’d have maybe one more day before they’d have to leave.
They still hadn’t found what Mimia had come here for, and the nearest Seer’s Tower was six days by horse gallop. Time was running out.
‘Are you sure they were bandits?’ she asked.
‘Pretty sure,’ Strenna replied, cutting off parts of the deer’s flank.
‘How sure is pretty sure?’
‘Decent chance. Why?’
‘I need to know for certain.’
‘Then use the Bowl.’
That startled Mimia. In the four months since they’d first met and started traveling together, Strenna had never suggested using the Bowl as an option for anything. Fifteen separate conversations had given Mimia fifteen impressions that Strenna disapproved of using it. But now she’d apparently changed her mind, and in the space of a few seconds, no less.
Strenna seemed to catch that she’d thrown Mimia a little. ‘I’m allowed to change my mind, y’know.’
The knife cut more off the deer, peeling skin back from the pink, raw muscle underneath. ‘You’re clearly intent on using it to find what you’re looking for. If there’s one thing I’ve learned from you, it’s that you can’t be shaken from a path once you start walking it.’
Mimia smiled lightly. Good thing she’s learned something, at least. ‘It’s for the greater good.’
‘Sure it is.’ Strenna didn’t sound convinced. ‘Just do your thing, if you’re gonna do it.’
It seemed trivial, now Mimia thought about it, but she couldn’t go outside if there really were ruffians out there. The power of the Bowl was only meant for strong magical purposes, given what it took to use it. But hadn’t she only just now used it to see the weather, itself a trivial thing these days?
It’s beautiful. But maybe that’s a key.
To see the tracks from here would not require a large memory. The weather today, and the picturesque view of Kantis, would do.
Mimia clasped both hands to the rim, filled her mind with the memory of seeing Kantis, and poured it into the Bowl.
What little of the water that had been flicked out when Strenna drew her finger through it returned. The clear water was replaced by the image of sand, small dunes piled near a beaten dirt path. Small footprints led across them, from out of the image and into the nearby jungle. She leaned in, looking closer, and saw…
Yes. Definitely bandits; humans, at any rate. Those tracks were too narrow to be any local animal.
Mimia stood from the table, walked around Strenna’s dressing of the deer and pulled the doors of the balcony shut. ‘We’re staying in today, and tonight. We’ll leave in the morning.’
Strenna nodded, seemingly unsurprised. ‘Shame. It’s going to be such a nice day today.’
‘Oh,’ Mimia frowned, moving back to the table, ‘is it?’
Imagine a tiny little pocket of unreality, where the everyday and the supernatural intersect to create something unique. Imagine this pocket existing in a gallery in Glebe, where you can enter it and experience all those weird and wonderful intersections.
Good thing is, you don’t have to imagine it. You can actually go there. This is a thing that you can do.
Combining the mundane with the monstrous, the Fantasy and Imagination exhibition at The Shop Gallery on 112 Glebe Point Rd, Glebe, is a showcase of some of Sydney’s most innovative artistic talent. The theme is a hybrid of reality and the truly weird, featuring feral girls, shielded dragons, literal Internet trolls and luminescent cats. Over a dozen local artists feature in the exhibition.
It’s a treat for the eyes as well as the mind; handy little blurbs detail the talent behind the art and the motivation for their respective expressions. I found it fascinating to pick apart the visuals with the subtextual, especially since my visual art critique skills extend mostly to ‘Oh wow, that’s really pretty!’ Thankfully, these blurbs are as illustrious as the artwork they’re describing, and do a much better job conveying their respective wonders than I can.
While everything fits the theme appositely, the variance of art styles was welcome. Fantasy and Imagination involves a plethora of stylistic choices – including hand-drawn, computer-aided and, in one welcome offering, sumi ink painting – that perfectly match the artists’ personal expressions.
I was lucky enough to attend the Grand Opening night on December 17, but the exhibition is still running until Christmas Eve between 10am and 8pm. If you’re a fan of fairies riding giant snails, psychic hippos or hipster elves, I highly recommend you check it out. Go experience Sydney’s little pocket of unreality while it’s here.