A Companion to Comic Culture

I’ve gotten some pretty good buzz surrounding my last post, despite it going up around 2 am when normal people are asleep. I asked if there would be any interest in hearing my opinions on the some of the works I read. That’s read in the past tense, and there was. First realize a single comic issue is about 20-24 pages long. It can be a little more and a little less. That seems to be a consistent with the American, English and Japanese comic publication. No comment, but I do wonder if there is some reason behind the number. Given this length understand what I did in about a month and a half worth of my free time. I counted them all up and I read 605 comic issues.

Also, a lot of it was older stuff. (Older stuff being pre 2010.) Very little were contemporary comics, though there were a lot of Modern Comics. It’s a spread over the 60s, 80s, 90s and 00s. Also, as I finish a work I give a micro review over Twitter, I’m not going to go back through 2 months worth of tweets to find them There’s a lot, so here we go.

DC

-Batman: Dark Victory- I heard this was an all-time classic, with Batman acting like a detective and displays part of the fall of Harvey Dent. It is great to see Batman taking on non-super villains and finishing what Year One started with regards to the mob. But I do think it’s over hyped. It really comes off as a blur as I remember little of any specific details. But I like this Batman much more than the “Goddamn” version that seems to be popular now.

-Batman: Gotham by Gaslight- This is what a serial killer investigation should be. Really gets the Victorian horror/mystery vibe right. This is an Elseworlds story done right, because it’s about the circumstances that are different, not squeezing in every cameo they can fit.

-Batman: Thrillkiller- It’s neat, I guess, but beyond a gander it doesn’t really mean much of anything. At the end it can’t escape the status quo and be interesting. This does try to squeeze in every cameo it can.

-Transmetropolitan- I only read the first 30 issues (out of 60) and does this grab your balls or what. Style, substance and scarily accurate for the shithole of a political arena we are in now. This makes me want to read the original Gonzo journalist. Heartbreaking at times.

-We3- Short and sweat and will probably need a reread to suss out everything within those pages. One of those titles I’m think of buying. It flows too quickly and really requires a close examination of everything happening. Not a complaint, just something to watch out for when you read it.

Marvel

-1602- This is one of those works I wish was better than it was, or rather it’s one I wish stuck to its premise and didn’t try to shoehorn in the existing universe. This story was perfect as it was without the alternative reality being revealed for what it was. Neil Gaiman wrote a wonderful concept with themes of political unrest, loyalty, honor and treachery set within the very real turmoil of the era. It was good, even great in the beginning, but it could have been brilliant, a work of literature. That’s what’s most disappointing about it, it could have become cannon, but it pulls back in the final issues.

-Marvel Noir: X-Men Noir- This is noir at its finest. A reimagined X-Men that grounds it far more in reality than the overly fantastical, right up pulpy nature of the original series. This gets at a lot of what makes both the X-Men appealing and noir great. Though I have to say it lost a bit of its appeal to me when they killed my favorite character. It’s a great ending, just not as personally hard hitting.

-Marvel Noir: X-Men Noir – Mark of Cain- And this is Wolverine: Origins to X-Men Noir’s X-2. It falls into the problems that plague both the X-Men series and noir. Too many twists revealed at the end of shifting alliances, too many cameos, pulp storyline mcguffin, subpar writing and an ending that isn’t noir.

-Marvel Noir: Spider-Man Noir- This is noir, actually this would have made a great Batman story, but it does have the Spider-Man sense to it. It’s kind of sad when Marvel does a better Batman story than what modern Batman has devolved into. What I mean is, Spider-Man in this gritty world is more interesting than Batman ever was as a character.

-Marvel Noir: Spider-Man Noir – Eyes Without a Face- Another great and heartbreaking story on more than one front. I’m not sure if it’s within the sensibilities of the genre as there is a lot more color in this sequel, but the ending hits all the right notes. Nobody wins and everyone is hurt. Beautifully deranged, but on the whole it’s only good not great like X-Men Noir.

-Amazing Spider-Man #666- What the hell is this? I’m sorry, I know there’s a whole new continuity because of a lot of bullshit with the Devil, but why is Peter Parker a member of the Fantastic Four, the Avengers and now selling his Spider tech as patents to pay for a non stop career crime fighting. Isn’t this the character supposed to be about personal responsibility shown through the personal sacrifices willing and unintentional as the price for doing the right thing? If everything is set up to go his way, anything he faces is mere lip service. What I’m saying is: why is the Spider-Man now using the themes from the Avengers? If this was an invitation to ready people for your enormous Spider-Man event, it failed.

I’ve noticed this. All the major Marvel series have a theme associated with them. Spider-Man = personal responsibility, X-Men= prejudice, Fantastic Four= family (the one you’re born with), Avengers= Rock Group (the family you choose). But now everything seems to have shifted over one step to the right. When did this happen and why?

-Spider-Man: House of M- I haven’t read the full House of M event and from the look of it, it will be a while. It’s freaking huge. But Spider-Man’s was interesting because it took the same approach by putting him on top of the world and then pulling the rug out when the truth comes out and he finally takes responsibility. It looks at it from another angle, but remains true to the theme of the character. Plus, it’s great seeing Spider-Man of all people pulling one over on Magneto; and all the bad guys as his personal security detail.

-Rogue (mini-series)- This is my favorite X-Men character when done right. This is a mini-series focused solely on the character and we finally get a story about her origins and coming back home. Again, it makes the mistake of getting way too fantastical and fantasy based. A character study and the reactions of her coming home would have been better. It’s still great to see her highlighted like this though.

-Icons: Rouge- And speaking of character study. This is brilliant from start to finish. Not quite acclimated, but struggling with who she is and what she is. She comes to terms with it, but it is only the story of her first step. It isn’t the whole story. There is way too much Cyclops for a Rouge story though. And as meaningful as the ending was, there was no way not to make the concept of it not silly or contrived.

-X-Men: Age of X- Again it’s the goddamn need for this story to be part of the larger continuity. And I don’t mean that you have to know previous continuity, I mean in how it forces everything to fit so it goes back to the status quo. Maybe it’s okay for a story to stand on it’s own so you don’t totally phone in the ending or undermine the premise that made it interesting in the fucking first place. What could have been the hyper extreme version of X-Men that explored ends of theme that makes it great, it undermines it with that ending and details hinting at that ending that turn it into 3rd rate Sci-Fi schlock.

-X-Men: Age of X Universe- This two-issue companion piece does not have that problem. Here’s the premise, write some stories within it: Go. It’s not excellent, but at least it goes somewhere new and interesting. Plus, it made me cry over Mystique of all people.

-Uncanny X-Men 1-10, 534.1-542- Stan Lee’s writing may be hokey, but I like the subtle mix of ideas and character inserted in. In these early issues it seems there is a lot of synthesis working, most likely unintended, between over explanation and culturally known themes that allow underling meaning to work their way into our brains. It may be reading too much into basic super-hero stuff, but I feel reading more of the older stuff may give me a handle on how to tell stories in video games. Kieron Gillen, I know you are trying, but there is no way you can make Fear Itself work like this and the ending to the previous arc wasn’t so hot, even after the Hitchcock like thriller middle set up.

-X-Men Legacy 248-253- Remember what I said about shifting away from the proper X-Men themes and shifting over to someone else themes. Here we have a team cleaning up the aftermath of Age of X that didn’t really need to happen. This is Fantastic Four territory with the science and camaraderie. Also, if you are going to try to a Japanese style “battle manga” don’t half ass it. I stuck with it because it stars my favorite character, poorly though.

-X-Men Schism 1-3- Much better effort here, though this is where I’m pissed at the news sites and things get too confusing. Rogue in this one is in Iran with Kitty Pride saving Mackmadina-I can’t spell his name-ijad from their faulty Sentinel. Love the line “by the way I’m Jewish.” But in Legacy Rouge got transported across the galaxy to save Rachel (who?) and in X-Force is in Atlantis. I wouldn’t mind, but this is supposed to be the same universe. Not interested in why everyone will go they’re separate ways, but at least we’re getting back on theme.

-Generation Hope 9-10- Everything I’ve read about this series is not good. From what little I can tell, it’s well deserved. I hate perfect characters with no flaws other than the burden of being the Christ stand in. Luckily these two issues, also written by Kieron Gillen, gently excise Hope Summers (yeah) from the picture. In #9 it’s so on message I hate to call it preachy, because it isn’t. It is a little rushed however. It doesn’t let some things marinate so the end really hits hard. #10 had me tearing up. WHY? WHY? WHY? It hurts because it’s true.

-X-Campus- It starts with a great, fresh premise (though Evolution did it 100 times better) at least in comic book terms, and then goes to hell in the second half back to pointless battles and ending leaving me going “really?” Wolverine as a moody teenager gets props though. Rouge as a bland cardboard cutout doesn’t.

-New X-Men 114-122- Much better, need to read more. Why did space become a thing with X-Men? Ruins every story I see it in.

WildStorm

-The Boys 1-10- This is a pretty good series, what I’ve read of it. I recommend it if, and only if, you can take the subject matter. It’s a graphic, over sexualized, mean-spirited, bigoted, painful read, but none of that is done without a purpose. When creators put the same stuff in their works without a purpose it’s awful, but the same vile stuff used purposefully is a different matter. Additionally, I’ve seen people try to use the real iconic characters that many of these supers are based off of and it wont work. They are icons for a reason. You need allegories to those characters to take the piss out of them properly. It’s one reason Watchmen was so great. This is not an easy read merely for content reasons.

Now here comes the hard part. We’re back to Marvel, but not we’re in Fully Developed Alternative Universe Mode. MC2 based off a What if… comic turned full series, turned full universe. And the Ultimate Universe. There will be a lot of one-liners.

MC2

-Spider-Girl- Silver Age mentality with modern writing and a good-natured sense of humor. HOLY SHIT YES. This is the series that has me starting to think I like the Silver Age way of doing things. Mayday Parker is a great character and the themes burn brightly. This is a favorite series of mine now. The highlight is issue #41.

-Amazing Spider-Girl- See Above.

-Spectacular Spider-Girl- See Above.

-Spider-Girl: The End- Well if you have to end it, this is probably the best you could hope for.

-A-Next, Avengers Next, American Dream, Darkdevil, The Buzz, J2, Fantastic Five, Last Hero Standing, Last Planet Standing- All of these are really only necessary to get the story of the whole Alternative Universe. Some like Darkdevil and The Buzz give pretty necessary back-story, but you can get the gist otherwise. They also vary in quality, but none are exceptional or even great.

-Wild Thing- This pissed me off like you wouldn’t believe. Wild Thing is the daughter of Wolverine and Elektra. That’s not the issue. The issue is wasted potential. Yes she is a mutant. Yes she is as somewhat feral as her father and deadly like her mother. Her character throughout the whole series is schizophrenic at best. It seems DeFalco didn’t know what to do with her. (He wrote everything for MC2.) I’ll show you an image that could have driven the whole miniseries or even gotten a larger series.


Yeah, that emotion is never brought up again. Back to superhero ass kicking with no consequences. Also, she has a brother and this never comes up either except in other series where she isn’t. Why is this?

Ultimate Universe

-Ultimate Iron Man I- Crap and not even in continuity.

-Ultimate Iron Man II- Also, crap and still not part of continuity.

-Ultimate Daredevil and Elektra- Love it. The changes they made to the original characters make more sense to me as a whole. Handles real issues, I don’t know how well, but dramatically it does great work.

-Ultimate Elektra- Another great mini-series, but the ending had left me going WTF. Because it doesn’t really mesh with later appearances of Elektra and just leaves me a bit confused. But in story the end is heart wrenching.

-Ultimate Fantastic Four 1-12- Wow, they’ve become interesting. The first 12 are pure set up for the series proper that take their time telling the story. I think we’ve realized beginnings are not to be rushed through to get to the action and super-hero stuff. How Reed Richards became interesting is beyond me.

-The Ultimates 1-6- Fuck this series. Mark Millar stick your grit somewhere else. I know you are trying to make a point, but remember what I said about The Boys. It works because it doesn’t do stuff with iconic characters, but created allegories. Yeah, you didn’t do that. This is just ugly. Especially in light of movies and how they came together. But what finally lost me was the ‘Hitler was an evil alien’ plot point.

-Ultimate X-Men 1-22- Remember last time I said X-Men is my favorite comic property, well the comics themselves are testing me on this. I checked afterwards and I stopped right before this series changed writers, Millar again. But what I read, save for a two-shot that was done by someone else, this series is just so bad and so mean-spirited when it didn’t have to be. I wonder a lot about the child soldier angle to the X-men, and here they don’t even try to ignore it or pretend they are older, no it’s front and center and it says “so what.” And Rouge, what did you do to Rouge, eeegh. I checked 2 issues from the Brian Michel Bendis run, much better, so much better. Not spectacular, but better.

-Ultimate Spider-Man, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, Ultimate Six, Ultimate Team Up, Ultimate Requiem Spider-Man- Yeah this is what you’ve been waiting for. What can I say, this series, yeah all those titles are pretty much the same series, gets everything right. Remember when I said I was thinking about buying We3, well I went out and bought the first big trade collection of Ultimate Spider-Man and will get the second one soon. The pacing, the weaving of super-hero events with his normal life, everything just works. It’s stays rooted in the characters, not the events. For some reason though, the best X-Men stories I’ve read, are in this series. Something is wrong when the best X-Men stories are in a Spider-Man book. Oh and Aunt May here is da bomb.

-Ultimate Comics X- More set up. It was suppose to be it’s own series, but all it did was set up for the real reboot this September. I guess you need to read it to know who the new people are, but that’s it.

-Ultimate Comics Fallout- This broke my heart. Now reading it straight through, I don’t see how this can’t affect you after reading Spider-Man. Everyone was hit, everyone was hurt. I think more than just within the fiction, in the universe, Spider-Man was what held it together.

That’s pretty much everything I read during my comic hiatus. Those are my opinions on the works I read. I had some ups, I had some downs; I had a lot of meh, and few big disappointments. And now to quote, “That’s all I have to say about that.”

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