Have an awful lot to cover this week, so we’re going to hit the ground running…
Contained within this installment of Ambidextrous, designed to shatter my poor word counter into tiny pieces, are reviews and fairly elaborate thoughts on this week’s hottest books, an end of the month progress report, my losing battle against Marvel’s Civil War, which believe it or not, actually led to the purchasing of my one copy of Wizard for the fiscal year. Matter of fact, let’s just start right there, with some further clarification of that previous sentence.
Wouldn’t say that I’ve outgrown Wizard, because that sounds a bit accusatory, but I will say that the internet has heavily encroached on the territory that the mag used to have on permanent lock. The announcements and news bits are coming at us so quickly, and so comprehensively, that personally, it doesn’t make any sense to pay six dollars for news that broke three weeks ago, and a price guide I have no interest in. However, anytime I’m tempted to put money down, it’s because of an exclusive preview or “first look” that Wizard has secured, which is the case here, with Wizard hosting a Millar/McNiven Civil War preview, and confirming some DC news that’s been making the rounds in the rumor columns for months. Still…nice to see it all official like here.
The Kubert Brothers were definitely a big acquisition for DC, and while their much discussed placement on Batman and Action Comics come as little surprise, it’s still that very obvious move you can’t wait to see play out. Especially with Morrison writing Batman. They ain’t budging on revealing the Action team quite yet, but a couple things stand out, the word duo, and the term high profile. If I was guessing blind, I’d say the producers on Smallville, or maybe Singer’s screenwriters for Superman Returns. Whoever it though, the book is gonna look damn pretty, as proven by Andy Kubert’s first Batman cover, which hit news outlets along with the weekend’s NY con write-ups. Look at that beautiful piece of work, and tell me this dude wasn’t born to draw Batman. Again, I mean, cause I know ya’ll haven’t forgot about the Batman/Predator crossover from the early nineties. But I expect and demand a poster of this from DC. Now, with that settled, onto Civil War…
Probably the biggest compliment I can pay this seven-page excerpt is that because of it, I’m buying the Zeb Wells/Skottie Young produced trade immediately. The reality television angle is a little well worn at this point, but there’s something very surreal about camera crews and boom mics on the scene of a superhero battle. What happens at the end is no big surprise, given the solicits, and the info that’s been steadily trickling out, but McNiven’s art in particular seems to have found another level. You can tell instantly that he’s definitely the man for a series attempting to reshape the entire Marvel Universe. It’ll be a few months before we learn if that actually happens, but the more I hear, the more I’m interested, so naturally, I had to pick up this week’s Spider-Man, which I’m told starts “the road to Civil War,” and debuted that costume everyone has been talking about for weeks.
I wasn’t particularly crazy about it, but once Marvel revealed it a temporary change, and the very strong storytelling connection behind it, I was able to turn the fanboy off a bit. Having seen it in action, I actually like its application, and the bond it establishes between Peter and Tony Stark, which is very obviously going to pay off in Civil War. Like Tony says, the two of them are very similar in certain respects, the science background, the ability to speak the “language of common sense,” and having Peter serve as Tony’s protégé of sorts, should make for some interesting developments in the next couple months. Seems that no matter what the situation, Peter always becomes a primary emotional focus, because his experience and his standing dictate it, and his responses set the relative tone, and help those around him determine what is right, and what is wrong. And being the genius that he is, Stark has to realize this, so while it appears that he’s being entirely forthcoming, you know there’s the shark in him that’s intending to subtly manipulate Peter to sway larger opinions, when bad things start to happen. Should be fun, and this is a great start.
And now, a few more of this week’s more notable releases, starting with the return of Joss Whedon and John Cassaday to the world of the X-Men…
Astonishing X-Men #13 (Joss Whedon/John Cassaday/Laura Martin)
“Emma. Your game is first.”
And my people had me all worried about this one. Cause I’ve been patiently waiting for this issue, just like everybody else, hoping the second “year” of Astonishing was as entertaining as the first. There were some delays, there were a couple mis-steps, but more often than not, this was a damn good X-book. Damn good book, period. But anyway, last weekend SBC posted the latest “slugfest” feature, which for those unfamiliar, allows several reviewers to contribute thoughts on the same book, before averaging together their respective bullet ratings. There, we find a relative consensus, and in this particular case, Astonishing clocked in at three bullets. See here, visual proof.
Now to me, that score is reserved for what I’d term a “harmless comic book,” something that isn’t quite good, but also isn’t so bad that you feel slightly dirty after finishing it. Something that doesn’t move you one way or the other. Ya’ll feel me, right? Okay then, so I’m definitely expecting the “flagship” X-title to be far more than harmless, so I hit my first read-through with three bullets on the brain, and barring the unlikely possibility that I’ve somehow become easier to please in the last week…my initial reaction was that it deserved a little more than that.
As usual, Cassaday has things well covered on the artistic end, and the sneaking suspicion that dude could make anything worth looking at, is further reinforced. Having said that, Joss gives him some incredible material here, with the level of characterization being the tightest element. Sure I don’t have to tell you about Whedon’s natural sense of team dynamics, that allows the spotlight to shift between the varying personalities and motivations, without losing the story’s overall focus, is one of his primary strengths. He really just understands how people relate and interact with one another, and is one of those guys that can make it look pretty easy, though I’d imagine it’s anything but.
Emma Frost and her conflicted loyalties are the staging point for everything, and despite some initial concern that Frost is more interesting working alongside the good guys, I’m lovin’ the added wrinkle that her relationship with Scott Summers is a bit more than complicated playacting. Also, props to Whedon for publicly acknowledging a major plot thread from Morrison’s run, while cleverly filling in the blanks on a very essential unanswered question. On top of the Hellfire Club business, everyone is given a brief chance to shine, from Logan’s little scene with the kids in the Danger Room, to some highly awkward moments between Peter and Kitty, and more mystery surrounding S.W.O.R.D. This is definitely more of a “set-up” issue than anything, but everyone is given something relevant to do, which is another facet of the team book that Whedon continues to deliver.
Expect the dominos to begin falling any time now, and for Astonishing to clearly step away from any word synonymous with “harmless,” which I think has already been accomplished…but maybe that’s just me…
Knights Of The Old Republic #2 (John Jackson Miller/Brian Ching/Michael Atiyeh)
“Whatever happened to make the masters…do what they did…they intended the same thing for all of us. What had we done? What had we seen? What were they afraid of?”
Yes, yes, me and Star Wars again. Be quiet. I’ve told you all the story about my initial exposure to the first movie, and the very profound reaction it triggered, almost as many times as I’ve talked about coming into the game at the inception of Image Comics, and leaving my first comic shop with Spawn #1. Here’s the obvious marriage of those two tangents, because another of the first books I left that place with was Star Wars: Dark Empire #1. Not sure if that was the absolute first thing Dark Horse put out with the license, but here was that scenario that I’d been imagining for years…what really happened after Return of the Jedi. Cause I saw that happy Ewok stuff same as anybody, but I wasn’t buying. Would Luke ultimately bring back the Jedi? Does Leia ever embrace her role as the other Skywalker? Is the Emperor actually dead? Anybody that read the mini, and its eventual follow-up, knows that most of those questions were answered quite well.
After that though, what should’ve been an obvious love affair with Star Wars comics diminished somewhat. I’d grab some things here and there, but unlike every other person in the world, I had no fondness for Boba Fett, or even most of the other supporting characters. For me, it’s the Force or nothing, baby. All that other stuff is just window dressing, until the lightsabers show up. The Clone Wars stuff was kinda cool, filling in the blanks between episodes II and III, but with that ship sailed, I was more than a bit curious to see where DH would take the license. This series is the first answer, with another Republic themed book coming soon, before what could be the incredibly dope Legacy title. And if either of them are as engrossing as Knights, I’ll be reading three monthly Star Wars books, and all will be right with the world.
Gotta have Jedi Knights or Skywalkers to hook me in, and seeing how the events here take place roughly four thousand years before the Battle of Yavin, I’m lookin’ for some Jedi action. Fortunately, I’m well covered by Padawan Zayne Carrick, who just witnessed his four friends murdered by their own Jedi Masters, and is now on the run. That right there was more than enough to secure the attention, and you can never go wrong with a decent chase scene, which is delivered here, Zayne fleeing the murder scene with four accomplished Masters on his tail, and an alien con artist in the passenger seat. Carrick is far from being a “chosen one” of any kind, considered somewhat lacking, even by Padawan status, making it even more unlikely he’ll survive on his own. But then…there’s always something cool about watching a character face down impossible odds, isn’t there? And with the entire Republic looking for him, led by four of his mentors with some hidden rationale and agenda, I’d say this definitely qualifies. Most importantly, it also makes for one entertaining Star Wars book. One down, two to go, I suppose…
Ultimate Wolverine vs. Hulk #2 (Damon Lindelof/Leinil Francis Yu/Dave McCaig)
“Ask yourself…What if it is not you who changes into the Hulk…But the Hulk who changes into you?”
Now, that was dope. When the first issue of this dropped, I remember the internet passionately exploding with all manners of praise for this supreme effort, which apparently indicated that I just didn’t get it. I am incredibly devoted to LOST and nearly everything about it, but Lindelof’s first script didn’t hit me, for whatever reason. Maybe it was the “Logan ripped in half” bit that hijacks any notion of the “suspension of disbelief” and chucks it four miles in the opposite direction, but overall, the whole issue felt light to me. Harmless, even. Some good sequences, some good lines, but too much “air” in it, places to be filled with insightful and clever characterization, but left somewhat blank. Let’s blame learning curve or something, and get to how this second chapter is nothing like the first, if you accept that the first was only good, whereas this is most definitely great.
The LOST vibe is undeniable here, my boy telling me that he can almost hear the familiar “WHOOOSH” sound as the scenes transition. Here, the focus is squarely on Bruce Banner, and just how he survived the nuclear explosion meant to end his life, and everything that happened afterward, leading up to his meeting with Wolverine. As with LOST, the flashback sequences fill in important bits of characterization, with the intent of deepening the understanding of just how and why Banner reacts to the things around him, with the sharpest insight, emerging from his failed relationship with Betty. That “motivation” is something that everyone can easily plug into, and it provides a tragic element that makes it difficult to dislike the character, even when he flips out and kills a bunch of people. We’ve all felt a bit insane when dealing with an ex, but thankfully, most of us don’t turn into the Hulk what it happens.
And finally, after months and months of searching, Banner finds a place where he can learn to control his emotions, and then the walking earthworm shows up and messes it all up. So now, with things properly laid out, they can fight.
I don’t know, even Yu’s art looks better to me in this one. Hulk riding a megaton explosion into the clouds, before crashing into the ocean. Banner arriving at a mountaintop monastery. It all looks pretty gorgeous from front to back, with Yu reserving most of the flash and flair for when the Hulk shows up. And as I said, it appears next issue will be the giant fight.
Maybe it just took a little longer for the signal to reach me, but now I am fully prepared to join the ‘net based gushing of Lindelof’s work. Can you even imagine what the oversized hardcover of this will probably be like? Know I can, which shouldn’t come as a surprise, cause you know, that’s what I do. Bottom line though, this is a fantastic showing, from all involved, and I’m sorry I ever doubted this one. Go Damon…
Black Panther #13 (Reginald Hudlin/Scot Eaton/Klaus Janson/Dean White)
“This armor has been consecrated in the name of the Panther God. This blade is a weapon of the Roman Catholic Church. In the name of all that is holy—prepare to die.”
I have to suppress this urge I’m feelin’ right now…actually, it’s probably something I’ll be fighting for the next couple weeks, but this entire storyline of Black Panther has done nothing but give me the most wonderful ideas. Past four months have essentially amounted to an incredibly inspiring team-up of Marvel’s premier black superheroes, which of course, there aren’t THAT many of, but for once I’mma leave that alone. Only once now, so don’t get too excited. Point is, that seeing Panther, Cage, Blade, and even Brother Voodoo in the same story was far more personally important than I’d originally thought it’d be. Hudlin put the idea out there when he first got the gig, and even I feared it would ultimately come off as somewhat artificial. Like the only relevant connection between the dudes was that they’re black, and that couldn’t possibly be enough to craft a decent story around. Well, you know what, shame on me, because after reading it, not only do I not give a shit about anything like that…but I’ll have this really powerful image stuck in my head for days.
No apology, little explanation, cause I figure if no one is willing to apologize for loving crossovers, and variant covers, ain’t no way that’s going down here. Seeing a group of black superheroes takin’ out dozens of redneck vampires has me smiling a Kool-Aid grin, and thinking…man, what if stuff like this could happen on a more regular basis? What if someone figured out a really clever reason for these guys to team-up every once in a while, for the express purpose of delivering grins to the entire comic industry? Are people ready for a high-profile super team book, with a predominantly black cast?
I can’t pretend to know the answers to any of that, but I really underestimated how much I was gonna like this story, and how exciting it would be, if this wasn’t the last time we saw something like this. The eventual trade of this is destined to become one of my prized possessions, so whenever I get the urge to check out Panther handing a beat down to a bunch of ninjas, or the “first” meeting between him and Luke Cage in a crowded nightclub, or when he had the Dora Milaje take the roof off a house full of vampires, before putting on a suit of dope ass armor, I’ll know exactly where to go. My man Shola e-mailed this weekend, and used a word that perfectly describes this four-issue arc.
And that’s it right there.
Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have to start writing a couple notes down for a new pitch, codename “Black Avengers.” Heh, heh…kidding, kidding…I think anyway. I’ll let you know in a couple weeks.
Okay, wanted to apprise you guys of some personal stuff, since it’s been keeping me from writing the column the last few weeks. Some of it still needs to remain “top-secret” for a little while longer, but February was a pretty good month. Wrote two decent sized columns, finished a major pitch I’d been promising someone for weeks, drafted an emergency script for someone else, and am a few pages away from finishing another script for a third someone.
On the creator-owned front, this week is all about preparing The Many Adventures of Miranda Mercury for its final approach, tinkering with the short write-up, and having Lee Ferguson’s beautiful pages lettered up. Need to finish revising the first Takeover script, and find a new artist for it, and production has begun on the next issue of The God Complex, with the pages being drawn out of sequence, which is just wonderful, because that means we get to work on the “plane sequence” first. When J Masters starts sendin’ those pages through, I promise you, it will take every single ounce of restraint I have, not to plaster them all over this column. They will be dope, and I know this without even seeing them. That’s my superpower, you see, predicting the near future.
And right now, I’m seeing the massive amount of books set to release next Wednesday, and I’m as excited as I am exhausted. Because I mean, chances are, I will be compelled to talk about several of them, especially the One Year Later stuff, Crisis, and the return of the Ultimates. Might do speed reviews or something, or you know, maybe after spending around fifty bucks, I’ll have absolutely nothing to talk about.
Right, I’m not buying it either. Back next week, and last thing, is dropping off a link to a fantastic little interview with creator LeSean Thomas, who’s been spending his last several months as lead character designer for Adult Swim’s acclaimed Boondocks cartoon. Season 2 already approved, baby. But he’s a comic dude, and I like him and his artwork, and I LOVE The Boondocks, so there you go. Tell ya friends, people.
Also, somewhere around here should be that promo pic from Spider-Man 3, with the black costume. Why, you ask? Because it’s so damn cool, that’s why.
Enjoy, and see you soon.