I feel compelled to play “voice of reason” about this whole Civil War lateness thing that has been all the rage the last few days…

For those of you without access to a relevant message board, or even one of the opposite variety, Marvel recently announced somewhat sweeping delays in all things Civil War. Because of the intensely tight plotting, the main title being behind effects almost everything, primarily the hearts and minds of comic fans worldwide, if you’re to believe the Internet, and honestly…why wouldn’t you? The involved creators have responded, along with an uninvolved one, and even a couple editorial types, all delivering a fairly consistent message. “We’re sorry, things didn’t work out like we planned, but through factors completely unintentional and without malice, Civil War is running late. And we’re sorry.” Paraphrasing I know, but you get the general picture. My question is the same that Sean “Puffy” Combs once posed to the self-proclaimed Madd Rapper…why you so mad?

Now, on the retail side of the equation, that bit of commentary doesn’t apply. Marvel’s announcement means lost money, and messin’ with a person’s money ain’t cool, and with the sheer velocity this event is having in stores, these books need to be on the shelves. I’ve seen no indication that successfully running a comic shop is particularly easy, and stuff like this can’t help matters, so every single retailer comment is worth mention, and automatically provided a certain amount of natural credence. Now, the rest of you, the crazed and vocal fan base with more screen names than sense, and an uncontrollable urge to spout some kind of negativity at every turn, please, and I mean this is all possible sincerity…PLEASE shut the fuck up. Pretty please, with a fat ass cherry on top. You’re giving some of us a bad name, and offering yet another very clear example of why you can only take a small percentage of Internet commentary seriously.

I want to know what the hell Thor is doing too, but having to wait an additional month to find out doesn’t set my personal world into a tailspin. I wish I had so little going on, that something as irrelevant as a late comic book distressed me to the degree it seems to have affected others. While inconvenient on a miniscule level, a late book is something people should be well accustomed to by now, and therefore something met with casual disappointment and not concentrated outrage, because I’m sure everyone involved had every intention of getting the book out when they said it’d be out, and there’s a good chance this is more aggravating for them, than it is for you.

And really, most of this is our fault, the ever-demanding fan base. Because as loudly as people proclaim they’d be willing to accept a fill-in artist, that’s not really true. Most recent example of this would be Infinite Crisis, which used a variety of artists to finish up the massive crossover, many of them extremely capable, and people still found time to complain about it. Hell, someone probably just did before you could even reach this paragraph. Cats just don’t like to see anyone but the advertised artist supplying pages, and the assertion they don’t, is much like the idea Marvel and DC should publish cheaper black and white editions on a monthly basis. Sounds kinda nice, but it’s really nonsense. We’ve become too attached to the high production values, and the idea of a consistent artistic voice behind the wheel, certainly a welcome byproduct of the creators taking over the industry, becoming just as important, if not more so, than the characters they take on.

With the immense sales and critical weight attached to the game, sustaining a particular creative vision is of monumental importance sometimes, and under no circumstance would folks be willing to buy an issue of Ultimates 2 without Hitch, or Planetary with Cassaday. And why should we? Those artists are just as responsible for the success of those titles as the writers are, and Civil War penciler Steve McNiven certainly has a lot to do with the warm reception the project is receiving. And his work will make this a very beautiful oversized hardcover that will sell incredibly well once its dropped on the market. Sometimes, you gotta look at the big picture, and when Civil War #4 does come out at the end of September, people will buy it, and keep on goin’, life relatively unaffected.

Year from now, no one will remember exactly when it came out, and I will have a very dated, and strangely unnecessary-looking piece in my index. Just a sacrifice I’m willing to make at this point for the greater good, and with that safely accomplished, let’s head on to a couple reviews from this week, and close out with a little public service announcement…

 


Ultimate Fantastic Four #32 (Mark Millar/Greg Land/Matt Ryan)

And so ends a very impressive run by Millar and Land. From the clever fake-out in “Crossover” to the proper return of Doom in “Frightful,” Millar served up a year’s worth of stories that highlights exactly what the Ultimate line is for. I’ve loved the genius think-tank aspect from the very beginning, and Millar’s stuff really pushed that into the forefront, and made Reed Richards into the coolest little dude on the planet. Also much appreciated was the new take on Sue Storm, making her the intellectual equal of her elastic boyfriend, and providing that additional dimension to their relationship. Ben’s plight got quite a bit of screen time too, which is one of those things sometimes lost in the wake of a couple decades’ worth of continuity and personality adjustment. Johnny on the other hand, never really crossed the threshold into terribly interesting, but maybe that’s just his bad hair talking.

Biggest thing for me was Millar abandoning the longer arcs, choosing deceptively simple three issue stories, giving everything a laser-like focus, and shifting the normal cadence of his storytelling. Before you got the chance to really acknowledge just how cool the set-ups where, things had quickly moved on, a really nice touch for a group of characters whose thoughts and actions were always several steps ahead of everybody else. Know Land took a bit of heat about a few suddenly changing faces, but it never took you completely out of things, and his style does have a certain charm to it, which obviously is why he’s doing the Ultimate Power thing next. Not much else past that, another excellent addition to Millar’s catalog, and a definite hardcover purchase when the time comes. Fantastic, indeed…


Fell #6 (Warren Ellis/Ben Templesmith)

Continues being that strange little comic that deserves every bit of praise heaped upon it. Fell and Mayko finally have their first date, which quickly turns into a very bizarre encounter with a father and his sick daughter, in true Snowtown fashion. Won’t spoil the twist behind it, because honestly, even if I told you, there’s a good chance you wouldn’t believe it anyway, but apparently, it’s one of those “ripped from the headlines” moments, making it that much creepier. What is the world coming to when truth is stranger than even Warren Ellis fiction?

But this must be the most unusual first date anyone ever had, and says as much about Mayko as it does about Fell. Another very compelling character, Mayko offered the exiled detective “protection” from the bad mojo of Snowtown, and some romance developing between them was obvious from the start, but it’s still good to see here. Storytelling remains a wonderful strength, Ellis smashing a lot of story and dialogue into a 16-page frame, and making the space feel much larger than it really is. First page is a perfect example, every single panel advancing the story in fairly large chunks, turning what could’ve easily swallowed two or three pages into an eight-panel deal. Fell meets with his boss (Lt. Beard), in the process of eradicating all crime through the use of magic, quickly decides to take a personal day, checks in with Beard’s secretary, calls up Mayko and asks if she wants to roll with him, picks her up when she agrees, decides to drive over to the old park after a short discussion, talks about just why he can’t go back over the bridge, and then clumsily changes the subject. All on one single page.

Reading this book, and the one I’m talking about next, is almost like taking a short monthly class on condensed storytelling, and I probably spend as much time picking the techniques apart, as I do enjoying the actual story. Really hope this format becomes a staple not just at Image, but around the industry in general, because there’s a lot that can be accomplished with it, and you can’t beat the price.


Casanova #3 (Matt Fraction/Gabriel Ba)

Same format as Fell, same result as Fell. Actually, don’t tell Warren Ellis, but I just might like Casanova a little more. There is so much going on here, and I know I said this when the first issue dropped, but Fraction appears to be trying so hard with this book, and even beyond that, what other comic can say its first line is about Morris Day? The basic premise is plain dope, the secret agent son of the world’s greatest secret agent is kidnapped into a parallel timeline to serve as a double agent within the organization that opposes his father’s. Know how that sounds, but it’s really quite simple, and quite excellent on several levels. The storytelling is dense, the characters are cool as hell, and this was when things were poppin’ off in Timeline 909 mind you, not the 919, where things are happening now, and the relationships are all terribly skewed.

This issue is all about the consequences of last month’s failure to remove deep cover agent Winston Heath from an island powered itself with pure sex energy. E.M.P.I.R.E. (his father’s organization) is suspending him from active duty for 90 days while they investigate, which is a light punishment, compared to the one he receives from Newman Xeno (head of rival outfit W.A.S.T.E.), which involves an uncomfortable stint in the torture chamber. Where his twin sister Zephyr joins in on the fun, still a bit pissed that Cass shot her in the stomach and left her for dead at the close of the Heath campaign. Fraction’s story refuses to stand still, jumping back and forth in time, using a couple neat visual and storytelling tricks to keep things straight, as he deepens the characterizations and advances this world of undercover agents, and impending double-crosses. A graveyard for spooks, some father-son bonding, and the whereabouts of Cass’ mother are a few things to be had, in front of another excellent essay that explains what went into this story’s creation.

Process junkie that I am, hearing the bits of songs, experiences, and weird dreams that aided in the creation of a 16-page comic is something I can always get behind. Good to hear that some of the inspiration for this came from the fantastic “Out of Gas” episode from the short-lived Firefly series. Gotta co-sign on the “BEST! OPEN! EVER!” commentary Fraction offered about it too. His notion about variant endings is also pretty tight, and something I’d planned to do with Miranda Mercury at some point, but now I can’t because then I’d look and feel like an absolute biter. It’s cool though, I still love his book, and cannot wait for his Punisher and Iron Fist books at the big House. Think next issue Cass Quinn has to steal a god, which just has to be cool…


Okay, the title of this thing is “late,” and yeah, that applies to the whole Civil War situation, but it also describes this particular Ambi. Was planning a big post-Wiz World piece, but after going to the show and being bored almost to tears I decided against it. Despite some hang-time with friends Nate Lee and Craig Mac, this show, to me anyway, suffered terribly from being too close to San Diego. Everyone seemed to be sleepwalking through it, with both majors doing almost carbon copy slideshows, though DC was a little worse about that than Marvel, who did break a couple big things. But it was hard to get excited because of the constrictive panel rooms, and general malaise of the show.

So honestly, despite having some good meals, finding a copy of the Batman/Predator trade (later signed by Andy Kubert), and being able to help out my man Sanford Greene, wasn’t much to burn a column on.

Even more than that, I’m in a weird place right now, far as writing is concerned. Looking over at the calendar on the wall, that doubles as a daily “progress tracker,” I’ve already taken a half dozen days off, which for me, is completely unheard of. Thankfully, I’ve never suffered any significant stretch of writer’s block, and I’m not bragging about that, it’s just something I usually don’t have to worry about, so having a little stretch where I just mentally can’t keep my head in the game is beyond frustrating. My people are telling me this is just fatigue setting in, the result of maintaining an obsessive regimen for a couple years now, but I’m incredibly stubborn, and all I see is wasted time and unfinished work. Still, in the brief moments I can force myself to be reasonable about all this, I have been running full sprint towards “the goal,” for quite some time, so slowing down a bit might be good for the soul. Don’t want to risk crashing into a wall, and turning this into something larger. Pretty confident no one was suffering from chronic Ambi. withdrawal, but the schedule might be somewhat freelance in the coming weeks (even more than it has been), and I apologize for that. Then again, could be back next week gushing about Morrison’s new issue of Batman or something. It has giant ninja Man-Bats in it, you know, and when confronted with a thing like that…can anyone really predict how they’ll react? Astonishing is also on the schedule, which I’m sure will feature Kitty Pryde’s “turn” against the Hellfire Club, and the traitorous Ms. Emma Frost. Again, who can say, so we’ll see.

Until then, thanks for listening, as always, and ya’ll be cool.

Back soon…quite possibly maybe.

B


Late Update

Welcome to the very first Ambidextrous update, prompted by the exceptional second issue of Batman by creators Grant Morrison, Andy Kubert, and Jesse Delperdang. As you’ve no doubt read above, I had a strong feeling this might happen, and while it doesn’t warrant an entirely new piece, it would feel more than a little irresponsible if it’s release went unmentioned here. So, I’m tacking this extracurricular commentary on the end of the current article, because the issue really is that good. What’s that, you say? You want to know exactly why it was the best comic released last Wednesday? Thought you’d never ask…

Quick flashback to Wizard World, Nate Lee, Craig Mac, and I are hangin’ in the hotel lobby, talking about #655, myself and Craig somewhat ambivalent about it. There was a definite energy to it, more than a few great bits, but overall, I was expecting a little more, an extremely profound creative gut-punch. Something like All-Star Supes or 7 Soldiers, as a couple recent examples, of things that just absolutely hit their mark on the very first try. Nate of course, thought we were both being ridiculous, and that it was a fine start, so now through the magic of hindsight, we get to feel his sentiment. And deservedly so, because without that one we couldn’t have this one, and after reading #656 several times already, it’s a very good thing we have a comic titled “Man-Bats of London.”

And to answer what I’m sure is your first question…yes, the long rumored “ninja Man-Bats” make their grand debut. Sure, we’ve been hearing they would for months now, but come on, I didn’t believe that “snakes on a plane” nonsense until supplied with photographic evidence, and the same applies here. It just seems almost too bizarre a concept to be practical, and more importantly than that, too strange to be any good. Again, shows what I know, because this is a pretty fantastic piece of work they’ve got here, and even if there just were the ninja Man-Bats to consider, we’d be in good shape, but remember this is Grant Morrison we’re talking about. So, on top of the spectacular fight scene, which features some of the best art I’ve ever seen from Andy Kubert, he brings along a little extra. Before that though, I really have to say more about Kubert’s first major DC work, definitely a long time coming, but well worth the wait, because the visual representation of Batman here is just beyond dope, and it’s all in the composition.

Every single shot is perfect, and actually transcends the very common comparison to cinematic staging, the “widescreen” language we’ve become so used to. This stuff looks better than the movies, and would only work as successfully in this medium. On screen, this would look quite ridiculous, but here, framed in panels, with the right staging, it’s one of the coolest fights we’ve seen in the last few months. Easily.

Ain’t enough for Grant though, he takes it to the next level by finding an extremely clever way of narrating the battle. It takes place in a giant art gallery, with “pop-art” on display, mostly consisting of enlarged comic panels. Well this dude actually uses the damn things to help him tell the story, allowing them to serve as additional captioning, special effects, and even dialogue in some cases. Hard to describe, but natural and completely seamless in the context of the story. Even allows Batman to be framed by a beautiful city skyline…while inside a building. No, it doesn’t make any sense, but here we are. Two months in, a somewhat happier and less overtly psychotic Batman, a son he never knew he had, and man, have I mentioned the ninja Man-Bats? Those were kinda tight, and as Bruce Wayne says to himself, after Alfred tosses him his suit, an
“alarming twist.” Sure it’s only the first of many, as it’s very possible this creative team is only warming up at this point. And wouldn’t that be something?

In a week of really good comics, this one was still the best. Come Wednesday, we’ve got another All-Star Superman chapter to consider, and despite the tagging, this book is feeling very “all-star” to me. Oh yeah, and please go read Morrison’s latest interview over at Newsarama. As usual, you finish it, and feel just a little bit smarter as a result.

Okay, I’m done for real this time. Please read this comic numerous times. Back soon.

B

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