And here I thought easing back into the weekly grind would be a little more difficult.

There’s almost too much to cover in this massive installment, so bear with me as I weave through several concerns this week, which includes some Eisner thoughts, my take on the Black Panther revamp, and why I’ve really begun to hate The Ultimates. Also something at the very end I’d love your input on, if you have the time and inclination. Thanks and enjoy.

Machine of Hype-

Really should’ve mentioned this last week, but my word count surged outta control, so this little section got cut in the final edit. Anyhow, Tales of the Thing #2 is in stores now, and features a guest appearance by the most incredible of Hulks, and honestly, what would that be without a sizable superhero brawl, stemming from a simple misunderstanding? The self-contained tale is called “Widescreen,” and is one that I think came out really well. The scripting and pacing is much more relaxed and assured here, without jeopardizing that excitable frenzy that just wants to see superheroes do cool things, like, oh I don’t know, fight on the surface of the Moon. Which you know, kinda goes down in this particular issue. If you can find another book this year where Hulk and Thing trade blows in space, I’ll send you the $2.50 back.

Thinking more long term, the digest hits in early June, and Discount Comic Book Service is offering it for only four bucks, at this very link. Now, I’ve been ordering trades from these guys for over a year now, so I can personally say this is a terribly reliable option, especially for those that just can’t stop buying trades. I want you to buy mine of course, but their list of monthly specials includes a few things of interest, so you know, take a browse and see what speaks to you. Amazon’s listing can be reached through that button above my index, and the order code is (APR05 1956) for your LCS. Thanks again for the continued support.

This now marks the conclusion of the big pimpin’ segment of this program, so let’s move onto other things…

The Phantom Menace-

I’m really starting to dislike The Ultimates. Not the actual book of course, as it continues to be Mark Millar’s strongest work, and is there really anything else that needs to be said about the artwork of Bryan Hitch? The man is simply dangerous with a pencil, and though much has been made of the title’s schedule, or lack thereof, honestly…who cares? The book’s true fans don’t, and apparently, judging by the sales charts, retailers don’t, and bottom line, it’s a little hard to read these books and campaign that Hitch should be able to maintain a monthly schedule. Take the most recent issue for example, featuring a gorgeous snowbound brawl between The Ultimates and Thor, who is very obviously under siege from his trickster half brother Loki. Oh, clever Millar is hiding it quite well, deflecting suspicion, and insinuating that Thor is obviously insane, but I ain’t buying it. Besides, I caught Millar in the act, leaving breadcrumbs in the last couple issues, showing me the real truth of the matter. I saw The Sixth Sense homie, you can’t pull this stuff
with me 😉

Now, in issue four, where Loki shows up at the close of the issue, supposedly blowing the lid off Thor’s purported origin, it all sounds pretty logical, right? However, that’s actually not the first time Loki appears in the issue. Flip back a couple scenes and you’ll catch sight of him, in the rear of a crowd, during the small riot that erupts. While there could be a perfectly reasonable explanation for him being the only calm dude in the middle of a mob scene, there’s a much better explanation. He’s up to no good, rewriting reality, and making all of this stuff up as he goes along, just like Thor says. Millar offers another clue on the first page of issue five, keying in on one of Thor’s devout believers, who refuses to abandon him, walking back toward the battle, against military orders. Problem is, the same girl appears in the back of the same crowd she’s walking away from. So, unless Hitch is randomly placing characters in his crowd scenes, Millar is employing a little misdirection to keep us off guard.

I go on like this, because I really love this book, and think when Mark finishes his 24 issue run, it’ll stand as an example of just what can be done in comics. Though as we turn the corner, with the team mutating from super heroes into storm troopers, I’m finding myself distrustful of most of these characters. Using the team to solve international conflicts is the next logical step, and probably makes more sense than the crew fending off alien invasions, but as The Ultimates slowly become the establishment, I’m with Thor. The conscience of the team is being silenced, and after Cap ignored Thor’s desperate plea at the close of issue four, I seriously wanted him to hit the stuffy bastard in the jaw with his shining hammer more than once. Three times, actually. Seeing the only guy that gets it, taken out by Quicksilver, who finally shows up in a great moment, was tragic, emotional stuff, and is just another in a sequence of great scenes from The Ultimates.

But, I can’t trust Captain America anymore, if he’d turn on his teammate so easily. I can’t trust Iron Man, if he’d blindly follow an order that commanded he do the same. And I damn sure can’t trust Nick Fury, who’s been pulling everyone’s strings from the very beginning. I love you guys, but seriously…I hope Thor breaks out of Banner’s cage in the basement, and kicks all of your heads off.

Thor was right, bitches…Thor was right…

Learn Control-

Yes, yes, more Star Wars talk, but you only have to put up with another few weeks of this, before my fan boy musing is silenced. What’s truly important here is the very personal bit of dark side temptation I’ve been facing lately, so allow me to set the scene.

Many years later, and I’m still recovering from the emotional trauma of having Episode I spoiled for me, by a terrible website that embedded the track listing for the movie’s soundtrack into a news bulletin, that I accidentally glimpsed while scrolling down the page. Between me and you, I’m fairly sure it was, but old age has atrophied my once young mind, so that could be slightly inaccurate. Point being, since that time, I’ve been extra cautious to avoid major spoilers for movies I have a healthy excitement for seeing, but trying to make it to Revenge of the Sith, without having seen every single frame of the movie beforehand, is taxing my limits. Which are considerable, to be honest.

First of all, I live and breathe Internet, which is really one giant multi-layered spoiler anyway, but even more dangerous, is the flood of book tie-ins that flooded my workplace couple weeks back. With half my week spent working in a bookstore, it’s becoming progressively more difficult to ignore the numerous Episode III displays sprouting from every corner of the store like weeds. We’re talkin’ bout massive pine tables stacked high with copies of the novelization, the “making of” book, the art book, the visual dictionary, the graphic novel, the movie storybook, the movie scrapbook, and a bunch of other stuff I’m leavin’ out. All in heavy circulation, and all tempting me to just pick one of them up, flip through it with reckless abandon, and ruin the entire thing for myself. I’ve watched this happen mind you, as many of my fellow employees are capable Star Wars freaks in their own right, and aren’t attempting anything quite as foolish as I. They don’t believe I can last four more weeks of this, and I’m dangerously close to agreeing with them.

More on this developing story in the coming weeks…

The Problem With Brian K. Vaughan-

Eisner nominations hit and everyone with a functioning keyboard is weighing in and lodging their support, or voicing their disappointment, over their favorite creator or story being snubbed by the committee. Despite such concerns, one thing is fairly obvious…this is the year of Brian K. Vaughan. The trifecta of Y: The Last Man, Runaways, and Ex Machina dominate all, and with great reason, because not only are they all incredible reads on an alarming consistent basis, and by that I mean every month, but all sprang from the mind of Vaughan himself. Perhaps I’m alone in this particular train of adulation, but having created the worlds and the characters from scratch, gives him a distinct advantage over other equally capable scribes. The medium cannot survive without characters like Alex Wilder, Mitchell Hundred, and Yorick Brown, and it’s really cool to see him being recognized for that work, though the Best Serialized Story category appears to be missing “The Good Die Young” from Runaways, but I don’t want to get into that stuff right now.

Right now, I just want to congratulate the dude, and predict that he’s taking home at least four awards (Best Single Issue, Best Continuing Series, Best New Series, and Best Writer, if you’re curious). He’s enjoyed a phenomenal year, and looks set to continue that momentum with more hit creator-owned books than the average writer can muster. With all of this well-deserved praise, you might be wondering about the title of this section, and its true meaning. Well, you want to know what the real problem with
Brian K. Vaughan is?

Problem is, that right now, he’s just better than everyone else is…

Black Panther: Year One-

The third issue of Black Panther is where it becomes fairly clear that this latest direction is a true revamping of the material, putting a bit of distance between the work of former BP writer Priest, and Hudlin’s own take. I know that when the dreaded R-word was dropped into the mix on the boards awhile back, more than a few fans erupted over the notion, and a couple of my friends asked for my thoughts on it, given my well documented affinity for Priest’s work. I’m really of the mind that nothing can change that run of comics, and right now, all of my Black Panther stuff is actually with a bookbindery that’s going to create three massive tomes of it to sit on my bookshelf. But having a deep appreciation for that isn’t preventing me from enjoying the new book, which is getting better every month.

The modern flourishes being added to the Panther’s history are actually pretty cool, whether it’s tying Klaw’s heritage into the failed invasion from the opening chapter, or altering the succession to the Wakandan throne, all of the pieces fitting together a little more nicely. T’Challa taking control of the country immediately following his father’s death is a romantic idea, but passing the responsibility to his uncle for a short time until the young man becomes older, makes more sense. Was also curious how Hudlin intended on handling the death of T’Chaka, especially with Wakanda being portrayed as an impenetrable domain, so having him killed on “foreign soil” was an intelligent move. There’s also an attitude and swagger in this approach that I’m definitely responding to, with Wakanda looking down their noses at the rest of the modern world, viewing them as the equivalent of cavemen, next to their own futuristic leanings. At one point T’Chaka tells a man, eager to get his hands on some of Wakanda’s resources, “I understand your frustration in dealing with a black man who can’t be bought with a truck full of guns, a plane load of blondes, and a Swiss back account. But hold on to what little class you have.” It’s hard to even begin to dislike a book, with a line like that in it.

I’m digging Hudlin’s Black Panther for a completely different set of reasons than I dug Priest’s, and there’s nothing wrong with that in my opinion. Marvel is behind this book, judging by the upcoming X-crossovers, thanks to the art team, it looks gorgeous, and the writing gets tighter each month. The concept of the Black Panther is certainly rich enough, to contain two equally valid approaches in its modern history, I think.

Hatred of Life-

Every Wednesday, I walk into my local shop, AF Books & Comics in Tinley Park, IL, and before leaving the establishment, my retailer (a genius of a man I’ll refer to as Mr. Anderson) and I have solved nearly any problem currently plaguing the comics industry, and in less than two hours time. We have what is known as “The Solution,” and you only need to drop by the store while we’re breaking down whatever great question or concern, to experience total enlightenment on a weekly basis. Truly a beautiful thing all-encompassing knowledge is, but it’s a burden we are more than willing to bear, for the good of all. And it was through one of our weekly debates, that Mr. Anderson has identified a current disturbing trend in comics, a train of thought he has coined, “the hatred of life.”

This came to obvious attention around the release of Identity Crisis, and though I enjoyed a large majority of the mini, most of the commentary centered on the rape and subsequent firebomb murder of Susan Dibny. Now, this isn’t an indictment of the character or motives of writer Brad Meltzer, but looking at the larger comics landscape, it wasn’t hard to find more examples of this kind of harsh treatment of the fairer sex. Whether it’s the torture and murder of the Spoiler in the big Bat crossover, Nightwing choking a female villain on the cover of his book, Superman beating the crap out of Wonder Woman on his, and the torture of Deena Pilgrim in Powers, some of the women in comics were in a very bad way. What makes this even more interesting is the fact that considering lead and productive times, a lot of these stories were probably being written at about the same time, give or take a couple months. Which suggests that it’s not the writers or companies that want female comic characters placed in great bodily harm lately…it’s the whim and strange weather pattern of Ideaspace.

But Mr. Anderson, sparked by Blue Beetle receiving a gentle double tap to the brainpan, gave voice to the concern that perhaps comics have started to turn their back on life, the good parts of it anyway. Everyone seems to be gettin’ raped, burned alive, blown up, and dispatched execution-style in the mainstream titles recently, and not that I don’t understand the reasoning behind it, from a storytelling perspective, everything is such an incredible drag lately. No one is having fun, in love, or enjoying much of anything it seems, in the pursuit of the next shocking plot twist to clear the continuity board, so it can only return back to what it was in another couple years. Initial sarcasm aside, I only have some of the answers to this, and it’s just a jumble of ideas and examples right now, so I put it to all of you. Is my friend Mr. Anderson onto something here? Can the last year of comics really be boiled down to, “life sucks and then sucks worse than that?”

Are there any mainstream titles out there where the characters in them, wouldn’t rather be dead? Have we turned our backs on the shiny parts of existence for the sake of controversy, and so-called “maturity?” And if so, what does that say about us, as we continue to gobble all of this stuff up like popcorn? Are comics truly embracing a disregard for life recently, or is this simply a false alarm, a trend that’ll be blipped out of view in short time?

Appreciated as always, your thoughts are…


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