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Friday, January 10, 2014

I Got Issues Comic Reviews Week of 1/8/2014: Sex Criminals, Kamala Khan, Sad Wolverine, and the Colonial Iron Man



Trying a new format for reviewing comics, so these aren't going to go over two paragraphs each; I'm going for expedience as well as quality critique. So here's what I read this week...

Sex Criminals #4: Matt Fraction and Chip Zdarsky's painfully realistic story about people who stop time when they fuck continues. In this issue, Jon and Suzie meet even more people with their "condition", albeit a peacekeeping force who apprehend the Quiet's so-called "Sex Criminals"(TITLE DROP!). While I'm not entirely sold on the world-building of the Sex Police, that's not really the point; this is still Suzie's story, and about how her condition adds even greater complexity to the already nigh-incomprehensible territory of human intimacy. The best parts are still Suzie's narration, as she talks about her past and what sorts of things she did during the Quiet (including her first illegal activity, using the time freeze to frame her friend's rapist college boyfriend for marijuana possession-- a morally ambiguous approach with a similarly ambiguous outcome).

With Fraction's script and Chip Zdarsky's expressive art and detailed backgrounds (including some of the greatest ambient detail ever depicted for a store called "Cumworld", Sex Criminals continues to be the frank, mature sex talk the medium so badly needs. STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

Wolverine #13; The finale of Killable, setting up the new direction for the supervillainous relaunch. As expected, Wolverine has no chance against Sabretooth without his healing factor. Sabretooth doesn't kill Logan, but instead takes the opportunity to rub Logan's mortality in his face, lecturing him on how they're not so different and how Logan's moral hypocrisies are unavoidable without his regenerative crutch. It's a brutal scene, and one of the few effective uses of the Origin continuity that I've seen, since Sabretooth calls attention to the fact that underneath his stereotypical man's man demeanor, Logan was still born as sissy nobleman's son James Howlett, and his attempt to be the blue collar hero falls apart given his privilege (both the initial wealth and the later, now absent mutant indestructibility). I hope that Sabretooth gets his not-so-inevitable comeuppance from Logan, though; similar to the Joker or the Green Goblin, Sabretooth is the kind of Complete Monster arch-villain who enjoys the kind of invincibility only a shared universe allows, and the fact that such rotten characters haven't been killed (in a permanent manner, at least) demonstrates an inherent futility to the nature of the shared universe superhero. At least Logan's killed Sabretooth before (though it obviously didn't stick), but the guy is one of the most successful characters in the Marvel Universe, and he owes it largely to his complete lack of moral restraint. "The best lack all conviction, and the worst are filled with passionate certainty", as Yeats would put it.

Perhaps once Logan becomes a super-villain himself, he'll learn that being a bad guy is the way to go in a world where nobody important to Marvel's bottom line really dies, healing factor or not. Until then, it's a powerful story, made all the more powerful by the choice the badly injured Logan is given towards the end. It's another moment that's simultaneously easy to predict in terms of logic but difficult to prepare for as an emotional response. Another great issue from Paul Cornell, and sadly the final issue with Alan Davis drawing-- there's a reason he's a legend in comics, and that reason is seen in effortless nature of this issue's storytelling. STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

IRON MAN #20: Easily the weakest book I read this week, though that's partly because everything else was so great. Still, the Kieron Gillen run on Iron Man continues to underperform, competent but not at the level I'd expect from the one writer to make modern Cyclops into a sympathetic character.  There have been many extenuating factors, most notably the immediate shadow of Matt Fraction's brilliant run, the wretched Greg Land art plaguing the first year or so, but also the fact that most of it was stuck out in space due to the Guardians of the Galaxy status quo, and the fact that the Secret Origin story was resultantly told light years away from Tony's home planet. Not to mention thirtysomething years away from a point where the events within the origin story might have actually been relevant, as Tony had plenty of nurture to overcome whatever hypothetical genetic tampering would've been done to him in vitro, but I digress.

This current storyline is a mixed bag. On the one hand, there's the strong central idea of Tony building his own city over the ruins of the Mandarin's old regime, trying to create a test-bed for modern living. But it's told in such a way that it's hard to sympathize with Tony's goals. It's clear that Tony's overcompensating with this project to avoid dealing with the news that he was adopted, but we haven't really seen anything to indicate why the city is so great, other than Tony telling us that it is The City of the Future and not just a way for him to hide from his real problems within his toybox. There's the obviously problematic symbolism of Tony building a city over foreign soil without foreign consent, and the story itself acknowledges this-- but through the mouthpiece of Abigail "Red Peril" Burns, a one-dimensional anarchist strawman villain, devoid of anything but buzzwords and firepower. There's an impressive fight scene with Tony facing her using a battery of remote units (with the help of his new "brother" Arno Stark), as well as Tony cleverly wearing an invisible Iron Man suit over his street clothes. The art by Joe Bennett helps as well, and not just because it's not Greg Land. Bennett offers a strong cinematic flair reminiscent of Bryan Hitch.

I think my central problem with the current Iron Man volume is that it's obviously using a movie-style take on the character, where we're supposed to interpret the protagonist's complete disinterest in the consequences of his actions as roguishly charming. I'm much more interested in Arno's story, and the implication that he chooses not to rebuild his Iron Lung into something capable of mobility. Perhaps he's reticent to go out into the world after spending his entire life hiding, due to his comment earlier on how people tend to see people like him (i.e. handicapped geniuses) as villainous. Then again, that may be in part an excuse for the fact that such a transition would be frightening. It's a believable and sympathetic approach to a character potentially "overcoming" a disability, even if it's in going from an Iron Lung to an Iron Exoskeleton. Too bad it's not the main story. Overall, MILDLY RECOMMENDED.

ALL-NEW MARVEL NOW POINT ONE: Now this was a pleasant surprise. Six strips, and not a stinker in the bunch. I'm not going to buy all of these books, but all of the prologue stories were strong examples of craft. I'm probably not going to get the Invaders series by James Robinson and Steve Pugh, given my lack of interest in the Invaders, but it did look like a good hook for a traditional super-team comic. The Black Widow story by Nathan Edmonson and Phil Noto was also pretty good, especially the art, even if the script was a bit predictable in its portrayal of Natasha as a conflicted assassin. I'm more interested in the Loki series by Al Ewing and Lee Garbett, which has a strong grasp of the character (at least the Tom Hiddleston version that will likely be the default take from here on out). And the Avengers World strip by Jonathan Hickman, Nick Spencer, and Rags Morales could lead to something really great, provided that the writing is influenced more by Spencer than Hickman. Spencer has a strong flair for character work, which can be true for Jonathan Hickman but usually isn't, due to his greater interest in writing stories as meticulous chess games with complex plotting and strategizing taking precedence over a dramatic hook. (His Avengers is especially guilty of this, but it was foreshadowed in his Ultimates series, which started strong but quickly regressed into a demonstration of how awesome the villainous Reed Richards could be).

The two books I will definitely be buying after reading this comic are Silver Surfer by Dan Slott and Michael Allred, and especially Ms. Marvel by G. Willow Wilson and Adrian Alphona. I enjoy Dan Slott's writing quite a bit, and I like the idea of Silver Surfer getting a Doctor Who-style companion so he has someone to talk to besides his crippling sense of self-pity (and Slott uses it to his advantage by playing the Surfer's seriousness as comical in contrast to everything around him). The art by Michael Allred is beautiful as always, and the pop art charms are most important when we see the Surfer fighting a bunch of anthropomorphic sea-predator pirates. The Ms. Marvel story deserves special praise, and not just because it pisses off the right kinds of people. New 16-year-old Muslim superheroine Kamala Khan immediately shows the kind of conceptual strength right off the bat that most teenage heroes only dream of acquiring. She's a shape-shifter as a metaphor for a child of multiple cultures and demands, growing up in New Jersey under Pakistani-American parents, with both mother and father having their own sets of well-intentioned demand (the mother for the right marriage, the father for the right career). She's definitely an eccentric young woman who's immediately figured out creative uses for her powers, but there's not much room for her to express her abilities; her first superfight is limited to a monster in a junkyard, and even that's interrupted by a call from her mother. The art by Adrian Alphona is perfect, as I would expect from the artist of Runaways; he's especially good at showing Kamala's powers in action, and how awesome being able to stretch one's body and limbs can be. Too bad it doesn't help her larger identity issues, or in Kamala's words; "I can change my face, but I wear a mask instead. There are LAYERS of unpackable crazy up in here."

Based on the overall quality but also the strength of the Ms. Marvel story, STRONGLY RECOMMENDED.

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