The cover art on this issue can pretty much serve as a lens for the entire story it contains, and, if you work extra hard, you could probably cover all the previous issues with it as well. There they are--Wolverine, Captain America and Thor, some of the most iconic and recognizable characters in the Marvel Universe. The pieces of Marvel that matter most, on the table, showing off, getting ready to do their thing. And what's that in Captain America's hand? Just his shield, his big, red, white and blue shield.
Oh, and he has it turned the other way around, so all the reader can see is the two straps that Bucky uses to stick it to his arm.
That's Secret Invasion for you, a comic that never took the time to ask "should there be something happening this story, or are we fine just publishing something that's little more then an idea for a story?" A series that, technically speaking, did exactly what it was supposed to--provide some "event' so that all of Marvel's action figures could be drawn in big splash pages, doing stuff together, a series that was hyped a little, then hyped a lot, then hyped so much that it died before it started, only so it could be yanked off the autopsy table and sent out for some more hype. The thing was that there wasn't anything put back on the corpse afterwards--all they sent out was a four dollar comic book made out of editorial skeletons, and then they sat back and watched how little it mattered to the people who buy them. They sent up a weather balloon, and when they got the results back, it said "You can convince super-hero fans to buy anything--don't worry about making it good. Just make sure you've got Wolverine in it." Then somebody put out a call to Bendis and Yu and told them not to worry. They wouldn't be needing a story. The pitch was just fine all by itself.
One of the things you have to accept when you watch James Bond movies, read Batman comics or spend anytime checking out the various films featuring Jason Statham is that the bad guy or guys is never going to follow up capturing the protagonist with "shooting protagonist in head." If you don't screw this fact into your brain, alongside other notables like "bad guys will never be able to hit a target with machine guns, no matter how close they are" and "arrogant asshole bouncers will always fail to keep the cool guy out of the night club, because the cool guy will take him out physically in a second," then you're never going to be able to "suspend disbelief" and get on with the whole "read this thing, watch this one" maneuvers. This is one of those comics, where you sit there and say "Well, if Darkseid is such a brilliant mastermind of evil, why hasn't he taken the lessons of old to heart, and decided the only good Batman is a dead Batman?" But no, it's time for Bruce to taste the light fantastic, to take a heroic dose, to, as the kids used to say, "Trip some fucking balls man." And what does he trip about? Let's see: that night with the bat, old adventures with Dick Grayson, not getting laid and letting his butler handle his break-ups, what his life would be like if he had seen other animals besides bats, and something called "microsleep," which is Grant Morrison's way of reminding you that, yes, he too once sat around going "Geez man, how come Bruce Wayne isn't sleepy all the time." In other words, it's like an anniversary issue, where they bring in a bunch of different artists and give them iconic shots to draw, except this time they took pre-made iconic shots and gave them to one artist, so it's more like a fanciful idea of a sketchbook or a grad project at the Joe Kubert "Learn To Tolerate Everything" school. Because it's a comic, the logic is that these hallucinations of being sort of a loser--which is kind of what Batman seems to be dreaming about, you'd think he'd remember all the times he wasn't a whiny bitch telling Alfred he can't handle break-ups--is somehow going to give Darkseid the tools he needs to build an army of badasses. Hopefully, the next issue will be old Stoneface looking at the tapes and saying "I thought he was...wait, isn't Batman supposed to be cool? This shit isn't cool at all. I feel like I'm watching an antidepressant commercial."
After spending a few issues telling the latest version of Criminal in such a fashion that made one wonder if Ed Brubaker was getting sort of bored, since the whole thing was more then a little similar to every single noir plot where a broken down loser gets taken for a ride--a sexual one, a few in cars, and an emotional one--by a good-for-nothing dame with a smile that would blind an eagle and an ass that wouldn't quit if you offered it a billion dollar severance package, here comes the conclusion, wherein Brubaker reveals that oh yeah, he was tricking you all along, and in such a way that actually breaks the desire to never get fooled again and reminds the reader that yes, sometimes it's nice when a comic says "Hey, that was a fucking lie, that thing I was saying. Here's the shit for you." While it's a bit of a Tyler Durden-y twist, it's still a well-played one, and it's a nice way for Criminal to close out the year--still having never done anything that's bad, and almost always behaving like something that's pretty fucking great.
Oh wow, this is some really stupid ass shit, but how upsetting can something be when it knows it's stupid shit? Hell, this story is called "Shock and Awesome." This is a comic that makes no bones whatsoever--it's going to tell the story of the ghost of a Confederate soldier, who rides on a ghost horse, and his adventures in Iraq with some Americans, a tank, and a big part of it's emotional weight will apparently be dealt out in the only available B-plot on display, which is about Civil War-era miscegenation. Jesus Fucking Christ, that's a goddamn comic book right there, that's a story that nobody else would tell. Nobody seems to be paying attention to the fact that Vertigo is doing more courageous shit with their mini-series output this year, but they are, and goddammit: except for Picturebox, who published the vilest piece of comic filth this year with Monster Men and thereby cemented their reputation as "some dudes who are definitively willing to put their money where their mouth is, now look at the adventures of a serial rapist" nobody has the balls of Vertigo right now. Autobiographical comics about sexual and racial politics? Any grad school student can do that. Wistful stories about wistful people who may or may not be portrayed as wistful animals holding hands? Plenty of those. An eight year old's useless garbage ramblings about smiling and hugging? Got it in spades. But following the adventures of a British cabbie fighting demons with cabbie knowledge with the adventures of a tank, an old Southern Confederate, and trying to bridge the gap that comes when a black character realizes he's talking to a ghost that fucked one of his slave ancestors, because said ghost probably owned that slave ancestor? Seriously, how the fuck is Chris Staros going to compete with that? With "art?" Puhfuckingleeeze.
Somebody would do well to point out to Mignola with some kind of clarity why the B.P.R.D. stories are so much more preferable to the current spate of Hellboy ones, but he'd probably just say "hey, I made a movie, bought me one of Lovecraft's original spittoons with it." It's not that Wild Hunt is bad, it certainly isn't, but it's also just another story about Hellboy doing random shit while he continues to wander the world, which means it's just like Knight Rider, or the A-Team, except that Hellboy has to serve as his own straight man and wildcard at the same time, and these sorts of stories need something besides "quirky guy who punches shit" if you're going to invest any time in them. Great monster design is one thing, but if you're going to hang your hat solely on "Great Monster Design," then you're probably more a video game fan then you are a comic one, and now that the schedule for the Mignola-verse puts out enough content that you aren't missing the characters for months at a time, this shit is getting played out. Anyway, can you read the title? It's about a hunting trip that Hellboy goes on, only to find out that he's the one they're hunting. Oh shit I never saw that coming.
There's got to be somebody out there in the land of message boards who sits around complaining every time a comic comes out with a cover having nothing to do with the story that it contains, if there isn't, it's probably because they drowned in an ocean of vomit and tears over the recent period of time where the New & Mighty Avengers kept putting out issues where the cover seemed be getting pulled from the file where artists keep commissioned sketches that the buyer never paid for. Here we go, this one is about Hawkeye, see--he's the biggest character on the cover! Definitely about him. If anything, the issue's A-plot is about him and the B-plot is about all the other people who only appear in creepy head version. Has to be, right? Oh that's right, covers are meaningless, doesn't matter what's on them. It's not like they need to attract prospective buyers, hey, if you don't know that an issue of New Avengers with Hawkeye on the cover has nothing to do with Hawkeye or, really, any of the New Avengers bar one of them, then you aren't the audience Marvel wants in the first place. Nope, this is just another issue of Alias bookended by Billy Tan's weird conceptual art showcasing his idea of what it looks like when human beings experience feelings. It's an interesting adventure in psychology--in Billy Tan's world, when a man sees his child's diaper after a particularly rough delivery of the shit, his response is more then just one of revulsion, it's one of homicidal fury. Sure, that makes sense. Because that's what new dads do, you know? They look at their child's feces and immediately think "Man, I should really kill this baby. Hope nobody is looking at my face right now. It's totally obvious what I'm thinking." The best part is that when you accept that reading of the first page, you get a hell of a lot more enjoyment out of the last, which is a full page shot of Luke Cage looking at the reader as if to say "Holy shit, I think somebody heard what I was thinking about killing my shitty baby."
The Punisher X-Mas Special # 1
Written by Jason Aaron
Art by Roland Boschi & Daniel Brown
Published by Marvel MAX
If you're going to tell the story of the birth of a child in a manger, and you're going to tell that in Punisher MAX, then you're going to have to do some pretty nasty shit or else everybody is going to call you a pussy. It's probably best to take that mentality into account when you dive into The Punisher X-Mas Special, because that's what you'll find Jason Aaron doing here--you've got somebody using a machine-gun to kill what appears to be 10 or 11 infants as they sleep away their first Christmas in hospital cribs, which is something that will probably give more then a few people cause for concern. Of course, those guys get taken out by Frank Castle pretty quickly, but still: machine gunning sleeping babies. That's always going to be the money shot, which means the rest of the comic is just going to be angry sweat-fucking for the rest of the issue, and you're going to spend most of the time reading it wondering if Jason Aaron can get it up again and provide more facepaint. He sort of does, mostly because Castle shoots a woman right in the head right after she gives birth, and before he does that, he doesn't even heed her last request--which is just to see her baby before she dies. So yeah, he pulled a two-fer. Good for him, must eat a lot of oranges.
-Tucker Stone, 2008