It didn't get mentioned that much the first time Marvel went down this road, but the first Strange Tales mini-series was mostly a piece of shit, completely shown up by the Gary Panter contributions to Omega The Unknown (which had proved that Marvel did have a few people still connected to their courage) and the Simpson's Treehouse of Horror (which showed what independent creators could do with companies that actually understood the definition of the word "freedom"). Now, the first attempt at Strange Tales wasn't a piece of shit the way a lot of Big Two comics are in terms of lacking anything interesting to look at, it was a piece of shit the way anything always is when better, more expansive versions of what it offers are available online constantly, for free. This time around, things seem a bit different, like the people involved are involved for more than just generic jack-off reasons, that there's an investment being made in taking a chance. Some of it is still just a rough hewn example of their more interesting non-Marvel work--Kate Beaton, for one, delivers little more than a funny reminder to check her website (which most people are certainly doing already)--but there's very little here that calls back to the first time Marvel tried this, which was when they basically published a longform themed sketchbook of the indie world. There's a lot of praise being heaped on the Grampa thing, and while that's all well-deserved, it's Dash Shaw's passionate mash-up of Spider-Man that seals what Santoro, Huizenga and the aforementioned Grampa all toy with. In a few pages, glaringly unlike anything Marvel publishes, Shaw mixes a variation on his (let's call it what it is, "weird") obsession with kitschy reality television against Stan Lee's classic Peter Parker positive-speak, all of it married in the all-too-telling image of our hero and his adventures being thrown away with the trash. And if the point wasn't clear enough, it's verbalized right on the page: The dumpsters is where this genre fucking thrives.
It's kind of hysterical that DC and Grant Morrison had the opportunity to see Marvel fuck up the return of Captain America, by publishing multiple comics where Steve Rogers wore a black spec-ops bodysuit and stood on the tops of buildings watching heroes do shit before the Reborn mini-series concluded, and yet still turn around and manage to fuck up their own Return of Bruce Wayne shindig in the exact same fashion. All the evidence has been there for months of what was going to happen, and they still went ahead and chose to fuck it up anyway. Here's your unfinished, late as hell mini-series by the marquee names (plus a fill-in dude), released alongside a stack of one-shots, all of which feature Bruce Wayne, in a black, spec-ops bodysuit, standing on top of buildings, watching heroes do shit.
You've got to admire the balls out courage it takes for IDW to look at the consistent failure of new horror anthology comics to find an audience and still decide "fuck it, we'll do a bunch of them anyway, and we'll make them even longer". Hell, if you look at the way they describe this issue, you might even think that Edge of Doom is actually a mini-series based around one story. (It isn't.) On the other hand, maybe you're just looking into this thing because it's Kelley Jones, and you're one of those people so sick of Tony Daniel/David Finch Batman drawings that you've actually started wetting the bed for the old Moench/Jones Fuck The Government paranoia years. If that's the case, here you go: it's a Tales From The Crypt riff on Gulliver's Travels, with a curious nerd who gets his eyeball yanked out by tiny arrows.
While the previous installations in Mark Waid's performance piece on Spider-Man featured what one assumes is his preferred version of the character (the simpering crybaby with wisecracks aplenty), this chapter cuts to the other Spider-Man, the one that imitates Christian Bale's Batman for some reason involving feelings. So look and behold, as Peter Parker silently terrorizes all of his villains before snapping the Shocker's wrist (or something). Cast your eyes upon the requisite reverse-homage to old Spider-Man comics, this one being the "I must hold up this thing that is heavy", and this time, it's all like, scary and shit. It's a lot of fun, because it's not any fun at all.
The general rule for whenever Superman and Batman get together is that the one who is right is always the one whose name is on the cover. If Superman shows up in a Batman comic, he's going to act like a self-righteous tool, and when the reverse happens, Superman will be thoughtful and human, while Batman will shoot his mouth off like a gloomy Dead Can Dance fan with an inferiority complex. And--well, you can't fault Straczynski too much, he certainly shoots for accuracy in his attempt to make Superman seem thoughtful, he just misses the mark because of his primary failing, which can be summed up by remembering that he's a tedious, boring writer who comes up with concepts that he never bothers to fill out with actual characters or dialog. (Which is why he's best served by television, where he can count on a crew of people to fill in all the gaps that he leaves behind.) In comics--specifically, Big Two comics, a place where any creator with even the vaguest "celebrity" is given free rein to embarrass themselves as much as humanly possible, up to and including taking business advice from beef-addicted morons in jean shorts--a writer has no crew to turn to, as DC and Marvel have spent the post-Image decades feverishly dismantling the idea that the people drawing these things could possibly understand storytelling themselves. Instead, they have this: a writer who believes himself automatic genius, no help required. God forbid anyone reads these things and sees the banality that belief produced.
While the return of the BPRD's most dangerous unresolved subplot has gone a lot differently than what might have been predicted, the bigger surprise is how committed the Arcudi/Mignola duo is to the whole "Hell on Earth" concept. While the damage foretold in the trilogy that brought the new status quo forth was extensive, the continuing collapse of our home planet hasn't stopped, and everything must go. And yet, after smartly delivering a one page scene of destruction that left thousands dead, this issue dived out of the apocalypse window entirely, choosing to focus on our two heroes (and there aren't many left), as they 36th Chamber their way against one stand-alone monster. It's frequently claimed that serialized comics run out of places to go after they go big and loud, but Arcudi and Mignola prove that to be a song of laziness. All this issue is, when you boil it down, is a stripped to the gears fight scene: two dudes, one bad guy, and a pick-up truck full of weapons. It's been thrown to Guy Davis and Dave Stewart, those guys have continued their streak of doing things perfectly, and when you're finished, you're fat with satisfaction.
The Invincible Iron Man # 31
Written by Matt Fraction
Art by Salvador Larroca & Frank D'Armata
Published by Marvel Comics
If you ignore everything that goes into the actual reading of these Iron Man comics, like the horribly inhuman drawings and the obnoxious "people talking to each other, about nothing, forever" structure, what you've got is a comic that's supposedly about one of the top ten smartest people in the Marvel universe, and that's an actual list that someone is paid to keep track of. So what is the smartest man obsessed with doing? What kind of plan for changing the world do we get from a genius who fetishizes his alcoholism when he needs to teach his ex-girlfriend shitty metaphors?
He makes a car that looks like a clunky cross between a Lamborghini and a Toyota Tercel. That's this bozo's vision of the future: an ugly two-door sports car with a fucking blower on top. Here's another word for that: starts with q, and it rhymes, sort of, with "taint".
Since "hope" is basically a kid's game, a gamey concept as realistic as Santa Claus or peace in Israel, Geoff Johns had no choice but to pick a fourteen year old girl as its physical agent. (The only thing more hopelessly stupid than a fourteen year old girl being, obviously, a fourteen year old boy.) It's still Johns, so the girl happens to be the latest victim in a string of kidnap/murders at the hands of what looks to be a young, mustached Professor Ivo, and the whole story is really just a sideshow, plot events tied up in finding new ways to define boring old Hal Jordan. (He's into hope, but afraid of it, and the cliffhanger ending is the Flash questioning Hal's choices in running buddies.) Basically, it's another routine Green Lantern comic--scream-y, weird, and dull.
While the charm of the Gantz crew fighting dinosaurs wore off quite a bit when it become clear that Oku's obsession for detail meant that every single way-too-intricate drawing of dinosaurs was going to clash with his studio's way-too-intricate background drawings of buildings, thus resulting in some of the densest, most unfriendly panels this series had so far (and the action has been plenty confusing before), it's endlessly amusing when a forty-year old nebbish screams lines like "I can feel the lust for life within you! You're strong! You have the strength to survive anything!" Gantz isn't alone in having a complete lack of internal life--that's pretty much every Robert Kirkman comic, honestly--but unlike the this-is-so-serious Walking Dead, the Gantz translators seem to understand that the only way to handle something so egregiously ridiculous as a bunch of idiots in scuba gear ghost-fighting gigantic dinosaurs while E-cup porn girls idly stand on the sidelines (and a panda bear shows up for some friendly wrassling) is for absolutely every single line of dialog to be delivered with a zero tolerance policy towards sarcasm, self-awareness or maturity. If these chapters took any time to read, the high pitch might make one deaf. As it is, it's one of the reasons why Gantz--the most sterile masturbation action fantasy that wasn't made by the Wachowski Brothers--remains so consistently gratifying. Whether it's good or bad, this is what pride actually looks like, and American comics could take a lesson: apologies are for high school kids.
I Am An Avenger # 2
Written by Greg Rucka, Sean McKeever, Paul Tobin & Jacob Chabot
Art by Michael Lark, Stefano Gaudiano, Matt Hollingsworth, Mike Mayhew, Rain Beredo, Nathan Fairbairn, David Lopez, Alvaro Lopez & Jacob Chabot
Published by Marvel Comics
According to this comic, Steve Rogers attends the funerals of American soldiers who die in conflict with Epic Marvel Crossover Events. Lucky for him, only one soldier died in Siege, lucky for you, that only makes one ridiculously maudlin funeral scene involving Captain Fucking America to read. Here's the message it delivers: it really sucks to lose a family member in a pointless secret super-hero war, because it means the funeral is going to be completely overshadowed by the gigantic super-hero creep who wanders around and says "geez, i'm really sorry, America Pledge of Allegiance eagles" while you're trying to say goodbye to somebody killed by Daken (the Dark Wolverine!). Nothing's worse than crying your eyes out while those eyes are looking at something that your brain is totally convinced you should be laughing your ass off at.
It's probably unfair to call this installment in Inoue's basketball manga "more of the same", since it does include a couple of new plot twists (the coach does something! the bad guys have their own crazy dude!), but that's pretty much what this volume is: more. The feelings are there, stronger than they might have been previously (the team captain reveals he's been dreaming of the coming game, every night, for three years), but Inoue's decision to replicate our leads exactly in this new opposing squad makes the story read more like a meta-comic about practice than the sudsy testosterone melodrama that made the previous game (which was also, like, A Really Big Deal) so deliciously painful to wait on. The one saving grace that remains is found in the final panel, when the team's silent assassin takes to the floor and mutters "you all talk too much". While previous volumes have shown what this enigmatic fucker can do, as well as providing Inoue with his most aggressive opportunities for action drawing outside of Vagabond, the tease is enough to postpone abandonment a little bit longer.
The best anybody could hope for with a character as ridiculous as Daken (the Dark Wolverine!) was that a comic focusing on his exploits would look nice (because it's Camuncoli, one of those rare artists D'Armata doesn't seem to be able to entirely cripple) and that it would be funny, because...well, fuck dude, it's about Daken, he's the Dark Wolverine. He's bisexual and has pheromone powers with which to tease, tantalize and turn on both sexes. He has a flowy mohawk. Ultimately, he's the end result of a lack of imagination, sure, but that's the rule of the day in all super-hero comics when children are involved (except for Cable, who is the end result of a lack of imagination PLUS gigantic guns and metal, and those can fix lots of things, the same way drawing all your characters with gigantic letter V's bisecting them can fix lots of things). The first issue of this series seemed to be a general step in the right direction--Daken fucked a girl, fed another girl a strawberry, there was a great fight scene, Daken humped a midget, he yelled at buildings--but this issue goes in another direction, one that incorporates weird cringing comedy, bullshit Wolverine tie-in crap nobody cares about, and shows the one thing you don't want to see in a comic about a sleazy cornball with sexxxy powers, which is the part where he acts embarrassed. Bad form, and bad tidings as well.
They should really dole out the licensed comic adaptation deals once a year, in a high school gymnasium. You could invite all of the bloggers who aren't too busy taking pictures of themselves standing next to a oversized model of a X-Wing Fighter, Five Guys could cater it so that nobody fucks up and loses any weight, the whole thing would be a pretty sweet deal for genre freaks. Everybody would get draft picks based off how shitty their taste is, and then things would be a little more fair, and it could possibly result in more exciting comics as result. Like, instead of seeing a bunch of big tier creators doing Dark Tower for Marvel while the scrub list manhandles the Phantom, you'd get Jacen Burrows adding his plastic rape faces to Halo: Bonghits while Brendan McCarthy draws hallucination panels into Tarzan crap.
There's a lot of problems with Thor comics right now, and while most of that is tangled up in the fact that there's just too fucking many of them for any one person to possibly care about one of them in great magnitude (except for the one that's for kids and yet happens to be most popular with people who aren't actual kids), but that's more an industrial problem than it is one of content or form or any of those other words that gets thrown around when there's nobody getting fired to blog about. The real problem with Thor comics (besides the Ultimate ones where entire scenes get yanked from Hellboy: Seed of Destruction), is that Thor's primary villain gets all of his primary villainous opportunities directly from Thor, because Thor is really fucking stupid when it comes to the guy. Over and over again, this is the nature and planning of every modern Thor comic: a bunch of people says "Hey, you really shouldn't trust Loki, he's a bad guy", Thor says "nah, he's my bro, shaddup" and then Loki reinstitutes slavery or fingerbangs Margaret Thatcher against her Iron Will, and then Thor has to hit Loki with a hammer or lightning or whatever, and then there's something with Frost Giants while Loki licks himself clean and comes up with another plan. That's the cycle, over and over again. How do you root for that? How is that entertaining? It's not like Thor is being a moron in the way that a guy in a Failblog video is being a moron, he's not slipping on banana peels and falling into custard. He's just an idiot with a hammer that he never uses. What's pop art about that?
-Tucker Stone, 2010