Sunday, October 25, 2009

Stuff I Read

Incredible Hulk #603 / Wolverine: Origins #41

We're long past the point where anyone gets any credit for pointing out continuity gaffes, and hopefully most of us are adult enough to not really care. (Except I do, sort of, when the gaffe involves a comic I like or remember fondly.) I do not like either of these comics, and think they are both pretty terrible, but when taken together they do something rather interesting: they tell the exact same story, only different in such a way as that they are 100% mutually contradictory. To wit: the first meeting between the now Hulk-less Bruce Banner and his son Skaar, and Wolverine. Wolverine "meets" Skaar for the first time in both books, under different circumstances. In one, Bruce Banner throws Skaar at Daken in the name of socializing his giant mutant bastard offspring; Banner and Wolverine also share a beer. In the other, Wolverine tracks Banner and Skaar to a junkyard where, somehow, Banner managed to set himself up with a temporary job as a scrapheap operator, and then Skaar drop kicks Wolverine onto a tree a few miles off. Both comics work pretty hard to make Bruce Banner a monumentally unlikeable character. I will reiterate that neither comic is very good at all, but it's still pretty remarkable how they managed to sneak onto the stands on the very same day. It's like they're just trying desperately to see if anyone is awake at this point. It takes a lot of work to make Jeph Loeb look like Proust, but I'll be damned if his Red Hulk book isn't eleventy-billion times better than any of this shit.

Incidentally, the current plotline in Incredible centers on Bruce Banner training his son to be really good at fighting so that he can kill the Hulk (or, more, specifically, his sort-of evil "Green Scar" personality) when he resurfaces. This plotline was set into motion when Banner got a big bear-hug from the Red Hulk that rendered him unable to turn into the Hulk again. However, Banner is certain that this is only a temporary solution (as it has proven to be all the other times Banner was "permanently" cured of the Hulk), and that he will inevitably become the Hulk again in time. Wouldn't it still be a lot easier to just put a bullet in your head? I mean, that's why Banner could never commit suicide, right, because the Hulk would take over and heal whatever injury Banner inflicted on himself? Well, if he can't turn into the Hulk at present but is sure he will again someday, why not take advantage of the temporary reprieve and just embrace the suicide solution?

Mighty Avengers #30

When Tom Brevoort's asserted that the "old school" Avengers weren't coming back anytime soon because the "New" Avengers had become far more popular than the old status quo, I didn't see anyone point out that this book pretty much is the "old school" Avengers. Sure, there are lots of new faces, but most of the new characters - like the Young Avengers, Amadeus Cho - still have family or kinship connections to the team's classic iteration. Most importantly, you've got Hank Pym, the Vision, Jocasta, Hercules, Quicksilver, US Agent - all long-time Avengers. I know there are some out there who think this is something of a misfire, but this book puts a big smile on my face month in and month out.

Some have asserted that it's somewhat odd that people would feel so much in the way of proprietary interest in the continuation of one particular kind of Avengers comic book, considering how elastic a concept the Avengers really is - just a group of super-heroes who get together to fight huge threats, right? But that misses the point. For old-school fans - such as myself - the Avengers isn't just a loose concept on which to hang any number of different types of stories, in the same way that, say, the Justice League or even the X-Men are. The Avengers is a team book concerned with a loose-knit family of characters - a large family of characters, a family that's always adopting new members and seeing old members come and go, but a family nonetheless. There needs to be some kind of continuity with the ongoing saga or it really isn't the same family. There was a point in the last couple years where the New Avengers iteration didn't have a single member who had not been an Avenger prior to Bendis' relaunch (not counting Spider-Man, who had been a reserve member since the early 90s but who had never served on an active roster) - Luke Cage, Iron Fist, Doctor Strange, Echo, Wolverine. It didn't hurt sales, but it was nonetheless slightly surreal to see an Avengers comic where there was no connection at all to the team's history. For me, that's what the Avengers is, and why it was always one of my very favorite books growing up: history. That's the essential ingredient of the Avengers above and beyond any specific matrix of characters - the sense of history. That's why certain iterations "feel" like the Avengers when others don't.

It's nice to see Hank Pym and Hercules and Quicksilver in the same pages again; it's awesome that someone thought to remember Quicksilver and US Agent's long-standing antagonism; it's cool that they're seamlessly folding the Young Avengers' saga into the ongoing tapestry. Because this is a book that actually feels like its connected to the core strengths of its franchise - or, at least, the core strengths of the franchise if you grew up reading the Avengers from a very young age. Tom Spurgeon recently asserted, in response to Brevoort's comments, that it was a slightly quaint and revanchist notion to imagine that "a specific line-up of muscled superheroes [might be] the correct way to bring into some creative reality a really loose concept with thousands of possible variations". I can see the wisdom in that statement on the face of it, but it discounts the possibility that the idea of the Avengers might have legitimate meaning to longtime readers outside the very loose requirement of a bunch of superheroes getting together to fuck shit up. I think it's not unreasonable to define the Avengers franchise as having some intrinsic connection to the abovementioned sense of shared history. It's like saying concept of Superman boils down merely to a super-strong alien with a secret identity, and discounting the importance of seeming secondary concerns such as Lois Lane, Lex Luthor and Smallville. You have to be careful when you're cutting ideas to the bone that you don't accidentally remove something you thought was vestigial but turned out to actually be essential.

True, this kind of shared, oftentimes choking history is precisely the reason the franchise had to be rebooted in the first place. There are many different kinds of Avengers comics that could be made, and there's no argument that the "New" type of Avengers comic is far more successful than the "Old". Mighty doesn't sell near as well as New or Dark precisely because it is very much plugged into the old, supposedly discredited storytelling engine. But thankfully we live in a world where old farts like myself can be flattered with secondary spinoffs that appeal to our sense of history. In other wordS: This is basically what I always wanted superhero comics to be like when I was ten, and that is awesome.

Outsiders #23

Quick reminder: this book still sucks. But lets run the numbers quickly, just to be sure: You've got Man-Bat and Killer Croc teaming up after randomly meeting in the swamp - Batman's two least interesting villains, I'm sorry but it's true. You've got Katana (might as well be wallpaper), the Creeper (how can you make the Creeper boring? by drawing him to look less like a terrifying creature of random chaos and more like a sarcastic drag queen) and Halo (who actually comes off as the most interesting character here, which is really saying something). I will say, however, that I was wrong to dismiss artist Fernando Pasarin so brusquely when I discussed the last issue of this title: he's actually not a bad artist, with a solid grasp of storytelling basics and an occasional eye for interesting layout. His characters have a solid weight to them and his faces are distinctive. The problem is that it would be impossible for even the best artist in the world to make anything of this bland hash: it's Katana, Halo and the Creeper wandering around the swamp looking for Killer Croc and Man-Bat. Perhaps the least promising set-up for a comic since, I don't know, Geo-Force and Metamorpho decided to deliver a lengthy exegesis on the many varieties of mud found on coal minders' boots.

I'd say Pasarin was good enough that he deserved a better assignment than this dreck, but knowing DC, their idea of a higher-profile gig might consist of drawing chapter 7 of "The Hunt for Reactron."

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Wait . . .

I may have to reevaluate my dismissal of Wolverine: Origins:

I mean, really? Hands up if you expected the next step in Way's masterplan to involve any kind of reference to Gerber's Defenders. That's so weird it kind of blows my mind.

Sunday, October 18, 2009


I was employing a standard where the culturally ubiquitous Superman and its hundreds and hundreds of issues of Action Comics and related titles was the accepted ideal. While I had always rejected the crass measurements that so many people in comics used that were basically cultural versions of the Thing vs. the Hulk, here I was applying a variation of my own.

The perniciousness of this bias struck me recently when I saw an article on "Classic Avengers" vs. "Bendis Avengers" and through it entertained the notion that there are some fans out there that to varying degrees considered a specific line-up of muscled superheroes to be the correct way to bring into some creative reality a really loose concept with thousands of possible variations. They did so for the simple reason, I think, that they had always been catered to with that particular solution. This is sort of like expecting Terry Bradshaw to still be quarterback of the Pittsburgh Steelers, or for all your friends to still be just as excited about a new RUSH album the way they would have been in 1985, or for Walter Cronkite or someone looking like him to be hosting the CBS News.

- Tom Spurgeon
There is no law stating that the X-Men must always be the most popular franchise in comics. There is no guarantee that those titles which are most popular today will be the most popular in five or ten years or even next month. The fact is that the mainstream comics industry is built on consistency of a kind that is fairly rare in entertainment, in that it is built upon corporate-owned properties that have survived and thrived for many multiple decades with little or no interruption of production. Dr. Who was canceled for fifteen years with only one horrible TV movie produced for the whole of the 1990s. Star Trek was nonexistent for ten years between the cancellation of the show and the first movie, and even after The Motion Picture it was still almost a decade before the show returned to TV.

But these are anodyne examples: Guiding Light ran for seventy-two years in one format or another, before finally being canceled. It was canceled last month, incidentally. Considering the show had been in production since Franklin Roosevelt's second term - just one year older than Superman - you would have expected there to have been a huge uproar upon its cancellation. Anything that runs for 72 uninterrupted years has to be some kind of American cultural institution, right? But the reason Guiding Light was canceled was simply that no one was watching it anymore, and furthermore, attempts to update the show's format and content had met with precious little success.

Think about this for a minute in comic book terms: can you imagine a world without Action Comics? Even if, like me, you haven't bought an issue of Action in decades, it still feels like something that should be definitively "forever", doesn't it? Just the idea that someday DC might publish an issue of Action with the words "LAST ISSUE" emblazoned on the cover feels, I dunno, slightly wrong. It's been a part of the architecture of our particular corner of the universe since the very beginning. It was the beginning, for Chrissakes. But think about the fact that Action will turn 100 years old in 2038. That's almost thirty years, a long time, but barring national catastrophe most of the people reading this blog right now will probably still be alive in another thirty years. Do you think Action is still going to be around? Or is it going to be something else - say, some kind of fanciful future format digital download? Or will the property just be gone?

Mainstream comic book companies in America operate under the assumption that things are always going to be the way they are now. Meaning: DC will always publish Batman and Superman, Marvel will always publish Spider-Man and the Hulk. Disney and Warner Brothers (putting aside the fact that they own Marvel and DC now) don't rely on this kind of perpetuity for their quarterly profits. Sure, Disney is extremely concerned with not letting Mickey Mouse pass into public domain, but in all honesty, how much money did Mickey make for the company last year? He's a symbolic figurehead. If someone at Disney passed an edict saying that no one could ever make another new Mickey Mouse cartoon or movie, I don't think many people would really be too concerned with the company's future profitability. Ditto for Bugs Bunny. No one - or, very few people - are sitting around with dynamite Mickey and Bugs stories in their back pocket anymore. (I'm not talking about the comics adaptations of these characters, mind you, for obvious reasons.)

In other words: if a new Mickey Mouse cartoon tanks, it's not the end of the world. There is no assumption - or if there is, I'd be surprised - that a large percentage of the company's profits each and every month will be generated by Mouse-related media and assorted spin-offs. They've got other stuff like High School Musical or Hannah Montana or who the fuck knows what animated series with dancing gophers or some such. They're going to think of something new tomorrow and probably the day after that as well.

Marvel? They keep trying to come up with something new, but last I heard Runaways was due for yet another reboot. Seriously, for twenty-five years X-Men was their go-to title: even before it was their sales juggernaut, it was their cutting edge. It was the book that other books wanted to be when they grew up. New Teen Titans was DC's biggest success for many years specifically because it was the X-Men with Robin. When I asked the question, "why aren't the X-Men as popular as they used to be?", the unspoken corollary to that question is that the fact that the X-Men are on the wane is in some way unusual. Think about it: one property which had been either ascendant or dominant throughout the entire industry for the better part of a quarter-century slows down a bit, and suddenly you've got the British infantry band playing "The World Turned Upside Down" at Yorktown.

One of the reasons we have this idea regarding the X-Men's invincibility is that Marvel put it in our heads. Just like a few generations of Americans grew up with the idea that "what's good for General Motors is good for America" ringing in their ears, its been CW that "what's good for the X-Men is good for the direct market". It goes without saying that without the X-Men there would be no direct market as it currently exists today: the mainstream industry would probably have imploded in the late 90s if Marvel had declared Chapter 7 instead of 11. All the independent publishers who didn't have fuck-all to do with superheroes would probably have gone by the wayside if all the major specialist distributor channels had dried up - all you folks who love buying your new comics-with-spines down at Borders or Barnes & Noble, cast your minds back to a time before those retail channels existed. Marvel almost destroyed the industry when they bought Hero's World, but the fact is that it was their product that kept the stores alive in the long aftermath of that bloodbath. Look at the charts: Marvel's rough market share percentage hasn't changed in over a decade, not since Image and Valiant imploded. For most of that time the largest part of Marvel's dollar and unit share was X-Books. It's not anymore.

The weird part is that Marvel as a company aren't ready to acknowledge that the franchise has peaked - or even that, if it hasn't peaked, it needs some time off before it can perform again. When the X-Men were the number one franchise in comics they built an incredibly powerful editorial apparatus around the books to guide and control the direction. The books were so important that nothing could be allowed to pass unexamined: every creative decision was micromanaged and second guessed, characters and creators were treated as interchangeable and at the same time jealously guarded. This worked to a point - in the early-to-mid-90s when the books were at their inarguable peak, the machine ran smoothly. When things sputtered late in the decade, the weaknesses of such a top-heavy system became obvious. Suddenly the problem wasn't just editorial conservatism but editorial indecision: creators were allowed to do strange things but those strange things were almost always undone. Things became impermanent to an almost surreal degree, even for mainstream super comics.

And when sales started to decline in the 2000s, Marvel didn't know how to react. How to deal with the fact that the company's number one cash-cow for over two decades needs a rest? Keep pushing it up the hill under the assumption that it just needs a second wind, that what is needed is just a new direction, another new direction, maybe this one will stick. The X-Men have always been the biggest franchise in comics, its merely an aberration that they aren't, it doesn't have anything to do with changing demographics or creative exhaustion or simple overexposure. It doesn't have anything to do with the fact that people may have reached a point where they just don't need twelve X-books a month, that maybe the market would be much better suited to handling six. It shouldn't feel surreal, even if it does - it's just business. When a Mickey Mouse cartoon flops, Disney's first reaction isn't to turn around, retool the brand and spew out another Mickey cartoon three months later. At some point chasing after the old hegemony has to be seen as throwing good money after bad. But on a very deep level Marvel is incapable of doing that, and I would be willing to bet money (although there's no way to prove such a supposition) that one of the reasons for this is simply because the people at Marvel expect the X-Men to be number one in the same way that we expect that a new issue of Action Comics is always going to be sitting on the shelves. It's not business, it's faith.

Tuesday, October 06, 2009

Stuff I Have Read

Outsiders #22 / Wolverine Origins #40

Neither of them are new, but I've had them rattling around in the back of my head for a while now, waiting for a free moment to lay down some thoughts for public consumption. These are two of the worst comics I've read in a long, long time. More importantly, I think the way that they are bad is symptomatic of some larger problems. You could almost say that if you needed two books to stand as symbols of the problems and challenges facing the North American mainstream comics industry in 2009, you would be hard pressed to find two better examples.

Outsiders is a book without any reason to exist. It is a perfect example of what I would call "balance sheet comics" - ie, a title that exists simply because someone, somewhere has a spreadsheet with a slot entitled Outsiders. For so long as the title continues to earn just slightly more money than it costs to produce it will continue to be made. Regardless of the fact that it has no purpose, and regardless of the fact that putting out so many books like this has the effect of diluting their brands almost to the point of homeopathic absurdity. No one has been able to make a case for why the book should continue to exist, and yet it does. This book is notorious for a revolving door creative line-up, and there's a good reason for that: I've never read an issue of this book that has been anything other than an exercise in abject space-filling. You would think, given the restrictions, that some ambitious nobody would jump on a book like Outsiders as an opportunity to do something strange and wild and wonderful - no one is paying a damn bit of attention, and most people would prefer if the book just stopped existing altogether. And yet the people who work on these types of books are mostly the same people who've also pulled double-duty on a dozen other misbegotten Batman spin-offs and forgotten mini-series. The books have to ship, even if they need to be solicited as Creative Team: TBA - which has happened. They'll find someone in the pool of hungry and dependable creators.

Contrast that with Marvel. Now, this isn't going to turn into a Marvel vs. DC thing, because that isn't any kind of argument to have, but the difference in approach is pretty startling nonetheless. Does Marvel have any books like Outsiders that are basically cases of chlamydia for all the creators involved? (You know, something that no one wants but they end up with anyway because, hey, beats starving.) Marvel has a pretty good track record these days of sticking behind their creative teams, or at least their writers. When a writer leaves a series - at least a newer, less established series - it's as likely to be rebooted from scratch as continued. Marvel has figured out that no one likes paying for fill-ins in the world of $2.99 and $3.99 comic books. A book like Outsiders is essentially one years-long fill-in, featuring generic characters doing nothing so much as treading water month in and month out. For better or for worse, most Marvel books at least maintain the successful illusion that at some point in the creative process there was a writer involved who had an interesting pitch, or an interesting angle on some kind of editorially mandated hokum. Whereas DC crossover titles tend to be things shat out of the nether regions of the talent pool - take any Blackest Night mini-series for example, although the Final Crisis tie-ins were notable exceptions - sometimes strange things creep out of Marvel's marginal books. They have a number of Dark Reign books right now that are surprisingly good: Zodiac is pretty darn great (no surprise since it's a Joe Casey book); Sinister-Spider Man was pretty fun too, at least inasmuch as it gave Chris Bachalo a reason to draw some really weird stuff, including a pile of oddly non sequitur spoofs of indie comics mainstays like Hip Flask and the Badger (not to mention Dr. Manhattan). These were books that, while certainly the product of editorial and accounting fiat ("We need X number of books with the Dark Reign trade dress to ship in August of '09"), nevertheless managed to be interesting. There is at least the perception that creators are given more leeway to fall on their faces at Marvel these days, under what I can only assume is the operating principle that even if it only works half of the time that's still a pretty decent ratio.

And, tellingly, Marvel knows that creative upheaval on books is pretty much a death sentence: Exiles used to be a mid-list mainstay, but a series of ill-conceived changes in direction and relaunches cratered its appeal and alienated its audience. Runaways has suffered through a few high-profile botch-jobs, with "big name" writers like Joss Whedon and Terry Moore turning what had been one of Marvel's most well-regarded (if poorly selling) titles into, well, something that still doesn't sell and is no longer well-regarded, either.

(I was looking forward to Kathryn Immonen's run because - and here's something I don't know if I've ever mentioned? - I love the concept behind Runaways. The first couple hardcovers of Brian K. Vaughn's run are some of my favorite mainstream comics of the decade, and certainly the best thing of his that I've ever read. But the bleeding seems too far gone for even the most aggressive CPR - Immonen was too late, and despite the promise of her excellent work on the Hellcat mini-series, her first few issues have been pretty near impenetrable. This is probably as much the fault of the horrid mess of a status quo she was left to deal with, but still.)

But to return to Outsiders. This is a book that is explicitly occupied with filling a Batman-shaped hole - both in terms of the team's raison d'etre (a team of "specialists" put together by Alfred to pick up loose ends now that Batman is "dead") and the book's appeal. It is really interesting in a sad way that both the Superman and Batman lines are currently in the midst of year-plus long storylines that involve the main player for each franchise being taken off the board, and seeing all the supporting characters run around like chickens with their heads cut off trying to fill in for the adults. Wow, what better way to undercut any possible interest in secondary and tertiary characters than by making all of them - every single last one of them - explicitly ancillary to their biggest properties. (I mean, yeah, obviously Nightwing and Mon-El were never more than K-Tel versions of their bosses, but wouldn't it be nice if they pretended we were supposed to care?) Who has any respect for the likes of Metamorpho or the Creeper or Black Lightning - let alone any of the lesser-regarded Outsiders like Halo and Geo-Force - if even when he doesn't actually appear in the book they're still carrying Batman's water? What if Alan Moore Jr. walks in the door tomorrow with a killer pitch on how to revamp and relaunch Metamorpho for the new millennium - only to be told that Metamorpho is in the Outsiders now, maybe he should think about Gunfire instead. Outsiders exists because there are a pile of characters who are nominally under the control of the Bat-office at DC who need something to do - God forbid they let any of their properties grow fallow for more than a month.

This specific issue - well, it involves Clayface kidnapping miners, with Geo-Force and Metamorpho tracking him down in order to get to the bottom of the mess. Why is Clayface doing this? Because he's got a bomb inside him, and he needs someone to roll around inside his body and find it. And of course this is something that only a coal-miner can do - swim around in a giant clay monster. Our heroes show up looking for CLayface simply because Batman left a post-it on the fridge before he died with a "To-Do" list that had "Get Clayface" on it. Since Batgirl and Red Robin and Catwoman and Jason Bard were all busy, well, let's have those other guys do it. The net effect is that Clayface gets stack at or near the bottom rung of Batman villains - if you can get punked by Geo-Force, you're probably off R'as al-Ghul's X-Mas list. Oh wait, R'as got punked by the Outsiders, too. See what I mean about diluting the brand? How is anyone ever supposed to warm to newer or better takes on these characters if they can't go away long enough for people to miss them? How long before even a decent concept like Black Lightning is soiled beyond recognition? (That train probably left the building a long time ago, sadly.)

At this point Peter Tomasi's middle name might as well be "dependably brain-dead" - it pains me to say that, considering back in the 90s he was the editor for quite a number of good comic books, like Garth Ennis' Demon and Hitman. I have to believe, based on the fact that he supposedly knows the difference between a good comic and a bad, that much of his current work has to be mercenary rush jobs. There is simply no way someone could write this badly for so long and so consistently if they weren't getting constantly pulled in for hack jobs on dogsbody assignments. Interestingly, he actually did pull off a couple really good issues of Nightwing a couple years ago - and how often do you get to type the words "real good" and "Nightwing" next to each other? He set up a new status quo, supporting cast, setting, personality (I know, weird, eh?) - and then, after a few issues of interesting establishing work, the title got sucked back from its brief independence into another never-ending stream of crossover dreck. Tomasi wrote the bad issues, too, but you couldn't tell it was the same man who wrote the better stuff.

This is the problem: you have a hard road ahead of you if you want to convince the reading public that what they need is a Batman spin-off book that features a character who is like Batman in every significant way except that he is less so. Say what you will about Chuck Dixon, but he did just that when he was writing both Nightwing and Robin - neither book under his tenure was exactly Eisner-winning material, but they had distinctive tones and were fun. Yeah, I admit it: I have a run of the first few years of Dixon's Nightwing and Robin. (I was also a big fan of Scott McDaniel early in his career, before he became really, really bad - some of his work on Nightwing was really gorgeous. Maybe it was Karl Story's inks?) The point is that Dixon knew he had his work cut out for him if he was going to overcome the audience's suspension of disbelief regarding whether or not so many Batman copies had any reason to exist independently. So for Robin he set up a light, slightly frothy tone reminiscent of classic Spider-Man, with Tim Drake in the roll of John Romita-era Peter Parker. When people say they like Tim Drake, this is the Tim Drake they remember: hardly the most interesting character but interesting enough to sustain a fun ongoing soap-opera romp. Contrariwise, Nightwing was given an entirely different makeover, relocating him to a new, grimy industrial setting (the regrettably-named Bludhaven) and givign the book a ludicrously pulpy feel straight out of Dick Tracy - even down to one of the book's antagonists being a man whose sole "power" is the fact that his head is twisted backwards on his neck. Both books were fun, but most importantly they were different from Batman - they had independent milieus and there was a reasonable expectation that anyone who followed the titles would be rewarded with a story that had some degree of autonomy from the other Bat-books. Nowadays, with a book like Outsiders, there isn't even the pretense of independence: this is a book that exists solely to catch the crumbs from all the other, more important Bat-books. The artist Fernando Pasarin is probably a nice guy but this is some of the most boring stuff I've ever seen - when people accuse contemporary artists of drawing in a font, this is what they mean.

But even if I give Marvel more credit for knowing how to at least keep up the pretense of interest, their approach is not without its faults. Such as the fact that this is the most stupidest comic book ever. I mean, seriously.

We all know the drill: Wolverine: Origins is a book about Wolverine's quest to get to the bottom of the massive conspiracy that's been manipulating his life since he was born, based on the fact that since House of M he remembers everything that he had forgotten due to trauma or which had been erased from his memory in the intervening years. So now - Wolverine and all the other guys with claws in the Marvel Universe are really the secret servants of a millennia-old master plotter named Romulus. And hey, pretty much since the moment the plot began to unfold everyone and their mother was bracing themselves for the shocking surprise revelation that Romulus was in fact some massive ancient wolf-man warrior who was probably just like Wolverine only older and deadlierer. So we were all surprised when Origins #39 hit, and it turns out all of Daniel Way's careful plotting in this direction was really a feint, and that Romulus was really . . .

Ah, nertz.

Moronic isn't quite the word. It's so EXTREMELY over the top, so incredibly committed to its utter ludicrousness, that it almost manages to go back around from being lame to being totally awesome. The problem is that there's not so much as an ounce of self-awareness here. This is the world's most straight-faced parody of the worst trends of 90s X-comics. This is familiar ground, particularly if you ever read Larry Hama's run on the title back in the days when EXTREME was still used as an adjective in an unironic fashion. The problem is that Larry Hama is on his worse day an infinitely better writer than Daniel Way ever will be, and it's not like Hama was exactly Shakespeare to begin with. The book started out criminally slow and weirdly static for such a supposedly action-packed character. The one thing you can say for certain is that Way has evolved into a much better writer of action sequences. But his overarching master-plan for Wolverine's origin is so horrible, so overwrought, so redundant and frankly insulting, that it wouldn't really matter if Daniel Way were a pen name for Thomas Pynchon. There's only so many ways you can spin an ancient wolverine-man who rules the world from the shadows.

Riddle me this: say you've got Wolverine facing down his biggest enemy ever, the man responsible for ruining his life since as far back as he can remember. The fight for a while and finally Wolverine gets the upper hand, and has the opportunity to pop a claw in Romulus' brain, ending the fight and ending Romulus' threat in one fell swoop. Can you think of one good reason why Wolverine wouldn't do this? Seriously: think of one. Think of one reason why Wolverine is going to walk away from this without killing Romulus when he had the chance. This is absurd: every couple months nowadays Wolverine has to fight someone TO THE DEATH who we know he can't kill. Sure, Cyclops tells him explicitly that he needs to hunt down Mystique and kill her - and what does he do? He leaves her "to die" in the desert. So she shows up a couple months later, la dee da. No one is surprised, and no one bothers to ask why, if Wolverine is "the best there is at what he does," what he does lately seems to be letting bad guys walk away and recoup their wounds. The reason he can't kill Romulus yet? Because Way has this whole story planned out on what is I am sure a very intricate outline, and we're only at the end of act two. The next act has Wolverine putting together an all-star team of bruisers from across the Marvel Uni -

Aggghh dammit, I just had a stroke.


Which comic is worse? Honestly, I'll give the nod to Outsiders, simply because - at the very least - Daniel Way seems to be having fun writing his book, even if no one else is having fun reading it. There's a similar level of suspension of disbelief that has to be vaulted in order to convince anyone that there needs to be another in a very long line of Wolverine stories and spin-offs - especially since the story in question is so derivative of what has already been done many times before. Purposefully derivative, since so much of the book is devoted to Wolverine fighting people he's fought before for reasons that are beyond well-established. Way actually does seem to have a reason for doing this, a story he wants to tell, and even if the book is poorly received by the critics, and even if it doesn't sell anywhere near what a similar title would have sold fifteen or ten years ago, it still sells pretty well. As long as it continues to do so, Marvel will be more than happy to let Way produce it. There's not an ounce of life in Outsiders though, other than the slight shake of the writers hands as he tries to type up words to go in Geo Force's mouth without succumbing to the DTs.

Monday, October 05, 2009

This Will Hurt

Just got back from spending the better part of the last week in Baltimore. I don't have a lot to say or time to say it at present. But i did come across a particularly mind-bending video on YouTube - and I'm not really exaggerating when I say this rather innocuous video reminds me more than a little bit of Videodrome. It's really, really weird, and well worth the five minutes of your life it will take to BLOW YOUR MIND.