(Note: Part Two of our discussion on Ode To Kirihito will most likely be posted tomorrow because of my poor time management skills.)
Maybe I'm a bit thick but just now as I was reading this is occurred to me that an argument could be made that the primary theme of Matt Fraction's run on the character has been change - or, to be more specific, people either changing in the face of a changing world or being hurt by their inability to adapt. It's an interesting theme for a superhero comic book, considering most of these ongoing adventure serials are predicated on a deep commitment to narrative stasis. I would be interested in going back to the first couple storylines to see how well my theory holds up.
Of course, my enthusiasm at what is otherwise a very well-written and drawn book is tempered considerably by the fact that the villain for this current storyline is yet another iteration of an Evil Iron Man run by competing corporate interests. So, yawn to that.
Off to the side of the current crossover shenanigans is this little weirdo here. I actually think this is an interesting comic for a few reasons. One, as has been pointed out elsewhere, this story is built on the assumption that a number of secondary and tertiary characters floating around the X-Mythos are aware of their status as, well, secondary and tertiary cannon fodder, and resent being pressganged into a suicide mission in order to save a more "important" character who just might not be worth the trouble. Second, the junior X-Men franchises have developed a tradition in the last decade or so of getting the shit absolutely pummeled out of them every time they go to Limbo, so this is a nice extension of that - only, this time, it's not the generally likable Young X-Men characters but a bunch of not-so-beloved folks like Gambit, Dazzler, Northstar and Cannonball. They show up and within basically half a minute they're all beaten within an inch of their lives, Gambit betrays the team and Pixie makes a deal with the devil. I'm absolutely sure none of this will matter in the larger scheme of the crossover, but it fulfills its writ of telling an engaging story with a group of characters not otherwise entangled. Nice to know they can still do these when the mood strikes.
I swear to fucking God if i have to read another Daredevil comic filled with faceless ninjas fighting each other for no discernible reason I'm going to lose my shit. Oh wait, too late.
So, tell me again how a brand-new series set in an alternate universe whose most recognizable character is Leonardo da Vinci is supposed to survive it's first year? It doesn't deserve so much as a small fraction of the praise it's received: If there were such a thing as a cliche-o-meter, it would have bust itself by page six. "You haven't been told the truth about your birth." "There's a secret society running the world from the shadows." "I'm back from years of traveling to set right what has gone awry in my absence." "Steampunk = rad." Urrgh.
Mark Millar deserves at this point nearly all the crap flung his way, but I'll give him this: he knows how to write Ghost RIder. The character doesn't always do so well in extended narratives (although the last series was pretty good), but there is one sure-fire default way to use him that always works: he's an unstoppable engine of destruction bent on wreaking holy vengeance, and if you put him up against a pile of super-heroes he will almost surely fuck some shit up. Regardless of how patently stupid the whole "Black Hulk" thing is (seriously, what the fuck?), the promise of the Ghost Rider going buck-wild on a bunch of unlikeable Ultimate Universe analogues of the Punisher and War Machine should keep things fun for at least a few more pages.
Is this good? I sure hope people don't think this is good, because it's pretty crappy. Morrison still has some neat ideas - and good on him for actually pulling off the neat trick of returning a large part of Batman's long discarded sci-fi past to the characters current status quo - but the actual story itself reads less like a coherent narrative and more like a set of bullet points where a story should be. I've made this complaint about every Morrison Batman story to date and I'll keep making them as long as the books keep disappointing: it's not that I don't understand them, it's just that the execution is slipshod and the attitude too clever by half. I can even see how writing a comic book like this might seem to be a necessary corrective to the explosive decompression of the early aughts, and how telling five issues worth of story in one beats telling one issue of story in five. But the result is still nothing I'm really jazzed about reading: maybe I'm getting old, but this is weak sauce, and it reads like someone smeared ritalin across the printers' plates. Consider it an extended middle finger raised in the general direction of Bill Jemas and move on.
I always wonder why more people don't talk about how good this book is. Despite the fact that it's ostensibly a Vertigo book, it's nevertheless set firmly in the regular mainstream DCU - and not even just the Vertigo-ish magic part either. Past issues have focused on characters like the Golden Age Sandman and the Spectre, but the current storyline features a team-up with the distinctly un-Vertigo Martian Manhunter against an updated version of Kirby's Morgana Le Faye. You have a particularly odd situation when what is arguably the best DCU title currently being published is being published by Vertigo - and really, it is so much more tame than even the most restrained issue of Brightest Day in terms of sex and gore that the comparison is kind of ludicrous. I'd be tempted to say that the book might even be the best shot DC currently has at pulling in that coveted YA female demographic, if they could manage to get the collected editions under the eyes of some Twi-hards. Matt Wagner and Amy Reeder are doing some great, great work here, and it deserves to be outselling almost everything else DC publishes on any given month.