This Week in Spandex
Comic Reviews by Nicholas Yanes
Writer: Peter David
Penciler: Larry Stroman
Inker: Jon Sibal
This week sees the end of X-Factor‘s Secret Invasion crossover “The Darwin Awards.” For those unfamiliar with comic book crossovers, they serve two distinct purposes: 1) to create or strengthen a company’s continuity; 2) to boost sales. Marvel editors are most likely pleased that X-Factor successfully shows that its’ cast of characters are firmly ingrained in the Marvel Universe, mostly by sacrificing the title’s ongoing plot. Marvel editors will also be happy because not only did this Secret Invasion tie-in boost X-Factor‘s sales, but because this three part story also crossed into She-Hulk’s ongoing title, a second series received a sales increase.
Besides the crossover aspect of this issue, Peter David manages to perform a magnificent juggling act. David’s characterizations of these characters are spot on and he manages to make this story feel far more organic then it should be. David also seems to be Marvel’s go to guy when it comes developing poorly conceived characters who were only created to act as plot devices. Originally, David inherited Layla Miller from Brian Michael Bendis’ House of M. Miller was created and used by Bendis as plot device to ‘awaken’ characters’ true memories. In David’s hands, Miller was developed into a key member of an ongoing series. Due to the events of Messiah Complex, Miller is trapped in an alternate future and the X-Factor series has space for an extra person. This Darwin is introduced to the cast. Created by Ed Brubaker in the recent X-Men: Deadly Genesis, Darwin is a mutant with the power of ‘Reactive Evolution.’ This basically means that if writer x needs event y to happen, Darwin can be inserted into the plot. While little was ever done to truly develop Darwin into a unique character, David – in three issues – has used Darwin to comment on Hispanic/Anglo identity issues in comic books and American culture. More over, David portrays Darwin as someone who is unsure of himself, but is truly capable of being heroic – a plot device which should be old and cliché by now, but feels fresh in this story.
The only odd part of this issue is artist Larry Stroman. Stroman delivers art that manages to tell the story, unfortunately his style hasn’t changed since the mid-90s and may cause some reader’s (i.e. me) to endure Middle School flashbacks.
Uncanny X-Men #501
Writers: Matt Fraction and Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Greg Land
Inker: Jay Leisten
Uncanny X-Men continues the team’s relocation to San Francisco, by continually stating that the team has just moved to San Francisco. (One would think the background would be enough to suggest this.) Either way, the story further establishes that the majority of the X-Men love the new headquarters. More importantly, with Professor Xavier discovering himself in X-Men: Legacy it is Cyclops’ vision leading the X-Men. As a result, Summers is creating a community open to all mutants, not a training center for civil rights taskforce. This not only pushes the X-Men into territory that has rarely been explored, but placing the X-Men in San Francisco (quite possibly the most liberal and open minded city in the country); it should allow the X-Men narrative to move beyond anti-mutant storylines. For those new to comics, theses stories usually involve a group or person that hates mutants and wants to destroy them and they are stopped by the X-Men. Unfortunately, if you noticed, I wrote ‘should.’ This issue features a group called the Hellfire Cult taking residence in San Francisco and physically beating anyone who is a mutant or associates with mutants. However, the issue reveals that the Hellfire Cult is being controlled by Empath (a mutant) and the Red Queen, so it is more than likely that Fraction and Brubaker will brilliantly develop this plot line.
One and half other things enjoyable about this issue are Greg Land’s art (the half because it seems that I’m the only person who enjoys his style) and Cyclops. For most of the 90s, Cyclops was seen as the one dimensional leader of the X-Men. However, in recent years Cyclops has been developed into a thoughtful leader who understands the benefit of being low key. From enjoying his relationship with Emma Frost to building a crib to his reaction to seeing Pixie’s battered body, Scott Summers is finally becoming the well-rounded introspective character fans have wanted for years.
Captain America #41
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Penciler: Steve Epting
Inkers: Rick Magyar & Steve Epting
Brubaker’s revitalization of Captain America can never be given enough praise. But let’s be honest, everyone knows that. This issue is the middle chapter of “The Man who bought America” and further evidence that this series only gets better. The Red Skull who is now sharing a body and working with Aleksander Lukin – a former KGB officer and owner of Kronas Corporation – to destroy the United States, and he’s succeeding. Using Kronas Corporations vast financial assets, Lukin and Skull have nearly bankrupted the US economy. Additionally they have bought out a Senator to run for President in order to gain a foothold in the White House.
As Captain America has developed several plotlines have come forth and all are addressed in this issue. Sharon Carter killed her unborn child to prevent the Red Skull from harming Steve Rogers’ baby by stabbing herself in the previous issue. In this issue we find her still a hostage of the Red Skull, but recovering. Dr. Faustus terminates his relationship with the Red Skull, and in a moment of genuine compassion frees Carter from his control. Bucky and Falcon are still following the Cold War Captain America in hopes that they will find Skull’s hideout.
While most middle chapters seem to tread water, this issue provides incredible moments. The one of greatest importance is Bucky stopping the assignation attempt of a presidential candidate and then announcing himself boldly as Captain America.
Iron Man: Director of S.H.E.I.L.D #32
Writer: Stuart Moore
Pencilers: Cario Pagulayan & Steve Kurth
Inkers: Jeffrey Huet & Andrew Hennessy
Iron Man: Director of Shield is quite possibly one the best series that nobody is reading. Similar to Brubaker’s Captain America, this isn’t a superhero title, it is a political/espionage story that happens to star a superhero. This issue concludes “With Iron Hands.” This story arc, like most of the storylines in the volume, is highly detailed and intricate, and trying to summarize it would be an injustice to Moore’s work. Nevertheless, since Marvel’s Civil War Tony Stark has been dealing with the responsibilities of becoming S.H.I.E.L.D’s Director. This story arc in particular has Stark dealing with repercussions from small decisions and decisions made a long time ago.
What makes this series so good is that it is basically the West Wing of the superhero genre. It is brilliantly written and always aware of domestic and global politics. Though Iron Man came off as the villain in Civil War, he is presented here as a thoroughly thought out adult dealing with the complications of leading an international defense and intelligence agency.
There is a downside to this story though. While it easily meets the standards of prior arcs, this one focuses on two key storylines: one in which a disgruntled employee wants revenge against stark, the other being Stark looking for an old friend and weapons designer who may not be dead. Previous writers would have allowed one plot to continue, however, Moore decides to use the climax of one to end the other. This makes the ending, while still a good read, a little predictable.
1985 # 4 of 6
Writer: Mark Millar
Penciler: Tommy Lee Edwards
1985 is an odd story. Set in the year 1985, the story revolves around a young boy, Toby. Toby lives with his mom and step-father, but manages to have an amazing relationship with his supportive, but underachieving father. Toby, like most boys his age, loves reading comic books and discovers that characters, mainly villains, from the Marvel Universe crossover to his normal world.
Now for an idea that feels played out, Millar is able to make it seem new and at times the interactions between the normal characters is clearly touching. The only real problem with it is something common to both Millar and Brian Michael Bendis: most of the issues they write seem to go by to fast. This is not to say “nothing really happens,” but that the stories are usually so captivating that one can’t help to want to read it as fast as possible to see where it’s going. As for what happens in this specific issue without giving away the ending is that the villains are taking over Toby’s town and there is finally a hint as to how the villains are crossing over.
Fantastic Four #559
Writer: Mark Millar
Penciler: Bryan Hitch
Inkers: Bryan Hitch & Andrew Currie
Years ago the X-Men franchise had it a plateau. High in sales and part of almost every major crossover, the narrative seemed to be treading water. Then in the early 2000s Grant Morrison became the flagship writer and restored life to a series that no one realized was dying. The Fantastic Four have been in this predicament for some time now. While J. Michael Straczynski’s run of the series was amazing, it was dominated by crossovers at the end and prevented any long term developments from being established.
Now Millar and Hitch have been given sixteen issues on what should be Marvel’s flagship title. This team up is mainly known for their work on Ultimates 1 and 2; and six issues into their run of Fantastic Four, they have delivered. In the first arc they managed to introduce a new idea for Mr. Fantastic (Reed Richards) to explore and challenge. More importantly, they managed to make the 40-year-old relationship between Richards and Sue Storm (Invisible Woman) interesting. Millar also reminds us why Ben Grimm (The Thing) and Johnny Storm (Human Torch) have been around so long; when written properly, they are just fun to read.
Issue 559 is the second part of the second arc. It continues to follow Richards trying to save the world while developing Alyssa (new character introduced as love interest for Richards when he was still in college) to a character crucial to the developing plot. The main action of this issue involves Johnny dealing with the fallout from dating the bank-robbing villain Psionics. In the process we learn more of Dr. Banner’s plan with Doom and a new group of Defenders. Additionally, for years, Fantastic Four fans have been inundated with stories focusing on how powerful Franklin Richards is and will be. Finally, Millar is developing Valarie in a wonderfully powerful character and managing to keep her bound by the innocence of youth. As always, Bryan Hitch’s art is fantastic. Panels by him demand that the reader go back to just appreciate its aesthetic quality.
The only drawback with this story, as of now, is that it seems divorced from the rest of the Marvel Universe. I’m not advocating another Secret Invasion tie in, but isn’t Banner in the middle of a fight with the Red Hulk? And Doom just escaped from the Raft was immediately captured by another group? Isn’t he supposed to be smart?
True Believers #2 of 5
Writer: Cary Bates
Penciler & Inker: Paul Gulacy
Every year major publishers put out miniseries that are never advertised. If the title is lucky someone will randomly pick it up either because the cover looks pretty or the person working at their comic book store recommends it. These series are usually try outs for an ongoing series. The thing is, since they were never advertised, no one knows to buy them. What sucks about this tactic is that some of these stories are fantastic. True Believers is one of these titles.
True Believers follows a group of new characters that run the Marvel Superhero equivalent to the Smokinggun.com. The first issue shows the group breaking up an underground fight club in which the wealthy behind it dress up as superheroes, and hire men to abduct and drug women; the women being subsequently forced to savagely fight one another while under the affects of illegal drugs.
What’s truly great and unusual about this series is that each issue provides a complete story (beginning, middle, and end), while creating an ongoing story line that will fill up five issues and also be another complete story. This series is a gift to someone tired of books that lack substance. In this issue alone, the main story deals with someone setting up Mr. Fantastic to look like a drunk driver; the main character is also featured speaking to therapist to discuss her relationship with her father (in an original twist, it was actually positive and healthy); provides a partial origin story for the main character’s father; and features television personalities debating the worth of the True Believers’ work and news website.
In short, this is a title that everyone should have on their pull list.