Only two comics in the bin this week, but both of note: Civil War #4 and the launch of a new X-Men mini-series.
First things first: Civil War.
Well, at least I can breathe a small sigh of relief: the Thor who appeared so dramatically at the end of the last issue (about a year ago) turns out not to be the REAL Thor. He's a CLONE Thor with a mechanical hammer. So my favorite Marvel character is still MIA, not buddying up with the fascists to char-broil Captain America. Thank Heaven for small favors.
And the writing, pacing, and artwork in the issue are all their usual superlative. So that's good.
You can sense I'm leading up to some 'buts' here, can't you?
OK, let's take them from the small to the large:
Small: Even under the sooper-dooper best of conditions, a Thor clone would only possess physical attributes the original Thor possessed. And as all you long-term geeks out there know, controlling the weather isn't one of those attributes - Thor can't do it biologically, he does it through power granted him by Odin. Still, Reed Richards COULD have rigged some weather-warping technology into the fake hammer, so I let it go.
Small: But even so! Just how fast was this replacement Thor-clone grown? In the timeline of Civil War, it can't have been more than a month since sides were declared - that doesn't seem like enough time to grow an adult clone, teach it everything it needs to know (it calls Dagger by name, for instance), and get it a Thor costume that fits properly.
Which brings up a question every bit as creepy as the whole Iron Man-putting-spy-sensors-in-Spidey's-underwear question from last issue: how long has a Thor-clone been growing? We're told that Tony Stark gathered a lock of Thor's hair after the FIRST MEETING of the Avengers, and absolutely NOBODY is bothered by that. Even though it means that Iron Man is not only a crazy sumbitch super-villain but always has been.
(super-geeky side-note: hair that just falls off your head and winds up in the couch cushions is useless for cloning - it needs to be YANKED off to contain any DNA ... but hey, since cloning a supernatural being from another freakin dimension should be impossible anyway, what's a few follicles among friends?)
Small: Iron Man tells the 'tough old bird' Captain America that the high frequency blast he just used usually puts the human brain in 'shutdown' ... but only ten panels later, none of its victims (including Daredevil, whose head should probably have popped right off) seem to be shut down.
Small: why is it that even after four issues (and countless tie-in issues) we're still not seeing clearly who-all is in Captain America's resistance army? It blunts the drama a bit, still not knowing the sides.
Large: So the Thor-clone kills Bill Foster, blows a hole in his chest, and ... Iron Man still has ANYBODY on his side? Peter Parker says everybody's "a little freaked out" by it, like it was somebody showing up with a tattoo? What the eff?
And of course Large: that final panel. The government recruiting not just foreign nationals (like Radioactive Man) but actual psychopaths - Taskmaster, Venom ... Bullseye. Riiiight. This has its requisite shock-value, but, to use a favorite comic-geek refrain, it would NEVER happen. Millar's storyline is forcing our well-known and long-established heroes to be not only morally bankrupt but downright stupid. It strains the seams of an already head-scratching plotline.
Of course the issue's other big storyline is Sue Richards leaving her husband to join the opposition ... a storyline that has great potential, since that's just the kind of rifts we should be seeing more of. We'll see what comes of it (although, back in the category of Small, I should point out that although Sue in her note to Reed mentions the fish dinner they had that evening, the panel clearly shows her eating steak).
The new X-men mini-series was a much simpler affair: 'First Class,' a kind of re-introduction to Professor Xavier's original class of students, rendered all the more nostalgic for me since I remember clearly buying the FIRST version of this story, about forty years ago. I conjured with its possibilities back then, just like I did with this issue.
It's a simple, day-glow thing, with wholesome homilies and no angst whatsoever, a welcome ray of sunlight in the X-world (over in Uncanny X-men, I'm pretty sure somebody gets gutted this week, and over in Astonishing X-Men, a character gets shot multiple times in the back, and last week in Ultimate X-Men somebody got all the skin on his body burned off ... so you might be able to see what I'm getting at here).
Reading this issue, I naturally started comparing it to that Lee and Kirby first issue of decades ago. I had one person at the time to talk comics with (boy, has THAT changed), and we pointed out how Kirby's artwork seemed crowded and rushed, how Stan Lee's writing - though jam-packed with new ideas - didn't seem nearly so spontaneous or funny as in other titles.
Thinking back on it now, I whole-heartedly agree with myself! X-Men #1 was a decidedly second-rate effort, engaging to me mainly because of the new idea of a SCHOOL of super-heroes.
'X-Men: First Class' is, when you dispense with nostalgia, in every way a superior thing. The artwork isn't anything like Kirby's, but then, KIRBY's artwork in X-Men #1 wasn't much like Kirby's. And the writing is hugely better - smart, funny, and fast-paced.
The culprit, I think, is TV. When X-Men #1 came out, the average house in middle-class America had exactly one TV, and it was a great ponderous thing that showed mostly news and half-hour serials long on action and devoid of character-development.
In the intervening decades, whole generations of kids (and comic book creators) have been raised to think in terms of the hour-long dramas that eventually took root in the industry. I'm sure this issue's writer, Jeff Parker, felt it only natural, the whole concept of an issue in which we not only get good action sequences and an interesting antagonist but also sharp characterization, all pulled together neatly by page 22.
Lee and Kirby paved the way, yes indeed, but it's 'Star Trek' and 'Buffy' that gave us the comics we have today. 'Nuff said!
And next week, if all goes well? ULTIMATES!