Friday, September 22, 2006

comics! Send in the clones!

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!


lockep said...

Also, can someone please sort out for me the damn Civil War timeline? Weeks ago we saw Ben Grimm say "to hells wit youse alls" and light out for the territories (or rather, Canada), but here in CW #4 he's very much in the mix. So did these events take place BEFORE the events of Amazing Spiderman and FF LAST MONTH? I can't be bothered to dig those issues back up, but I'm sure there are dozens of things in them that would indicate that they must happen BEFORE this... wait... sorry... my internal geek-o-meter just tipped over for the week -- I've used up all my geek minutes... gotta go...

steve said...

yes, the Civil War timeline - hermenuetically, anyway - is clear: ben declares his non-involvement directly after the attempted prisoner-transport in issue #3 - so he shouldn't have been tackling Hulkling in THIS issue ...your geek minutes were well-used! Many Bothans died to bring us this information ....

lockep said...

If I may don my "Steve hat" for a moment, lemme say that the problem with Civil War continuity (and the Ben Grimm situation is only the most recent and obvious one -- there've been tons of them all summer, especially involving Cap and his Rebels) is that it's not a case of "oops, we messed up -- No Prizes all around!" but rather that Quesada and the rest of the Marvel Editorial board simply don't care -- this is their big super awesome crossover and they simply do not care at all about how it all holds together. Part of that is that they have too many Big Cooks stirring the pot -- nobody wants to tell Millar OR JMS OR Bendis that they can't do what they want, when they want to in their respective titles, and secondly, the infamous Marvel publishing lapses means that often titles that were probably slated to be released concurrently are instead falling behind one another and coming out weeks, even months later than planned. Having said all that, I do agree -- Millar is taking all kinds of names in the flagship book, once again...

steve said...

Why, might one ask, is this a 'Steve hat' moment? Because it's well-thought and well-written and highly logical? Why, thank you!

lockep said...

Upon a re-read of Civil War 4 last night I did notice that Ben Grimm's presence is purely VISUAL -- he has no dialogue, making it POSSIBLE (but unlikely) that the ARTIST plopped him in there, separate from Millar's script directives. But still, that's a stretch (no FF pun intended) -- and even if so, it would suggest that Millar and the editors are in such a rush they aren't paying ANY attention to the art pages that come back.

The other howler I noticed on a second read was this soon-to-be classic line from Hank Pym: "I just can't understand why our Thor-clone killed a man. Is he missing a human conscience?" Uh yeah, 'cause THAT would have stopped him from killing another human.

Beepy said...

Shoot me. Shoot me now. Seriously, Steve, you read like eight books a week. Why don't they ever rate the blog? You are becoming the E! network of the blog world. Give your manateemomma some suger, baby.

Kevin Caron said...

The more I hear, the happier I am that I never touched a Civil War book. No plot-device-based character re-imaginings, and more money in my wallet.

How you slog through this stuff is beyond me, Steve.

lockep said...

we should clarify that while the Civil War CROSSOVER, like all such beasts, is an unwieldly, sloppy, money-grubbing enterprise, Millar's flagship Civil War 7-issue title is just fine -- it's no Ultimates, but still... And also to be fair, Bendis' stuff in New Avengers, especially the issue focusing on Luke Cage and his new family, is excellent... so for my money, it's JMS' Amazing Spiderman and FF that are sucking wind... and I haven't even bothered with the X-stuff, etc...

(oh, and in another Marvel editorial misfire, the Iron Man solo title -- which is full of big, character-shaking events -- seems to have NOTHING to do timeline-wise with Civil War... um, except Iron Man gets his new super extremis powers in the solo title, and we see them in use in New Avengers Civil War, and Nick Fury is a front player in the Iron Man solo title, but his MIA status is a major plot point in the entire Civil War arc, so that means the Iron Man solo books take place, um, after... no, wait, before the Civil... no, hang on, Tony Stark is BLOND in the solo title, so that means... uh... brain hurty... gonna go lie down now...)

lockep said...

Oh, and in Steve's defense (which he certainly doesn't need me to, um, defend), I've always been mystified by people who frequent a personal blog -- whether it's about the person's life, or music, or movies, or politics, or books -- and then complain that the blogger is not serving the individual blog reader's wants and needs. Um, "personal blog" -- not supported by your subscriptions or your hard-earned tax dollars. To come here and demand the blogger write to your specific desires would be like going over to someone's house for treats and demanding they serve you ice cream instead of cake... oh, wait... Steve actually DID that at my parents' house... then never mind... have at him!

steve said...

I'm thinking I'm never, in fact, going to live down that infamous day in Kalona, am I?

Kevin Caron said...

Not that I would make any demands of Steve, but wouldn't it be more like asking for a request of a band at a bar that charged no cover?

lockep said...

[I'm thinking I'm never, in fact, going to live down that infamous day in Kalona, am I?]

Well my parents sure haven't forgotten. To this day, some 20 years later, at the mention of your name they still respond, "Oh you mean Mr. 'Do you have any ice cream instead?'"

lockep said...

[Not that I would make any demands of Steve, but wouldn't it be more like asking for a request of a band at a bar that charged no cover?]

Here's a nice little bedtime story for you.

At one point in the late '90s, when stunted rock and roll wags still thought it was the height of live music wit to yell "Freebird!" at every concert, I saw a small midwestern band named Love Nut playing live.

Someone yelled "Freebird!" and so the band actually launched into a cover of the Skynyrd song. A cover that went on and on and on and on.

After literally about 15 minutes of interminable southern-fried "Freebird" guitar solos, the Love Nut lead singer stepped back to the mic and said, "Not so fuckin' funny now, is it?"

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As an with of the rage's oppressiveness, Minneapolis-St. Paul Universal Airport -- a travel hub with expertise in contending with foul weather -- was screen down for the gold medal time in years.