Friday, December 22, 2006
Comics! New Avengers and Illuminati!
Every so often, I like to give the good folks at Comicopia a treat and actually show up in person, instead of using Elmo or my archnemesis Pepito as catspaws. Like the rest of you, the staff at Comicopia rejoices in a little Steve face-time, so this week I indulged.
I passed on all the crap Pepito will surely snatch up, and I passed on all the good stuff Elmo will get. Instead, I walked out with only two issues, but boy! Were they choice!
The first is the latest issue of New Avengers, which features the return of both the Scarlet Witch and Hawkeye (who's returning from the dead for the what? Fourth time in two years?). The issue is written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn with amazing deftness by Alex Maleev, and it's really, really good.
Part of the reason for that is the low-key nature of the proceedings. There are no skintight costumes here, no posturing, none of the one-note emoting that so turns my young friend Sebastian off of superhero comics ('Everyone's always gritting their teeth,' he once lamented. 'I don't think I've EVER gritted my teeth. It looks appallingly painful.')(One refrained from pointing out that he's also never levitated the Brooklyn Bridge - Hell, he can scarcely levitate himself out of bed before 2 in the afternoon - which feat might call for a little teeth-clenching). Maleev's artwork is reposed but not static, making it the perfect furniture over which Bendis can drape his dialogue.
Finding himself alive yet again, Hawkeye does what any sensible superhero would do - he goes to Doctor Strange for a mystical checkup. The good doctor pronounces him very much alive and tells him he has no idea where the Scarlet Witch currently is. Hawkeye decides to go looking, and eventually he ends up on Wundagore Mountain, where he helps a young woman whose bag has been snatched - and who turns out to be the Scarlet Witch.
Only she calls herself Wanda Maximoff and appears to remember nothing of her previous life. Finding himself confronted with an insanely hot old friend who has no memory of their friendship, Hawkeye does the only sensible thing: he sleeps with her (I mean, he's been DEAD, for pete's sake! And really, when's he going to get a chance like this again?).
The issue leaves everything, er, hanging, but no matter - in itself, it's a sweet little delight. Our only plea here at Stevereads? Let's not kill off Hawkeye again, ever, OK? Any good storyteller should be able to find another way to goose up a plot, and besides - you don't want people to start giggling, like they are over Grant Morrison's killing off Jean Grey every three months over in X-Men.
The second issue of the week was the first issue of Illuminati, also written by Brian Michael Bendis and drawn by the great, the mighty Jim Cheung. This mini-series will follow the doings of a secret cabal of Marvel's movers and shakers, who meet in private to oversee the entire super-folk community. There's of course everybody's favorite clandestine control-freak Iron Man, there's X-Men leader Professor X, there's the ever-volatile Prince Namor, there's Black Bolt of the Inhumans, there's Reed Richards, here without the knowledge of the rest of the Fantastic Four, and there's Doctor Strange.
They meet in secret, they make high-level backroom decisions, they don't tell anybody about it. The whole concept was set up in a wonderful issue of New Avengers (or was it Young Avengers? Young New Avengers?) earlier this year, and I guess we're supposed to think it's mainly Iron Man's paranoia that holds the whole thing together.
As for me, I'm a little confused about the membership. Professor X, yes - leader of a super-hero team and de facto representative of all mutants. And Black Bolt's an easy call, since he's the ruler of an entire populace of super-powered beings (although I have no idea why Bendis excludes Medusa, since she's not only Black Bolt's queen but his interpreter)(well, that is to say I have no idea BESIDES Bendis' quite evident sexism .... I guess I mean to say HE puts forward no explanation, other than Namor's out of the blue pronouncement 'No wives! I refuse to discuss this with wives!')(actually, that wasn't Namor's exact quote - but a free book goes to anybody who can tell me who DID say those immortal lines!). Iron Man ditto - he represents the Earth's most powerful superhero team. But why Doctor Strange? Not only is he aloof from most super-hero goings on, he's also mostly aloof from this friggin plane of reality. Why would he even be interested? And what about Namor? Unlike everybody else here, he's not exactly bright. True, he rules Atlantis, but so what?
I guess what I'm getting at is this: why no Thor? Not only is he a powerhouse in his own right, but he's an Asgardian god, fer cripes sake.
I think Bendis' rationale is secrecy. Who in the Marvel Universe can you picture keeping secrets from his nearest and dearest? That clearly rules both Thor and Hercules out, but it suits Namor right down to the ground.
And besides, I'm not complaining! Bendis has a wonderfully sure grasp of how to write Namor, and it's a positive joy to see Cheung draw him - and everybody else. This is a crisply, beautifully drawn issue, and I look forward to all the rest.
So if I'm not complaining about that, you all ask, what AM I complaining about? Wellllll .... since you ask! I DO have one or two quibbles with this otherwise wonderful issue. For instance, although the two-page spread where Black Bolt destroys the Skrull ship with a spoken word is certainly COOL to look at, it does raise the question of how the Skrull king, who's sitting about five feet away when it happens, could still be alive to show up on the issue's final page - instead of a thin smear of sonically-smushed poo.
But these are only small quibbles with what is in fact a spiffy first issue! The comic book snobs among you (you know who you are) should hie thee hence at once and pick it up!
And speaking of which, what would a comics entry be without another QUIZ for all and sundry to fail miserably? So here it is:
PRIOR to this whole 'House of M' business, how many times has Hawkeye been missing and presumed dead? Anyone care to name the circumstances?
Even going by Bendis' somewhat selective criteria for inclusion in his Illuminati, there's an obvious candidate who's been inexplicably left out. Any guesses? And if guessed correctly, any explanations?