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?


Beepy said...

Here. I will bring my holiday wishes here. To all those who celebrate Christmas, do so heartily. For the rest of you, have a merry Monday.

Steve, may your day be canine comfy and biped free.

Anyone stopping by Beepy's will be treated to a extra portion of figgy pudding and lots of ale.

Hellmo said...

Ugh... the House of Shock Value strikes again. Tell me Hawkeye at least gets her pizza first?

I only know of him getting lost after the Kree/Skrull War. To hang out with the Rawhide Kid.

As for the missing Illuminati member: like, duh, Dr. Doom. After Reed, isn't he the next smartest man alive? I don't think your precious, pig-tailed Thor, however, would be any more interested (or reliable enough to show) than Doc Strange!

I'm glad you enjoyed the Bendis/Maleev double whammy... maybe you'd like to read the fifty sub-toilet-paper grade issues of Daredevil they dumped on us?

lockep said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
lockep said...

Isn't the missing Illuminanti candidate Cap? I mean, he's not in the club for obvious "Civil War" NARRATIVE requirements (and please note, this is probably the first time the word "narrative" has ever been used in conjuction with Marvel's "Civil War" -- the OTHER Civil War, the one with all the books and sad photos and haunting fiddle music, had more of a coherent narrative and they were making IT up as they went... but then, so is the Marvel editorial team, I guess... but in addition to guessing, I also digress...) I mean Cap would never be a part of or party to a "secret" club that tried to run things -- that ain't Cap's idea of democracy, pal!

steve said...

Well, yes, of course Elmo is right: it's Doctor Doom. And we're mystified as to WHY he's excluded - I mean, are the writers going to say the other Illuminati wouldn't trust him? If so, why the Hell wouldn't they? Doom has no more interest in becoming, for instance, a casualty of the Kree/Skrull War than anybody else.

Maybe it's a continuity thing ...

Kevin Caron said...

That's it. I can't take it. I have to comment.

I was just going to casually step around the "who's missing from this goofy line-up that hinges on characters redefined only to justify a big fat crossover book, and even then barely makes sense?" trivia question, but what you two feel to be the answer makes only slightly more sense. Let's assume (ignoring the fact nearly every character here would probably have nothing to do with a secret club like this) that:

Black Bolt is there as the ruler of an entire race of super-beings.

Professor X is present representing all mutants (and one who loves to play General to all of his little field soldiers).

Iron Man is there representing the Avengers and affiliated 'mainstream' (non mutant?) superheroes (and, though it's never been an established part of his character in 40 plus years of fighting crime, he's Marvel's patron saint of paranoia and Totalitarian Superheroism).

Mr. Fantastic is there as representative of the Fantastic Four (and the Smartest Man in the World). Hmm. Are we already getting redundant (I would certainly consider the FF to be in the "affiliated 'mainstream' superheroes" category - Hell, Mister Fantasitc was once an Avenger!)?

Now the logic gets even thinner, as Steve pointed out, with two characters who usually hold themselves above and beyond the congregation of Superheroes (for different reasons) - Submariner (representing the mighty forces of Atlantis?) and Dr Strange (what, representing the mystical forces of Earth and beyound?)

The whole enterprise strikes me as, while not entirely random, not entirely making sense. But you guys have the, like, duh, missing link all figured out (for bonus points, what's missing from the following: a nickel, a ballistic missile, a pair of panties, and a gazelle? Like, duh - it's a refridgerator magnet!).

Dr. Doom? Representing, what, Supervillains? The Second Smartest Man in the World?

To me, it makes as much sense to say Mole Man, as ruler of the Mole Men of Subterranea and the Monsters of Monster Isle.

That said, I gladly second Hellmo's 'ugh' regarding the Hawkeye nonsense, and the pervasive House of Shock Value attitude of Marvel editorial.

Gianni said...

What about Black Panther? Like Namor and Blackbolt, he represents a whole nation of peoples and he is at least as smart as Iron Man. You know, without the alcoholism.

Kevin Caron said...

Very good, Gianni!

I hearby second the notion - Black Panther makes sense - and add, more sense than Dr. Doom. (More sense than Namor, in many ways...)

Kennen said...

Duh! It was Truman Capote as Lionel Twain in Muder by Death.