Capsule Reviews, Week of July 25th

Unrelated topics I’m wondering about today while I write my capsules:

  • How the hell did I go from not reading the Avengers for 20 years to “hm, I have six Avengers books on this pull sheet, and might need to add a seventh?” How in God’s name does that even happen?
  • I need to actually read the first issue of Neonomicon; it’s in the inbox of comics under my coffee table. I’m pretty sure it’s going to be Alan Moore’s version of Charles Stross’s Laundry series, and that concept kind of frightens me.
  • Yes, I have an inbox tray full of comics under my coffee table. I bought it at the Container Store when I noticed that my living room was draped in bright-yellow comic-shop bags, like some sort of giant sequential-art spider had been throwing webs around the place.
  • I got around to Hawkeye and Mockingbird #1 on my iPad. Jim McCann writes them well, and it was nice to see a little Casanova in-joke in there for us Cass diehards. I’m not sure my budget can afford another Avengers book, but I certainly enjoyed the free sample.
  • No shit, Vertigo cancelled Madame Xanadu? Mmmmmmmmrrrrrrrppppppph. Where am I supposed to get my Anglo-Saxon fix now, dammit.

Uncanny X-Men #526 (Fraction, Portacio, Tadeo, Reber)

Uncanny X-Men 526 cover

Back in the X-saddle again. Cover by Terry Dodson.


“The Five Lights, Part One”

The X-Men have finally gotten out of Second Coming and can focus on their own direction for a bit. I think that should’ve happened months ago, but Marvel’s overarching plan for the X-books can be a little inscrutable at times.

Now that the big arc is out of the way, though, this book serves up a lot of old-school X-action. The ensemble-cast onslaught of the last year is nowhere to be found. Hope, Rogue, Cypher, and Dr. Nemesis make up one branch of the team, and Bobby, Warren, Scott, and Emma fill in all the cracks. Their goals are simple– investigate Hope’s family, and render assistance to newly emergent mutant Laurie. Back at the ranch, Emma has dinner with Tony Stark, and the X-Club finally make some time to attend to Kitty’s predicament. Nothing too hand-wringy, nothing too political; Scott doesn’t even have time to make an angsty speech about being the leader of all mutantkind.

Laurie deserves special mention here, as the first “light” on Cerebro’s display since M-Day. Fraction’s taken great pains to make her an appealing character– she’s geeky, she’s a little fixated on her studies, she’s having a standard finals-week breakdown. Sure, her origin is painful and upsetting, but a few minutes spent chatting with Hope and the others and she’s right as rain. I could use more mutants who aren’t totally consumed by their nasty beginnings.

The only downer here for me is that we’re losing Magneto for a while. Allan Heinberg and Olivier Coipel’s backup story, “Rebuilding,” shuffles him away from his campaign for Mutant Class President and into the Avengers’ “Children’s Crusade” miniseries. Heinberg delivers a great setup, but I love any Scott/ Erik tension I can get. I’ll miss the old man while he’s away.

Thor #612 (Gillen, Braithwaite, Rauch, Troy, Sabino)

Thor 612 cover

Tonight, he dines in... yeah, you know.


“The Fine Print, Part Two”

Mephisto has never been better than when Kieron Gillen’s writing him. He struts through every panel appearing to be fully in command of the situation between Asgard and Hell, then admits his weaknesses to the camera when no one else is looking. He’s got a soft spot for the man-eating Disir and an eye to tempting Thor, balanced only by a mortal terror of triggering all-out war between his hordes and the armies of the Aesir. Gillen makes Mephisto seethe with a brutal, sexual need for conquest, the hot-blooded converse of Loki’s cool-headed, disdainful ambiguity.

Doug Braithwaite offers up suitably epic pencils, and the rest of the art team responds in kind; this is an issue of Thor that looks and feels like a high-end RPG supplement about Mephisto and his realm. This is the book that will convince your Thor-dubious pals of his badass status. (Unless they’re fans of everything light-heartedly heroic, that is. In that case, you want Langridge and Samnee’s Thor: The Mighty Avenger, a book that is so fluffy I could die.)

Five Things about SDCC 2010

We are back from SDCC. The run-up to the con was challenging; I came down with episodic vertigo about two weeks before the show, and Chad’s had a crazy work schedule. We weren’t able to come hang out with you guys on the blog, but we’re here now, I have some vacation time, and I’m starting the SDCC recap posts with five things about the first day of the con.

1. The con is better if you’re hydrated.

I know, everyone says this in all the con survival guides. They’re really not joking.

Ten days or so prior to the con, my ENT gave me some new medication and noted that I would have to drink a LOT of water and Gatorade every day to stave off annoying side effects. This was the last thing I wanted to hear, but Chad and I sucked it up, hit REI, and brought home this sexy engine of hydration:

The 2010 Camelbak Lobo

Not quite a Fremen stillsuit, but it'll do.

That’s a Camelbak Lobo, 2010 edition. Three-liter capacity, slim form factor. Best $75 I’ve ever dropped on con prep, no joke.

And yes, I named it “Rescue.” You were expecting something else?

Once you’ve sunk the initial cash on a hydration pack that will last you for several con seasons, it’s easier, cheaper, and better for the environment than it is to keep getting overpriced bottles of water at Mrs. Fields or Starbucks inside the hall. You won’t have to interrupt your con experience to go on a quest for fluids. If you’re close with your friends, they’ll appreciate the occasional hit off the supply.

Plus, Jeff Bridges wants you to stop using disposable plastic bottles. You so don’t want to upset the Dude. Or Obadiah Stane.

2. That Jeff Bridges seems like a nice guy, really.

We ran into him for five seconds outside the Flynn’s Arcade replica in the Gaslamp on Thursday morning. He said hi; he seemed fantastically happy to be at the con hanging out.

3. We really like Cliff Chiang; we especially like paying his rent, it seems.

Thursday morning’s other two big scores were a signed copy of Joshua Dysart and Cliff Chiang’s adaptation of Neil Young’s album “Greendale,” and, for my supervisor at work, one of Cliff’s awesome Every Night I Have the Same Dream, Issue 3 shirts from the new Threadless comics collection.

Cliff’s not only a fantastic artist, he is the nicest guy you’ll ever meet on the con floor. You should check out his work and give him money. We can’t meet all his expenses alone, no matter how hard Chad’s been trying the last couple years.

4. You should go to w00tstock.

The Department’s main obligation to the con and related events was Thursday night’s w00tstock 2.4 performance at the 4th and B; we had arranged with w00tstock Dungeon Master Liz Smith to work the merch table and assist with anything else that came up. (Thanks again, Liz! We’re glad we could help.)

Adam Savage sang “I Will Survive” in Gollum’s voice, accompanied by a Wookiee on a guitar (video by k8greenisageek on YouTube). There was a Parry Gripp video, that, well, here:

Marian Call accompanied herself on a manual typewriter (and was incredibly great to me while I worked her end of the merch table). Molly Lewis had to be escorted into and out of the venue for her performance by security because she’s not yet 21– and graciously performed an awesome all-request ninja gig outside the venue for all the other under-21 folks who were screwed by the local liquor laws. Behold these videos from Kevin Savino-Riker, who was reporting for GeekyPleasures:

Len Peralta of Geek a Week fame drew an entire concert poster in four hours from the stage:

Official w00tstock San Diego Poster

(If you have mad geek art lust, Len’s taking orders on the poster until Friday. Details are on his Flickr page; he’s also on Twitter as jawboneradio. Len and his wife Nora are completely awesome people, and they were a real pleasure to work with at the show– support them!)

Bad Astronomer Phil Plait showed us every single schlong-shaped celestial object he could think of, and then dropped a bombshell of a trailer for his new Discovery Channel show, “Phil Plait’s Bad Universe:”

That? That there is some high-end science porn, kids. You want that. Three episodes, coming this fall.

And that was, uh, about a quarter of the awesome things that went on all night. Paul and Storm, Adam Savage, and Wil Wheaton serve as the w00tstock ringleaders and assemble a crew of performers for every concert; this one was particularly epic owing to everyone having shown up for SDCC in the first place. We were on our feet and on the move from 2pm until 3:30am, and we’d do it again in a heartbeat.

“But,” you say, “that’s not much comics content, for an ensemble performance at a comics convention. Aren’t you guys comics bloggers?”

Well…

5. Matt Fraction speaks for the comics tribe at w00tstock.

Matt Fraction thinks about process and inspiration a great deal. He presented his spoken-word piece “The Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines” at the Portland w00tstock earlier this year, and he did it at SDCC twice– once at w00tstock, and once as a spotlight panel at the con proper.

Unfortunately, his wife, Kelly Sue DeConnick (hey, she’s writing a new book about Norman Osborn! Buy that!), has never been able to make it to one of these presentations. She’s never seen Matt bust out a bunch of raunchy jokes about Stilt-Man’s taint in front of a screaming crowd.

We had to fix that. Fortunately for you guys, the Department acquired new iPhones prior to the con, and Chad shot the following video of Matt’s “The Batman Dreams of Hieronymus Machines.” The HD master went to Kelly Sue, and this one is up for everyone else’s delectation:

We know the angle is suboptimal– the rule at w00tstock is “record all you want, but don’t annoy other guests,” so we shot from the side. If you need a version of the talk that is slightly different in content and has a better view of the slide show, but not as much of a view of Matt himself, Laura Hudson at Comics Alliance recorded the SDCC spotlight panel.

Watch both recordings; they have different things to offer, but Matt is saying a lot of inspirational and important things about comics here. Can we get this man a speaking gig at TED?

Tomorrow, depending on how my morning goes: Isaiah Mustafa hits the con floor; a young man from Chad’s alma mater writes a book about historical badassery; Fraction and I get in trouble on the throne of Allfather Odin, and more.

The Power Man Your Man Could Smell Like?

Luke Cage and Isaiah Mustafa.

The movie roles are now diamonds!

There’s another one of those amazingly-shot Old Spice commercials with the Man Your Man Could Smell Like out now, which led me to discover the Twitter account of pitchman Isaiah Mustafa

…which is when I also discovered that his fanbase is currently agitating for him to portray Luke Cage in the upcoming Avengers movie. There are a lot more tweets where those two came from, too. The idea of Mustafa as Power Man picked up a lot of memetic traction since Mustafa’s recent appearance on G4’s Attack of the Show.

Mustafa’s got the physicality, for sure– he’s a former NFL wide receiver. He’s got the charisma… but could he carry a role as large as that of Luke Cage? Luke’s got a lot of emotional turf to cover in an Avengers film, especially if the screenwriters decide to go anywhere near his complex relationship with Jessica Jones. Mustafa’s handful of bit roles might not be enough to sell a casting director…

…but I’d give him a chance. I mean, c’mon, he’s got two tickets to that thing I like. I’d love to see him hold his own against Jeremy Renner’s Hawkeye.

And, below, just because I am a sucker for an excellent practical shoot, the new commercial. Swan dive!

Capsule Reviews for June 30th

Heralds #5 (Immonen, Zonjic, Harren, Fairbairn, Fabela)

Now that it’s done, I think it’s safe to say that Heralds will probably be best read as a trade. Marvel certainly made the right choice in releasing it weekly; the plot and action careen so wildly from place to place that most readers would’ve been completely lost with a month between issues. It makes for an interesting (and not negative) contrast with Kieron Gillen’s five issues of S.W.O.R.D., with his similar frenetic pace but neatly pinned down plot. The full run of Heralds reminds me most of the scene in Apollo 13 where our intrepid astronauts have to use the engine on the LEM to make a course correction. They light the engine and their ship corkscrews crazily through space, bouncing everyone and everything inside around. But when the burn is done, the Earth’s where it ought to be in the window and everything is fixed, if a little frayed around the edges.

Still not sure why Agent Brand was involved at all, but, hey, a party’s a party.

Atomic Robo and the Revenge of the Vampire Dimension #4 (Clevinger, Wegener, Pattison, Powell)

It’s a testament to Brian Clevinger’s worldbuilding that it’s taken a full four volumes and almost three years before he’s needed to bring Tesla’s perennial foe Thomas Edison into the Atomic Robo universe. So deep is the well of random, hilarious things Robo could encounter that Team Robo didn’t even need to go here for us to feel like we were getting a solid story. History has given us the perfect Tesladyne foil, however, and so it just feels right that Edison takes his place as the Big Bad. The callback to concepts introduced in The Shadow from Beyond Time is a nice touch, too.

The best part of this episode? The fact that the entire team- including Robo- felt it was necessary to don Ghostbuster jumpsuits at the appropriate time, but the entire gag passed without editoral comment from any of them. Brilliant.

Thor #611 (Gillen, Elson, Troy, Sabino)

Did you like New Mutants #11 Siege tie-in? Did you love the Siege: Loki one-shot? Do you wish the story threads from those books would be tied together into the arc of a relevant major ongoing series? Well, friend, your wait is over! Kieron Gillen, having towed the line through JMS’s outstanding arc plot and a major crossover event, has come back around to reap the seeds he’s sown along the way. And boy howdy, am I looking forward to this. Come for the wonderful scene between Mephisto and Brün of the Disir, stay for… everything else. Kieron’s ending his time on Thor with an absolute bang.

Having Avoided Death, I Post Some Capsule Reviews

Greetings! I still exist, despite a bout of dental havoc that had me laid up on painkillers and antibiotics for eight freaking days. Chad has been taking good care of me, and thus I can now return with a bunch of capsule summaries of books from the last couple weeks.

Avengers #2 (Bendis, JRJR, Janson, White): Bendis continues solidifying the new primary Avengers lineup with the addition of Noh-Varr. I don’t have any prior experience of Noh-Varr, but he seems likable enough. He has kind of a “Sheldon Cooper and Longshot get it on” vibe that I appreciate.

This issue ends with the abrupt arrival of a major X-Men villain, which seems a bit incongruous. I’m not sure how much of a red herring that’s going to be, given that we’re already dealing with Kang/ Immortus, but I’m willing to see where it goes. I do wish Tony Stark were a little more cognizant of his current dire financial and logistical straits, though– either Bendis is playing fast and loose with continuity, or Invincible Iron Man‘s current “Tony tries to rebuild his holdings” arc finishes up before this issue.

Fantastic Four #580 (Hickman, Edwards, Currie, Mounts): Um, it’s Arcade and the Impossible Man! Arcade seems to be having himself a mini-renaissance– he was in the Dazzler one-shot this month, too. Unfortunately, he’s never quite grown past his B-list Riddler tics, and it’s kind of hard to work up any excitement about him. Likewise, Impy seems terribly restrained here, keeping in mind that I haven’t seen a book with Impy in it for fifteen years or so.

Oh, and there’s another baffling two-page future history of Nu-Earth sequence, and, uh, Dragon Man and the other kids in Reed’s Brave New School have figured out how to cure the Thing. Sort of. But! Arcade and the Impossible Man! Majority of the book! Exploding Impossible Man toys!

Yeah, I’m not sure about this narrative arrangement either, but I find myself enjoying the hell out of it regardless. Just, please, someone figure out something else to do with Arcade already.

Young Allies #1 (McKeever, Baldeon, Sotomayor): Firestar, Gravity, Arana, Nomad, and Toro… don’t exactly team up, but they do take on a bunch of bad guys in this extremely efficient first issue. You meet everyone, you get a good handle on their personalities, there’s a fight, and it’s over. It’s a refreshingly clear-cut introduction, and David Baldeon’s art is fantastic, a bit reminiscent of Stuart Immonen with a slightly more expansive feel.

Arana and Nomad, in particular, sell this for me; they’re really the only established partnership in the book, and their banter is both realistic and hilarious. I could read an entire series focused on them and feel like I was getting my money’s worth. Throwing in Firestar is a bonus, although she hasn’t had much significant screen time yet; adding Gravity ensures that Chad, at least, will pick this book up as long as Marvel cares to publish it. (I don’t get it, but hey, there are worse people to be married to than a Gravity fanboy.)

Avengers Academy #1 (Gage, McKone, Cox): The other new team book of that week showcases a bunch of the teenaged characters from Norman Osborn’s failed Initiative, thrown together under the guidance of some disgraced Avengers. While the kids work together to find out why the Avengers have offered to train them, the adult mentors are shooting for personal redemption after their own setbacks and defeats.

It does rather read like the Doom Patrol to the Thunderbolts’ Suicide Squad, to be sure, but I don’t think that’s a problem. Gage gives every character a compelling reason to be at the Academy, which offsets the “who are these people” factor and lets you roll with the concepts. I particularly like Finesse, a young woman who’s got about the same power set as Monet from Generation X. Refreshingly, Finesse seems to lack an obnoxious, complicated family history– she’s a straight-up psychopathic polymath with no social ties, and I can get behind that concept.

If you don’t like struggling-superhero redemption stories, or you just can’t bring yourself to give a crap about Tigra and Speedball, you might give this one a pass. Otherwise, this is a quirky book with a lot of high concept, and it’s worth a read.

New Avengers #1 (Bendis, Immonen, Von Grawbadger, Martin): Well! Now that the onslaught of Avengers first issues is over, I’ve found the one I like the best. New Avengers plants Bendis squarely in his quip-tossing, hanging-out-with-the-guys comfort zone, and the results are incredibly endearing. Danny Rand lends Luke Cage a dollar to buy Avengers Mansion from Tony, for Christ’s sake. There’s no way you can hate that.

Immonen’s art suits the humor. When Peter Parker crams in a bit of dinner, mask pulled up to his nose, it’s hard not to think of Brad Pitt in Ocean’s 11, constantly stuffing his face through entire scenes. Iron Fist is appropriately bemused and whimsical, genially tolerating all of Luke’s command angst. Victoria Hand, dragooned into the role of operations coordinator, is put-upon and defensive. Her body language speaks volumes about her ambivalence towards Luke and his team. This is good, and I want more like this.

The team dynamic here is far less fractious than the Tony-Steve conflict of the main Avengers title, and less square-jawed than Steve’s covert team in Brubaker’s Secret Avengers. There’s a sense of camaraderie between Luke, Danny, Jessica, and the other members of the team; the pace is relaxed, everything is congenial. It’s a fun read, with none of the tension or timestream-threatening high stakes of the main title.

Deadpool?!

Howdy all. Apologies for the long silence, but there’s been some medical mayhem around the Department. We hope to have things running again here shortly, but until then I’ll make a bunch of noise from behind the curtain and trigger the smoke machine…

Artist and friend of Department H Steven Sanders let us know this morning that he’s working on a new book, Deadpool Team-Up #889, due out in September. Jeff Parker will be writing and Humberto Ramos has done the cover that I’ve helpfully included below. We’re not regular fans of Deadpool here, but the stars always seem to align to present a Deadpool book we don’t mind reading when people we dig are working on it. In this specific case, Gorilla Man. I mean, really who doesn’t need that. Sold!

Yes, have some.

Short Week, Short Reviews

New comics on Thursday night plus a lot of stuff going on at home and in the office equals one wiped-out Department operative. I’m going to run down a few things I read this week in no great detail and beg your forbearance as a result.

Cover for Avengers Prime #1 by Alan Davis.

AUGH IRON MAN ARMOR WITH TEEETH

Avengers Prime #1 (of 5) (Bendis, Davis, Farmer, Rodriguez): Alan Davis has been a favorite of mine since Excalibur, and this book has some nice work in it. He’s a little overshadowed by heavy inking and dark atmospherics, sadly, but I think that’ll ease up as the story progresses. This issue is all setup; the newly-reunited Avengers suddenly lose Cap, Tony, and Thor to a transporter accident that dumps them in three of the Nine Worlds.

Cap’s plot arc starts off fast and lively with a bar fight in Svartalfheim. Thor and Tony have worse luck, landing in vastly less hospitable parts of the World Tree. I notice that Avengers Tony is a lot terser and more brusque than IIM Tony, too– does he have some kind of inferiority complex when he’s up against Cap? I think most people would, but the more abrasive Iron Man annoys me a little. Looks like this will be fun, though.

Heralds #1 cover by Jelena Djurdjevic.

Oooh, hey, a Jelena Djurdjevic cover. Dig that Abigail Brand!

Heralds #1 (of 5) (Immonen, Zonjic, Fairbairn): This is a weekly book, a short sci-fi summer team-up for Emma Frost, Jen Walters, Patsy Walker, Valkyrie, Abigail Brand, and Monica Rambeau. While I am one hundred percent behind the Women of Marvel project, I’m a little dubious about this book. The team’s rationale for existing seems forced and, in the specific mutual-disdain case of Frost and Brand, entirely out of character. Brand’s mostly there so there can be a giant-monster-and-escaped-clones incident at an Earthside SWORD facility, which doesn’t make much sense to me either– isn’t SWORD the near-Earth response team, based at the Peak and keeping all their troublemakers there? Did I miss something? Why the hell would Abigail Brand even want to go to a Scott Summers-arranged surprise party for Emma Frost, anyhow, knowing how badly Scott’s treated Hank of late and how shitty Emma is to her? It doesn’t add up, and I’m worried that that basic inconsistency will only get worse as the book goes on.

Also, I’ve seen a couple previews of this book where the major MacGuffin character is touted as being new to the Marvel Universe. I’m fairly sure that’s not so, and that she’s an extant former herald of Galactus who’s just been handed a Pixie-style retcon. That makes me nervous. Pixie Strikes Back was fun, but when I tried to review it, a cursory check of Wikipedia to see if I’d actually gotten the basics of the plot down resulted in an acute bout of “wait, even for Wikipedia comics summaries, this is way not what I just read.” Immonen’s avant-garde approach to narrative can get pretty tangled at times, and I hope this character doesn’t suffer for it.

Cover to Serenity: Float Out by Patric Reynolds.

A square-jawed cover for a square-jawed pilot.

Serenity: Float Out (Oswalt; Reynolds; Stewart; Heisler; Whedon): Patton Oswalt’s first comic-book endeavor is a by-the-numbers elegy for Wash, the fallen pilot of Joss Whedon’s Firefly series. That’s far from a bad thing, though. The framing is simple: Wash’s old colleagues from his pre-Browncoat days get together and reminisce as they christen a new ship. As a narrative form, it’s the five-paragraph essay of comics, and Oswalt handles it deftly. I was particularly impressed with Oswalt’s grasp of Firefly‘s hyperkinetic Chinese/ Wild West/ SF patois– every caption and line of dialogue added to my sense of immersion in the setting. Patric Reynolds provides craggy, expressive linework, and, well, you’ve never seen a bad Dave Stewart coloring job, have you?

Float Out isn’t cutting-edge visual storytelling, and it doesn’t need to be. Oswalt sets out to prove that he can create a solid, short narrative and tell it well, and he does that. I understand that’s a skill a lot of novice scripters could stand to learn, and reading this book should prove instructive for anyone wondering how a first published comic should read.

Shit Just Got Real: Hellblazer #267

Everybody loves a holiday weekend, but they have dread consequences in comics: delayed new comics. It’s bad enough that Tuesday feels like Monday, but to have Wednesday shorn of all its meaning is just cruel. Just as I started writing this, Janice related to me that for a moment she didn’t think there were going to be bagels at her job today, because Wednesday is bagel day there. Bagel day starts with bagels and ends with comics, right? So no comics means no bagels. But there were bagels! How could this be?!

How the world entire doesn’t drown in chaos and madness is beyond me.

You know who is good at chaos? John Constantine. He’s currently having a little issue with the madness, though. Hellblazer #267 is mostly setup for Milligan’s big Shade the Changing Man arc, so there wasn’t really any meat there to review, but it very solidly establishes that John is even more severely fucked than usual. It ends in a splash page that might as well be the first panel of the story proper, and, in the most ironic way possible, shit just got very real for Bastard John:

Yeah, that should go well.

I know this week is hard with comics being late and all, but look on the bright side: you’re not John. And hey, new comics on Thursday isn’t so bad; the week’s almost over at that rate. And think about those lucky folks in the UK, they get their new comics on Friday! Instant party and the whole weekend to kill the hangover. Hang in there, gang. We’ll all get through this together.

The First Impression

Set the wayback machine for May 8th, 2010. Janice and I were in Portland, OR, bombing around the city after having had  a wonderful second show of w00tstock the night before. In a failed attempt to catch up with Brian Bendis as he biked around handing out early copies of Siege #4, we found ourselves at Excalibur Comics. The disappointment of missing him was rapidly quenched by being presented with what had to be the most well-stocked comic shop I’ve ever been in. I have never seen so many trades and back issues under one roof outside of a convention. It being late afternoon on a Sunday, we were the only people there, too. Heaven.

The night before, we’d seen Matt Fraction’s w00tstock presentation. It was a fun and inspirational piece of work, and one of the things that stuck out the most for me was hearing him talking about remembering the first comics he’d ever read by their covers. At the age when a lot of us discovered comics, a great cover was an easy sell, regardless of what was contained inside. One of those covers he flipped past on the screen mid-speech was of Transformers #2:

Transformers was one of the first comic series I ever bought, so to see him present it on stage like that was personally amusing. For completion’s sake, what was the other first series I ever bought, again based almost solely on its cover?

Art Adams was completely baffled by this admission when I related it to him at SDCC one year. And yet, somehow, I didn’t become a Marvel Zombie… although the years haven’t exactly been kind to my favorite Marvel character, so it’s probably for the best.

So, cut back to Sunday afternoon at Excalibur. Once I checked the walls of trades for a few things, I turned to the rows and rows of long boxes that filled the room. It was time to play a little “I wonder if they have this?” Think of an old title, scan to its location in the stacks, repeat. I forget almost everything else I looked for- well, except for the copy of Beta Ray Bill: Godhunter #3 that I actually bought- but it wasn’t long before I went looking for the original Transformers series. They didn’t have #1, sadly (else I might’ve walked out with 1-4) but they did have #2, and so I closed the circle a bit from the night before. There are a few covers from that early TF run, though, that are just as iconic. Transformers #9 comes to mind:

I was fond of Circuit Breaker when this issue was new. Obviously, my tastes ran towards B-list Marvel characters in 1986. All the more reason it’s probably best I didn’t follow them.

There was one specific book I was looking for, though: Transformers #5. The first four issues were presented as a miniseries that left things a bit open-ended in case of a continuing series. I remember there being a pause between those first four and the rest of the series; my childhood memories make it seem like much longer than it probably was in reality. Either way, I’m guessing they needed a hook to start things back up, and boy howdy, did this next issue make a good one. Excalibur *did* have a copy of this, and I was so excited I snapped a pic and sent it to Twitter:

Three friends of mine almost immediately tweeted back approval, so I guess I’m not the only one who feels this way. The cover art, drawn and inked by Mark Bright with colors by Nelson Yomtov, was compelling; it made you want to grab the book, tear into it, and find out what the hell had happened. It went a long way towards setting the benchmark in my young mind not only for great comic art, but for great sci-fi art in general.

I didn’t grab it, for some reason. We already had about $50 of books in hand, and it was getting late. Unlike my issues of Longshot, my collection of Transformers comics didn’t survive my ascent into adulthood. I’m sure I could find a copy somewhere here in LA, and I know I could find a copy at SDCC in July. It feels unsporting somehow, though. Like it would be more earned if I managed to find my way back to Excalibur and find that copy again. More like seeing it on the rack for the first time when I was 12. That might be worth the risk.

Review: Fantastic Four #579

“The Future Foundation”

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Penciler: Neil Edwards
Inker: Andrew Currie
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer & Production: VC’s Rus Wooton
Cover: Alan Davis, Mark Farmer, & Javier Rodriguez

Futurists perform a quirky, but necessary, task in modern society: we function as the long-range scanners for a species evolved to pay close attention to short-range horizons.

–Jamais Cascio, “Ethical Futurism

Reed Richards has been a lot of things in his tenure with the Fantastic Four. Scientist, adventurer, hero, husband, father– he’s even been on the wrong side of history a few times in recent memory. In “The Future Foundation,” Jonathan Hickman has taken stock of those sides and given Reed one convenient identity to cover it all.

It turns out that Reed Richards is demonstrably a futurist, cast in the mold of real-life folks like Alex Steffen and Jamais Cascio. There’s only one question left– is he an ethical one?

Cover to Fantastic Four #579.

Ooo, Alan Davis!


Certainly, this storyline positions Reed in the vanguard of thinkers tackling issues like posthumanism and global change. He has no problems publically taking his colleagues to task at an event that looks suspiciously like the Singularity Summit, berating them for their lack of forward vision. His futurism brooks no boundaries and accepts no setbacks; his end goal is nothing less than a star-spanning empire of humanity, broken free of the dying Earth to achieve near-godhood through science.

And that’s where everything gets problematic. Instead of inviting his colleagues to reconsider, Reed stomps off on his own to apply some long-term thinking to the problem. Remember “Solve Everything?” Remember how creepy and Machiavellian an entire roomful of Reeds operating as one body was? Yeah, this is pretty much that all over again, except this time there’s just one Reed. And he’s pissed.

Reed stomps home and institutes the Future Foundation within the Baxter Building, with the stated goal of educating the FF’s cast of wayward children in the finer points of creating a sustainable human future. Because nothing could possibly be wrong with indoctrinating your son, your alleged daughter, a Moloid head in a jar, a few Atlantean kids, and Alex freaking Power with your somewhat obsessive, singleminded, possibly-fascist worldview.

I know I sound like I’m down on this plan– and I am– but the actual setup is great, delightfully warped reading. Prior Hickman plotlines have demonstrated that Reed’s theories don’t always survive contact with their applications. We know that Reed has a tendency to sequester himself from others, mentally and psychologically, when he’s working towards a specific end. And, well, didn’t we just see Reed saying a few issues ago that he would renounce his quest to solve the world’s problems? He’s right back on the crack pipe, ladies and gentlemen, only now he’s trying to get the kids to suck the fumes back with him. This can’t end well, but it’s going to be awesome to watch it all fall apart.

Hickman’s setting up a fairly grand endeavor in this book, and it’s compelling reading even when I don’t quite grasp everything that’s going on. There are two pages of Nu-World flashbacks and flash-forwards in this issue, for instance– I thought we left Nu-World behind a couple of arcs ago. That doesn’t stop the spread from being both visually stunning (I’m still partial to Dale Eaglesham’s muscular take on Reed, but Neil Edwards brings the ultratech in an appealing manner) and poignant in its cryptic separation from the rest of the book. Hickman never gives me the sense that he’s going to leave things hanging, though, for all the isolated hints and off-beat moments. If we’re checking in on Nu-World, I know it’s going to play some role in the long game.

That innate sense of an eventual payoff, of an underlying order to the massive amount of plot presented, makes this book enormously fulfilling to pick up each month. If the finale of Lost made your inner skeptical futurist scream and throw things around the room, pick this book up and start pondering the ethics of Reed Richards, man of science and shaper of worlds.