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.

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.

Review: Fantastic Four #575

Fantastic Four #575 (Cover by Alan Davis)

“Prime Elements 1: The Abandoned City of The High Evolutionary”

Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artist: Dale Eaglesham
Color Artist: Paul Mounts
Letterer & Production: VC’s Rus Wooton

Should I ever have the chance- and who knows, maybe just putting it out there on the Internet like this will give me that chance- I’d be sorely tempted to ask Jonathan Hickman, in all sincerity and curiosity, “…what’s with the monkeys, anyway?” Admittedly, I was primarily introduced to his writing via Transhuman, which I like rather a lot, but if you’ve read it, well. Monkeys.

I won’t tell you what that has to do with issue 575 of Fantastic Four, because it’s a thing best left unspoiled. Hickman’s run on FF continues to barrel along as a rollicking example of what intelligent pulp sci-fi ought to be. Breakfast at The Baxter Building is interrupted by a trio of Moloids (one of which has been reduced to a disembodied head by an unfortunate encounter with a truck) which leads the the appearance of the Mole Man. Turns out he’s actually come seeking assistance for once; there’s trouble in Subterranea and he thinks Reed and company are the only people who can help. There’s trip in a flying submarine, strange underground lands, and Ben being amusingly wary of the entire Mole Man gestalt.

It’s here that I have to admit that, before issue 570, I was a Fantastic Four virgin. I’ve not even seen the movies. Of course, I’ve had enough exposure to know who they all are and what their powers are. I knew enough to make the “Well, there’s all the Fantastic Four movie we’ll ever need!” joke after seeing The Incredibles. As I mentioned in my bio, though, I came up with little to no Marvel exposure, and by the time I did start getting into it, the title was in enough of a state that Janice had long since sworn it off for greener pastures.

We both liked Hickman’s work at Image, however, so when we heard he was coming to this title, we were hopeful, and so far it’s paid off. I’m getting a great introduction to that part of the Marvel Universe, and she’s happy to be getting into the characters again.

I will be submitting my pitch for 'The Adventures of Mr. Head' to Marvel posthaste.

Dale Eaglesham’s art matches the flow of action well, and it all fits squarely in my mind as what this kind of comic should look like; lots of fine detail that doesn’t overwhelm the sense of action or discovery that’s integral to this introductory issue of the arc. The coloring, too, pops, especially when the FF traverse the different areas of the Underworld. The entire production team is on the ball here, and it’s fun to see the end result. I’m especially fond of the cover, which is only tangentially related to the story, but still manages to have that classic SF feeling.

The issue ends not only with more questions than we started with, but with an entirely new set of dilemmas as well. A mild false ending instead of a cliffhanger, it still sets a pretty strong hook for the arc, and leaves the reader wondering what fantastic things we’ll see next month. I’d vote for a return of Mr. Head, myself, if I had a choice, but I think I’ll enjoy whatever comes next.