Review: Uncanny X-Men 539

“Losing Hope”

Writer: Kieron Gillen
Artist: Ibrahim Roberson
Colorist: Jim Charalampidis
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
Cover: Simone Bianchi

Let’s get this out of the way first and then move on to the story itself:

Uncanny X-Men 539 cover by Simone Bianchi

I mean, really, it screams JUST BUY THIS ALREADY.

Yes, yes, Uncanny is getting a renumbered reboot. Yes, yes, people are increasingly voicing the opinion that lame-duck titles’ remaining issues “don’t count” and can be safely ignored. “Losing Hope,” being a single-issue story, isn’t going to sway anyone who holds that viewpoint…

…but the X-Office has, in a remarkable burst of foresight, put a fantastic Simone Bianchi Wolverine cover on this issue. That alone should distract the nerd rage and draw some of the hard cases to the book. Look, it’s got Wolverine on! I have to appreciate canny sales moves like that, since we’re mired in the mysterious Current Climate and whatnot.

Moving on. This is a fairly uncomplicated story that hinges on a dubious Claremont-era X-trope: female mutants love to shop and need to shake off their angst about their persecuted status, so they go shopping. Of course, since they’re persecuted mutants, shit goes down by the Hot Dog on a Stick, and they have to accept that their lives will never be normal enough to permit them the joys of a limeade. I estimate that I read some variant of that plotline eight or nine times as a teenage comics fan. (When I wasn’t reading that, there were mutants playing baseball.)

Gillen, to his credit, subverts the trope in this story by focusing it squarely on Hope Summers, the alleged mutant messiah around whom a great deal of recent events have focused. Hope’s teammates have to force her out of her armory and off the island; once they’re out, her fashion sense proves as nonexistent as her ability to accept critique. There are no armloads of Nagel-inspired ’80s dresses here, just one cranky, hyperfocused mutant savior and two reluctant disciples.

It’s a shame that those disciples– Laurie and Idie, two of the more interesting members of the Generation Hope cast– are cast aside as soon as Hope is kidnapped and the actual plot kicks in. Admittedly, this isn’t an issue of Gen Hope; expecting some elucidation on Laurie and Hope’s uneasy alliance, or Idie’s ongoing struggle to assimilate into mutant culture, is expecting something Uncanny’s not designed to deliver. But would it be too much to ask to let them participate in the action beyond summoning Wolverine? Watching the newer mutants participate in a mission alongside the definitive combat expert on the older team would have been enlightening.

What we get, instead, is a pretty straightforward Wolverine solo operation– he breaks into the Crimson Commando’s base and stages a rescue, and he and Hope fight their way out. Grudging respect is achieved in the heat of battle, and Logan monologues a bit about his reluctance to get emotionally involved with Hope. Exeunt all, including, presumably, Idie, whom we never see again after page 5.

It’s an efficiently told story, and Ibrahim Roberson’s art lends it a kinetic, muscular feeling. I believe this is Roberson’s first Marvel work, and it leaves me wondering what his take on Iron Fist or a similarly visceral character would look like. Certainly, he’s presented a compelling argument for his future employment.

And there’s nothing particularly wrong, per se, with a Logan/ Hope adventure that runs its course in 17 pages. The Crimson Commando has a compelling reason for his attempt to capture Hope. Logan’s reasons for keeping a wary distance from her are valid. Logan’s arrival in Hope’s cell is understated so heavily as to be both absolutely hilarious and perfectly fitting. (When a man is the best there is at what he does, there really does come a point where there’s nothing to be gained by showing him doing it over and over again.) But I was still left wanting a little more here… and the sort of thing I wanted is, ironically, laid out in an earlier throwaway scene with Logan, Hope, and the feral savant Teon.

Hope approaches Teon and Logan’s sparring practice on her way off the island, and Teon is instantly smitten. He runs to her feet. He’s immediately present in a raw, physical way. Hope puts her hand down and tells him to stay, like one would a particularly slow dog– and in Logan’s body language and stone silence, we see that he’s watching himself with Jean Grey, years before. It’s a brilliantly played moment, four panels of showing without telling. For the reader, Logan’s speech later is just exposition for Hope’s sake; it’s the subtle set of his shoulders as Teon rejoins him that tells us everything we need to know, and a number of things that Hope has yet to even guess.

“Losing Hope” is worth reading for that page alone. It’s a lesson in storytelling– you can be efficient, you can run from point A to point B along a well-traveled plot arc, you can subvert a trope or two along the way, but you have to deliver the unexpected punch to the gut while you’re at it.

Review: SHIELD Infinity

SHIELD: Infinity
Writer: Jonathan Hickman
Artists: Zachary Baldus, Kevin Mellon, Nick Pitarra, Gabriel Hernandez Walta, Rachelle Rosenberg, Dan Brown

My, it’s been a while. Suffice to say that this winter was a bit too adventurous for the Department’s tastes, and it’s not quite over yet– I may have a lot more time on my hands this summer to write than I expected, thanks to a bit of unemployment and an impending bout of surgery for a newly-discovered chronic medical issue. (I’m OK, as far as I know; if I’m not, I’ll tell you guys; yes, Wedge is taking care of me and I have very good doctors.)

That being said, I keep seeing reviews of this Marvel one-shot that don’t quite seem to grasp what Hickman’s up to here– which means, yes, spoilers galore below. You’ve been warned.

Cover for SHIELD: Infinity

HOLY SHIT NEWTON WHAT THE FUCK WAS THAT


SHIELD: Infinity is a bit of an odd duck as a one-shot. It’s a little bit inside baseball– if you don’t already know a bit about the Brotherhood of the Shield, its ultimate aims, and the ongoing struggle between Leonardo da Vinci and Isaac Newton as its once and future leaders from the main SHIELD book, you’re not going to pick up on everything going on in these four stories. On the other hand, I hesitate to say that regular SHIELD readers won’t miss anything if they give this pass. There’s certainly a lot of backplot here, and most of it probably won’t be covered in the main title.

Also, honestly, I have a hard time conceiving of a hardcore SHIELD fan, or a hardcore Hickman fan, who’s not going to get this book. You either really dig Hickman’s oblique nods to epic, Kirby-esque concepts, or you don’t. You probably already know if you’re in this book’s target audience.

(If you’re unsure, or, if, like me, you love this book and rarely have the mental bandwidth to grasp everything at once, you may want to read Robert Loss’s excellent review of the series, which I’m using to fill in my own gaps as I write this review.)

New readers will find the basic concepts of the Brotherhood of the Shield– a secret society of legendary historical figures sworn to protect humanity from all manner of fantastical menace, from the Brood up to Galactus himself– laid out as simply as possible in Hickman and Pitarra’s opening story, “Colossus.” Sequential storytelling doesn’t get more didactic than this, with Hickman framing a tale of classical antiquity as a Socratic dialogue between Leonardo da Vinci and his students. In ten lean pages, we’re introduced to Leonardo’s vocation as a teacher and mastermind, his inquisitive apprentices, and their fraternity’s mission statement. It’s tightly-told, with just enough action to leaven the exposition for those of us who are already familiar with the setup.

Folks who are up on their current Hickman news might note that “Colossus” is the first work we’ve seen from his collaboration with artist Nick Pitarra; they’re slated to deliver The Red Wing to Image this year, and have talked about more creator-owned work to come. How does Pitarra measure up? I’m impressed; his angular linework and muted palettes of soft pastels remind me of artists like Moebius. The sense of the fantastical Pitarra provides is well-suited to Hickman’s cosmic-level concepts. Pitarra’s panels provide clear angles on the action, whether it’s an overhead shot of Leonardo’s classroom or a pitched fight between Archimedes and an alien invader. I look forward to more Hickman/ Pitarra work; Wedge is already beside himself with glee about the time traveling fighter pilots of The Red Wing.

Zachary Baldus teams up with Hickman for the second tale, an impressionistic story of Nostradamus called “The Hidden Message.” This story falls down a little on accessibility– if you don’t already know that there’s a guy chained up in a mystical well beneath Rome, that he’s Nostradamus, and that he’s not down there for his own good, you’ll be largely lost here. That being said, the overall tone here is distant, as if this moment in time isn’t something we the readership were meant to see at all, and Hickman and Baldus carry that off ably. If it left me cold, well, I think it was supposed to– but we’ll get to that in a few paragraphs.

Kevin Mellon gets the graphic honors for the only tale of SHIELD’s most enigmatic adventurer, Nikola Tesla. The story rejoices in the Hickmantastic title “Life, the End of the World, and the Key.” The end of the world is a popular topic in the main SHIELD title– Newton thinks he has all the details locked down, and he’s enough of a total madman that he might be just right about that. (After all, he was right about elliptical orbits.) Leonardo, on the other hand, thinks that humanity can ascend and prevail over even the apocalypse– which should sound familiar to anyone who’s read Fantastic Four lately, or Hickman’s earlier Image works Pax Romana and Red Mass For Mars.

Yep, this is SHIELD’s version of the “Solve Everything” problem that’s underlaid Reed Richards’ entire arc in the old Fantastic Four and the new FF books. It shouldn’t be in the least bit new to anyone who has any prior familiarity with Hickman’s favorite concepts. That being said, if Hickman wants a constant touchstone to return to across his works, “the aspiration of man and his technologies against inevitable entropy” beats the hell out of either “smartphones” or “mind-controlling dinosaurs.”

Mellon’s work is pulpy and spare, playing in an extremely limited colorspace provided by Dan Brown. It works well to illustrate just how much of an engineer– of machines and people– Leonardo really is. Leonardo brings Tesla back to life not out of any real concern for Tesla himself, but for the sake of Tesla’s son Leonid, the protagonist of SHIELD. (In comparison, Tesla’s apparently named his only begotten son after Leonardo. I think Tesla’s really getting the raw end of this friendship.) This is a story about stark necessities, and the high-level maneuvering that characterizes the entire game Leonardo and Newton are playing out in their quest to immanentize the Eschaton. Hickman’s choice of Mellon’s strong visual style to underlie that unnerving message points back to his previous career as an art director; this is a writer who knows how to convey a visual concept, and an employer who knows how to bring his best talent to the project at hand.

The fourth story is where I took some exception to prior reviews of SHIELD: Infinity, though; I feel they somewhat understate the case for this book’s characterization of Isaac Newton. Gabriel Hernandez Walta pairs off with Hickman for “The Apple,” and this is where the book goes somewhere most mainstream Marvel comics never approach in this sort of detail. Simply put, “The Apple” is as much of an origin story as we’re going to get for Sir Isaac Newton, the dark mirror of Leonardo and the nominal archvillain of SHIELD. Not so simply put, well…

…Newton the historical figure was not well-liked in his time, and was, at best, what one of my friends calls “a class-A weirdboy.” He was extensively learned in both conventional sciences of the day and in eschatology, alchemy, and other occult specialties. (Wikipedia goes so far as to speculate that he came by all the science secondary to his love for the occult.) He thought he was among an elect group who could actually know the mind of God via Biblical study and interpretation; he was very secretive; he was combative with his colleagues and driven by a sense of vengeance. Hickman’s done the reading– more than I have, for sure– and he’s brought all of that to the fore here. How does he capture the mercurial, brooding genius of the historical Newton and align it with the chthonic, ideological evil of the 616 Newton?

Well, uh, Newton beats Gottfried Leibniz to death (mostly off-panel; this isn’t a MAX book) with the Philosophiae Naturalis Principia Mathematica. That all goes down after Leibniz reveals that, yes, he has rather noticed that Isaac Newton is a god damned serial killer who’s been murdering all of his intellectual rivals.

Needless to say, this is entirely not what I expected from my SHIELD one-shot purchase. “The Apple” is about a step shy of that whole buggering-to-death business with Hyde and the Invisible Man in League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, and it’s pretty stunning to see even in a T+ Marvel book. Hickman’s Newton isn’t so much a scientist, or even a mystic, as he’s a full-on Criminal Minds-style unsub, psychopathically driven to exterminate everyone who fails to find accord with his thanatic vision. Leibniz is no Batman, either; while he carries off his investigation, there’s nothing he can do to stop Newton from making him the next victim.

It would be easy to say that “The Apple” only has one purpose– to make you hate Hickman’s version of Newton, and, conversely, like his Leonardo all the more. I’d actually be happier if that was all it was supposed to do… but, like every Hickman story, it’s not that simple. Sure, Newton is certifiably beyond redemption, a spree killer with no thought for anyone or anything beyond his own intellectual glory, coldly driven to torture and exterminate his foes (as we saw in “The Hidden Message”)…

…but he might also be right about being the smartest man that ever lived. He might be right about everything, in the end, and that’s what SHIELD: Infinity wants you to wonder about as you close the covers. What hope can even the original Renaissance Man hold out against the annihiliatingly precise, logical vision of the end of the world held within Newton’s apple?

About Those Five Lights…

…well, well, well. Looks like Mr. Fraction is having a little Battlestar Galactica fun with the X-faithful.

I was discussing Uncanny X-Men #526 with Department operative Chris “Slarti” Pinard today, and he stopped and said:

“I keep seeing Laurie the new mutant’s blue skin and lines around the lips and expecting that there’ll eventually be some connection to Ol’ Pocky Lips.”

Laurie in UXM 526.

Gee, she looks just like her possible progenitor! Art by Whilce Portacio.

Being me, I hit up Google and typed in “five lights Apocalypse,” and, uh, well… I got this BSG episode recap. Which mentions “the five lights” of the eventual apocalypse in that universe, and also mentions a building called the “Temple of Five.”

Hm. Suspicious, certainly leading, but not quite enough to invoke a total nerd squeal. Let’s poke a little further.

Well, looking up the Temple of Five on BattlestarWiki gets you a swift redirect to “Temple of Hopes.” Most likely a reference both to Hope herself, back in 616 Marvel, and to the hope the new lights represent.

Is Fraction having it on with us a bit, tossing in some BSG references to send us all on a merry chase? After all, BSG is about the struggles of the last dying gasp of the human race; it’s an appropriate metaphor for the post-M-Day condition of mutantkind. Or are we being given some foreshadowing on the cause of these new, delayed X-gene manifestations?

I think “yes to all” is probably the best answer. After all, as Fraction himself said at his SDCC spotlight panel, why does Tony Stark keep digging up mandarin oranges in Stark: Disassembled?

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.)

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!

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.

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.

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: Rescue #1

“Rescue Me”

Writer: Kelly Sue “Supersonic” DeConnick
Artist: Andrea Mutti
Colorist: Jose Villarrubia
Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles
Cover: Travel Foreman & June Chung

Oh, if only I could stay a while
what am I afraid of?
All this psychic damage
of all the years I’m made of

-Ted Leo & the Pharmacists,
“Bottled in Cork”

Forgive the indulgence of opening with a song quote, but it seems fitting given the previous connections we’ve made between Ted Leo and Invincible Iron Man. That particular quote, too, sticks out in my mind– not only for being (in my opinion) the best turn of phrase to be had on The Brutalist Bricks, but also fitting for where Pepper Potts stands at the opening of Rescue.

Set just before the events leading up to the climax of Siege, Pepper finds herself a fugitive on the run. She’s temporarily gone to ground, hiding out in the basement of a school somewhere in Oklahoma. Once she’s got a few minutes to herself, the lack of sleep and the surfeit of adrenaline from what she’s been through up to that point contrive to confront her with the one thing she hasn’t dealt with yet: Happy Hogan’s death. We’re treated to a flashback of Rescue in action as Pepper debates if she’s done enough, if there isn’t more that she could do, if she can ever do enough.

What I find most interesting about Rescue is how it compares to DeConnick’s other Women of Marvel one-shot from last month, Sif. At first blush it’s tempting to argue that it’s the same story with power armor instead of a longsword, and the arc of each character, from a distance, is certainly similar. The difference here, though, is the vector each character takes to get where they need to go. The two books compliment and bookend each other remarkably well as character studies. I could wish, further down the chain as things sort out for the Heroic Age and in what seems to be the new Avengers tradition, to see a Sif and Rescue team-up. They would be quite a force.

Also, as an aside, I love the version of J.A.R.V.I.S. in the Rescue armor. It’s obviously a cue from the movie-version of J.A.R.V.I.S., and Kelly Sue uses it to great effect as comic relief. Being able to banter with the suit is a real treat.

I’ve loved the design of the Rescue armor from when it was first introduced in Invincible Iron Man, and Andrea Mutti does it great justice here. In all the ways that Iron Man epitomizes Tony’s concept of masculinity, Rescue is undeniably feminine without losing any of the strength inherent in a Starktech armor.

Rescue is, much like Sif, something I’d like to see as an ongoing series, or at least a limited run. They both would take well to more breathing room. We’re treated to a wonderful and poignant bit of character development with Rescue that wasn’t quite as possible with the straightforward Sif. Pepper’s only human, after all, and as such is laden with all the complications and baggage any of us accrete over a lifetime. (Not to detract from Sif’s issues, but as an Asgardian and a warrior, her solution is somewhat more linear.) It’s rewarding to see Pep fight through some of her issues. And if things line up the way Matt Fraction’s hinting at with the recent return of the Spymaster in Invincible Iron Man… well, it’s a good thing Pepper’s had this moment of closure before her return to righteous ass-kicking.

Interview: Kelly Sue DeConnick

Matt Fraction and Kelly Sue DeConnick: Iron chroniclers.

It’s no secret that we of the Department are unabashed fans of all things Invincible Iron Man— and that includes the transformation of Pepper Potts into armored heroine Rescue. Pepper’s adventures in her own custom suit have come to a (temporary?) end in the main title, but Marvel tapped writer Kelly Sue DeConnick— manga adaptation specialist, Sif writer, and IIM scripter Matt Fraction’s wife– to fill in some of Pepper’s heroic history in a new Rescue one-shot.

Rescue comes out today, and to celebrate, we’ve asked Kelly Sue a handful of questions about writing for Pepper, working for Marvel, and what might be next on her plate. It was a great chat, and we’ll be reviewing the book tonight.

JC: On the first page of the Rescue one-shot, Pepper Potts says something I’ve been waiting to hear for a long time– “I’m going to do what I do best. I’m going to clean up someone else’s mess.” Pep’s been Tony’s personal assistant, corporate CEO, and, as of recent issues of Invincible Iron Man, lover– but there’s always that tinge of codependency, of Pepper giving up her own desires to further Tony’s agenda, to their involvement. How do you understand their relationship? What experiences have you had that help you bring Pepper’s situation to life on the page?

KS: This is sort of a weird thing to admit, but I probably relate to Tony a little better than I do to Pepper. Not because I’m a wealthy international playboy and unparalleled genius (though… you know…), but because I’m embarrassingly familiar with junkie-brain; the addict’s mindset that I’ve seen best described as “the piece of shit at the center of the universe.” Tony may be a dry drunk, but he’s still a manipulator and an egotist. It’s a little horrifying to say so in a public venue, but I’ve been there, done that. I’ve been, you know, God’s most special snowflake who knew what was best for everybody, played people to suit me and hated myself for it at the same time. I call that period of my life “my twenties.” Not my finest hour. The difference–aside from the playboy thing–is that Tony probably *does* know what’s best on some level. I was just an ass. (Also, I’m not sure Tony’s plagued by self-loathing, you know? He may be an ends-justifies-means guy.)

Anyway, I was lucky enough to have not one but several Peppers in my life–people who cleaned up after me, gently nudged me away from the brick walls into which I was determined to crash and, when I couldn’t be dissuaded, bandaged me up repaired the masonry, you know? I can’t really speak to their motivation–maybe they were broken in a way that made that relationship work for them, or maybe they were just nurturing and generous. It feels like it’s not really my place to speculate with regard to my story, you know? Like, I need to take care of my side of the street and let them worry about them.

For fiction, though? Let’s speculate. As amazing and capable and smart and funny as Virginia is, I don’t think there’s a psychiatrist worth his or her papers who would describe her relationship with Tony as anything near healthy. I absolutely adore her and I get her dedication to Tony but yeah… the woman needs a 12-step meeting like nobody’s business.

JC: What was the genesis of the Rescue one-shot? How did you approach the pitch? Did you have to sell Marvel on the idea, or did they come to you specifically asking for a Pepper solo story?

KS: Both books spun out of the Women of Marvel initiative. Marvel invited me to pitch on Pepper and Sif–I hoped to land one or the other and somehow managed to get lucky twice. As far as how I approached the pitch? First I found out when within the context of the larger story my story was to take place, then I pitched what was interesting to me. I answered the questions I wanted answered.

JC: Ralph Macchio and Alejandro Arbona are the editorial powers behind the Iron Man books, and also behind Sif. We hear a lot about what it takes for people to break in at Marvel, but not much about what it’s like to work within the Marvel editorial process.

What sorts of feedback do you get from Ralph and Alejandro when you turn in a script? How do you work together to improve the final product? How does the give and take between editorial mandate and creative control work– when do you push a creative decision, and when do you accept the editor’s call even if you don’t agree?

KS: My interaction with Ralph has been fairly minimal. I suspect — and I don’t mean this to be at all critical nor particularly self-deprecating; it’s just reality — he’s got his plate full with bigger names, you know? On the other hand, I’ve worked with Alejandro quite closely. He’s given me feedback at every step in the process — from outline to final lettering pass.

I’ve been writing professionally for about 10 years and working in the comics industry for about seven, but I’m brand-new at Marvel. Alejandro has been an invaluable guide, helping me figure out how this genre works and suggesting tips, tricks and rules for how to get the strongest, tightest story down on paper. There’ve certainly been times when we’ve disagreed. I can think of one time in particular when he stood down and in the final lettering pass I realized he’d been right all along. (To his credit, he resisted the urge to say “I told you so.”)

I think we work well together. I think we make a good team.

With regard to when to push a creative decision and when to accept an editor’s call, man… I don’t know. It’s such a tricky channel to navigate. I mean, ultimately, Marvel is my client. My boss. In the end, what they say goes. On the other hand, my name is on the byline. Happily, we haven’t thus far butted heads too terribly much. (Honestly, I’ve seen a few editor-writer relationships that were antagonistic, but I’ve never had that experience personally. With one exception, very early in my “career,” I’ve been lucky enough to work with people who upped my game and made me a better writer.)

Of course, right now I’m being asked to title a story and I have one in mind that I love… and I’m pretty sure my editor hates it. She sort of sweetly told me to, “keep thinking.” Who knows? Maybe I’ll fight for this one! (Seriously, I love this title.)

JC: You collaborated with Jamie McKelvie (Phonogram, Siege: Loki) on a Black Widow short for this week’s Enter the Heroic Age special. Any chance we’ll see more work from both of you in the future?

KS: Jamie is awesome, isn’t he? I would certainly love to work with him again. I suspect that I’d have to get in line, though. (And possibly arm-wrestle my husband.)

JC: Are there any other artists you’d like to work with?

Ha ha! Yes, of course. Here’s the thing though: that’s like saying you have a crush on someone. What if they don’t feel the same about you? Well, that’s just humiliating. I’m going to play it coy and, you know, hang out by their locker until they notice me or something. (This is a technique that didn’t really work for me in high school, but I can’t seem to let it go.)

*cough* Chris Samnee, Tony Moore, Steven Sanders, Emma Rios, Noel Tuazon. *cough*

JC: Any other properties– DC, Marvel, or otherwise– you’d especially like to tackle?

Oh, I’m sorry to do this to you, but I’m loath to answer this one as well. I’ve learned this from watching Fraction — if I name a character that someone else is writing right now, it sounds as though I’m saying I could write that character better. If it’s a character no one is working with, well then, I certainly want to keep that information to myself. Don’t want to give anyone any ideas and get scooped, right?

JC: I’ve seen you talk about Japanese comics that have influenced you– Kazuo Koike’s Lady Snowblood sticks out in my mind– and about American comics and creators, like Walt and Louise Simonson. But what about conventional prose authors? I’ve seen you mention John Irving and Ayelet Waldman in discussions on Whitechapel and elsewhere; what writers really inspire you? What are you reading these days outside of comics?

My taste is all over the board. I am a great lover of Ernest Hemingway and Peter O’Donnell. Neil Gaiman and Anne Lamott. Joe Keenan. Nicholson Baker. Joan Didion. JK Rowling. Sinclair Lewis. Mary McCarthy.

My bedside table right now is mostly stacked with parenting books and research material on the suffragette movement. Oh, and Ellen Goodman’s PAPER TRAIL: COMMON SENSE IN UNCOMMON TIMES.

JC: Thanks so much for talking to us, Kelly Sue!

KS: I’ve really enjoyed this interview. Thanks.

(The Department also thanks Arune Singh, Marvel’s manager of sales communications, for helping us set up and conduct this interview.)