Sunday, June 29, 2008

A Game of Give and Take


It's the eyes that tell us. Wally's are green. Barry's, apparently, are baby blue.

Not often nowadays do we get an issue's big reveal on its cover. But by showing us the Flash who disintegrated during the first Crisis, DC does something important with Final Crisis issue two.

They extend an olive branch.

Now, my praise may be early, but this gives me faith that they understand the concept of trilogy. Having been who knows where, Barry's someone who could in fact shed light on what secretly connects the bloated Crisis events that continuously alter characters' perceptions of themselves.

Grant Morrison plays exceptionally well in this field. Whether there is sense to be made from the previous two epics or not (yeah, and blood comes from turnips), he at least has the potential to convince us otherwise. From Animal Man on up, he's delved into the relationship between character and writer, fiction and reality. He acknowledges that superheroes are modern deities whose various embodiments tie directly into our societal yearnings (see the new Thor series for this ethos in action).

Philosophizing aside, Morrison endears us to his spectacle with equal parts sugar and solid character work. The first quarter of the issue is devoted to a deliciously self-indulgent window upon the Japanese hero scene. And though tossed open merely to introduce Sonny Sumo, what we get is, from J. G. Jones's peerless pencil, a fetish-cornucopia: a clear ancestor of the Legion's Karate Kid, a winged, sparrow-sized school girl, a Battle of the Planets dweeb, a bathroom icon wearing a cape, a cyborg whose heart is ripped out and left draining into a glass. Also, for the first time outside of Seven Soldiers, we see the new Mr. Miracle. More on his recruitment of Sonny Sumo as it develops, I'm sure.

The second half, featuring Batman's daring against an Alpha Lantern, is marred only by Superman's line at Martian Manhunter's funeral: "We'll all miss him. And pray for a resurrection."

For serious? Was Superman supplicating Geoff Johns, the All-Father? Last issue, Supes called for a Justice League amber alert, making me wonder if the the 52 Earths will be saved by simultaneously drilling for oil on 52 Alaskan reserves. Regardless, issue three promises to be glorious, what with Clayface bombing the Daily Planet, Lois corpsed-up in the rubble and- wait for it- not a single shot yet accounting for the building's GIGANTIC ROTATING ORB as it hits midday traffic.

Oh, and there are three Flashes again, making the DC Universe richer in bunly goodness than Marvel could ever hope to be. 5/5 zagnuts.

Next up we have the Immonen-sculpted wonderland that is Ultimate Spider-Man, Within this genuinely surprising issue sits a dejected Eddie Brock, recounting to random strollers how a punk named Parker dropped his ass in the loser column. Instead of being a self-righteous maniac, like the Brock of Marvel's 616 Universe, this one is presented more as a Hollywood monster. The symbiont needs to eat, and while it does, Eddie recedes, only to awaken unaware of the damage done.
I read his pathetic narrative, noting that with each check of the frame someone new was on the park bench with him, and thought, "Bendis sure is dumbing this down to Hades." The bulk of the issue, actually, is an extended fight with Silver Sable's Wildpack (and Bendis never gives us exposition during a fight, a genre convention he should yield to for the bloody sake of a little thing called flow). But the final page of Venom casually engulfing Brock's incredulous listener like toothy yeast redeemed the entire thing. 4/5 zagnuts.

And for a title that is pure mana to sniveling Claremontite like me, there's Mike Carey's X-Men Legacy. Where to begin documenting the sheer virtuosity displayed herein? The fact that the retcon in action is so massive yet so perfect? The way the story must, by the end, truly pave the way for a new kind of X-tale?

Wait- what in the name of Bishop's mullet am I talking about?

As we all lament daily, hourly, the X-Men have a challenging history. Most writers quail before its breadth, and can only hope they do justice to the preceding thirty years of cutting edge adventures. Sure, there have been lapses, most notably by a fucker named Chuck Austen, but there are simply so many characters and set pieces that the permutations possible always have fans hoping someone worthy will take up the reins and return the series to greatness.

It can be said that the best X-Men stories are those that explore and embellish the rich history. Scott Lobdell was a master, capable of tapping an encounter for the maximum depths of emotion. Grant Morrison was a maestro, never failing to call up his favorite era, the late seventies, while blazing forward with outre concepts. Others like Alan Davis and Steve Seagle had smaller parts, but nonetheless worked within the editorial system.

Said system, stating that the X-Men are a family, a school and most importantly a soap opera, starting breaking down when stories were cranked out in the tediously decompressed "trade paperback" style. There were no subplots, no references beyond the current story- in short, they were devoid of anything that would confuse the sweaty swarms of new readers exiting the movie theater, desperate for more Wolverine.
The pendulum, thank fuck, has swung back to where it should be. Marvel is no longer micro-focused on marketing certain kinds of stories- they just tell good stories.

Enter Mr. Carey. He's not only cherry-picked the X-Men's recent past (the 90s) for elements that have yet to be dry-humped by everyone else, but he's also made fascinating some really underrated villains. Nathaniel Essex, or as your mom knows him, Mr. Sinister, was only ever a background manipulator. He blackmailed a naive Gambit into gathering the Marauders. He toyed with genes and may have tampered with a young Scott Summers. He would have liked to cure the Legacy Virus. Beyond that, nothing concrete.

Now we find that, before Xavier, Sebastian Shaw or Cain Marko even had pubes, he'd performed a procedure that wrote his being into their genes. Should he die, a machine called Cronus would cycle among the candidates, searching for one who was most vulnerable to being outright possessed by Sinister.

One of my loyal readers once mentioned that comics used to veer into strange territory, defying categorization. There'd be runs that strove for resonance of a subtler kind, rather than bowing to trends and nostalgia. Sadly, I've already heard that this format of Xavier exploring his own demons will only last until year's end.

But then what? Actually, I'm extremely optimistic. Carey has the creative stamina to dance between crossovers, much like Claremont did in the 80s, when the dreadful trend began. And, with Matt Fraction coming to Uncanny, I just get the willies... Good stuff is coming. 4/5 zagnuts.

5 comments:

Kevin said...

I think I found a typo in this entry:

In paragraph 14, it says "Scott Lobdell was a master..."

Shouldn't that read, "Scott Lobdell sucked donkey balls..."?

elmo said...

(loud buzzer indicating error sounds)

brian said...

I think you should review 'the dark knight'. The first movie in years that actually gave me chills.

Kevin said...

I think you should post something, ya candy-ass!

Beepy said...

Oh,Elmo, where are you? I felt very guilty about coming here after so long, only to find that there was only one new post and IT was over a month old.

How am ever to become cool without you to guide me?