It's getting harder and harder for me to read Marvel Universe super-hero comics...as opposed to the parallel universes we see in the Marvel Adventures, Marvel Next, and Ultimate titles. This is because prior to, during, and post Civil War, many MU heroes have become sheep, villains, and even monsters.
Former heroes like Tigra, the Wasp, Wonder Man, and almost all of the so-called "Mighty Avengers" definitely fall into the "sheep" category, blindly following the orders and supporting the agenda of a bonafide monster. For me, Tigra is like that old girlfriend gone horribly wrong. Jim Shooter turned her into a cowardly slut, then Civil War made her a backstabbing slut. And she wonders why I won't answer her e-mails.
Villains? Henry Pym leaps immediately to mind. I'd probably also add Ms. Marvel, War Machine, and that really stupid Gauntlet guy from Avengers: The Initiative. I would've included Reed Richards, but Dwayne McDuffie made a convincing case that Reed was acting in what he thought was the best interest of the present and future world...which doesn't mean Reed shouldn't go to prison for the rest of his life. He should, as should any one else involved in Marvel's Negative Zone version of Abu Ghraib.
Monsters? That would be Iron Man, Tony Stark, far more drunk on power than he ever was when he was downing hooch by the gallon. Every time I see him in a Marvel comic, I hope someone busts a cap in his iron ass. He is George Bush play acting as a super-hero and getting more powerful and wealthy in the process. He makes Doctor Doom look like a shoplifter.
Despite all the above, despite the churning feeling in my gut when I read of Tony Stark and his mob's latest abominations, I have to hand it to Marvel. These are some of the most intriguing super-hero comics of all time. I read a fistful of issues this weekend and most of them were well worth the effort.
AVENGERS: THE INITIATIVE #1-4 [$2.99 each] took place in a sort of boot camp for the heroes who will form the 50 super-teams Stark intends to spread across the USA, one per state. That plan strikes me as showboating. Does Rhode Island really need an entire team? Wouldn't New York and California require two or more? And what about the territories?
But I digress.
Writer Dan Slott did a pretty good job on these initial four issues, though the "World War Hulk" tie-in disrupted the focus of the title. The staff runs the gamut from monster-in-training Hank Pym and Nazi scientist Baron Von Blitzschlag to the idealistic and sure-to-end-up-in-the-Negative-Zone Justice. The Gauntlet is some kind of throwback to those tough drill sergeants we used to see in comics and movies - but without their redeeming qualities - while War Machine is just Tony Stark's complacent stooge.
The trainees are a pretty interesting lot. I'm hoping more of them realize that they have been conscripted into a unlawful army, that they are being turned into Stark's killers, and that their so-called training constitutes child abuse.
When characters from other corners of the MU show up in this title, Slott generally tells us enough about them to keep the story moving smoothly. Artist Stefano Caselli does a solid job with the art and storytelling. This is a solid series and, depending on how well the core characters are developed, could be worth reading for a good many issues to come.
MIGHTY AVENGERS is filled with characters I hate (Tony Stark), characters I dislike (Ares, Sentry), and characters I could come to loathe (the rest of the team). I read the first four issues of the title [$3.99 for the first, $2.99 for the rest] and found even more reasons to be unimpressed.
Brian Michael Bendis is one of my favorite comics writers, but his mojo ain't working on this one. The reintroduction of thought balloons is annoying and not very revealing. The new woman-shaped Ultron - apparently formed out of Tony Stark's armor and body - was fresh for about one issue and then she/it got boring, even as drawn by the incredible Frank Cho.
MIGHTY AVENGERS #1-4 earns two Tonys.
NEW AVENGERS is the book with the "good guys" Avengers, the heroes still opposing Tony Stark. I read issues #24-33 [$2.99 each]. The first two were Civil War issues that focused on the Sentry and Iron Man/SHIELD. Issue #26 was a moving tale of the restored-to-life Hawkeye and Wanda Maximoff. Writer Brian Michael Bendis and artist Alex Maleev did a swell job on that issue, one of the best in the run.
The rest of the issues - all by Bendis with artist Leinil Yu - are a nice mix of action, character play, and suspense. I love Luke Cage and family. I love how smoothly and unexpectedly Doctor Strange fits into the group. I love the banter between Spider-Man and Hawkeye. I love that this title makes no bones about how vile Tony Stark has become. I'm not sure I love or even like the giant monkey wrench Bendis has thrown into the MU works - Elektra turns out to be a Skrull - but I'm surely interested in where this story goes from here.
NEW AVENGERS #27-33 earn four Tonys.
NEW AVENGERS: ILLUMINATI is a five-issue series of odd flashback stories in which six of the most powerful men in the MU - Doctor Strange, Black Bolt, Charles Xavier, Reed Richards, Namor, and Iron Man - team for secret missions to deal with problems they think are too dangerous for their various teammates to deal with. It's written by Brian Michael Bendis and Brian Reed with art by Jim Cheung (pencils) and Mark Morales (inks). I read the first three issues [$2.99 each] and my initial responses were...
It's nice to see Tony Stark acting heroically again, even in a flashback sequence.
This arrogant, secretive bunch really aren't making things better, are they?
The first issue seems to set up whatever's going down with the Skrulls in the current MU stories. The second deals with Thanos' Infinity Gems and I suspect that will come back to bite them all on their asses. The third reveals the secret origin of the Beyonder, but the heroes failed to prevent the storytelling tragedy that was Secret Wars II.
NEW WARRIORS brings back the super-team whose mistakes led to the Superhuman Registration Act and maybe even brings back their "dead" leader. The first three issues [$2.99 each] raise more questions than they answer, but I like the title's anti-Stark vibe. Writer Kevin Grevioux has caught my interest with the mix of old and new characters, though I needed Wikipedia to fill me in on some of the old ones. Still, it's a good start to the book with decent art and storytelling from Paco Medina (pencils) and Juan Vlasco (inks). My ultimate opinion will depend on whether or not the book answers its questions in a satisfying and timely manner. For now...
OMEGA FLIGHT was the last of the MU titles I read over the weekend. The five-issue series [$2.99 per issue] impressed me not. Its flavor was more USA than Canada. The only characters I liked were Sasquatch (when he wasn't possessed, which he was for a good part of the story), Arachne, Arachne's daughter, and Talisman. I actively disliked the use of the Wrecking Crew, who get more and more unrecognizable from their 1960s and 1970s selves every time I see them in a current MU comic. By the end of the five issues, I wasn't entertained, didn't care to see more of the characters, and didn't think there was anything special about the team. It was the last and the least of the Marvel titles I read.
There's a lot going on in the Marvel Universe, so expect more MU reviews in upcoming TOTs.
My readers enjoy my writing about Black Lightning. Sometimes I think they are more obsessed with my creation than I am. A few columns back, I remarked I don't always catch every BL appearance and asked the loyal legions of TOT readers to let me know when and where he appears.
Just after I reviewed Booster Gold #1 for the Comics Buyer's Guide online forums, a Black Lightning fan asked me how I felt about BL's appearance in that issue. Admit it; you thought I was kidding about readers sharing my obsession.
While you're admitting that, I'll admit my first reaction to the e-mail was: "Black Lightning was in that issue?"
He was. He showed up with the rest of the Justice League when Booster took down the Royal Flush Gang.
He had one line of dialogue in the scene and, quite frankly, it was of no import. Later, when the League offers membership to Booster Gold, Black Lightning is smiling.
That's it for Black Lightning's appearance. We don't even see his reaction to Booster turning down the offer.
If I must have a reaction to this appearance...
Black Lightning smiling at Booster's earning his way back into the League is completely in character. He's a teacher and, as any teacher will confirm, it's a pretty special thing when one of your "problem" kids achieves something positive. He would be happy for Booster. But I may be reading too much into the panel.
A more realistic view: the story required an appearance by the Justice League and, since Black Lightning is a member of the team, he had to be included. No big deal.
Consider the above item a salute to your obsessions and mine. I would still like you to let me know when you spot Black Lightning in a DC comic book - or anywhere else - but I'm not gonna comment on every cameo appearance.
Watch for more Black Lightning talk in future TOTs.
CARTOONISTS ACROSS AMERICA
Our friend Phil Yeh checks it with TOT:
Thanks so much for giving us a plug. This new NBM version of Dinosaurs Across America has the potential to really be a breakout hit for us and I am doing all that I can with very limited resources to get this thing to sell a million copies. It's a book that I really think should be every school, public and home library in this country. Even though I wrote it in 1990, Lieve Jerger's masterful coloring on this new version and the whole NBM hardcover gives this a whole new life.
I will launch the Dinosaurs Across Route 66 book on October 13 in San Bernardino on Old Route 66 in their main library...and then head for the Hollywood launch at the Edward James Olmos Book and Family Festival on October 14 on the corner of Sunset and Vine. I'd
would love to come back to Ohio in the fall.
I just gotta get the word out to teachers and librarians who will have me speak. I also speak at colleges to and would love to do something with The Ohio State University someday.
In the meantime, please check out this website for my new book and fall tour:
As always, watch for more "Comics in the Comics" in upcoming editions of TOT.
Most every Tuesday, I post new Tony Polls questions for your voting entertainment. I have no idea what today's questions are - that's the next job on my "to do" list - but they'll probably be Marvel questions. To find out what they are, and to cast your ballots, head over to:
ZERO: Burn your money before buying any comic receiving this rating. It doesn't *necessarily* mean there's absolutely nothing of value here - though it *could* - but whatever value it might possess shrinks into insignificance before its overall awfulness.
ONE: Buy something else. Maybe I found something which wasn't completely dreadful in the item, but not enough for me to recommend it when there are better comics available. I only want what's best for you, my children.
TWO: Basic judgment call. I found some value, but not enough to recommend it. My review should give you enough info to decide if you want to take a chance on it. Are you feeling lucky today, punk? Well, are you?
THREE: This denotes something I find perfectly respectable. There are better books out there, but I wouldn't regret buying this item. Based on my review, you should be able to determine if it's of interest to you. Let the Force guide you.
FOUR: I recommend anything earning this rating. Unless you don't like the genre, subject matter, or past work of the creators, I believe you'll enjoy this item. Isn't it uncanny how I can look right into your soul that way?
FIVE: Anything getting this rating is among the best comicdom has to offer. You should buy/read this, even if the genre/subject matter doesn't appeal to you. It's for your own good. Me, I live for comics and books this good...but not in a pathetic "Comic-Book Guy" sort of way.
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