Sunday, July 24, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 3: Commercial Suicide

ISBN: 9781632156310
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2016
Artist: Jamie McKelvie, Kate Brown, Tula Lotay
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #12-17

Rating: 3/5

The second I opened up this volume of The Wicked + The Divine, I knew something was different. The art changed. At first I thought I was going completely insane. Why would the art change? Jamie McKelvie’s name is still on the front cover. Yet, I knew something was different. Before I even began to read the first page, I skimmed through the volume. I was right! The art style seemed to change within every individual issue. I was slightly confused by this decision as there was no explanation as to why this was happening. I decided to begin reading anyway, hoping for some sort of reasoning behind this strange choice.

Commercial Suicide begins with no explanation as to what the hell happened at the end of the second volume, Fandemonium. I expected it to at least be touched on a little, but nothing was really explained until the very last few pages of this volume, and even that was pretty vague.

This volume felt a bit more like a filler volume than anything else. It was filled with backstories about the different gods and who they were as humans before becoming the gods that they are now. I usually love a good backstory, but I think I was so preoccupied with finding out the reasoning behind the final events in the second volume, that I really didn’t care too much about their backstories at that particular moment.

However, one backstory did stand out to me, the story of Baphomet and The Morrigan. I believed their story and it felt the most relatable and realistic. You really got to see the human side of them through their story and I really enjoyed reading about them.

Although a majority of this volume was filled with backstories, we did learn some very important details that will definitely play a part in the future story of this series.

As I mentioned earlier, the art style changed from issue to issue. At first I didn’t understand why. I thought maybe Jamie McKelvie was changing up his style per issue to show each individual personality of the gods, seeing as each issue was told from the perspective of a different god. As the volume went on, I actually thought that was a super cool idea. Then I thought about it a bit more and realized that was kind of already done via changing their thought bubbles and the typefaces used in previous volumes.

It wasn’t until I got to the very end of the volume where it was finally explained why each issue had a different art style. There were guest artists. Duh. I don’t know why I didn’t think of that from the beginning. Suddenly, the different art styles make a lot more sense. I’m still not sure how I feel about this decision, but I think experimenting with this idea was pretty cool. However, I think one volume is enough. I’d like to see the original art style throughout the entire next volume. It was one of the main things that I loved so much about the first two volumes!

Of course, Commercial Suicide left us with yet another cliffhanger. At least Kieron Gillen acknowledged it and let us know it was coming with a clever little title page. I just want to know what the hell is happening!!!

Although this was the weakest volume of The Wicked + The Divine so far for me personally, the story is still really intriguing and these damn cliffhangers are definitely going to keep me coming back for more.

Sunday, July 17, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2: Fandemonium

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 2: Fandemonium

ISBN: 9781632153272
Price: $14.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2015
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #6-11

Rating: 4/5

The Short Version: In the wake of Lucifer’s death, the gods continue on but Laura is trying to find out what happened. Who were the attempted assassins, what part does Ananke play in all of this, and is she actually special too? But as the gods launch their big festival – called Ragnarock – the stage is set for revelations nobody is expecting.

(FYI there are gonna be some light SPOILERS, by necessity.)

Talk about leaving people screaming for more. You thought Lucifer’s death at the end of The Faust Act was something? Wait for the one-two punch of a twist that comes out of this issue. I can’t even really wrap my head around it: it both explodes our conception of this world/mythology while also exploding the actual more literal story. It’s not unheard of to kill off main characters, but I’ve never seen anything as ballsy as this. Killing Ned Stark ain’t got shit on this move. Kieron Gillen is one crazy-bold dude, that’s for damn sure.

But as drop-dead crazy-amazing as the last pages are, the whole volume is pretty much amazing as well. Laura is grappling with a level of unexpected fame (having been there when Lucifer died) while also trying to reckon with her grief – and it provides a nice balance of external and internal stuff, big and small grappling for the same amount of mental real estate. On the one hand, she’s trying to figure out why somebody would want to kill the gods – and on the other hand, she’s dealing with the loss of a friend. All the while trying to figure out who she is. It’s tricky storytelling but Gillen pulls it off, largely with the help of Jamie McKelvie’s beautiful artwork. Even as the literal gods are running around, we retain a sense of small-scale humanity. It’s lovely.

We get to meet more of the gods this time around, too: Dionysus is a raver, Innara is Prince, and the fates of Norse mythology (Urðr and the Norns) are a crazy female spooky goth rock trio or something equally cool. They reminded me a bit of Elvira, but as lensed through some of Jack White’s Third Man Records girl groups. And the Pantheon is now complete: which means… what, exactly? Ananke has plans, it’s clear: she tells certain people certain things while withholding certain other pieces of information. It’s clear that she feels threatened by certain figures in the Pantheon and that other figures feel threatened by her… but beyond the vague and shadowy backstory about the Recurrence and what it does, essentially we’re still clueless. There’s something, potentially, to this idea that the gods protect humanity from some sort of encroaching darkness – a story/myth that’s not unfamiliar to anyone who has studied mythology from any country or canon – but what that darkness is, is unclear. The part Ananke plays is supposedly to guide the gods during their time back on Earth to make sure the darkness can’t ever win again (“We could have had men on Mars thousands of years before the rise of Rome but for the Great Dark,” she says at one point)… but I get the sense that she’s playing some other game here, too. Gone a little crazy, perhaps, having become essentially immortal… Or is it that the bug she puts in Baphomet’s ear actually related to her as well?

It’s unclear and I have to imagine it’s going to remain that way for a little while longer… but oh boy do I want to know what comes next.

But, again, the things we have here are deeply satisfying. Ragnarock, the Con/big concert for the fans of the Pantheon, is an inspired invention. It’s one part Comic Con, one part Glastonbury – and you really do feel the size of the thing. A floor map, annotated by Laura, helps anybody who has never been to a convention before feel the size of the thing while those who have will grin knowingly.  BEA is no Comic Con but I can’t imagine going to anything crazier than the former, so this is a nice chance to pretend.  Plus, music lovers will enjoy the idea of the festival as well as its attendant smaller shows – like Innara’s super-sexy residency in what would appear to be a church, which is exactly the kind of delightful profanity that old-school Prince might’ve enjoyed.

The skillful shorthand deployed by the whole team behind this comic should be shouted once more, by the way. We know each of these gods and their attendant attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors even when they don’t have too much in the way of screentime – and part of that is because they (the creators) know exactly how to use visual signposting and cultural touchstones (making the gods look like stars that we all know already), but it’s also because they are an incredibly skilled team, economically. Look at the sequence in (I believe) Issue 8, at Dionysus’ rave: the pages are split into 8 equal panels but four of them just have the numbers 1/2/3/4. The other four share some piece of storytelling. This ought to be constrictive but, for some reason, it ends up being propulsive: the story is told with sharp economy and you get everything you need in nearly the barest amount of space. Judging from some of the “apocrypha” in the back of the collection, that took a whoooooole lot of work… but, just saying, you can see it on the page: this comic soars.

Rating: 5 out of 5. Again, they really know how to close out an arc on a bang, pun sorrilly intended. But the expansion of the world of the Pantheon has me absolutely delighted and the concept behind the comic continues to be riveting, even as you realize how simple and silly it could be in less-talented hands. I can’t think of another comic that made me need to read the next issue so badly – or one that has felt so much like exactly what I wanted to find, even though I had no idea I was looking for it. Thank god we don’t have to wait 90 years for more.

Saturday, July 16, 2016

An Open Letter to Funko

Dear Funko,

In 2010, my sister introduced me to Funko Pop's by giving me Batman & Robin for my birthday.



















For Christmas that same year, she gifted me with the entire collection of Star Wars pops that were available at that time.


And that's when the obsession began. I've been collecting ever since. I'm a geek from way-back and these really speak to me. I know hunt down the variety of exclusive Pops at Walgreens and Hot Topic, with the occasional stop at FYE and GameStop.

Every time I see a contest to win a new Pop on Facebook, I don't hesitate to Like and Comment. To date, I've never won... but I have to keep trying to win.

This brings me to the meat of the message I want to broadcast to you. I have several ideas for new Pops, and I hope that you will consider them in future lines. Here we go:


BANTHA w/ TUSKEN RIDER
HAN on TAUNTAUN

LUKE on TAUNTAUN
MAX REBO BAND
BITH CANTINA BAND

GALACTUS
MEPHISTO
JOHN CONSTANTINE
AZRAEL
AZRAEL
AZRAEL
THE ENDLESS
SHEPHERD BOOK
SIMON TAM
RIVER TAM
AMY POND
RORY WILLIAMS
CLARA OSWALD
DONNA NOBLE
MARTHA JONES
I think you get my meaning. I'd love to see what you come-up with.

Sincerely,
John
Loyal Collector

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act

Title: The Wicked + The Divine Vol. 1: The Faust Act

ISBN: 978632159185
Price: $9.99
Publisher/Year: Image, 2014
Artist: Jamie McKelvie
Writer: Kieron Gillen
Collects: The Wicked + The Divine #1-5

Rating: 4/5

The first trade paperback of Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie’s gods-as-popstars book The Wicked + The Divine opens with a quote from Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, a plea for immortality in the face of imminent death. It is immediately followed by a line from the Dutch dance group Vengaboys’ song “Boom, Boom, Boom, Boom!!” Obviously, this is a book that doesn’t take its big ideas too seriously.

That, of course, won’t come as a surprise to anyone who has followed Gillen and McKelvie’s previous work, of which I am (spoiler alert!) a huge fan. Their latest project takes place in a world in which gods appear every 90 years and inhabit the bodies of teenagers, turning them into superstars. The catch is that the gods only live for two years. Our guide through this world is Laura, a London teenager enraptured with the latest group of gods to turn up. When one of them, Lucifer, is accused of a murder she didn’t commit, Laura gets pulled further into the world of the gods as she tries to solve the mystery, creating more questions in the process.

What is special about The Wicked + The Divine is how real this fantastical world seems. Gillen and McKelvie have populated it with a diverse cast of characters who look and sound like they would not be out of place walking the streets of our London, and who have relatable emotions and motivations. The gods, for all their glitz and glamor, are also at heart frightened teenagers, who may not understand the truth of the bargain they had forced upon them, and who react to their fear with varying degrees of bluster, denial, and acceptance. Laura is a normal girl with a burning desire for something extraordinary, a longing many of us can identify with. By the end of the first arc, though, she sees the true cost of being that close to the flame, and it may be more than she is willing to pay.

That’s not to say that The Wicked + The Divine isn’t enormous fun to read, however. It is an incredibly witty book. Lucifer, in particular, has a wonderfully droll sense of humor, and the laughs make the emotional moments all the more poignant.

The long working relationship between Gillen and McKelvie shows as Gillen’s flair with dialogue combines with McKelvie’s mastery of facial expressions and body language to immediately give each character a distinct personality and recognizable voice. Equally important is the addition of Matthew Wilson on colors. His hypersaturated tones pop off the page, dazzling the reader as much as the gods do Laura.

Sunday, June 26, 2016

Revolutionary War

Title: Revolutionary War

ISBN: 9780785190165
Price: $24.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2014
Artist: Rich Elson, Dietrich Smith, Simon Coleby, Rick Roche, Brent Anderson, Ronan Cliquet, Gary Erskine
Writer: Andy Lanning, Alan Cowsill, Kieron Gillen, Rob Williams, Glenn Dakin
Collects: Revolutionary War: Alpha #1, Dark Angel #1, Knights of Pendragon #1, Death's Head II #1, Super Soldiers #1, Motormouth #1, Omega #1

Rating: 2.5/5

Revolutionary War was a recent Marvel Event with a rather British feel to it – like the punch of a superhero connecting with the thwack sound of leather cricket ball on willow bat. An event set in the United Kingdom of Marvel Universe 616 and featuring a plethora of home grown UK Marvel talent both on the page and behind the scenes. Having kicked off the year with its launch in early January the series has just drawn to a close following the events of the eighth and final installment.

Recent Marvel comics’ in-Universe history has seen a relative resurgence in British presence. Cynically this may be seen as Marvel’s latest attempt at developing a more international market for its comics. But this is not necessarily a bad thing given that the Marvel Universe has traditionally paid more attention to the USA, outer space and fictional countries.

This resurgence, whatever its cause, has been able to capitalise on the critical acclaim of Paul Cornell’s 2008 series Captain Britain and Mi:13. Two years later as part of Marvel’s new direction in the Heroic Age Captain Britain was installed as an bona fide Avenger and would finally play a major role in Rick Remender's Secret Avengers in 2012, featuring a powerful scene where he single-handedly manages to get the edge on the Phoenix Force, and also with the Captain Britain Corps in Uncanny X-Force from that year.

Although, as you’d expect given that he has a great big Union Jack on his chest and the potential power to go toe-to-toe with the biggest Marvel heavy hitters, Brian Braddock has been the main way of symbolising the UKs representation in Marvel comics. Slowly, though admittedly retaining a direct association to Captain Britain, other characters have begun to make appearances such as Faiza Hussain in the Age of Ultron storyline and pupils from the new Braddock Academy in Avengers Arena in 2013.

And it is this showcasing of a wider pool of British superheroes that Revolutionary War sets out to do with aplomb. From characters that most Marvel fans will have likely come across before, like Captain Britain of course, to those with whom readers might be familiar. In fact the raison d’etre of Revolutionary War is to bring back the heroes featured in the early 90s by the now defunct Marvel UK imprint. As such we see the return of the likes of the Death’s Head, the Knights of Pendragon, Motormouth, Dark Angel and the Warheads.

The structure of the series clearly sets out to bring each character or team to the fore for their moment in the spotlight, almost like a ‘Britain’s Got Superhero Talent’ audition, with each of the returning Marvel UK heroes given their own specific issue, named accordingly. Captain Britain himself actually seems to be used sparingly here, featuring only in the first and final issues that bring everything together and raise the stakes.

Whilst this does mean that the series achieves its main goal of fully and fairly using its roster of Marvel UK characters it does sacrifice a little in the story. Obviously a first issue has to get some introductions out of the way, though in Revolutionary War we get additional introductory exposition in each of the following six issues. This can make the overall story feel a little disrupted at times, though it depends on which issue as some handle this better than others.

It is perhaps a little difficult to rate the individual issues against each other. Given that each opts to focus on slightly different themes despite the overarching story it makes a straight comparison between them less relevant. For instance the Death’s Head section is probably the more comic book action orientated. Though possibly the Super Soldiers and Warheads issues feel like they have little in them that reaches the highs of some of the other segments and thus are probably the weakest by default.

The most interesting theme that runs through Revolutionary War is the changing nature of Britain and Britishness, following on from similar elements in the previous Captain Britain and Mi:13 series. In the Knights of Pendragon issue, an issue that otherwise occasionally struggles with rushed pacing and unclear action, we actually get to look into the magical embodiment of the British psyche. This issue in particular takes great joy in visually and narratively mixing up the old and new elements of British identity such as the clichés of Arthurian legend with multicultural Olympians.

Although tied to the theme of a changing Britain another element that gets drawn out is the effects of ‘Austerity Britain’ on both the real country and the fictional heroes. Some of these reference unnecessary and unsubtle but on a couple of occasions the writers think of a twist that really nails the concept. The subject of inescapable debt and subsequent deals with the devil makes the Dark Angel issue a real stand out. Whilst the Motormouth issue later in the run looks at the domestic rather than magical repercussions. Despite not having been seen for the best part of 20 years Harley Davis has become in this one issue a really interesting character.

20 years ago Marvel UK finished and simply stopped, dropping the on-going saga of the battle against Mys-tech. The battle against the ancient, magical secret society planning on sacrificing the entire British populous to achieve immortality was never resolved – until now. Revolutionary War actually uses the sudden and unanswered end of the original arc as the central mystery to its own plot as Mys-tech, thought beaten, rise again.

Probably because the previous issues focus on specific characters it means that the overall story doesn’t progress quite as quickly as it might. The upside to this is that it strings the mystery out well but this doesn’t quite make up for the fact that this leaves the finale with an awful lot to do. Unfortunately to fit everything in the finale becomes a little rushed and doesn’t quite answer all the questions. One central character's appearance seems to be a continuity error. Given that in a previous issue another character had another such error ironed out it seems odd that the final would create an issue for another character if it wasn’t on purpose. The fact that this series has no definite or even likely sequel means it is a shame that issues like these couldn’t be wrapped up fully by the end. However all this is not to say the finale is a disappointment – there’s still plenty of action and some rather funny digs at more American-centric comics.

Overall this arc has been something of a joy for British Marvel fans. As well as the references that flesh out the world of Marvel 616 UK, the most obvious aspect is seeing some beloved old characters dusted off and thrown back in to battle. Indeed the final battle of a war that had been left unresolved. A glancing comparison could be made to Day of the Doctor as an example of a series returning to an unseen past, bring returning characters and setting things up for a new future.

Perhaps that is what is Revolutionary War is intended to do – pave the way for more development of Marvel’s British properties. Based on this outing there would be plenty of scope to see more of how Dark Angel manages her demonic pact, Motormouth’s balance of domestic and heroic chores and the prog-folk tinged adventures of the Knights of Pendragon or even the out and out action of Death’s Head.

Maybe a little constrained by the story structure Revolutionary War doesn’t quite hit the highs of Captain Britain and Mi:13. But this is a success. It has shown that there is plenty of future potential that can be mined from these characters and certainly left us with the expectation of more. Even should these characters not be picked up for further adventures they have been given the final hurrah they have been deserving of for all these years as well as giving modern Britain a fresh airing in the Marvel Universe proving that there is more to it that cricketing clichés. Although we can’t tell for certain yet whether Revolutionary War is a nostalgic insight to past characters or an introduction to reappearing heroes, it is certainly an arc worthy of reading for any UK Marvel Fan.

Sunday, June 19, 2016

Superman: Red Son

Title: Superman: Red Son

ISBN: 9781401247119
Price: $17.99
Publisher/Year: DC, 2014
Artist: Dave johnson, Andrew Robinson, Killan Plunkett, Walden Wong
Writer: Mark Millar
Collects: Superman: Red Son #1-3

Rating: 4.5/5

DC’s “Elseworlds” has always given us stories that ask the question “What if” in a truly compelling way that I feel Marvel never has been able to achieve. They allow us to see our heroes from a completely different perspective, not just by changing minor details, but by changing major details of the setting and the origins of the character. And yet, despite all of those changes they still manage to retain the mythos and preserve those characters to remain the heroes (or villains) we know and love (or love to hate.)

Mark Millar’s “Superman: Red Son” is easily one of the best “Elseworlds” ever published, even if it doesn’t officially brandish the “Elseworlds” logo. It asks perhaps the most introspective “what if” question of all:

What if Superman had been raised in Soviet Russia instead of the United States? What if the ideals the Man of Steel fights for is not “truth, justice and the American way,” but rather “Stalin, Socialism and the international expansion of the Warsaw Pact?”

The result is not only an ironic take on an iconic American super-hero, but also a compelling perspective in the history of the Cold War.

The Superman of this universe was raised in a Ukrainian collective farm in Communist Russia. Over the intervening years, Superman becomes a member of Joseph Stalin’s inner circle and is used as a propaganda machine to bolster the Soviet regime. When Stalin passes away, Superman reluctantly assumes political power for a society that is too quick to accept a totalitarian dictatorship. Superman’s Global Soviet Union has eliminated war, poverty, disease, crime, poverty, and unemployment.

Historical Fact: Joseph Stalin’s birth name was actually Ioseb Besarionis dze Jughashvili. He would later change his name to Joseph Stalin, “Stalin” being the Russian word for “Steel”. Thus, Stalin was the self-described Russian Man of Steel.

If it sounds too good to be true, that’s because it is. The Russian Man of Steel is a living metaphor of the Orwellian “Big Brother” who can see through walls and overhear private conversations across the globe. Superman’s intentions may be good, but good intentions are not always rewarded with good results. His utopia comes at the cost of increased infringement on individual liberties. People are no longer in control of their own destinies. He implements a brain surgery technique that effectively lobotomized dissident citizens and converts them into obedient drones, or “Superman Robots.”

The Superman of “Red Son” also functions as an allegory for the arms race. With Superman championing as on the side of Soviet Russia, nuclear weapons and covert intelligence agencies become obsolete. Russia effectively replaces the United States as the new world super-power. The Cold War escalates to a metahumans armed race, as the United States struggle to establish super-powered figures of their own to counter the potential threat Superman poses.

Lex Luthor is a brilliant S.T.A.R. Labs scientist Hell-bent on destroying Superman; however, because the United States have hired him to find a way to neutralize the Man of Steel (via CIA agent Jimmy Olsen), that makes him an American hero. He creates Bizarro, U.S. government-funded attempt to duplicate Superman. He also creates a vast array of super-powered villains (Metallo, Parasite, even Doomsday) who in this universe are American-made superweapons fighting for the American cause. Luthor even successfully runs for President of the United States, basically turning America into a dictatorship, an active platform to openly attack Superman’s Soviet regime.

Make no mistake, however. Luthor is still a cold-blooded egomaniac, regardless of which universe he resides in. He arranges for Sputnik 2 to fall towards Metropolis, risking the lives of millions of innocent Americans, just to extract traces of Superman’s DNA to create a duplicate. He murders his entire research staff when he discovers that the Bizarro clone is more intelligent than he is. He collaborates with Brainiac to shrink Moscow (though he shrinks Stalingrad instead.)

Of course, those aren’t the only differences in this book. In this universe, no one is invulnerable to change.

Although Lois Lane is still a reporter for the Daily Planet, she is married to Lex Luthor. So even though there may be a mutual attraction between her and Superman upon first meeting each-other, neither of them are able to pursue a romance. Even though she is still as strong and independent as her mainstream counterpart, her loveless marriage to a neglectful and self-obsessed husband makes her a tragic figure, not to mention it highlights  on a personal level just how wrong everything in this universe really is.

Among Lois Lane’s (sorry, Lois Luthor’s) co-workers at the Daily Planet are Oliver Queen (who is often mysteriously absent) and Iris West Allen (whose husband is famous for being late.)

Pete Ross (or Pyotr Roslov) is chief of the KGB, as well as Stalin’s illegitimate son. Pyotr is jealous of Superman, whose presence has changed Russia’s power structure, turning his father’s attention away from him and effectively ending his chances of advancement.

Lana Lang (or Lana Lazarenko) is a childhood friend of Superman’s from the Ukrainian farming community he grew up on. Although she does not have a large role in this story, witnessing her family suffering through poverty prompts Superman to assume command of the country.

Batman, whose parents were gunned down for their pro-capitalist political dissidence, grows up to become a lone anarchist and freedom fighter against Superman’s all-seeing and all-hearing regime, whose actions inspire a resistance movement. In this sense, he has far more in common with the anarchistic terrorist/freedom fighter V from Alan Moore’s V for Vendetta. Despite not being a multi-billionaire in this universe, the Dark Knight is nonetheless incredibly resourceful, one that constantly remains a thorn in Superman’s side.

Wonder Woman, apparently a slave to political fashion trends in any alternate universe, wears a red and black version of her fabulous wardrobe to mirror the colors of the U.S.S.R. (yes, I know, I’m being silly.) She is still an international ambassador for peace. Her role in the story may be relatively minor, however this instance I’m quick to forgive this; after all, this is a Superman story. She is mostly relegated to Superman’s sidekick and unrequited love interest. That Superman is oblivious to Diana’s feelings for him demonstrates that the more political power he assumes, the more disconnected he becomes with the rest of humanity.

DC Universe Fact: The world and continuity of “Superman: Red Son” is one of the fifty-two divergent realities officially considered as a part of the DC Multiverse. Its designation is Earth-30.

The best way I can describe “Superman: Red Son” is as a historical or geo-political Bizarro World. By making Superman Russian, Millar not only shows us a Superman from another country, but offers us a chance to look at what the world itself would have been like had Russia dominated the Cold War.

As a history buff, I find it fascinating for me to see how the political climate of this world has radically diverged from our own. In the United States, Richard Nixon won the 1960 U.S. presidential election, but was assassinated in Dallas, Texas, in 1963. He was succeeded by John F. Kennedy, who went on to become the first President to file for divorce. The United States is forced to grant independence to the state of Georgia, an ironic reference to the real-world Soviet State of the same name. There is also mention of secessionist movements in Detroit, Texas, and California, as well as “communist” terrorist attacks against the White House.

Meanwhile, in Russia, there are no references to Soviet interventions in East Germany (1953), Hungary (1956), or Czechoslovakia (1968). In fact, only the United States and Chile remain independent from the Global Soviet Union, and both are on the brink of political collapse.

Red Son does not follow the standard Communism = evil, capitalism = good formula. The story is color-blind in its political views, neither black nor white, but varying shades of gray. Superman isn’t automatically a no-good “Pinko Commie” just because he’s Russian; he’s still an altruistic benefactor who only wants the best for humanity. And even though Lex Luthor is using his genius in the pursuit of freedom from oppression, he is still an egotistical diseased maniac who cannot stand the thought of living in the same universe as Superman.

“Superman: Red Son” is a wonderful stand-alone story. It’s full of Superman mythology to keep the fans on their toes. By showing the story throughout the latter half of the 20th Century, it also offers a taste of nostalgia for the comic books of the old days. More than that, however, it’s a sociopolitical commentary on foreign policy.

Mark Millar does beautiful job writing a tightly woven story that spans several decades, from the moment Superman is accepted as Stalin’s right hand man to his final battle against Lex Luthor. He has created a vast and expansive universe, not only showcasing an alternate version of Superman or an alternate version of the DC Universe in general, but an alternate version of the political world in general.

At a first glance the artwork by Dave Johnson and Kilian Plunkett could be considered standard fare, but there are subtle nuances that actually compliment the history the storyline draws from. There are times when the book is channeling the spirits of Joe Shuster, Bob Kane, and William Moulton Marston (the first illustrators of Superman, Batman and Wonder Woman, respectively.) There are also times when they evoke Soviet-era propaganda posters. The art starts with a nostalgic Golden Age look, then gradually progresses towards a more contemporary style, as if to illustrate the passage of time in the story.

I would like to comment on the ending, but I cannot go into any details without spoiling it for anyone who hasn’t read this book. Suffice it to say, it is one of the most mind-blowing endings I’ve ever read in a mainstream comic book. And if you have read this book, then chances are you already know what I’m talking about.

As objective as I am trying to be, I honestly cannot think of anything bad to say about this book. This is truly a unique and exemplary form of comic book literature, comparable to Watchmen, The Dark Knight Returns, or Kingdom Come. It’s that awesome.

Sunday, June 12, 2016

What If? AVX

Title: What If? AVX

ISBN: 9780785183945
Price: $16.99
Publisher/Year: Marvel, 2013
Artist: Jorge Molina, Gerardo Sandoval
Writer: Jimmy Palmiotti
Collects: What If? AVX #1-4

Rating: 1/5

What If has always been up there as one of my favorite comic series of all time. In recent years, mostly because of editorial tinkering, the books have become a pale imitation of what they once were. Eventually, What If only appeared every so often, usually corresponding with an event book. Cue What If Avengers Vs. X-Men, writer Jimmy Palmiotti’s take on what would happen if? Wait, there is no “if.” That’s the whole problem here, a lack of “if.”

Change is not always the enemy, but with What If, it is. First, the whole concept of the series was to take one element or one significant event in the Marvel Universe and change it. For example, What If Uncle Ben Had Not Died? What If Spider-Man Joined The Fantastic Four? What If Rick Jones Had Become The Hulk? Second, The Watcher appeared in the beginning of the story, explained the one thing that might have changed, and the story went from there. That was the set up. It was what defined What If.

With issue #1 of What If Avengers Vs. X-Men, there is no element that changes and no Watcher, it’s just a different story. Granted, this has been going on within What If for awhile, but it is still missed. Outside of those changes, the story here falls flat. Most of the blame can be laid at the feet Palmiott’s dialogue. It’s all exposition. The dialogue narrates the action instead of being part of it. Here’s what’s happening, here’s what we’ll do, here’s how this will go down. About halfway through the book, you realize Palmiotti is writing this like a children’s comic.

Almost as frustrating as the dialogue is the story itself. Palmiotti starts it with the Phoenix killing the Guardians of the Galaxy by blowing up their ship. Really? Why? From there, the story is pretty much exactly the original, until the Avengers get to Utopia. For some reason, Cyclops is totally laid back, sending Magneto to take care of business. Approaching the X-Men, Magneto announces he knows Wolverine is going to kill Hope. This unleashes an argument that allows nobody to act according to their character. Worst of all is Logan, who goes all berserker rage after getting punched ONCE by Namor. In his rage, Wolverine kills Storm, driving Magneto to blow up the Avengers ship.

The most disappointing thing is the lack of flow to the story. Palmiotti does things just to do them. He has characters act a certain way just to move his plot along. Too bad, because there are a lot of cool elements that could be changed here. What If Phoenix Wasn’t Coming For Hope? What If Wolverine Had Killed Hope? What If Cyclops Killed Hope? What If The Avengers Captured The Phoenix? The list is endless. Why Palmiotti’s lackluster story got the green light is beyond me.

Jorge Molina’s art doesn’t help the situation. Quite simply, he draws like he’s storyboarding a cartoon series. The art looks like it’s straight out of the animated Avengers series. Heads are weirdly shaped, expressions are silly or, at the very least, overly melodramatic. Combine that with how similar Molina pencils all the males facially, and you get a recipe for art that looks, for lack of a better term, goofy.

I suggest a new book. What If Avengers Vs. X-Men Was Way Way Better?