I admit: this week, I was mainly looking for something to take my mind off the coming Continuity Apocalypse over at DC (otherwise known as ‘the reboot that dare not speak its name’), so I concentrated my reading on Marvel, which hasn’t gone in for a Continuity Apocalypse in weeks now. This strategy is all the more ironic because Marvel’s super-hero universe isn’t the fictional ‘home’ for me that it is for most comics readers out there – I’ve always liked DC better, and in September I’m going to pay big time for that. But for now, I got to turn to the comparatively placid waters of all things mutant and web-slinger.
By sheer luck, I picked a week that has to rank as one of Marvel’s strongest all year – spearheaded by two Bit Events (not company-wide soup-to-nuts revamp Big, but big just the same): the first issue of the 5-issue mini-series “X-Men:Schism” by writer Jason Aaron and artist Carlos Pacheco, and the first issue of a new relaunch of “Captain America” written by Ed Brubaker and drawn by Steve McNiven. In the former, mutant leader Cyclops attends an international arms reduction meeting with Wolverine along as his one-man security detachment. Cyclops intends to make an inspiring speech for human-mutant toleration (and just before the speech, he gets a great little bit of inspiration from Wolverine, in the form of the great line, “When there’s somebody around worth following, I follow.” As Cyclops says, “That’s probably the nicest thing you’ve ever said to me”), but what he ends up saying is, of course, “Nobody panic!” – because as always, the proceedings are interrupted by a crazy mutant attacking everybody in sight. Why would anybody in their right mind ever book a Marvel super-hero to speak in public? Why would anybody attend such a speech, when there’s a 100 percent certainty you’re going to get stomped on by Attuma or shot at by Kang the Conqueror?
Anyway, once chaos erupts at the conference, Cyclops and Wolverine find themselves fighting Sentinels, giant killer robots specifically designed to ‘neutralize’ mutants – only ‘fighting’ isn’t the right word, since our heroes almost perfunctorily wipe them all out. Sigh. I remember when the Sentinels were introduced, many moons ago, and the idea was that they were crafted (and could to a certain extent re-craft themselves, on the fly) to take down super-powered beings. So a Sentinel encounters Cyclops and re-configures its carapace to ruby quartz (which, as you fanboys out there will already know, is impervious to Cyclops’ eye-blasts) – right before blasting him with 700 volts of electricity: end of fight. A Sentinel encounters Wolverine and uses magnetism to confine him in mid-air, where he can’t slash or hack at anything: end of fight. Instead, Sentinels these days are like high-tech ninjas: they’re just there to be kicked around by the heroes. A dramatic opportunity wasted – but then, “Schism” is only in its first issue.
And so, now, is “Captain America.” Over in Marvel’s blockbuster summer mini-series “Fear Itself,” the ‘new’ Captain America (the original’s grown-up sidekick Bucky Barnes) was apparently killed in battle, prompting the original Cap, Steve Rogers, to take up the mantle and the shield again. Naturally, in an industry completely first-issue crazy, that meant a re-numbering of “Captain America” – hence this first issue, written by Ed Brubaker and drawn with odd, languid poses by Steve McNiven, whose action sequences owe so much to movie story-boarding that I kept expecting to hear “Cut!” at the end of every fight-scene. The issue itself is no great shakes (certainly not a patch on the last Cap first issue, the start of the great Mark Waid run a decade ago), but I find myself ambivalent about the whole re-launch, especially since a) I kinda liked Rogers’ new identity as “Super-Soldier,” and b) I always tend to dislike changes in comics that are entirely mandated by new movies (“Captain America: The First Avenger” premieres in just a few days – I’m sure we can expect a write-up over at Hello, Mr. Anderson). But again, it’s early days – we’ll see how the series progresses.
This week’s Marvel offerings also included an utterly charming issue of “Spider-Man” with just-this-side-of-corny writing by Dan Slott and extremely good art by Ryan Stegman – this particular issue serves up a genuinely heart-warming ending, even though it still manages to annoy Steve on a couple of minor points (like: Aunt May isn’t drawn as old anymore – she looks more and more like a version of Gwen Stacy who for some reason has grey hair – and writers continue to avoid dealing with the inconvenient fact that since Spider-Man no longer possesses his ‘spider-sense,’ he’d get shot to death every time he lept into some bad guy’s crossfire … although I can forgive things like that when compensated by such a wry cover as this issue had – as gentle a poke at Julie Tambor as the company could get away with). Still, the whole thing was charmingly done and as close to a stand-alone issue as any Marvel comic ever is these days.
And speaking of charming! My favorite little comic-detail this week was very little indeed: In the latest “FF,” there’s an ongoing storyline called “Two Kings” featuring the return of the Inhumans and their silent-but-deadly king Black Bolt (portrayed on the cover of this issue, for reasons that pass understanding, as sporting a pair of boobs that would do a female pro wrestler proud). This issue features not one glimpse of our heroes – it’s all a hugely enjoyable story about the Inhumans and their Kree progenitors, written with sharp skill by Jonathan Hickman and drawn by Greg Tocchini with a mastery I’ve never seen from him before. And the little detail I loved so much?
At the beginning, in the issue’s credits, after ‘writer’ and ‘artist’ and ‘inker’ and such, there’s one simple line – “Two Kings: Stan Lee & Jack Kirby.”