So is my brain, at least as far as this column is concerned. Usually, when I am faced with no new ideas I travel the Internet, looking to see what other people in comics are talking about. Usually, this works.
Unfortunately, a lot of media doesn’t publish much new in the week between Christmas and New Year. Journalists write things in advance (this is why there are so many “Best of” features) so they can take time off to celebrate holidays with their families.
Instead, I found some sad lists and happy lists, but I didn’t find a lot of news.
I have, however, found a new comic series I love, not from the Internet, but from my friendly neighborhood comic book store. As you might remember, Constant Reader, I try to buy at least a few books with which I’m unfamiliar on Wednesdays, when I shop for my superhero fix. I try to challenge my assumptions about what I will and will not like. This means that I sometimes have to try something that doesn’t fit my preconceptions about what an entertaining book might be.
This was the case with A.D.: After Death. Although it is written and drawn by Scott Snyder and Jeff Lemire, two creators whose work I’ve enjoyed, it didn’t look at all like something I would like. There was a lot of text, and the art, while beautiful, did not seem exactly action-packed. Still, the premise (there is no more death) sounded enough like one of my favorite books that I figured I could risk one issue.
The second issue just came out. I can’t wait for the third. If I tell you details of the story, I will miss the point. This is moody and sweet and cynical all at the same time. It goes very well with the gray, rainy winter’s day I’m having as I write this.
And because I really really really dislike gray, rainy winter gloom, I would like to share this from my fellow Buckeye, Tony Isabella. He made a list of things that made him happy last month, and the last one was this: “DC and Marvel Comics. They don’t always get it right, but they keep trying and there’s no denying the big hearts of the people who work at those companies.”
We forget that, sometimes.
Decades ago, at an American Booksellers Association convention, I saw Frank Capra interviewed. Someone asked him what was the worst movie he had ever seen. He said (this is not an exact quote), “I never see bad movies. No one sets out to make a bad movie. When I’m watching something that doesn’t work, I try to see the film they wanted to make.”
We sometimes forget that this is true of comics, too. There are lots of comics I don’t like. There are lots of creators trying to tell stories that don’t interest me, or that have a worldview with which I disagree. And that’s fine. No one can make me enjoy something against my will.
What is not fine is to ascribe evil motives to people whose work I don’t like. I need to remember that they are trying to do the best they can to entertain and, maybe, if they’re lucky, illuminate their readers.
Uncanny X-Men #600 has come and gone, leaving us with a newly out present day Iceman, joining his time travelled past version in being out. I already wrote up my feelings on this here last month. Since then, we’ve seen three issues of Extraordinary X-Men featuring the present day Iceman, and one issue of All New X-Men featuring the past Iceman. If you haven’t read them yet, you may be thinking that surely in at least one of those four issues that have come out that at least one mention of Iceman’s sexuality would have come up.
SPOILER ALERT: It hasn’t. Not even once.
I was hoping we’d see something right away. Even if it was a quick scene. As I was reading the first issue of Extraordinary X-Men, I’m picturing Iceman coming into Storm’s office to talk to her about it, which seems the most logical choice to me. Or seeing Iceman trying out a gay bar or club for the first time. Even just makes a throwaway comment about how he just started using one of those dating/hook up apps and how that’s going for him.
None of that happens.
I figure that Extraordinary X-Men is a number one issue so they wanted to set the status quo for the book which would naturally include Iceman’s newly revealed sexuality. Apparently that wasn’t important, despite the fact that according to the powers that be at Marvel the Iceman decision was about a year in the making. And with all the press Iceman coming out received, you’d think that Marvel would have more of an interest in furthering Iceman’s story in the new X titles.
Okay, so if it wasn’t in the first issue of Extraordinary X-Men, surely it would be brought up in issue two. It wasn’t. I was growing increasingly displeased. As I finished the third issue it became harder and harder to not feel that Marvel used Iceman coming out as a cynical marketing gimmick with no intentions of an immediate follow through.
One hope still remained; All New X-Men. I was trying to make excuses for Marvel in my head. Maybe Jeff Lemire, writer of Extraordinary X-Men, didn’t want to tackle this in his story and Dennis Hopeless, the new writer of All New X-Men, would.
Maybe they felt that the present Iceman having just recently come out would still be taking it slow. Perhaps it’s going to take a while for him to talk with his teammates about it. Past Iceman made it very clear in his conversation with his present self that he was going to live his life openly gay as well as openly mutant. It was written to be a touching moment. Present Iceman even cried an ice tear over it.
So what happened in All New X-Men #1, which has past Iceman as a key team member? Past Iceman just went about his day. Nothing in reference to his sexuality at all. He even had a page where he was making ice statues for people where they easily could have worked in a quick nod at him being openly gay now. They didn’t.
What was the point of retconning Iceman in both the past and present to being gay if we’re not even going to address it outside of a few pages in two X books? Was it for sales? Was it just to get money from guys like me that are starved for LGBTQ representation? Was it to be acknowledged for having more diversity in their comics without actually being more diverse?
Unfortunately, it looks like the answer is currently yes, and I’m very disappointed by this. Instead of delving into Iceman’s newly discovered sexuality in Extraordinary X-Men, they’re delving into the awkwardness of two former lovers, Jean Grey and Wolverine. Finding different versions of the other still alive, one of which is now much younger and the other significantly older, they need to decide if they’re going to join together and help the X-Men. I don’t know if they intended for this to be as creepy as it reads, but man is it creepy for me to read.
I may also be taking this hard because Jeff Lemire is one of my favorite writers in comics right now. Please go out and pick up Descender if you haven’t yet. It’s great. Also Plutona. Or if you didn’t get around to Sweet Tooth when that was coming out, pick up the trades.
Want a book that is absolutely killing it in terms of how to write a gay superhero right in every possible way? Read Steve Orlando on Midnighter. Issue seven came out last week, and every single one of his issues have addressed Midnighter as being gay in some way or another while not distracting from the main plot of Midnighter needing to kick ass and take names. If you aren’t already reading Midnighter, please pick it up. This book deserves the support of every single reader that wants to see an LGBTQ character in a comic done right.
Old Man Logan #2 Well this went off the rails fast. After a first issue long on potential, this is a chain of scenes, all of them interrupted before anything interesting is allowed to happen so that Logan can be dragged to some new potentially interesting scene that won’t play out. Sorrentino’s art is very pretty, but it’s unclear as all hell, and Bendis is in his “let the artist do most of the storytelling” mode, a mode he puzzlingly only ever takes when working with abstract and hard to follow artists, as opposed to when he’s working with Bagley or someone who draws pages so that you can tell what’s going on.
Blackcross #4 A rarity: a Warren Ellis book I’m just not digging at all. None of the characters stand out to me, I don’t know the superheroes being referenced, and this is mostly vague implications in search of a plot for me. Not only do I not remember what’s going on month to month, in the three hours between reading it and writing this review I’ve already forgotten most of this book.
Doctor Who: The Eleventh Doctor #13 The plot advances, and there are some very good Eleventh Doctor monologues, but this is a resolutely average issue of this comic. Still, we’re into the “I actually enjoyed reading this” segment of the list.
Stumptown #6 The start of a new arc. I’m not entirely sold – the start was awkward as we have to sit through an explanation of civet coffee, which is on the one hand something that probably does need exposition and on the other feels a bit cliche and overdone. Still, Stumptown is a PI book, not a mystery book, so the setup isn’t the interesting part, and this has enough funny bits to be an entertaining way to spend five minutes, albeit a bit steep at $3.99. But what comics aren’t these days.
Thors #1 A Thor cop book. Aaron proves good at writing this, which is nice – he’s hit and miss for me, to say the least. But the procedural suits him, apparently, and the sheer absurdity of it wrings out a smile at least one every few pages. Throg, in particular, is a delight to see. And with the last page, it even gives a sense that this will matter when we get back to the main Thor book. The only pity is having to go back to that book eventually, really.
Ms. Marvel #16 Wilson makes the smart decision to keep this focused on Kamala and on her plots, picking up heavily from the last arc. The final page is promising. It is in places predictable, but this book always has been – its charm is its ability to find new spins and perspectives on things. Such as a school/refugee center defended by weird turquoise monster things created by Loki. (“To be pwned by Loki is a great honor,” one says, in the week’s best line.) As I said, I have low hopes for these Last Days books, but this is quite good.
Lazarus #17 Rucka returns to his strengths in many ways here: political intrigue, well-done female characters, and a general sense of things kicking off. Not a jumping on point, I suspect, only because there’s a lot of worldbuilding already done and this doesn’t necessarily sell its own stakes well. But it’s exactly what one wants out of a creator-owned Rucka book.
Trees #10 The indiscipline of this book remains considerable. In one plot, it’s utterly unclear what the main character is doing. In the other, nothing seems to happen. The cliffhanger is not one. But at this point these are all clear stylistic choices, and despite long since having lost the plot on this series this issue picked up and read well. Love the bits about the NYPD in the first half. This remains one of the most daring books on the market, and I’m glad that Ellis is content to use the magnitude and guaranteed sales of his name to recklessly fuck with people.
Written by Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen. Art by Aaron Lopresti, Art Thibert, and Hi-Fi.
I beg you, dear reader, to not skim over the author credits in this review. Azzarello. Lemire. Jurgens. Giffen. A master of noir, the macabre, cape and cowl, and team action. I want you to let those names and their respective bibliographies soak into your brainpan.
And now, I want you to forget it. All of it. Forget amazing runs on Batman, Animal Man, Justice League, Superman, and 100 Bullets. Why? Because Futures End doesn’t read like it even strolled adjacent to the parks where any of those celebrated authors lived. Instead, we get another chapter that advances banal plots that all lead towards the next editorial status quo to deal with in the next publishing quarter (or year, or what-have-you). If you don’t care to stick around to read the maple-syrup-thick snark I’m about to lay out on this waste of thought and talent, then take these words and call it a day: Futures End is a passionless money suck, and is yet-another-symptom in the ever-ailing world of big-comic event-driven fiction.
To sum up the issue itself is to merely check off the minor plot points that continue the threads of the litany of plots. In the Phantom Zone, Agent Frankenstein fights Black Adam. He wins, but loses a limb. I guess we should care about that, but the guy is literally sewn together bits already. Losing one bit doesn’t really lend itself to intense dramatic action, does it? Elsewhere, Deathstroke and Hit Girl (or whatever her name is – which doesn’t matter because she’s clearly being presented like Hit Girl) discuss adding Grifter to their team. Grifter is told this, and basically seems fine with it. Oh the melancholy! Then there’s Firestorm, who visits a memorial celebrating the loss of life he had a hand in creating. Joy! And we cap off the book with a skirmish in the park – Terry McGinness (Batman Beyond, don’t cha know) and Mr. Terrific fight while the Key and some ne’er-do-wells discuss being bad.
Time for a bit of a digression, kiddos. You see, not that long ago, there was this weekly book called 52. It was penned by a fantastic foursome of their day. To be fair, all four men are still incredible. Mark Waid, Grant Morrison, Geoff Johns, and Greg Rucka. Each man basically took a single story set inside the ever-shifting DCU, and over the course of 52 issues laid it out in tandem with the other three.
Over the course of that year-in-comics, there were certainly issues akin to Futures End where really there was more moving of chess pieces than there was definitive action and progress. But by and large, each issue was worth the read. Each issue contributed a very dissimilar set of heroes and villains that ultimately came together to showcase the richly detailed universe that houses half of the most recognizable licensed characters in all of creation… and then placed them dutifully on the shelf, and played with the want-nots, has-beens, and forgotten ones instead. It was the best of times.
Futures End #7 is the worst of times. As I alluded to above, the book just reads as passionless plot. I take that opinion to heart, as I myself am amidst the writing process on something of similar direction. In the era of writing for the trade, the middle chapters fall prey to only existing as means to the eventual end. Because they serve so many masters, they end up feeling hollow. Things happen. Stuff moves forward. But when you cram an issue with no fewer than five plot lines, and literally nothing gets resolved, or any twists are revealed… the trade becomes an end not worth waiting for. At least, not when the scripting and pacing do not take into account that every issue could stand to be a jumping on point. FE #7 not only craps on that concept, it revels in it.
Allow me to admit it straight up: I haven’t read a single panel of any previous issue of Futures End. Outside the pithy knowledge I have that this is some kind of epic that has to do with robotic evil duplicates from an alternate timeline or dimension, and at some point Luthor will run the Justice League… I know nothing. Picking up the seventh issue is of course complete reader-suicide. I don’t know why Frankenstein is in the Phantom Zone. I don’t know why Ronnie Raymond is to blame for whatever tragedy befell his kin. I don’t have the slightest clue what Terrifitech is, or why Batman Beyond is trying to blend in as a bum (who apparently drops fifty dollar bills because… the Internet?). But I digress. Simply put: I shouldn’t have to know any of those six-issue long backstories to enjoy a good comic.
If it’s the absolute I believe in now – having been a weekly reviewer for nearly three and a half years (and a fan and reader for two decades) – it’s that Erik Larsen was right. Every comic stands to be someone’s jumping on point. And it’s issues like this one that lend me to believe why comic books continue to ebb and flow but never seem to be more than a niche medium clinging to life in between the blockbuster movie adaptations. Stories like 52 actually attempted to prove that comic books still had sway – and that Alan Moore isn’t just a crazy loon in a castle. By making a book that used the continuity and novel-length girth of plots, DC proved that a comic book need not be a cartoon or mega-plex people pleaser. Futures End instead returns to the roots (and not that Jack Kirby / Steve Ditko / Stan Lee kind) of the industry; kitchy low-brow action stories that only target those who want a punch, kick, and an occasional tit. Sorry, we’re better than this.
When the credit-roll on your book reads like a who’s-who of modern top talent.. when your art team delivers admirable visuals to the script… when you have literally an entire universe of characters – including the top-shelf ones – at your disposal… when you have the carte blanche to create with compatriots that each in their own right could handle the book by themselves, you are not allowed to phone in an issue. Hell, you’re not allowed to phone in one panel. For fuck’s sake, you’re not even allowed to trip up over a single Rao-damned word balloon.
Future’s End is indicted on all counts. This was a lazy chapter in a lazy crossover that feels more by-the-numbers than seat-of-your-pants. It aspires to do nothing other than advance plot at a snails pace – sans style, sans grace. For shame, DC. For shame Brian Azzarello, Jeff Lemire, Dan Jurgens, and Keith Giffen.