Tag Archives: Johnathan Hickman

Relaunch: The New Norm

I am in no way, shape, or form an expert on the inner workings of the comic book industry. While a loyal fan, I am not privy to what goes on “behind the cover” so to speak. Having said this, I am really starting to wonder what exactly is going on at the Big Two when it comes to the nearly continuous reboots and rebranding that have occurred in my relatively short tenure as a comic fan. Continue reading

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Saturday Review: New Avengers #28

avengers 28 1New Avengers (Marvel)
Written by Johnathan Hickman
Art by Mike Deodato and Mike Perkins

As Johnathan Hickman’s run on Avengers continues to push forward, I must admit that I have no idea where it is going, but that I am going to enjoy the trip. I will also admit to be more than a little lost trying to read Avengers and New Avengers even in their biweekly form.

While I have considerable faith in Hickman’s ability to bring together distant and disparate threads and weave them into a cohesive and grand conclusion, I am starting to wonder when that might start happening. Although they are good, I’ve found it more and more difficult to follow these Avengers stories as time has gone on. Thanks to the film, Avengers is Marvel’s flagship title and they are not making it easy for new people to jump on board. There is a near civil war going on between various Avengers teams, including the S.H.I.E.L.D. Avengers, New Avengers, Mighty Avengers and the Illuminati and it all ties in to the fact that parallel universes are colliding, and Earth is the intersection point (of course it is…). All of that isn’t even including the stuff that is going on with the Cabal and the Multiversal Avengers. Keeping track gets a bit tricky.

Now, ignoring all that insanity for a little while and just focusing on New Avengers #28, it turns out to be a pretty good issue. Hickman provides readers with an issue that moves his story along better than the last several have. While it doesn’t make sense in the larger picture just yet, this issue is probably the clearest, most straight forward in several months, at least since the countdown has started. One of the things I like most about this issue is the partial narration provided by Reed Richards. Reed is dictating “lessons” for his daughter Valeria on the proper use of game theory, while he himself is using the theory in his fight against S.H.I.E.L.D. and Steve Rogers. It provides a great look into Reed’s mind, which Hickman is excels at doing and that has been greatly lacking since Hickman’s departure from Fantastic Four. Hickman also makes great use of the world he has already created by bringing the sociopathic Bruce Banner from a parallel universe back as a weapon to fight the Marvel 616* Hulk. Not only does the audience get to see Hulks fighting, but it helps instill confidence that Hickman is still in complete control of the story. If he were not, I doubt very much he could so easily make such good use of a rather minor character like the parallel universe Banner.

Two Hulks!

Two Hulks!

While it’s tough to find artists that are capable of matching the grand scope of Hickman’s story, Mike Deodato and Mike Perkins are making excellent strides. The art is consistently strong throughout the book, which is often not the case when multiple artists are involved. I really enjoyed the arrival of the second Hulk to the fight and watching them pound on each other a bit. I’m also pleased they made an effort to minimize the differences between the two Hulks. For all intents and purposes this is the exact same person, just from a parallel universe, so they should look pretty much the same. Looking back through the book, I surprised to see how little pure action there is in the first half of the book, as compared to characters talking. This is impressive because I had thought of this issues as being much more action filled, and it isn’t. It’s no easy task making talking heads anything but overly dull.

While an overall solid issue, it’s nearly impossible to separate this issue from the run as a whole. I have no doubts that Hickman’s time on Avengers and New Avengers will be see as of the defining points on the series, we are still in the thick of things, and are sorely lacking understanding and resolution. With more issues like this though, there is a chance that we will start to piece things together and that’s not a bad thing. 3.5/5 Death Stars

3.5 Death Stars

* Marvel 616 universe is the standard Marvel continuity universe

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Science Fiction Comics

Science fiction is, of course, a staple of geek culture and always has been, as has comic books. While these two have had a long and intertwined history, up until recently there had been a rather significant lack in quality science fiction comics. Thankfully in the last two years there has been a considerable resurgence in science fiction comics. Given all of these new choices, I’ve decided to go over a few of my personal favorites and some of the newest additions to my weekly pull.

20131219-232534.jpgSaga – Brian K. Vaughan and Fiona Staples

I’ve decided to start with Saga because every week it comes out, it’s the first book I read. Saga is an amazing space epic, but unlike most epics, it is character driven instead of focused on the events that happen around the characters. It’s a sort of modern Romeo and Juliet, with two star-crossed lovers from opposite sides of a generations long war; only they don’t commit suicide, they kick ass instead. I honestly have absolutely no idea where the book is going, both on the large scale and from issue to issue, and I don’t care. I am along for the ride, no matter where it takes me. Vaughan’s writing is fantastic and when paired with art by Staples it becomes something truly unbelievable.

20131219-232528.jpgManhattan Projects – Johnathan Hickman and Nick Pitarra

Imagine that the super-secret Manhattan Project was itself a cover for an even more super-secret science program. That’s the basic plot of Manhattan Projects, but there is far more to it than that. Anyone who is familiar with the real life Manhattan Project will recognize the cast of characters including Robert Oppenheimer, General Leslie Groves, Richard Feynman, and Enrico Fermi among others. That’s about where the similarities end though and Hickman takes characters and events to ever increasingly insane places. There is a lot of fantastic character work and a wonderful subtlety to the art that gives this book an unexpected depth.

20131219-232523.jpgEast of West – Johnathan Hickman and Nick Dragotta

Where Manhattan Projects is crazy and filled with very weird characters, East of West is much more cerebral, in similar fashion to his current work on Avengers/New Avengers and his previous creator owned work. East of West is set in a near future, alternate reality where the United States has splintered into several different countries with competing ideologies. The political systems only provide a back drop for the larger story, one of the Biblical Four Horseman, Death, has abandoned the other three and now they have begun to hurt him down, to unknown ends. I like this book because it is similar enough to the work Hickman has done in the past, yet the plot remains novel. There have been several interesting plot twists that have made the month between issues seem very long indeed. Dragotta’s art is very clean with some hints of manga influence.

20131219-232512.jpgStar Wars – Brian Wood and Carlos D’Anda

I love Star Wars, especially the original trilogy, and this book hits my Star Wars sweet spot. Set between A New Hope and Empire Strikes Back readers follow all of the familiar heroes as they search for a new home for the Rebel Alliance. Brian Wood has a great sense of who Han, Luke, and Leia are, and it feels like a perfect continuation of the films—only with better dialogue.  D’Anda’s art is perfect for this book. Not only is he capable of clear and exciting action sequences, but he also makes the heroes look just enough like their actors that you know precisely who is whom, but not so much that it looks like he just traced pictures of them.

20131219-232518.jpgThe Star Wars – Johnathan Rinzler and Mike Mayhew

Yes, this is a different book than Star Wars. This book is based on George Lucas’ original draft of Star Wars and it has been quite a treat. The Star Wars is full of familiar names and places, but they all apply to different things. It’s like the entire Star Wars universe has been turned on its head and shaken around a bit. Now to be honest, I don’t want this book to last forever and I’m looking forward to seeing the conclusion to the story (though I sense it is still a ways off). What makes this book great is that I never know what part of the Star Wars I know and love is going to show up somewhere unexpected. It’s also pretty crazy to think that this is where Star Wars started.

20131219-232538.jpgBlack Science – Rick Remender and Matteo Scalera

This is the newest addition to my pull list and truth be told I’m not 100% sold on it yet. Only being on issue two however, I’m not rushing to judgment just yet.  I am huge fan of Fear Agent, so I’m willing to give Remender the benefit of the doubt and stick this out at least through the first story arc. Black Science follows a group of scientists who have broken through reality into the chaos that lies beyond. Of course what they find there isn’t very nice, and just like black magic in fantasy, this black science makes things go awry. The art is strong with the exception that at times it was difficult to tell female characters apart, though once I get to know them better I suspect that problem will fade. Stay tuned for the inevitable update.

So these are the sci-fi books that I’m currently reading. They are not all the books I read with sci-fi elements and it is certainly not every book that exists (I just don’t have the money…/sad face), but they are the ones I consider pure science fiction. But enough about me, we want to hear about you. What books are you reading? Tell us about your favorites and maybe those that you’re not so fond of and of course, why.

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Event Comics

With Marvel’s latest Infinity event wrapping up I started considering what makes a good comic event. Since I started reading comics seven years ago I’ve lived through more than my share of comic events; some of them good, and some of them not so good. I have found that all events of quality seem to share certain characteristics that help them succeed while others fail.  A quality, well written plot, characters you care about, consistency, and events that actually matter, all aid in making a great comic event.

Comics can easily be broken up into two parts:  art and story.  While these two often go hand in hand, event comics are most often driven by story. It’s extremely difficult to carry a story with just art (though not impossible).  There have been great comic issues that are more about the art then they are the story, but they tend to be one or two issues at most.  

Talk about epic.

Talk about epic.

Infinity is a great example of how the story, rather than the art, carries the event. Since all three books involved were written by Johnathan Hickman, there is a universe-spanning story with all kinds of interwoven parts that make for a truly engrossing story.  Hickman creates entire universes within the series he writes and connects them in surprising ways. This is one of the reasons I love reading his work.  It takes a long time, but the payoff at the end is well worth it.

Seven issues wrapped up in seven pages...Seriously!?

Seven issues wrapped up in seven pages…Seriously!?

I’ve also been pleased that with recent events, especially at Marvel, there has been a concentrated effort to avoid selling the ending short.  Nothing is worse than a writer creating a masterful storyline, and then trying to wrap up the epic story in two pages.  For the first couple years I read comics, Marvel was particularly bad at this, with the most egregious examples being Civil War and World War Hulk.  Both were pretty solid stories, but as I read the last issue I kept expecting the story to start wrapping up. Unfortunately the end didn’t come until I was almost done with the book. Instead of a real ending, Marvel then wrote a small mini-series to end the event, which seemed far too drawn out. For the life of me, I can’t figure out why they didn’t just put that material into the event itself.  It would have flowed much better.

I can’t deny that I love epic tales like Infinity, but I’m also very open to more intimate stories (get your mind out of the gutter). I can be drawn into a story that is almost completely character driven as opposed to action driven. If a writer really knows the characters they are developing, then they can make you feel for the character and take him to emotional depths that are unexpectedly satisfying for the reader.  Identity Crisis does just that by taking many of the second tier Justice League heroes and throwing them into some horrible situations to see what happens. I originally read this story arch about six months after getting into comics and it was very impressed by how much I found myself caring about characters, about whom I knew nothing before opening the book.  This kind of character driven writing can be just as enjoyable as epic events and is often far more compelling.  

First time I read Identity Crisis I had no idea who these characters were, but I really felt for them anyways.

First time I read Identity Crisis I had no idea who these characters were, but I really felt for them anyways.

Many times I’ve heard fans complain that they just don’t care about specific comic events and that frequently lack of caring is due to the characters. I know that I have skipped an event simply because the characters don’t interest me. It’s not so much because they’re characters I don’t know, but often it’s because they’re portrayed in a way I don’t care for. Maybe things seem out of character, or they’re just doing things I don’t find interesting so I’ve stopped reading. On the flip side of this, I’ve also read stories that followed characters that I didn’t know existed. A great example of this is DC’s 52 (not to be confused with The New 52).  52 was a year without Superman, Batman, and Wonder Woman following the events of Infinite Crisis, and instead it followed characters such as Black Adam, Booster Gold, The Question and Batwoman. These were all minor DC characters but I became completely engrossed in their story and wanted more.

Sure a great plot can get the reader interested, but if the characters around which this plot revolves doesn’t keep him interested, then the whole thing is pointless. The one thing I can’t stand is when minor characters are included in stories in ways that don’t matter to the plot line. Frequently this is done via tie-in stories. Sometimes these can be great, like Civil War: Wolverine, but more often than not they are just an attempt to maximize the sales boost that typically accompanies events.  I have no problem including these characters in the story.  In fact I often like it when they’re done right.  It gives me a chance to get to know them and expand my horizons. All I ask is that the author keep them interesting and relevant to the plot line.

When it comes to event comics, the absolutely number one issues I’ve heard people complain about is that “it doesn’t matter.”  So often it feels like an event will wrap up with some big, universe changing occurrence, only to have that undone by the next event.  Or worse, the whole event that appeared to have an impact turns out to just be a lead in to yet another event like DC’s Trinity War.  In the world of comic books, things are ever changing. Characters die and are subsequently brought back all the time. This is the world of modern comic and the status quo isn’t going to change any time soon, so fans just need to accept it and move on.  Having said all of that, if writers are going to do something like kill off or bring back a character, it needs to be done in a way that means something or serves a purpose.  In a recent tie-in to Avengers Vs. X-Men, they brought back and then killed off Captain Marvel over the course of a couple issues for no other reason than they could.  This served absolutely no purpose and only really served to diminish the character to the level of expendable.  I want to see writers do interesting things, to take chances and to further characters, and I fully acknowledge that there are times that in order to accomplish this characters must be sacrificed or resurrected, but do it should be done for a reason, not purely for shock value.  The sacrifice of Nightcrawler during Second Coming is a positive example of how the death of a character can used to great effect.  Nightcrawler died keeping Hope away from the Sentinal Nimrod.  This served to impress upon the reader how important Hope was the X-Men and also managed to throw the X-Men into further chaos as they tried to cope with the loss of a lynchpin of the team.

I got a little choked up.

I got a little choked up.

Making things matter doesn’t just apply to individual characters, but also to the universe as a whole.  I don’t expect every event to completely rewrite the universe, but I like it when I read something that doesn’t make me feel like my time was wasted.  In my opinion, House of M does this best.  With three simple words, “No more mutants,” Scarlet Witch undoes everything that has happened in House of M and at the same time completely alters the Marvel landscape.  Only recently, at the end of Avengers Vs. X-Men, was a solution found to Wanda’s actions.  Not only was this a great and simple plot twist (i.e. good writing) but its consequences lasted far longer than most readers would have expected.  It took a little over seven years for things to finally come full circle, which is an eternity in modern comics. This is the kind of epic event that makes comics soap operas for geeks.

One panel changed everything.

One panel changed everything.

One of biggest crimes that a comic event can commit is to lack consistency.  A comic event is supposed to be one unified story, so why is it that there are frequently eight different writers and then another eight different artists? Ok, so this might be a little exaggeration, mostly, but my point is that a solid team must be on board for these events. This may unfortunately mean that the ideal artist isn’t available because they can’t do a monthly book for six months.  It would be preferable that they do some of the smaller series, maybe a tie-in or a one shot.  I would much rather see them this happen than to have a third of the event’s pages drawn by different artists all trying to copy someone else’s style. This kind of inconsistency really becomes jarring and pulls me out of the story. The biggest reason I read comics is the fantastic mix of art and story and when those two don’t mesh or there are blaring inconsistencies in either it’s disappointing. Writers, please note I said both.  If writers aren’t meeting their deadlines, then artists can’t meet theirs and then comics have to use fill in artists. Even the best artists still require time to perform their part.

There are, of course, times when having a mix of writers and artists is perfectly fine, but those are the exceptions rather than the rule. Typically those times are when an event doesn’t not have an overarching book, like Marvel’s recent Battle of the Atom did. Battle of the Atom had two issues acting as book ends, but otherwise the action took place within All-New X-Men, Wolverine and the X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, and X-men. This event was written by three different writers (Bendis, Wood, and Aaron) with art by four different artists (Immonen, Lopez, Bachalo, Camuncoli) but it worked because they maintained a consistent level of quality. This quality was also aided by the uniform vision that was guided by Brian Michael Bendis who wrote All-New X-Men, Uncanny X-Men, as well as the event bookend issues.

Two different takes on the same characters, but both look great.

Two different takes on the same characters, but both look great.

With consumers still trying to watch what they spend it’s difficult for these event comics. Those that have managed to balance storytelling, likable characters, consistency and events that matter are the ones we remember, while those that couldn’t get forgotten. It’s a good thing I enjoy most event comics because the reality is that they aren’t going away any time soon.  Publishers see them not only as a way to tell a great story but also as a method of driving up sales.  Although I would like to think that storytelling is the only thing driving publishers, I’m more realistic than that. I promise that I’ll keep buying them as long as they keep writing good ones.  That way everyone wins. 

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