My Ten Favourite Comics of 2015

With CBR wrapping up their list of the Top 100 Comics of 2015 – a list which is decided by their entire staff listing a top ten, allocating a set amount of points to each comic as a result. Your #1 comic gets ten points, your #10 comic gets 1 point, etc, or something like that. As they’ve finished and published their list, I wanted to post my top ten list too!

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10 Godzilla in Hell #1

By James Stokoe

Published by IDW

The first issue of this series was the only one I’d call essential reading, but it was so very essential that there was no way it could be left off the list. James Stokoe seems to be part-Zilla, judging from the way he seems to simply understand the character in a way nobody else can match. He’s a consummate artist when it comes to drawing the landscape and distance of Hell itself, and this silent issue is humorous and calmly rational in the face of ensuing demonic hoardes. Each issue of the series is broadly based around one of the deadly sins, and here that means lust – the way in which Stokoe judged this to affect upon Godzilla is just the first of many delights found in this one-off issue.

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9 Last Man

By Bastien Vives, Balak, Michael Sanlaville

Published by First Second

Charm personified in this first volume, the tale of a fighting contest and the various children and adults wrapped up inside is an enjoyable romp-styled piece of storytelling. At times the writing is a little ‘off’, which you’d expect from a translated work, but the general atmosphere of this series is joyous and energetic, pulling you past awkward moments or strange touches in a way which makes the goofiness part of the drawing power of each sequence. The team synergise into a whole in such a way that you can’t tell who is responsible for which moment or character – everything feels to have emerged fully-formed from some kind of higher creative consciousness. Later volumes of the series go off-track in certain ways, but the first volume is a blast, both on and away from the drawn page.

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8 Supermutant Magic Academy

By Jillian Tamaki

Published by Drawn & Quarterly

Originally published online as a series of vignettes, you can feel the impact that the quick-hit digital style had upon this collection from Jillian Tamaki. It’s been a fantastic year for her in general, but this book was the one which caught my attention most. It feels personal because these feel like characters and jokes which very specifically make her laugh first and foremost, and each new page invites us to join her or stand aside. This isn’t a general story where big gags or sloppy punchlines are thrown out, but a series where Tamaki offers her perspective and lets you stand next to her as she does whatever she wants. There’s a huge sense of fantasy in the series, like you’ve just seen a whole world unspool in front of your eyes as you watch on in admiration.

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7 Midnighter by Steve Orlando

Art by ACO, Stephen Mooney et al

Published by DC Comics

Probably the best matching of character and writer that we saw in comics in 2015. Steve Orlando came from Image with a mission, determined to take Midnighter and drag him straight to the top of DC’s most valuable, interesting and entertaining characters. And he succeeded with such strength and force that it’s hard to remember a time when Midnighter wasn’t a hugely important concept for the company. Orlando leans hard into everything that was indicated about the character in the past but with a sharper sense of insight, cutting through the syndicated nature of superhero comics with aggressive verse. This was blunt-force comics, and some of the most daring and exciting work we’ve ever seen from DC. It’s a thrill, the first comic you want to read each week.

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6 Kaijumax

By Zander Cannon

Published by Oni Press

Zander Cannon’s Oni Press series was a bizarre treat of a comic, taking the serious format of a prison story and flipping it round entirely, stomping it up and spitting radioactive weirdness all over. Kaijumax is a high-security prison for giant monsters, which works in the exact same way any other prison might work – there are gangs, drugs, favors, risks, horrors. But because everything is filtered through the “giant monster” prism throughout, the series becomes even more darkly humorous than if it was about a human prison. Sometimes with a high-concept comic, the concept is all you have and you see the story slowly spiral away into nothingness – Kaijumax is a series where the high concept is just the first step into a complex, multi-faceted social system where every character has their own agenda and interests. You just have to work out what it is before they turn on you.

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5 Jem and the Holograms

Written by Kelly Thompson

Art by Sophie Campbell, Emma Vieceli, M. Victoria Robado et al

Published by IDW

This is one of those franchises I knew nothing about until I picked up the first trade, so what I got here was a visually brilliant, dynamic series which matched stunning visuals, colors and design with a smart, contemporary set of characters. Sophie Campbell (and later Emma Vieceli) stole the immediate spotlight with a series of character designs which emphasise their characters without distracting from them, but Thompson’s writing came in and provided such a solid foundation that really the series couldn’t fail. Each character is distinctive, their look indicating towards their personalities without outright betraying them – it’s not like there’s a character who likes guitars who only wears guitar-themed jewellery, or anything like that. These feel like real women, who dress up, fight, talk, empathise and basically… totally rock.

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4 Cow Boy

Written by Nate Cosby

Drawn by Chris Eliopoulos

Published by Archaia

Gruff, stern and betrayed, the young Cow Boy at the heart of this Archaia series is an immediately distinctive character. Forced by his own nature to track down, arrest, and jail the various errant criminal members of his own family, he travels the Wild West in methodical fashion to ensure that justice is dealt wherever necessary. He’s also about seven. Nate Cosby and Chris Eliopoulos tell an all-ages story here with calculated weight, so that each new storyline not only gives us more insight into the mind of a hardening hero, but also breaks your heart just that little further. It’s an exceptionally well-told story, with an unbreakable sense of morality which never feels anything less than sure.

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3. Lighten Up

By Ron Wimberley

Published by The Nib

The Nib has a rollercoaster year, but never because of the on-site content it put out. On the contrary, this year we saw a series of intelligent and challenging works find their way onto the site, offering unexpected perspectives on a regular basis. Ron Wimberley had perhaps the msot memorable work of them all, however, with his story ‘Lighten Up’. Very simply, it’s a comic which looks at a simple part of comics process – the coloring of characters’ skin – and plainly states a story from Wimberley’s own experience. He was asked to lighten the skin color of a character who wasn’t white, and this made him question why and how these sorts of internal requests can recur within comics so frequently. It’s stark and excellently made, raising an interesting point whilst telling a compelling story.

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2 Dungeon Fun

Written by Colin Bell

Art by Neil Slorance

Published by Dogooder Comics

Concluding this year, Dungeon Fun managed to not only wrap up the storyline in a surprisingly emotional, smart manner – but it also connected every previous issue and tightened the narrative into an unbreakable bow. Funny above all else, the series made itself known by offering characters who broke up the gags with intelligence, verve and wit, rendered adoringly by Neil Slorance. Slorance gave the comic a style which was suitable for all-ages, but also appealing to everyone – it’s not cutesy, but it is silly, and it gives bright bouncy characters who still retain a sense of depth and heart. Ending on a hint that the characters may well return at some point in the New Year, Dungeon Fun was the single most purely enjoyable comic released this year.

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1 Shaft

Written by David Walker

Art by Bilquis Evely

Published by Dynamite Entertainment

When Dynamite announced they had the license for Shaft, most people were expecting a simple nostalgia spin of a comic, which hit some beats of the movies and delivered basically a generic story of some kind. But instead Dynamite went all-in with the incredible creative team of David F. Walker and Bilquis Evely, both of whom decided to use this as their launchpad into huge things across the rest of the year. The pair told the story of a younger Shaft during his less-explored days as a boxer, and before he came to right wrongs and generally be the man. It made for a considered, exciting, tense comic, with electric dialogue and a parade of fascinating, flawed characters – with Shaft as the fledgling moral center trying to work out if he wanted to do right or do wrong.

Comics Stuff What I Wrote in 2015

Hiya! I wrote a load of things across 2015 about comics, almost solely for Comic Book Resources and ComicsAlliance. Mostly I’m an interviewer, and this year I got to speak to everyone from Garth Ennis, Sonny Liew and Matt Kindt to Gail Simone, Peter Milligan and Warren Ellis; Jen Van Meter and David Walker to Simone Bianchi and Jeff Stokely. I also did countless Kickstarter profile pieces with a load of new, upcoming, established and establishing comics talent, and a weekly linkblog-type piece called Weekender which focuses only on independent and creator-owned works. Simple, solid stuff, I hope.

I also put out a few essays and things, and wanted to go through some of them here. ComicsAlliance set up a 300-word essay format called Thumbnail, for starters, and I did a handful of those across the year. Following the Bulletproof Coffin team cutting up an issue of Fantastic Four from the classic days, I wrote about how comics should be a little more disposable. They get wrapped up and boarded and put away and never read again, and if more comics made themselves slightly more destructible it could do a lot to make them more memorable in whole. Here’s a piece on the covers for The Wicked and The Divine, which are all shown in stark simple portrait, and became somewhat memeworthy across the year as a result.

It’s easier for me to write about Marvel and DC Comics, I find, because this year Image weren’t particularly inspiring. Most of their comics felt like “the last days of humanity… in space!” and within that mass of dystopian sci-fi nothing stood out. Much more interesting were projects like Silk over at Marvel, which brought us Stacey Lee’s art style and offered a slightly different kilter on the typical Spider-Man stylings. Harley Quinn and Poison Ivy were stated to be a couple by their creative teams on Twitter, so I took a look at how the pair have changed and evolved over the years, and the ways in which various suggestions and innuendos took root (pun!) and grew into something huge.

Most of my pieces were focused on artwork over writing, like this one which writes about the ‘sameface’ problem which many female characters are affected by. You take an artist like Terry Dodson or Chris Bachalo, and literally the only thing distinguishing their women is the hairstyles. It means hair is much more important in comics than an initial thought would suggest! An artist who has never fallen to that fault is Phil Jimenez, and this article looks at his ‘more is more’ philosophy.

At CBR I mainly do interviews for Valiant, and bits and unexpected interviews with other folk. But beyond those, there was also this profile on Action Lab, which was somewhat delayed but featured contributions from most everybody who works at the publisher. I liked that this pitch got approved, and actually ran – it’s not something everyone does, I think? I also had a roundtable on Wonder Woman as a character, which I think was pretty fascinating – you’ve got people like Gilbert Hernandez, Amy Mebberson, Afua Richardson, Ollie Masters, Marguerite Sauvage and so many others all pitching their considerations on her. It’d be nice to have the time and ability to do more pieces like that one.

Other longer pieces came irregularly, like this one on Preacher. ComicsAlliance did a ‘villain’s month’ a few months back, and so I wrote about the secret villain of that book. You think the series is going in one direction, but in fact it has a huge surprise held behind its back throughout the first half of the run. I got back into wrestling this year too, surprisingly, thanks to the female wrestlers over at NXT – and they got me to write a piece comparing the two forms of entertainment to one another. Possibly my favourite piece to write of 2015 was this one, though, a look from Kitty Pryde to Kamala Khan. It tracks through a series of young female characters in superhero comics, and how they have grown, developed, evolved over time.

 

The Spire Revisits House of M #4

Previously: We’re living in an alternate world where mutants and humans aren’t at each others throats except, well, they still are a little. Wolverine is the only man who knows that we’re not in Kansas anymore, only he’s on the run from SHIELD (as far as we know) and Luke Cage has just abducted him for reasons unknown.

Oh, and also Hawkeye is alive again!

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House of M #4

Publishing Date: July 2005

Estimated Sales: 146,000

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna, John Dell

Colourist: Frank D’Armata

Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

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After two issues we finally get our first glimpse of Genosha, a gleaming white tower stood high over a prosperous, lovely-looking country. Magnus banners are flying everywhere, purple and proud, as Magneto surveys things from his balcony whilst wearing a lovely pair of sandals. Sandals, for some reason, seem to be the most perfect character choice I’ve ever seen given for Magneto, and I can’t explain why. He’s also chosen to wear a huge cloak which drifts for a good six feet in his wake, which must weigh an absolute tonne.

Blossom falls from above during this entire sequence, which is a really nice touch as well. A little boy (Wiccan!) runs up to Magneto and shows him a toy boat which he made “with my mind”, Magneto takes the boat, looks at it quietly, and then stares soulessly at the boy for a good three panels without saying anything. Is this symbolic? At this point we don’t know who set up this whole alternate universe or gave Wanda the push, but I’m assuming this is all meant to suggest that Magneto was behind things right from the start? It’s not very convincing, though.

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If you enjoyed that sequence set in Genosha, then bad news! The rest of the issue is entirely spent with Wolverine and Luke Cage’s crew, in an extended, somewhat boring conversation which does very little for anyone. Everybody is standing over Wolverine, ready to fight, whilst Hawkeye absolutely flips out at the Canadian. There’re double exclamation points flying all over the place here, and the guy looks like a complete psycho. You’re welcome, Hawkeye fans!

There’s a girl stood right at the back in this scene, looking totally freaked out. If your first thought is: “who is this girl?” then just wait and see – she’s been promised as being “the most important person in the Marvel Universe” in solicitations.

Before Wolverine can calm the situation down, Hawkeye basically snaps, holds an arrow to his ear, and appears to fire the arrow straight through Wolverine’s brain, knocking the tracker out in the process. Good lord almighty! That’s a severe reaction to take to this complete stranger, although I think the suggestion here is that Hawkeye is the “Agent Smith” of the House of M “Matrix” – he’s there to ensure that nobody messes around with Wanda’s plan, and acts as a double-agent protecting the Magnus dream. We get the standard “you killed him! wait, he’s getting back up” sequence which is a classic from Bendis, as the characters talk about Shaw’s red army.

So it looks like Sebastian Shaw is leading SHIELD, here? I wonder if Harry Leland is wandering around somewhere, being barred entry onto a helicarrier because nobody trusts him not to capsize the thing.

Black Cat, who spends most of this issue stating the obvious, points that Wolverine is awake again, and there’s a hilarious touch from Coipel where exclamation lines jump out of Hawkeye and Luke Cage like they’re in a bande dessinee or something. It doesn’t get mentioned as much as how his characters are all stunning, but Coipel’s use of body language in the scene is just brilliant. The Cage Crew spent too long bickering about the tag, it seems, and now the Red Guard are coming in to capture Wolverine again. So wait – last time it took them a good two days to catch Wolverine when he never left the State, but now he’s teleported off to a secret underground base, and they can catch him in under a minute?

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Sentinels burst through the roof, with little Magneto emblems moulded onto their heads – nice touch – and prepare to start murdering all the sapiens there. Misty Knight is immediately killed off, starting a tradition of women getting a bum rap in Marvel event comics under Bendis, along with some of the characters I couldn’t recognise. Wolverine of course runs straight to save the young girl, only for Cloak to swoop across everybody and teleport them off to the only safe place he could think of – Kingpin’s apartment. Because Kingpin was referenced as having been beaten into a coma, you see! Continuity!

Hell’s Kitchen has been completely destroyed, and all the surviving characters line up to view it/let us see who is still around. Somebody called “Abe” was apparently left behind, which I think refers to the Black Tiger (he couldn’t just call himself the Tiger because of the contractual obligation that every African-American provide an easy way of being identified off a call-sheet, I guess). They talk back and forth in the typical Bendis style, where lots of words get used to explain very little, before Wolverine asks about the Avengers – who apparently never existed here. I presume that DILFy Magneto defeated Kang and everybody all by himself in this continuity, then.

Next page is Wolverine explaining his situation, and what the world was like before things went all magical and witchy, eventually turning to Magneto and how he sucks. When listing Magneto’s family – Wolverine mentioned “a couple”, because Polaris never gets her due – we find out (from double agent Hawkeye, as I’m convinced he remains) that Wanda is the human one. Magneto has two mutant kids, one human one, and raised them all up equally as a message of equality. Which, if we all know Magneto, likely means that he spent an equal amount of time mentally abusing and ignoring them in turn, possibly forcing them all to do dances for his amusement.

The dialogue is ridiculous here, and there’s a point where Wolverine goes “she could screw with the world around here. A little here and there. HERE AND THERE!” which is hilarious. Calm down, this is a way better universe than the one you just came from, stop being such a dramapuss. Moon Knight agrees with me, because he’s making the cuckoo hand motion the whole time this speech is going on. Oh yeah, and you’re one to talk about people being crazy, Spector. Wolverine calls this “a damn mutant Utopia”, in the process giving Matt Fraction a really bad idea for future use.

Hawkeye, who has been bristling the entire time, hears straight from Wolverine that in this ‘real’ timeline, he’s meant to be dead. He struts off, pouting. Nobody is convinced by anything Wolverine says apart from Cage, who makes offhand references to being married, having a kid on the way, various things that only happened in the real timeline. The girl, it seems, also knows that they’re living in an alternate continuity, and so somehow she tracked down the leader of an underground movement, got access to him, and persuaded him that he’s living in the Matrix. This girl’s good, you guys. She knows stuff.

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Wolverine chats to the girl – Layla, although “not like the song”, which is a fun touch because Wolverine is really old – and they realise that the Magneto family have somehow managed to give everything the thing they wanted most. So where the flip is flipping Jean Grey, then? I do like that Wanda’s idea of “give people what they want” involves forcing them all to watch TV shows starring Wonder Man, though. Wolverine concludes that they used Xavier’s powers to figure out what everybody desired most, and then Wanda went and created a whole world around that.

They Cloakport across to Emma and Scott Summers’ house (which confirms that they’re both married in this reality, and also that Emma apparently changed her surname for his? That doesn’t sound likely!) They do a group hero pose, but the best thing about it is that Layla immediately retches like she’s about to be sick, ruining the moment entirely. For some reason, too, she’s wearing a shirt with 46664 on it, which I suppose is meant to show that she’s a fan of Nelson Mandela? There must be some kind of comparison in mind here, but I’m not educated enough to understand it.

Logan tells Layla to do whatever she did to Luke Cage, but better, and to Emma Frost, which causes Layla to freak out and panic. She calms down once she gets to talk about Daredevil though, proving in the process that there’s no bigger hunk than Matt Murdock, before out of nowhere Logan just straight up tells her that she’s a mutant. Logan, we were having a moment about hunky Daredevil here! Way to ruin the moment.

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Emma walks in and immediately assumes she’s being robbed by the most ridiculously costumed bunch of street toughs ever seen. She freezes them all in place psychically, making Coipel go absolutely crazy with the exclamation glances, before overhearing Logan and Layla’s thoughts. She delves into Layla’s mind, but that makes Layla’s eyes go green and suddenly we live through the life of Emma Frost. This… mainly involves boobs, to be honest.

She flashes to the same chapel that Logan saw, with three figures standing over a petrified, hostage Xavier, before snapping back to reality. She knows everything that happened in the ‘real’ timeline, we find out, meaning Layla has THE most convenient power set ever seen. It’s a bit like Wolverine is James Bond and Layla is a watch with mounted laser that is only of use for the single exact mission he’s going on this time.

Logan goes to grab a beer, because now we’ve got a real leader on our team, whilst Emma Frost goes absolutely crazy. She compares and contrasts her two worlds before going off on a tear against Magneto, his kids, the concept of “House of Magnus” and everything else. What you notice here is that Wolverine’s chosen to go first to the only other person who agreed with him that Wanda should be murdered during her free-form trial in issue #1. Will this be a plot point going forward, where he only fixes the minds of the people who agree with him?

…Well no, not really. But we’ll get into that more next time, as this is the random point where the issue decides to end. Logan says “this still don’t mean the whole damn world… ain’t screwed for good” and we cut until next issue. Now, I’m still not entirely sure what Logan is even talking about here – everybody seemed to be perfectly happy with everything they ever wanted, and certainly Hawkeye was having a nicer time being alive than being dead. As, you have to imagine, are the millions of people living in Genosha. Couldn’t you at least give this an extra day or two, Wolverine? You have to give something a chance before you just dismiss it forever.

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Come back soon for the next issue, where we’ll get to see Wolverine arbitrarily decide that more people need to have a brain cleanse of their happy lives, and reminded of how much their lives actually suck in the ‘real’ timeline, everybody! Heroism!

To be continued!

The Spire Revisits House of M #3

Previously: Scarlet Witch Wanda Maximoff created an alternate universe where mutants and humans lived together happily – sort of. Everybody is off living un-heroic normal civilian lives, aside from world hero and Gambit slaughterer Carol Danver. Things seem generally to be fairly calm and happy, although we find out that Magneto has taken over the cause of world peace, suggesting that Wanda still doesn’t have quite the best grasp of reality at this time.

It looks like the only person who knows what’s actually going on is Wolverine. What a handy coincidence that the only one who can save us is also the most marketable person in the company! This’ll shift some issues, then.

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House of M #3

Publishing Date: July 2005

Estimated Sales: 151,000

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna, John Dell

Colourist: Frank D’Armata

Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

Things kick off with a history of Wolverine, over the course of two pages. Because a lot of his backstory was still a secret at this time, I think a few of these images could possibly be viewed as spoilers for what was to come, like a panel where he stares at a white wolf (finally Colossus makes sense!) whilst he has blood on his hands. We get the requisite flashbacks to Weapon Plus experimentation, although weirdly those come after a quick panel of him fighting ninjas with Captain America. Why was that the first thought that came to mind, Logan?

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We see him fighting Hulk, of course, and my guess is that the dialogue here is all lifted directly from the original scenes – Bendis likes to do these homages to classic comics from time to time, probably because they counterbalance the “you hate the classics!!” messages he gets on formspring ten times a day. Jean dies, Mariko rejects him, and then Wolverine cuts back to the last thing he remembers, which is the end of issue #1 and the Avengers/X-Men trying to track down Wanda. Cyclops, being carried by Iron Man, has the longest arms in this scene! They’re covered up a little by Wanda’s spell, but those things are about the same length as the whole of Emma Frost.

Anyway Wolverine is busy burbling all his memories back when Mystique walks over to try and work out what’s going on, having ditched her Jean Grey cosplay from the end of last issue. Wolverines says that he remembers everything that ever happened to him – quite a shock, I bet – and asks her what they did yesterday. “Metaphorically?” she asks, because Mystique is filthy sometimes. Lord, Raven, nobody wants to know what you two have been up to with the spare Cyclops costume Logan has tucked away in the back of his closet. Asking a lot of jittery questions, Wolverine’s attention catches when Mystique refers to Magneto as “Lord Magnus”. As if Magneto wasn’t pompous enough a name already?

Wolverine seems to have a little extra knowledge the reader doesn’t, as we get a glimpse of three people in hoods stood around Xavier in a deserted chapel, looking either ominous or like the backing dancers for a Florence and the Machine concert. Mystique snaps him out of it and asks if he needs to go see Madame Web, who also seems to work for SHIELD.

At which point Logan up and jumps straight off the helicarrier. Logan, this is a new universe you’re in here! You don’t even know if you have healing powers right now, let alone if they’re still at the ridiculously jacked-up levels they’d reached by the millennium!

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He hurtles downwards, shirt billowing open to reveal his six-pack because, well, Olivier Coipel knows his audience. This isn’t meant to seem silly, but it plays like insane comedy, especially once he smacks straight into the side of a skyscraper and holds on. From this viewpoint he looks at Times Square, which has posters advertising Dazzler, Wonder Man, Storm and a brand of jeans called “VD”. Hope that doesn’t, uh, catch on?

Mary-Jane Watson has the top billing on the screen, advertising a brand which clearly Marvel couldn’t get licensing for. “Loreal” therefore becomes “lol” due to carefully placed bubbles on the screen. The weirdest bit of all, though, is that there’s a parade balloon in the shape of a giant Spider-Man. Does this mean J. Jonah Jameson isn’t a part of Wanda’s new Universe? I don’t want to be a part of this, if so.

A copy of “The Pulse” takes over the next few pages, confirming that The Bugle appears to be gone, alas. These pages are drawn by Mike Mayhew and written by the various House of M tie-in writers, each of whom are I guess looking to promote their share of the overall story.

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Basically what you need to know is that Magneto is holding some kind of huge civil event in a day or two, which’ll be filled with dignitaries from around the World – Namor, Storm, that sort of thing. The article goes on to explain a little about Magneto – sorry, Magnus – and his last few years, confirming that he stopped a mass sentinel event and proved to humanity that mutants weren’t something to hate and fear anymore.

Also, Warren Worthington is apparently involved in a sex tape scandal of some kind. Why didn’t we ever get that tie-in, Marvel?

Wolverine puts down the newspaper after the vendor calls him “man-wolf”, and we see he’s already changed into a red shirt and fedora for some reason. A guy drives up to him on a motorbike – it’s actually Sam Guthrie, Cannonball – and Wolverine socks him, saying “nothing personal” before driving off on the bike. Do you think he also did that to whoever he got the fedora from? Now that wouldn’t been personal.

Wolverine’s first stop is Westchester, naturally, where he creeps through some begonias like a freak and sniffs the window. Some people would’ve just used google maps, Logan! Why do you always have to be sniffing at windows and the like? He breaks into the house anyway, and finds that a family are living there, in the mansion. Realising there’s no sign of Xavier or the X-Men anywhere in the building, he leaves. Google, Logan!

However! We must first pay attention to one very important detail here. The daughter of the house, who looks about ten, is sleeping with her doll. Nothing unusual there, perhaps – until you notice that the doll is completely naked and has a leg missing. So we’re dealing with a family who can afford a huge great big mansion to live in, but not a four-limbed doll for their only child. America!

At this point Logan finds the first dive he can, having now thankfully lost his fedora, and uses their phone to try and call up Xavier. It’s adorable, really. There’s no sign of Xavier having ever existed, which is weird for reasons we’ll get into later on, so Logan instead turns to a second name. Now, we’re talking about Wolverine here, so who would you think he’d pick as his second point of contact? It’s Nightcrawler, surely. Maybe Storm, or Cyclops, or Kitty. Heck, it might even be Rogue/Jubilee, if none of the others are free. Nope, though! Peter Parker. He calls for Peter Parker next. Unbelievable.

Before he can try any further with Peter, though, he spots a rowdy bunch of mutants attacking a girl – so he marches off to go and get them. This is one of those moments where Bendis blatantly uses a “character moment” to deliberately stall the plot for an extra page or so, and I never know whether to admire him for it or if I find it incredibly irritating.

Day two of being on the run, though, and Logan has returned to New York city, where, he sees the skies are filled with superheroes, mutants, flying people of all kinds. He heads towards Avengers Tower, where the (Atlantean?) secretary totally cold-blocks him from getting any further. Before anything else can happen, he gets a tap on the shoulder from Jessica Drew, who reveals the rest of the SHIELD cleanup team – including Rogue, Mystique, Nightcrawler and Toad. Three of these choices make perfect sense for Logan to pick as his team – I can’t exactly understand the logic behind hiring Toad, though.

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Rogue is totally bringing the sass, though, which is lovely. She’s there, twirling her guns around, having a grand time, whilst everybody else seems to be trying to avoid looking at Coipel’s attempt at drawing Nightcrawler, who looks pervy as hell. Mystique keeps saying that Wolverine “popped a stitch”, which was a phrase that never caught on beyond this issue, before he decides to just plain bolt for it. He takes some of them out as he pegs it, before jumping out the window and heading for the bike.

Nightcrawler is the only one to give meaningful chase – until he gets three arrows in the back (!) and crashes down. This is somewhat spoiling the final surprise of the issue, really, as the solicitations for issue #3 were all centred around the whole “you won’t believe the last page, it’s going to break the internet!” kind of hype – but basically he gets shot by Hawkeye. Who is alive again!

Wolverine races the bike across a set of cars, which looks great, before spotting that Cloak (another Bendis Favourite™ character – take a shot) is stood right in his path. Logan and the bike get swallowed up, and we end the chase with this brilliant panel of Cloak stood in the middle of the street by himself, calm and silent. I bloody love Cloak.

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The bike smashes up and Logan stands up with claws ready to slash up some people – only to find himself face to face with Luke Cage’s street team. Misty Knight, Danny Rand (in a hoodie! hee, adorable), Felicia Hardy, Colleen Wing and, um, some other dude. Not sure who he is. Cage is in charge though, and tells Wolverine to destroy the tracking device. Considering Wolverine managed to go two days before they tracked him down last time, I don’t really think that’s a huge priority right now for him.

However, Hawkeye has other plans, as the final page sees him in all his purple-suited glory, arrow aimed straight out towards the reader. Hawkeye is back! Did I already say that? I’d be interested to know just how broken the internet was as a result of this final page – I have to assume people were either expecting Hawkeye to show up (this is an alternate reality after all, and anything goes in there) or somebody else to be taking that spot.

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Given this is a Wolverine story, more or less, the lack of Jean Grey would possibly count as the biggest surprise going. At any rate, we’ve got flipping Hawkeye back in action! Whatever next?

To be continued!

The Spire Revisits House of M #2

Previously: Wanda Maximoff realised that her children didn’t really exist and went on a reality-warping mind-trip which killed off several Avengers and left her a danger to everyone. Rather than shoot her up with the mutant cure or wipe her memory, the Avengers and X-Men instead left her in the hands of noted failures Magneto and Xavier, who promptly failed to help her.

Travelling to find out if she was interested in being wiped from existence, the two teams instead walked into a magical ambush of some kind, and Spider-Man woke up to find himself in a Universe where he was happily married to Gwen Stacy.

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House of M #2

Publishing Date: June 2005

Estimated Sales: 169,000

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna, John Dell

Colourist: Frank D’Armata

Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

 

With a new alternate reality apparently created, we’ve got an issue now establishing who is or isn’t important in the House of M reality. First of all: Captain America Steve Rogers, who aged naturally and is now an old dude living in the Bronx. Somehow he managed to get into the army despite not being fit enough to serve (the super soldier having never existed, seemingly) and rose up to the ranks of Captain anyway. He rifles through his letters and goes outside, where we can clearly see that mutants and humans share the world together.

A group of mutant kids – one has Cannonball’s powers, another has extra eyes, and the third has, uh, long fingers? – are mucking about on the street, when they all see ‘the old dude’ and stare at him. Steve stares back at them, and I think it’s meant to symbolise the passing of the generations from human to mutant – but goddamn if Coipel doesn’t make it look like Rogers absolutely hates mutants. He looks so unhappy.

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Over in Connecticut, Scott Summers is preparing breakfast for himself, and listening the radio deliver additional exposition about Mary Jane Watson’s successful film career. See? The only thing holding her back was love! Get that out your life, and things will go great for you too. Emma Frost walks out in a dressing gown, and apologises for falling asleep whilst they were having sex the night before. Some things never change eh, Cyclops? He gives her a pop tart, which she pretends to be grateful for.

If there’s one thing Emma Frost never eats, Cyclops, it’s a breakfast pop tart – get her some grenadines or something, yeah?

They establish that the Fantastic Four are all dead apart from Franklin Richards, which is no great loss to anyone. Was there a House of M: Fantastic Four spinoff series? Sounds like it must’ve been a bit of a bummer.

In LA, Dazzler has a daytime chat show and some absolutely gigantic shoulders. She introduces Simon Williams, Wonder Man, who apparently has in this universe given up on film and turned to television instead. On NBC! How the fallen have fallen. He’s styled like Superman as he arrives, and Dazz immediately changes the subject away from him and towards Carol Danvers, because who wants to hear anything about Wonder Man?

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It turns out that Carol Danvers is the most popular superhero in America in this Universe, and she proves this by chasing down two criminals in their getaway car. This is a weird chase sequence, but basically Gambit is one of the two guys in the car, trying to steal literal boxes of money. Danvers pulls Remy out the car I think, then flies in front of the thing and throws it miles into the air – this thing flips almost into outer space – and crashes into Central Park. Gambit then reappears in the wreckage somehow (Coipel’s storytelling is shot to hell here), and says some racist anti-human stuff in French.

Danvers picks him up and throws him at high speed into a giant metal object, knocking him out or possibly killing him. Seriously, in this short sequence she seems to be actively looking to murder people at every opportunity. Two police officers – one of them is actually Bishop – approach Gambit’s possible corpse, and we see that she threw him into a giant memorial statue that says “the mutant blood lost here will be the last that will ever be lost in war”.

Well, until just now, when Carol used the memorial to basically kill Gambit, I guess. It seems that some kind of sentinel uprising must have taken place in the past, murdered a huge number of mutants, and the aftermath led to human-mutant coexistence. Not a bad narrative, I guess, and it’s the exact sort of thing that an idealist like Wanda would desperately create.

It’s fun that the premise of the series means that Brian Michael Bendis has to posit himself as being exactly as good a writer as Scarlet Witch.

In Ohio, Bendis Favourite™ Kitty Pryde has become a teacher, where not a single one of her students cares less about what she has to say or ask of them. When asked “who was the first mutant”, none of them say “Apocalypse” or “Selene”, which I believe are usually the correct answer. Instead they say “Namor”, who has apparently become a bit of a housewives favourite in this House of M reality. Arguably this is one of the first times that Marvel properly retools their approach towards Namor as a character, here, and ‘hunky milf-magnet Namor’ will become a recurring feature in years to come.

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Things take on a crime noir feel next, as in NYC we get to see Falcon as a suave-as-flip police detective, wandering round Hell’s Kitchen. He heads into the back of a skeevy dive bar, complete with a possible sighting of Boom Boom as a gum-chewing jukebox babe, and meets Luke Cage. Cage seems to be one of the leading lights of the Hell’s Kitchen underground, along with Danny Rand, Felicia Hardy, and Misty Knight.

They have a tense discussion where Cage can’t stop calling Falcon ‘sapien’. Seems that this part of town is a mainly human area, and so they’ve put Falcon in as police so humans can monitor humans. It’s a weird take on the idea of hiring black police officers to police black areas of New York, made all the weirder that two African-American characters are having it. The mutant metaphor has existed for a long time at Marvel, and this is an early example of writers flipping it to focus away from on mutants and other invented ‘minority’ groups in their Universe. Later this same tactic will be used for Inhumans, etc.

Apparently somebody beat Kingpin into a coma – as with all these vignettes, I’m guessing they refer to something from one of the tie-in issues, because none of this is ever addressed again in the main series.

Heading now to Stephen Strange, who is now a psychologist looking after the mind of Robert – otherwise known as The Sentry. He’s been having trouble with an overwhelming black void recently, as can happen sometimes, and was recently attacked by it whilst he was in the park with his (DISTURBINGLY DEMONIC-LOOKING) son.

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Strange doesn’t seem at all surprised by this, and has probably had weeks and weeks of this repeated whining in his life – making him an advance surrogate for the next few years of Avengers readers. I don’t think Sentry reappears at any point in the series, which is jolly good news.

In ‘Russia’, Colossus is happily tugging a giant plow across some fields, shirtless. I think this scene was included simply so Coipel could draw somebody shirtless, in all honesty.

Chicago is the scientific hub of America, as we see somebody charging a particle with his mind. He’s part of a – pun incoming – ‘think tank’! Ha! Ahem, apologies. Hanks Pym and McCoy are hanging out in this lab – McCoy literally. Looks like Beast never blue himself, as he’s in full bear-mode here. Apparently Hank Pym has been trying to isolate the mutant gene, for some reason, which Beast criticises him for. It’s worth pointing out that Pym is wearing a yellow jacket, which I hope won colourist Frank D’Armata a pay rise.

Anyway, they bicker about things and it’s clear that Hank Pym essentially wants to stop humankind from going extinct. At the time, this is just a boring expositional scene for something which didn’t need to be expositioned – but looking back at it now, this is clearly Bendis laughing at his own joke. Come the end of this series, Beast will be the one facing the extinction of his own race, going to any lengths possible to try and keep mutantkind going, so this is all rather deeply ironic.

Paris now, where Janet Van Dyne is trying to sort out a dress for Storm, who is Queen of Wakanda at this point and thusly a foreign dignitary. After three pages of the men discussing science and ethics, here’s some female comic relief! Those women, they can’t ever decide on what to wear! And so on.

Storm isn’t happy with the outfit she’s been given, even though Olivier Coipel likely spent hours looking for something fashionable to design. Hey, speaking of – why don’t comic companies ever directly sell the fashions their artists create within comics? I bet there’d be a whole audience for a fashion range “as seen in Jamie McKelvie’s Young Avengers’ etc.

Anyway, that’s the bulk of the world-building done for now, and we finally get to further the plot a little and get an idea of what’s actually going to happen. Wolverine wakes up from a dream of being in the Weapon Plus programme and finds Jean Grey prowling on his bed, looking predatory and weird. Was she just crouched like that all night, waking for him to wake up and find her like this? Apparently so, because it turns out this is actually Mystique – tough luck, Jean fans! You won’t see her here – and he’s onboard a helicarrier with assistants Jessica Drew and Toad.

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He races onto the main deck, leading to a two page spread of the military force flying through the skies – Magneto has flags with his family emblem flying from the top of a huge helicarrier, along with a fleet of planes, sentinel robots, and more. It’s a staggering little moment, and a nice reminder that there is some real scale meant to be involved in this event storyline. I think the Magnus logo is meant to be a combination of Magneto’s helmet design (the red bit) crossed Wanda’s tiara, and looks incredibly fitting.

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On the next page… oh wait! There is no next page. That’s the end of the issue! So… the story will start in issue #3 then, I guess? Is that what we should expect? Well, come back next time and we’ll all get to find out, let’s assume.

To be continued!

The Spire Revisits House of M #1

Marvel had a mutant problem and Brian Michael Bendis had the solution: eight issues of alternate universe, Wolverine in a panic, melodramatic Maximoffs and three infamous words later, the mutant race were down to 198 members.

Welcome to House of M, where Bendis and Olivier Coipel set up a whole world and then destroyed it, in a bonfire of the X-Gene which heralded the arrival of The Avengers: Marvel’s Most Marketed Characters.

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House of M #1

Publishing Date: June 2005

Estimated Sales: 233,000

Publisher: Marvel Comics

 

Writer: Brian Michael Bendis

Artists: Olivier Coipel, Tim Townsend, Rick Magyar, Scott Hanna, John Dell

Colourist: Frank D’Armata

Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos

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Things kick off with an incedibly sweaty page of Wanda Maximoff – the Scarlet Witch – giving birth to her twins. Olivier Coipel draws as many globs of sweat and drool as possible =, making this perhaps the grossest scene in the entire series. People start dying towards the end of this one, but nothing will quite capture the quintessential feeling of repulsion caused by seeing Stephen Strange’s oddly pale arms delivering children.

If there was anyone I’d want offering me care during pregnancy, it’s not Stephen Strange. He’s a psychiatrist, and not capable of delivering medical attention! Plus you don’t know where those hands have been, do you?

Wanda seems pretty chuffed, though, as we get a look at her maternity suite. As becomes a recurring theme through the rest of this storyline, she has, if nothing else, completely remarkable taste in living spaces. It’s a lovely big room with billowy curtains sweeping through. What she’s saved in medical bills (unless you suspect that Stephen Strange is even now planning his costs) she’s spent on the bed. She’s surrounded by her closest friends, of course, who are… er… Elektra and Cyclops? No sign of Wasp or She-Hulk anywhere, which must be a bit of a magical slap in the face for them both. Polaris is also missing, which I’d chalk down to her being worried it might give Havok ideas. At least Magneto and Quicksilver bothered to show up.

This beautiful scene – even Vision manages to stop crying for one goddamn second to seem happy – is interrupted by Charles Xavier, though. He’s having none of this, and tells Wanda to shut down this magical simulation she’s created. Because ha! This isn’t actually real! It’s all something that Wanda created using her reality-warping powers, and in real life she’s unable to have children and her husband is dead! Xavier keeps yelling until eventually Wanda dissolves the entire room, in the process watching as her two children melt through her hands into nothingness.

Jesus, Charles.

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She’s left lying on the floor, a complete wreck, as she remembers the reality of her last few months. It’s sad, but I couldn’t help but notice that for some reason she’s still wearing the maternity dress she had on a page ago, which is an odd choice. That can’t have been the most appropriate outfit to give her, Charles? Want to hang a signed Scott Lang poster on the wall for good measure?

Magneto, sensing the presence of Women Problems nearby, has chosen to keep out the way whilst Xavier psychically drugs Wanda and sends her back to sleep. For what it’s worth, he also appears to be wearing a maternity dress. The pair discuss the current situation, with Wanda altering reality every opportunity she gets, and going a little more insane each time. She’s one of the most powerful mutants in the world, and something has to be done. Xavier, veering dangerously out of character, says: “We can’t keep drugging her and psychically putting her to sleep,. It’s inhumane.”

He adds “and it’s hardly foolproof”, which sounds a bit more like the Evil Bastard we all know and love.

 

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Then, after a pause, the real Xavier comes out and says “and it’s hardly working”. There we go! A four-sentence crash course in Xavier pretending to care before revealing his true nature. Bendis can be very good at summing up a character like that. Magneto then, competing, decides to sum up HIS deal to Xavier as well, and how his war against humanity failed. This is a bit like when my granddads meet up at Christmas and have a scotch on the patio, only my grandpa’s war against the humans continues to this day.

Magneto ends the conversation by randomly walking through the air (that’s something he can do now??), which seems like a harsh thing to do in front of the man you put in a wheelchair.

Over in New York, the B-List Avengers are heading across to the tower, for a secret meeting. This is such a secret meeting that Falcon has been banned from flying in, and they’ve all been told to go incognito. Carol Danvers follows that to the letter, of course, being a scout and a trooper, but Wonder Man just wears his uniform under a coat. Wonder Man, as ever, sucks, The three have a bit of a natter and catch-up as they secretly go to the secret meeting incognito.

The Astonishing X-Men then fly onto the roof of the building in their Blackbird.

Beast, Kitty, Cyclops, Emma Frost and Colossus walk into the building with Logan, who apparently invited them over for the big debate. Curiously, there’s an inset panel of Jarvis telling the Avengers that the X-Men have just arrived, which he appears to be doing without any evidence. Is Jarvis psychic? Something to keep an eye on, that. It might have been an idea to just cut that panel, however, as Coipel clearly can’t find space on the page for the last panel of the page. It looks absolutely terrible, with the characters’ faces cut in half just under the nose.

They walk into the room to find the Avengers sat round a table, Xavier in the middle. Captain America and Iron Man are obviously both there, along with Spider-Man, She-Hulk, a wizened Sentry, Luke Cage wearing a chinese takeaway carton on his head, Wasp sitting on the table, Hank Pym off to the side and Stephen Strange at the back. Kitty, the heart of the X-Men, runs over immediately to give the Professor a hug, whilst Jarvis brings in a tray of shots. The X-Men have a few formalities with Xavier – by which I mean Cyclops has a grump at him – before he announces today’s meeting of the NYC debate club: superhero division. The title will be ”we need to decide the fate of Wanda Maximoff”.

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We cut back to Wanda, sleeping fitfully in her maternity dress (DAMMIT Charles) whilst her brother Quicksilver lies at her feet, despairing. Magneto decides to brave the room and speak to him. It turns out that Pietro was also in the room just a second ago with the Avengers and X-Men, and has decided the result of their debate will be ‘kill Wanda’. He demands that something be done, and it’s a somewhat effective page until a weird panel where Pietro starts yelling so fast that Magneto can’t hear him anymore. A reminder, perhaps, that Pietro may be right to be worried, but he’s also just the worst. Magneto barely manages to contain his disappoint in his son throughout this issue, and looks as though he’s trying to resist the urge to put a maternity dress over his head.

Everything is getting very tense, as the family try and work out if there’s any solution to this problem which doesn’t end with Wolverine popping the claws. Now, just personally I can think of at least four solutions to this problem, all of which could save the day without any bloodshed or overwhelming decimation of a minority race on Earth – let’s keep an eye out and see if anybody suggests any of them during the upcoming debate sessions.

We go back to that scene, as we see the aftermath of what appears to have been a heavy round of shots for everyone round the table. Tony Stark’s got ay least five shot glasses by his chair, whilst Hank Pym’s saved the washing and just taken a whole bottle for himself. Dr Strange is the best though, because it looks as though he’s disgraced himself so thoroughly that the Avengers have told him to go stand in the naughty corner and face the wall.

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Emma Frost, bless, jumps straight to “put her down”, which Captain America dismisses outright. Usually that would be the end of things, because the Avengers never dare question anything that Cap says – but he’s dealing with X-Men now, and so they continue to call him out. Wolverine – who is chilled out to the max, feet up on the table, eating some pizza – is pretty much in favour of getting to kill another woman, which has started to become a recurring thing for him. Cap says there is “always” another way to do things, and Wolverine doesn’t agree.

Emma, the best debater in the room, makes a point of going round everybody and asking if they have any solutions. She even lets Dr Strange out of his time-out to see if he has any solutions, but of course he doesn’t because magic never solves anything in the Marvel Universe. With no solutions offered, Emma says it should be put to a vote. Captain America, clearly incensed that a woman has been allowed to have an opinion in Avengers Tower for the first time in recorded history, shuts this down as well. Why did you even invite the X-Men round if you weren’t going to pay any attention to their suggestion of light murder?

One thing that Brian Michael Bendis likes to do a lot in his superhero works is turn things towards a “realistic” angle, so Emma then describes what would happen were the public to find out about a mutant wiping out half the Avengers during ‘Disassembled’. Kitty gives her side-eye, which at this point is basically a good third of her job description. The Avengers continue to not listen to the muties, though, leading Wolverine to snap at them “how many more of you does she have to kill before you snap out of it?” – which is a fair point. She-Hulk, interestingly, says absolutely nothing at any point in the scene, despite being one of the people Wanda directly manipulated during Disassembled. If only Hawkeye weren’t dead, I bet he’d jump at the chance for a bit of murder. RIP Hawkeye.

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Spider-Man is upset by the idea of murder, as he should be, whilst Cyclops tries to talk Xavier down. Xavier, however, just looks hopelessly at him and says “I don’t know what to do.”

NOW!

That’s clearly not the case, as Xavier has a tremendously long history of finding threats to mutants and wiping their memory, removing them from existence, or enslaving them, amongst his other accomplishments. This is a man who can remove your memories – or selected ones – whenever he wants, and yet he can’t do that for Wanda? Highly suspicious, Prof.

The Avengers ask if they can bob along to Genosha to see Wanda, and see what she wants to happen. “Hiya Wanda, just wondering if you’re in favour of being murdered or not, chum?” seems to be Wasp’s approach towards the whole thing. They all get in their planes and fly out – inconspicuously, one hopes.

So let’s just talk about some of the solutions that the characters would’ve come up with, were it not for the need to put out seven more issues. The most obvious one is “the mutant cure”, which had just come up as a plot point in Joss Whedon and John Cassaday’s Astonishing X-Men. I can’t remember if we ever actually saw proof that the cure worked, but in theory it would mean one quick injection and her mutant gene would be gone. Problem solved! There’s obviously the mind-wipe, which had already been used by Xavier on most of the people present at that meeting. The idea of mind-wiping a hero to forget something traumatic later played a big role in Identity Crisis, where I believe it went just swimmingly.

Another option might’ve been to just, y’know, let Wanda resurrect her dead husband and children? The Fantastic Four’s kids were also partly created through dubious magic, and they seemed to be just fine. Is it really a big deal if Wanda brings her children to life asexually? I mean, her husband is a robot, and you’ve got to imagine he can’t get her pregnant. Why not just let her have her way for a bit? The Avengers have a long history of sexual hangups – they were fine with Carol Danvers giving birth to a man she then married, so is it really so weird if Wanda impregnates herself?

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The Avengers and the X-Men all head off to Genosha, anyway, which is where the storytelling starts to get really jumbled. Wanda’s room is empty, and Magneto/Quicksilver are missing as well. Charles Xavier then abruptly disappears between panels, before Emma finds a lead towards where Wanda is now. The flying members of the Avengers – carrying Emma and Scott, everybody else an just ruddy well walk – stop at some kind of giant abandoned church building, where Spider-Man tells them that his spider-sense is picking up nothing. Dr Strange is also baffled as to why Emma thinks this is the right place.

This is rather good storytelling, here, as they’re both forewarning the fact that this is a trap – oh, by the way, this is a trap – but who would ever listen to either of them? By now it’s been heavily established that everyone on the Avengers zones out whenever Spider-Man starts talking, and Dr Strange has been useless for years. They might both be right, but who would bother paying any attention to those losers when Emma Frost, clearly the most capable mind in the room, is saying otherwise?

The next few panels are really confusing, but I think what they’re trying to suggest is that everybody suddenly pauses and stops talking apart from Spider-Man, who starts walking around by himself. He enters the building, sees a big shiny white ball of… something, and the page blasts to white.

Next thing we know, Peter Parker is lying in bed, waking up to the sound of a baby crying. Somebody tells him that it’s “his turn” to sort things out, so he groggily gets up and walks off. In doing so, we see who it is that he’s lying next to – it’s Gwen Stacy, his wife.

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Uh-oh! On that note – which probably looked great in the script but is a little bland on the final page – the issue ends.

To be continued!

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