A Galaxy Within The Universe: Star Wars and Marvel

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John Cassaday

 

Marvel have been trying something which isn’t often seen at shared-universe publishers: introducing a second universe. Their “Star Wars” comics arrived last year, following Disney purchasing Lucasfilm and the inevitable subsequent end for Dark Horse’s most enduring comics licence. Since then, the books have been some of the biggest selling comics for the publisher, even as they move away from variant covers and #1 issues to head off into double-figure publishing numbers. And whilst we’d all expect the books to do well, it’s surprising just how much of an audience they’ve not only picked up – but retained.

And by introducing this Far, Far Away Galaxy apart from the Marvel Universe, Marvel have essentially offered a second line which appeals to a readership apart from their superhero fans. There’s clearly a lot of crossover between superhero comics fans and Star Wars fans, but there are also plenty of movie fans who are picking up comics only to catch up on the inbetween moments lived by Luke, Han, and Leia. DC have Vertigo, and Marvel have had the Ultimate Universe: but they touch on and sometimes interact with their core superhero universes. The Star Wars comics stand aside from everything, and it’s fascinating.

There aren’t many examples of a publisher having two universes existing at once, with the one big exception that of course Marvel have experimented with this before. The Ultimate Universe was a rebrand of their ‘classic’ Universe, which started with a few of their core ideas – Spider-man, Fantastic Four, Avengers and X-Men – and rolled them into a contemporary, somewhat harder-edged and more cynical superhero universe. Again, there were only a handful of books available at once, meaning there could be a tight continuity (hypothetically) which let readers track the whole universe at once. There were no books that didn’t “matter”, so to speak, so the audience were encouraged to try everything without feeling like they weren’t getting a whole story.

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Mike Mayhew

 

But when you look back, you can also see where the Ultimate Universe started to fall apart and disintegrate under its own weight. Perhaps in a few years the same thing will happen to Star Wars, particularly as throwaway comics like the recent “C-3P0” one-shot are released and the line becomes more about continuation than telling new, connected stories. The more readers find that there are dispensable Star Wars comics on the shelf, the more the line will feel dispensable as a whole. But on that front, Marvel do have one safety net: Disney itself.

Marvel Comics run their own universe, and they get to decide if continuity makes sense of not. If they want to kill off characters or write storylines which conflict continuity with one another, they can generally just go ahead and do that – it’s no matter. The Star Wars comics are stuck within a permanent timeline, however, and so their focus cannot be on “important” or “game-changing”; because we know when the characters live or die. It happens in the movies. Instead, the comics have to focus on “fun”, and developing the characters through the moments we haven’t seen onscreen. And if they ever did decide to kill off, say, Zuckuss, before the books catch up to at least “The Empire Strikes Back”? Then they’d be in for a hell of a lot of trouble with Lucasfilm!

Possibly. It’s likely nobody cares about Zuckuss at Lucasfilm either, because he was clearly the worst bounty hunter of the bunch and viva Gengar. But that’s the thing: even the lamest of the background characters is protected by an unshakeable canon. Compare that to the Marvel Universe, where “House of M” or “Age of Ultron” or “Secret Wars” can trigger a re-shifting universe whenever the company feel like it. There’s no sense of stability, which appeals to many readers and turns off perhaps just as many. Some people really enjoy knowing that everything they know will never be the same again – but a lot of people really like the security that comes from knowing that everything they know will always be the same forever.

With only a few comics, and a few characters to play with right now, Marvel have opted to retain a Star Wars line which remains accessible for readers, and where you can track the location of all the major characters at any one moment. To expose myself shamelessly, it’s a little like the plotting style of “Game of Thrones”. Almost all the major players in that series all started off converged in one place, before they subsequently wandered off into their own stories. Here Marvel adopted a similar tactic, where the first arc of the main “Star Wars” comic featured Luke, Han, Leia, Darth Vader, Chewbacca and the droids at once.

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Phil Noto

 

Since then, the characters have moved apart a little, and Marvel have started to introduce comics set at different points in the timeline (primarily to tie into “The Force Awakens” and the upcoming “Rogue One” – although the latter comic now seems to be in limbo). But at the start, everything was in one place, and readers got everything they needed from that one title. If you unfairly compare that to the Marvel Universe right now, then you start to see perhaps some of the reasons why the Star Wars Galaxy is currently outselling the Marvel Universe. There’s no ‘central’ location, because Marvel are putting out around forty titles a month and no single book can contain and reference all of them. At any point in time, Star Wars can loop the majority of the characters back into a single story. At no point in time can Marvel hope to do the same. Not least because the “Fantastic Four” are seemingly banned from being in the same place at the same time for perpetuity.

Which isn’t a criticism of the Marvel Universe either, particularly. The lack of jumping on points is a difficulty for a lot of potential new readers, but I tend to revel in the fact that this is a complex-continuity franchise where the X-Books have their own quirks not found in the Spider-Men titles, and where the Guardians of the Galaxy contrast and sometimes interact with the Avengers. Without the insane sprawling of their Universe, you’d never get something like Secret Wars, which thrilled to the idea that everything existed simultaneously and nobody could hope to contain it at once. That’s why “Civil War 2” has to exist as a main series, a bunch of tie-in stories within other ongoing comics, and several new comics which will be around for a few months solely because they can have an event banner across the top of their covers. It’s too big to contain, and Marvel don’t particularly want to contain it either.

Editor Jordan D. White, on the other hand, is able to contain the entirety of Star Wars in his head, seemingly. Most books are set between “A New Hope” and “The Empire Strikes Back” at the present, but there’s also a Kanan” series set through the time of “Star Wars Rebel”, sitting before “A New Hope”. And then there’s the developing group of comics which sit between and around “The Force Awakens”. The first was “Shattered Empire”, which is set immediately after the first trilogy and gave us a really early origin for Poe Dameron – who was the first character from the new movies to get his own series. Given how every other character went into the new movie with a mystery, and left on a cliffhanger, it’s likely he’ll be the only one to do so until 2017/18.

This is where we’re most likely to see the books start to separate out. The comics have a thirty-forty year gap between them now, chronologically, and people can pick and choose which parts of it they want. It’s a little like having the option between X-Men and Inhumans – they’re essentially doing the same thing, only with slight aesthetic differences. The key for Marvel will be in ensuring that there’s merit to all the different parts of their Star Wars Galaxy, where nobody steps on the toes of the movies or starts contradicting things established in the other comics.

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Adi Granov

 

As long as Marvel can create the aura of cohesiveness between the comics, the movies, the video games, and any other in-canon elements of the Star Wars brand as a whole, their line will remain fresh. It’ll also remain important. The lack of control over the main product leaves them fighting to prove the books they do put out, and it creates a sense of urgency in the line which you don’t always see in their franchise books. Each one of the books has to have a reason to exist, and a story to tell, but we’ll have to see how long that lasts for.

At this moment, Star Wars is the clear jewel in Marvel’s crown. It’s a Galaxy within their Universe, where readers get exactly what they’re expecting to get. The Star Wars line is an exercise in delivering comics which have a reason to exist and can hook in new readers without leaving them confused and isolated. The death of the Expanded Universe, in this case, saved the ongoing product – Marvel can maintain a Galaxy within their Universe.

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Review: Daredevil #8

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Daredevil started a new arc this week, as the fabulously smart caption box on the front of the latest issue informed me. Of anything that Marvel has implemented over the last few months, the caption box on the front page which says “all-new story starts now!” has been the most useful, and the one which I desperately hope more publishers take advantage of. I know Image like to have you read every issue of a comic, but it’s nice to have a definitive point where you can start reading a book with relatively little background info and give the whole thing a try.

I’ve not heard much talk about Charles Soule’s turn writing Daredevil, unusually, given that his time with She-Hulk was so memorable. For those unaware, Soule is also a practising lawyer himself, and he brought that knowledge into his run writing Jennifer Walters in a convincing and arguably star-making performance as writer. Here, with Marvel’s other big lawyer, I’d not heard anything, to be honest. All had gone quiet.

Soule’s run has started with the gambit “he’s hidden his identity again” and is running from there, with the big reveal of how the character managed it looking to be the big hook of the overall narrative. This current arc though, seems like a deliberate step away from the standard type of Daredevil story and an attempt to try something different and new with the character – hurling him into a crime caper in China, where he’s participating in a poker tournament. It’s all fairly simple to keep up with, although the narrative breaks from Matt Murdock across to Daredevil slowly introduce a more confusing thread, as we reveal that Matt’s activities are just a bluff for his alter-ego to investigate something else.

Which is quite neat, bluffing the reader into thinking this was Matt Murdock trying to make some extra money when actually there’s some kind of villain in the hotel he’s actually trying to get closer to. It draws from the Waid/Samnee characterisation of Daredevil before pulling away into something different, and perhaps more in-line with whatever the Charles Soule iteration of Daredevil will be. As someone jumping on the issue with this arc, it was a little disappointing to realise that the Matt Murdock I’m reading about is actually lying to me, so I don’t get to see what his actual character is – but then hey, I suppose that’s character as much as anything.

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So I was fine with the story, which takes a few interesting detours although does feature a slightly dour, less appealing version of Matt Murdock than the last few years have gotten us all attuned to. With Goran Sudzuka presenting him as basically a blank slate for the entire issue as well, the comic doesn’t make him a particularly compelling protagonist, which slows the issue down and draws things out in order to make the bluff stronger. We’re holding to the interest of the game itself to pull us through the pages, tension building up because we want to see if he’ll win the tournament or not.

Sudzuka is a ridiculous artist who draws a face on every background character, merges the background into the foreground during fight scenes as a way to break panels apart, and generally does incredibly impressive work throughout. His take on the Casino captures the mix of shine, sleeze and dirt which you feel whenever you walk past a gambling table. There’s glamour and elegance, but at the same time everybody looks slightly discomforted by the experience and holds a slight grimace – when you transfer gaze from Daredevil to the people stood around him, things feel sinister and claustrophobic in a completely natural way. It’s not that everybody is out to get him here, it’s just that this is what casinos feel like.

The most noticeable aspect of the comic, though, is the colouring, which I’m not sure I enjoyed. Daredevil is not meant to be a bright comic, but this issue seemed surprisingly grim and dour for what was meant to be a high-stakes poker tournament. Matt Milla uses reds and blacks for the scenes set in the casino, mirroring the look of a roulette wheel but muddying and hiding quite a lot of Sudzuka’s work. Scenes outside the casino drop the red for a dark blue and dark green respectively, which means the whole issue feels less flashy than perhaps it could.

The casino loses sheen, the location work from Sudzuka doesn’t have much pop, and the fight scenes look grimy and harsh (which is the part of the colouring choice that really works nicely). Partway through the issue is a fight scene set in the astral plane, with Daredevil taking on a mind-reader, and it looks drab. Sudzuka does some really nice work on one panel in particular which has a snowy mountain as the backdrop. Daredevil and his assailant have a fight scene laid over the top of the mountain, their movements and swipes of swords throwing up snowy paths down the face of the slope and providing downward momentum which speeds up as the page reads onwards.

However, the colouring mutes absolutely everything, reducing the impact of the sequence dramatically. Perhaps not every superhero comic should have a bright shine to it, but this issue of Daredevil absolutely feels like it needed a pick-up. With everything muted (even the whites don’t have the gleam you’d see in, say, Moon Knight) there’s nothing to grab your immediate attention, and it’s easy to lose tracking on which panel to read at what time. I don’t have any of those pages to show you, though, so uh, just take my word on that one I guess. The preview pages are slick.

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Letterer Clayton Cowles picks up for the reader and offers a route through some of the more dull pages, but it shouldn’t have to be presented like that – with a more dynamic colouring style, like as seen once Daredevil appears on the pages at the end of the issue, the artwork would fit the style of the script in a more convincing manner.

As things are, a reasonably solid comic trades in style for a moody atmosphere which doesn’t quite feel right for what we’re being shown. I found Daredevil #8 to be a mostly fine comic which just feels dull, slowed down, and less effective than it could have been. It’s certainly not Sudzuka holding the issue back, as he sets up the pages in sterling fashion, with a series of brilliantly constructed moments scattered liberally throughout the pages. And whilst Soule’s narrative gambit does hold back on Matt Murdock’s personality, he does offer an interesting story. But the colouring choice really feels like it holds things back, here. I still think the issue was decent, but it loses a lot of razzle-dazzle in an Boardwalk Empire-style palette of dour dullness.

 

Writer: Charles Soule

Artist: Goran Sudzuka

Colourist: Matt Milla

Letterer: Clayton Cowles

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Review: The Punisher #1

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Declan Shalvey and Jordie Bellaire

Writer: Becky Cloonan, Artist: Steve Dillon, Colourist: Frank Martin, Letterer: Cory Petit

 

The Punisher returns for a new series at Marvel, following the largely positive response to the character’s debut in the Marvel Cinematic Universe this year. Interestingly enough, Marvel’s choice of creative team brings back an artist known most prominently for drawing The Punisher – with Garth Ennis and with Jason Aaron most notably – and a writer who hasn’t done any scripted work for Marvel before, as far as I can remember. It’s a pairing of the unknown and the known, which actually does make for a reliable first issue.

We have the familiarity of Steve Dillon’s artwork, which harkens straight back to his past work with the character and world, but the particular quirks of Cloonan, who is best known as an artist but has a surprising depth of range as writer also. Marvel are hoping to hook readers in with something they know and can trust, meaning it’s up to Cloonan to prove that she can offer something unexpected (or at the very least interesting and stylish) to go over the top of each new page of artwork.

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And you know, more than anything, this really feels like a Steve Dillon comic. Dillon’s had some impressive runs on some of the most noteworthy comics of the last few decades, including Preacher and, well, The Punisher – but the last few years haven’t felt so kind to him. The last I remember, he was doing one-shots for Marvel along with a run on Jason Aaron’s mostly-forgotten Incredible Hulk series of a few years back. That run wasn’t great, mainly because Dillon wasn’t the right person to draw a big green smash monster. Here, asked to draw scummy humans in dank offices once more, he shows that he’s still got a singular knack for constructing interaction.

Not just in the fight scene which comes in towards the end of the issue – although it is a striking sequence, filled with black humour as at several points he leads you straight through Frank’s thought process. On one page you see him impale someone through the chest with a metal pole, before Dillon pulls away to show an aerial view which places that pole directly in-line with a electricity box. Dillon puts the box at the top of the panel, so you see it first, before showing at the bottom of the panel that Punisher is having the exact same thought we have – and is already lining up to push the pole into the voltage, and electrocute the guy.

Little touches like that show off Dillon’s ability to be bleak and brilliant in one go, but you also get to see him demonstrate this in the conversational scenes. Of course, he’s collaborating with an artist on this one, so who knows how much is Dillon and how much is Cloonan. But he also seems to have more facial references nowadays than in, say, his time on Preacher. A few women are in this one, and they have different facial structure from one another, which I see as a positive development from some of his prior comics.

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One thing I really noticed this issue is that Dillon rarely leaves a blank background. Even when a panel simply shows someone standing in front of a wall, Dillon puts a cobweb in the corner, or a crack in the paintwork. He draws puddles of damp on the floor and dust and dirt. There’s something in each panel, in a way which reinforces the tone without distracting from the characters themselves.

Frank Martin’s colouring in the conversational scenes also helps to strengthen this feel of setting, using dull beiges and browns and greens to make it look like a paint chart. In contrast, the fight scene seems overly bright to me, the startling orange and yellow of the opening explosion carrying on to make the scene seem vibrant and bold – but in a way which makes the comic feel like it’s suddenly veered into being a Marvel superhero title, rather than some street-level crime series.

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It’s a little too much, backing up the ridiculous hyper-violence but also making it feel less weighty, and diluting the impact of the fight itself.

Because yes, Cloonan’s script is carefully ridiculous as it continues on, with the fight taking a weird left-turn partway through where one of the combatants suddenly starts taking drugs and turns into a Fury Road-esque insano. What was heartening though was how disposable Cloonan was willing to make these enemies. Whilst Frank has returned once more to being a barely-syllabic force of nature, Cloonan’s taking the tactic of giving his enemies crazed dialogue and mental quirks that helps give the series a bit of dazzle. About ten characters get introduced, and maybe four of them are still standing by the time the issue ends, which is a good way to get the attention in a debut issue.

It’s not what I was expecting from Cloonan in terms of style, but then again I doubt that the oblique poetry of The Mire would be perhaps the best fit for The Punisher and co. What we have is the start of a promising run – one which doesn’t offer much new to the concept of The Punisher, but does at least build on established ideas which we know work and entertain. The core of the series feels very similar to past runs with the character and conceit: the entertainment will likely come from the bizarre flourishes which the creative team will bring out around the edges, as decoration.

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!

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