Review: The Fix #2

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A few years back, at I think the second-ever Image Expo, the main story afterwards was how Image had attracted so many of Marvel and DC’s top writers and artists, where they would be making new comics without mandates or restraint. Gillen, McKelvie and Wilson would take their pop-influenced contemporo-action into The Wicked and The Divine; Scott Snyder and Jock would indulge their passion for horror with Wytches, and so on and so on. We were seeing people do work that referenced their well-read and much-seen work at larger publishers, but on their own terms.

That’s what you can’t help but keep in mind throughout reading The Fix. From Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber, this one draws an immediate parallel to The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, their series detailing the exploits and failed long-cons of some of Spidey’s D-List enemies. Here, again, we have people with no moral compass, who will betray everyone in order to get ahead – only this time at Image, rather than Marvel.

It’s another extension of an existing brand, but I found it to be a really different reading experience to some of the other franchise-to-Image transitions of the last couple of years. With the editor out the way and a group of new characters to play around with, the sense of danger immediately drops away from the comic – the formula which worked so well with a group of company-owned characters fizzles down when you take off the restraints. I enjoyed The Fix well enough, but it certainly feels like a weaker comic when you’d think it should be stronger.

It should probably be noted that, yeah, it’s not especially fair to draw comparisons between two different comics as the main note in a review – but that’s how the book’s been marketed, and it’s easily the most notable aspect of the series thus far. The two main characters in The Fix, whose names I don’t recall, are corrupt police officers who are looking to cover a debt they owe to an affable maniac who plays bluegrass covers of R. Kelly songs and then garottes people with his guitar strings. Their attempts to find a perfect score form the concept of the series, but the reality is a series of loosely connected vignettes building the characters and their reckless lack of morality.

But as it appears at the moment, there’s no fixed depth to that moral descent. Nobody follows a code, so there’s nobody pointing out that what the characters are doing is wrong. Everybody is implicit in the world of The Fix, which removes the feeling of danger from the comic. When reading, I found that a lot of the jokes were predictable because the structure of the comic only allows things to go in one direction. Each time the characters face a choice, I know they’ll pick the coward’s route. In this issue, for example, a long set-up is offered for one of their co-workers, who is the epitome of the hard-working hero.

He does charity work, is a devoted husband, brings doughnuts in for lunch. So the obvious route is for the protagonists to wreck his life and send him to jail. It’s obvious from the get-go that this is where they’re going, because there’s nothing to stop them doing so. But it’s also obvious that The Fix, with its highly cynical narration boxes, is also going to push further, and sure enough the character also proves ultimately to be hiding deeper secrets which make it fine for him to be arrested.

Everything turns for the worst, and it’s jarringly predictable. When combined with the fact that there are no characters who effectively act as condemnation for the actions of our leads? It makes for a surprisingly dull overall read. Likewise, the scene I mentioned above, with the man they owe a debt to? It almost reads as shorthand. He has already been characterised as somebody who is pleasant-acting and seems dull, almost, in his normalcy – but is actually a deranged murderer, and the second issue’s check-in only serves to re-tick the boxes we’re already seen.

He murders somebody for no real reason, he gets away with it, and it has no lasting effect. Compare that to the previous series, The Superior Foes of Spider-Man. In that book you have a similar looming presence over the heads of the team, in the form of well-known Spider-Man villains like Tombstone and Chameleon. They perform a similar role to the mob boss of The Fix, but in their case the editorial handcuffs surrounding them actually offers benefit to the comic. They can kill, and we know they can – but Marvel’s editorial guides mean we know they can’t overstep particular limits.

There’s a structure in that, a sense of discipline. It’s also set in a superhero universe, so we already know there’s a core of “good vs evil” in the coding of the comic. The characters like Boomerang, Beetle, Shocker etc who we’re following are low-level villains like the leads of The Fix, but they can’t just do whatever they want. They have a place in an established pecking order within the comic – and outside the comic too. Their decades-long history plays into everything we see them do, as these background characters attempt to worm their way past known murderers and mob bosses in order to make a living robbing banks.

We also know that they have to survive – so the basis of their book became “how do they get out of this?”. In The Fix, the characters are fresh and have only had forty pages of history, total, so far. And in their forty pages they’ve so far gotten away with everything, so there’s no sense of danger for their current situation. They don’t have the forces of the universe conspiring against them like, say, Shocker does. Shocker’s never going to win. He’s Shocker! Sucking is just what he does. The leads of The Fix aren’t underdogs – they’re just mean-spirited people who will drop all morale pretence if it’s to their benefit.

It’s not a story so much as it is a series of sketches, therefore, with the outcome pre-determined. At this point you feel you can tell exactly where each subsequent issue is going to go, and the only decision at the end is whether they get away with their score, or whether they get shot. Because unlike the Marvel characters, these two are completely disposable. Again, it removes the stakes somewhat. You can make a long-running Marvel character completely awful, because at the end of the day the creative team have to put all their toys back in the sandbox.

With The Fix, there’s no sense of that. We can’t connect to the leads because they’re definitively bad people. They don’t seem to be in particular trouble, as they spend all their time mucking around and elaborately ruining other people’s lives. And at the end of the day, Nick Spencer and Steve Lieber can always just kill them if they want. It makes for a fascinating series, where each new vignette tries to bring the characters to a new moral low – but the feeling I came away with was “okay, but why does it matter?” They could commit absolute atrocities by the time the series finishes, but it still doesn’t mean anything for me as a reader.

With The Superior Foes of Spider-Man, I knew that the characters had to be extricated from their situation, because a year down the line Dan Slott will probably need to use some of them in the main Spider-Man book, and he’ll want them relatively unharmed/unchanged from their ‘classic’ behaviour. That adds a level of difficulty to the series which The Fix doesn’t experience itself. It’s fine enough as a series; and I’m glad to see an Image book which isn’t just another one-word astronaut dystopia; but it’s certainly a case where the creative team’s attempts to one-up their past success actually detract from the comic they’re making.

And I still can’t remember the names of any of the characters.

 

The Fix #2

Writer: Nick Spencer

Artist: Steve Lieber

Colorist: Ryan Hill

Letterer/Designer: Nic J. Shaw

Publisher: Image Comics

Review: Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6

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DC seem to be up for collaborations: following previous projects which have teamed up Green Lantern with Star Trek and Batman ’66 with The Green Hornet, the most recent cross-publisher foray has seen them ally with IDW for a series I’m legitimately surprised never happened before. Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles has been a six-issue miniseries which plays into the silliness of both concepts whilst mining their shared and mirrored aspects for empathy and pathos. Having only read bits and pieces of past issues, this was my first proper chunk of story as a reader – and what worked most here was the way in which Batman adapted into the TMNT mythos.

It’s long been considered that Batman is one of those characters who can shift into almost any kind of story. He’s traded quips with Hellboy, been involved in street-level vigilantism and cosmic-level classics, and the core of the character typically manages to feel appropriate and correct to his personality. There’s something about Batman which gives him the ability to shift without losing his own sense of identity – which is actually a trait which plays into many of his stories, within the comics, as well as beyond.

Most of Batman’s life is spent dealing with people who want to see if he can change. He’s obviously got The Joker, who wants to take Batman onto his own level – but he also has people like Poison Ivy, who wants him to agree with her cause; Mr Freeze, who wants Batman to understand him; and characters like Nightwing and Tim Drake who want him to relent a little and embrace his humanity. Wherever he goes, people want to see Batman change and empathise with them, morally or intellectually – but the thing is that he can never admit to any shift in his behaviour. He is ‘The Batman’, and his mantle can’t be dropped for fear that any impact he has will be lost in a moment.

That’s why I think the Robins have been such an instrumental part of the character over the years, as more than the other villains or allies, they’ve been able to see Batman shift his approach in subtle ways. Each of them has brought new things out of his process which make him more interesting and subtle than his persona, and that balance of mythic visual with reality is why readers like the character.

I say all this because the one thing which strikes me about Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles is that the turtles approach Batman in the same way the Robins do: and arguably the greatest success of the comic is that they humanise the character just like Dick, Tom, Jason and Damian all have. If you squint really hard, you could even argue there’s a direct mirror between each of the four male Robins and the four turtles, although I’ll leave you to make up your mind over how that works out.

This final issue was easy to jump onto: essentially Batman is facing off against all his villains at Arkham Asylum, who have all been turned into talking animals – because, after all, that TMNT influence is the prevailing one in the story here. Ra’s Al Ghul and Shredder are commanding the scene, which is a smart combination for your main villains, whilst the Turtles are trying to work out whether they have time to save Batman or not. Hence a fight scene with last-minute appearances from the quartet (and Splinter) in which the villains are beaten, the day is saved, and everybody is happy.

Simple enough, but the real appeal of the issue is in the way Batman once again merges into a different franchise so simply and effectively. Take the opening splash page, for example, where he and Damian are being held in the arms of Bane – who has been turned into a talking elephant. Usually a page like this would indicate you’re reading a bad Batman comic, because this clearly rips you out the established tone of the Gotham we know, and takes five steps too far into ridiculous.

Those five steps are where the turtles are at home, though, and their subsequent appearance a few pages later (and further, when they appear on the scene of battle) tips you back into reassurance: this isn’t a weird Batman story, but instead a standard Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles story. His taciturn, sardonic approach to the mad events of the storyline provide a solid foundation from which the turtles can wreak havoc with the standard conventions of a Batman story. Once again Batman is asked to change by outside forces, but for once his refusal means he wins over their mutual respect.

The turtles – especially Raphael, who is typically the one who in-comic tends to act the most like Batman – bring their own brand of strange into the story, yet they admire and appreciate all Batman does in the face of it. It’s not just a story where Batman proves himself once more to be a singular force for a particular brand of justice, but a story where the turtles themselves show their own quality and longevity as characters. At the end of the issue, they have not only accepted that Batman is who he is, but also offer him a show of solidarity and family should he ever need it.

So just to reiterate, there: we have a comic where they all fight Batman’s rogue’s galleries, all of whom have been turned into ridiculous and yet played-straight animals – but then the end manages to nail an emotional beat which really shouldn’t have worked at all. James Tynion IV lets the high-concept of TMNT overwhelm the crossover, but doesn’t forget that the most important part of their franchise is their heart and family. Even as everything is off-kilter and ridiculous, the core similarity in the franchises means he has a through-line with which he can develop and mature both sets of characters.

For the turtles, it means showing their trust to a new ally. Despite being four talking turtles in a different dimension to their own, they are never the outsider in this comic: that’s Batman’s role. And once more, their choice to accept Batman for who he is makes the characters feel emotive, and entertaining. Over the course of the issue we see their sense of heart, as they give Batman resolve without asking him to change what makes him who he wants to be.

As response, Batman changes. On the last page, he changes his mind about one of his longest-held traditions, and you get to feel, as a reader, that the comic has developed him. It’s bizarre that it was a cross-franchise story that managed to tell an affecting story about Batman and his glacial development as a human, but there you go. The issue is a very simple, but rather effective story – and coming at it almost as a one-shot, it makes me want to read more of this sort of thing going forward. It’s helped deepen both the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Batman for me.

Short version: The adaptive qualities of the Batman franchise meet the overpowering choices of the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Franchise, and the result is a storyline which works nicely without sacrificing what makes either of the two concepts work. TMNT bring their terrific sense of spirit to Gotham, and Batman leaves the story with a trace of that spirit still in him. Happy endings all round.

 

Batman/Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #6

Writer: James Tynion IV

Penciller: Freddie E. Williams II

Colourist: Jeremy Colwell

Letterer: Tom Napolitano

Publisher: DC/IDW

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.

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.

201509

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.

201507

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.

201505

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.

201504

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.

201503

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.

201502

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!

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