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Superhero & mainstream comics – November 2011 

The Jean Grey School For Higher Learning: “The best there is at what we do.” The clever twist on Wolverine’s catchphrase shows what a difference a “we” makes; by reopening the Westchester school, Wolverine is taking the X-Men back to its roots as a makeshift family for outsiders and rejects. With this summer’s Schism miniseries, Jason Aaron proved himself one of the best X-writers of the past decade, but that was just a warm-up for the unbridled fun and excitement that is Wolverine And The X-Men #1 (Marvel). 

Teaming with veteran X-Men artist Chris Bachalo, Aaron is bringing the “merry” back to Marvel’s mutants, and despite the danger around every corner, the book never loses its quirky sense of humor.

It’s the first day of school, and Headmaster Logan has to deal with an infestation of interdimensional gremlins, bratty teenagers, an attack from the new Hellfire Club, and worst of all, two state inspectors that hold the fate of the institute in their hands. It’s a dense story but it moves quickly, and Aaron adds more ideas and characters with every page, creating a healthy stable of subplots and relationships for the series to expand on later. The only weak point of Aaron’s script is an exposition-heavy page where Kade Kilgore recounts the events of Schism in a successful attempt to rile up Wolverine, slowing down the issue’s momentum for a brief moment before its explosive conclusion.

As headmistress, Kitty Pryde serves as Wolverine’s liaison to the outside world and the tour guide for the first issue, doing most of the talking while trying to hold back an increasingly frustrated Wolverine. Aaron’s cast is a collection of fan-favorites from nearly every era of the X-Men, including Doop of the Milligan/Allred X-Force as student registrar, and seeing previous students in teaching positions creates a real sense of growth and evolution for these characters. The brief glimpses into classrooms are like X-Men comic strips, telling a joke per page while also catching up with characters that haven’t been in the spotlight recently. 

Bachalo’s art has become increasingly chaotic with each successive project, but he dials back on this title, bringing greater clarity without sacrificing energy. Bachalo’s firm understanding of facial expressions and body language makes his characters great actors, and his cartoonish, exaggerated style works with Aaron’s script to heighten the book’s humor. The architecture of the new institute is colonial by way of Apple, and Bachalo fills the building with character, with each new part of the tour revealing surprising details about the facility. After this first issue (and the hilarious class brochure printed in the back), who wouldn’t want to enroll?  

Any Brian Azzarello and Eduardo Risso collaboration exists in the shadow of their classic 100 Bullets, and while Spaceman #1 (Vertigo) doesn’t meet the standard set by their epic crime series, the team’s creative synergy remains as strong as ever. Described as “science hell,” Spaceman paints a bleak, grimy portrait of a future where collapsing environmental conditions have led to drastic social and economic change. For the dialogue, Azzarello has developed a future slang that incorporates the truncated language of Twitter and text messaging into everyday conversation. The intent is clear, showing how language has degraded along with everything else in the world, but its effect is questionable, mostly serving to distract from the action at hand.  

Genetically engineered by NASA to survive the journey to Mars, the brutish Orson is a man without a purpose, family, or friend after the space program’s collapse. He dreams of the red planet as he wanders the world in drug-induced haze, sailing through toxic waters in search of scrap to sell for his next hit. Despite the dialogue, Azzarello crafts a strong story about a man betrayed by his country, in search of a meaningful life. Orson’s fantasies of Mars offer a sharp contrast to his reality, and when he rescues the kidnapped daughter of a Brangelina-like celebrity couple, he has the opportunity to become someone that makes a difference.  

The difficult dialogue means Eduardo Risso has even more pressure to make the story clear in his artwork, and he’s more than up to the task. Intricately detailed and specifically minimalist, Risso’s art creates a fully realized world that balances technological glamour with shitty everything else. His characters are incredibly expressive, particularly their eyes. After taking a drop of some “primo Chem,” Orson turns out to the reader with a look of contentment that brings previously unseen softness to the character. When he finds the child Tara, there’s intensity, almost sultriness, in her eyes that spells trouble ahead. At $1 for the first issue, Spaceman is worth the price for Risso’s artwork, and despite the stumbling block of Spaceman’s dialogue, it’s worth remembering that Azzarello’s creator-owned work tends to pay off in the end. 

Following the end of Fear Itself, Hulk and Bruce Banner have become two separate entities; Hulk lives underground as the hunter-gatherer for a tribe of Moloids, and Bruce Banner has become Dr. Moreau, experimenting on the animals of a remote island to find a way to reawaken the beast within. Jason Aaron has made Bruce Banner the villain in The Incredible Hulk #1-2 (Marvel), revealing the scientist’s dependence on his monstrous alter ego, like a junkie in desperate search of an unattainable drug. As Banner descends into madness, Hulk adjusts to his new freedom, learning to accept a life of peace and love after only knowing rage and hate. Aaron uses narration to get into Hulk and Banner’s heads and fill readers in on the time that has passed since the separation, and he gracefully intertwines exposition with character development. After being invited by the Moloids’ leader to celebrate the feast he has brought them, Hulk contemplates, “Hulk knows how to smash. Not how to dream.” Aaron’s Hulk is introspective bordering on poetic, and the characterization isn’t far from DC’s current version of Frankenstein. Fitting, considering Bruce Banner’s new role as mad scientist.

Teaming with Aaron on art duties is famed Marvel artist Marc Silvestri. Well, Silvestri and however many other pencillers, pencil assistants, finishers, and inkers Marvel may need to get the series out on time. Five artists work on the first issue, and the second boasts a whopping 11. It would probably help if Silvestri didn’t put crosshatching on everything, because those tiny lines take a lot of time. Silvestri’s recent ankle injury casts further doubts on the timeliness of future Incredible Hulk issues, and the artistic inconsistency breaks Aaron’s swift pacing with artistic shifts. The transition from Silvestri to Billy Tan is barely noticeable (Tan was a protégé of Silvestri’s at Top Cow studios), but the rushed Whilce Portacio’s pages that end the second issue take a significant dip in quality. Aaron is building up to a clash between Hulk and Banner, and it would be a shame if artistic inconsistency prevents his story from reaching its full potential.

Marvel likes to release books like Point One (Marvel) after their big events end: collections of short stories teasing upcoming titles and hyping the comics that will inevitably lead into the next crossover. Not all that different from sitting through a string of movie trailers before the main feature, these teasers whet the appetite but don’t quite satisfy it. Teaming the company’s most popular writers and artists, this book boasts a line-up that includes Jeph Loeb, Brian Michael Bendis, Ed McGuinness, and Bryan Hitch, but high-profile doesn’t necessarily translate to high quality. Loeb and Bendis’ stories are the weakest of the bunch, showing quick scenes that tease a looming threat but contain no actual character hook. The framing sequence reteams Ed Brubaker with his Catwoman collaborator Javier Pulido for a story of two men breaking into the Watcher’s fortress, and despite the lack of substance, Pulido does great work creating trippy visuals to go with Brubaker’s sci-fi script. 

The stronger stories go for more than just set-up, and offer some insight into the minds of the spotlighted characters. Chris Yost and Ryan Stegman’s Scarlet Spider segment provides a fitting epilogue to Peter Parker-clone Kaine’s pre-“Spider Island” life, and Matt Fraction’s Dr. Strange story shows how magic and medicine have become one for Stephen, while also planting seeds for the new Defenders series. The best teaser comes from Fred Van Lente and Salvador Larroca, focusing on new characters Coldmoon and Dragonfire, twins kept separate for most of their lives, now united against the malevolent Taiji Corporation. It’s one of the few stories with a beginning, middle, and end, and Van Lente’s dual narration creates a strong image of both characters in a short amount of time. 

Lee Bermejo is a gifted artist, but his first foray into writing, Batman: Noel (DC), starts with a dubious concept that completely falls apart in the execution. Casting Bruce Wayne in the role of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bermejo attempts to psychoanalyze the Dark Knight, but the over-the-top characterization and heavy-handed script become tiresome as the story continues. Like many of the DC relaunch titles, Noel falls into the trap of relying on narration to tell the story rather than showing it through action and dialogue, as Joker’s henchman Bob tells his son Tim about Scrooge’s story, but also the story of his encounter with Batman. 

The narration doesn’t make much logical sense, and ends up forcing the Christmas Carol parallels rather than letting them rise organically from the actual events. It’s entirely possible that Bermejo turned to narration because of the weakness of his dialogue, especially for Batman, who gets groan-worthy lines like, “Consider yourself lucky that you make a better piece of live bait than jailbait.” As weak as the story may be, Bermejo turns in some gorgeous artwork, even if the first six pages of the book are splash pages of the Gotham skyline with narration plastered on top. The many dialogue-free splash pages give the book a storybook quality at times, and while this entire story could easily be told in a 22-page comic, it’s best viewed as a spotlight for Bermejo’s rich artwork, not his writing. 


The first comic book by stand-up comic and G4 comic reviewer Blair Butler, Heart #1 (Image) features buff men beating each other into submission, but there are no costumes in sight. Delving into the hyper-masculine world of mixed martial arts fighting, Heart follows the journey of Oren from disgruntled office temp to cage fighter, a simple premise that’s elevated by the emphasis on Oren’s emotional development as he bulks up. Butler knows how to write a first issue, and she hits all the journalistic Ws to give the book a strong sense of place and character. Like fellow Image debut The Strange Talent Of Luther Strode, Butler turns to the classic wish-fulfillment scenario of a wimpy guy turned muscle man, but Heart is on the opposite end of the spectrum from Strode, tackling the subject from a realistic, subtle angle. There’s plenty of action in the book, but these aren’t typical comic book fights; there are no dynamic poses here, and Oren’s flashiest move almost costs him a fight. Despite the confined space and static fighting positions, artist Kevin Mellon maintains a sense of tension and movement, but he’s also a clear emotional storyteller. He matches the realism of Butler’s script, showing the strain MMA training has on Oren, but also the strength and pride that come from winning. 

Five years after the AIDS vaccine, humanity’s sexual preferences have expanded to include plants, vegetables, and crystals in Our Love Is Real (Image), Sam Humphries and Steven Sanders’ “sci-fi/OMG/WTF” one-shot about eroticism in a 2000 A.D.-inspired future. In a world where all sexual taboos have been eliminated, separate factions continue to believe that their views are superior, resulting in vegisexual riots and jewelry-store robberies that are prison breaks for enslaved minerals. Humphries introduces a string of captivating ideas, but his ambitious story needs more space to develop. The issue has a rushed pace that prevents the satire from reaching its full potential, and the characters make hasty decisions that don’t ring true. The core relationship between Jok, a cop in a relationship with his dog, and Brin, a transgendered activist that bonds with crystals, moves too quickly, and the characters’ emotions come across as forced and insincere. They say they love each other, but their love doesn’t feel real.