Superhero & mainstream comics—late September 2011 

Superhero & mainstream comics—late September 2011 

In a month absolutely packed with character debuts over at DC, Brian Michael Bendis and Sara Pichelli pull the focus back to Marvel with their stunning introduction to Miles Morales. For the debut of the all-new Spider-Man, Bendis follows the same storytelling template that proved so successful when he debuted Ultimate Spider-Man 10 years ago. Perfectly paced and gorgeously illustrated, Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 (Marvel) is a masterful first issue, primarily focused on creating a believable world around Miles that is distinct from Peter Parker’s experience. After an opening sequence with Norman Osborn (a callback to the first scene of the first volume of Ultimate Spider-Man) and the quick introduction of Ultimate Prowler robbing an Oscorp Lab, the action moves to the streets of Brooklyn, where the Morales family is headed to a lottery for spots at a desirable charter school. 

Bendis’ dialogue may not always seem like the best fit for superheroes in costume, but it works great for people walking down the sidewalk, and there’s an immediate sense of comfort and love among these characters. Mrs. Morales tries to assure her son that the results of the lottery in no way reflect his character, projecting her own stress and worry on her unconcerned son and selling the importance of this lottery on Miles’ future. There’s a Steve McNiven-like realism to Pichelli’s art, and her characters are fantastic actors that clearly convey emotions with their faces and bodies. 

Bendis and Pichelli establish the high stakes of the situation, and the lottery scene, basically just a bunch of people sitting in a room waiting to hear names, has more suspense and tension in two pages than most of the books that came out this month. Miles doesn’t get much to say or do this issue, but it only takes a few panels for him to endear himself to the audience. After his name is called, Miles’ mother pulls him close in a tight embrace, and he stares out at the disappointed faces of the kids who won’t get to have his opportunity because of a number on a ball. With great luck, comes great responsibility.

In a clever move, Miles’ shady Uncle Aaron turns out to be the Prowler seen earlier, and his huge bag of cash, documents, and other loot includes a stowaway: a genetically engineered spider. When Miles delivers his good news to his uncle, the spider bites his hand, causing a much more violent reaction than Peter’s as Miles flies back and begins foaming at the mouth. When Miles’ father comes to take Miles home after he gets bitten, the bad blood between the brothers takes over. Spider-Man needs an Uncle Ben, and Aaron wants Miles to take advantage of his opportunity to have the life he and Miles’ father never had. Bendis is creating a rich history between these characters that begs to be explored further. Miles runs off, and when his father follows after him, Miles discovers the first of his new spider-powers: invisibility. Wait, that’s not one of Spider-Man’s powers. Well, it is now. All new, all different, this is the kind of story the Ultimate line needs to be telling, and, so far, Marvel’s multi-ethnic Spider-Man experiment is a total success… 


Mutants are being hunted by the government and thrown in camps, and the world has just learned that homo superior isn’t the next stage in evolution, but the product of bioengineering experiments conducted by the U.S. government. The Ultimate line rehaul has successfully given the titles a renewed sense of purpose, and Nick Spencer and Paco Medina’s Ultimate Comics X-Men #1 (Marvel) pits a cast of young mutants against a world that fears and hates them, but they’re not swearing to protect anyone but themselves. Spencer has a strong core cast, carrying on the work Brian Michael Bendis did with Kitty, Bobby, and Johnny in Ultimate Spider-Man. Karen Grant (née Jean Grey) and Quicksilver also appear in pursuit of their own agendas. With the usual X-Men ideological figureheads dead in the Ultimate universe, Karen takes on the Xavier role, cooperating with the government and tracking down new mutants. Meanwhile, Kitty Pryde has started to become the next Magneto. 

“This is the story of how I became the most feared and hated terrorist in the history of the United States,” Kitty says before heading out with Iceman and Human Torch to save an endangered Rogue. It’s the kind of cliffhanger line Spencer has become accustomed to dropping at the end of a first issue, effectively turning everything on its head. The start of the book fares less well, with a heavy-handed sequence in which a father shoots his mutant daughter with a shotgun, although the Magneto-like helmet he wears to psychically shield himself could portend an interesting plot development. (Could those W.W. initials be Warren Worthington?) Medina’s art is best suited for younger characters, and although his characters’ faces can sometimes blend together, he’s a strong storyteller with a vibrant style. His action is smooth, his characters expressive, and his familiarity with the X-Men universe makes him a natural choice for these characters. Some familiar faces show up in detention camps, which hopefully means Spencer will begin to expand the cast as Team Kitty and Team Karen build up their armies…


Also...

As the last round of Buffy and Angel books became more epic, character development was sidelined for plots that grew increasingly convoluted. With Buffy having eliminated magic on earth at the end of last “season,” Joss Whedon is taking a back-to-basics approach with Buffy The Vampire Slayer: Season Nine #1 and Angel And Faith #1 (Dark Horse), with the characters adjusting to lives of semi-normalcy. Whedon pens the first issue of the new Buffy series, which finds the Slayer throwing a party for all her friends and ex-lovers to show how totally fine she is with her new status quo. Fans of the show will know that Buffy and booze don’t mix, and the party is a spectacular disaster as Buffy throws herself at most of the men (and maybe some of the women). Whedon’s dialogue is still his greatest strength (though some moments almost lapse into parody of the now-familiar stylized Buffy-speak), and it’s nice to see Buffy without a purpose, struggling with the ennui of normal life like the rest of the world. Of course, there are multiple threats on the horizon, but this is what the series needed: to show these characters as regular human beings. 


Now an outcast after killing Giles at the end of last season, Angel has teamed up with the rebel slayer Faith to track down monsters using Giles’ old watcher journals. Angel and Faith tend to get introspective and soul-search-y when around each other, and while Angel struggles with his guilt over destroying everything precious in Giles’ life, Faith adjusts to the new role she inherited from her dead father figure. Faith is Angel’s watcher, guiding and motivating him to forgive himself for the evil he’s committed, and using him to track down and fight the remaining demon population. Christos Gage has a strong handle on the leads’ voices, using dual narration to get into their heads and show their different reactions to the same situations. Unlike Buffy artist Georges Jeanty, Rebekah Isaacs draws characters that actually look like the actors, not squishy caricatures. There’s a lot of detail in her pencils, but her figures never look stiff or posed, and the action is well-staged and easy to follow. Faced with vengeful ex-slayers, homicidal half-demons, and Angel’s crazy idea to resurrect Giles, the duo will have their share of problems, and this issue shows a lot of promise for their series… 

Created by Nikola Tesla, Atomic Robo is a wisecracking Nazi/vampire/dinosaur fighter and a member of science think tank Tesladyne Industries. Brian Clevinger and Scott Wegener’s delightful Atomic Robo & The Ghost of Station X #1 (Red 5) is the sixth miniseries starring their charming nuclear hero, following the character into space as he rescues five astronauts trapped in orbit. While Robo and the team at Tesladyne try to figure out a way to launch Robo into space, two scientists are transferred from their frigid Norway site to investigate the mysterious disappearance of an entire building in England. Clevinger’s quick, witty dialogue can occasionally get bogged down in techno-babble, but it’s clear that he’s put a lot of research in the script, and the contrast between science speak and office banter creates much of the book’s humor. Wegener’s art has the same attention to detail as the script, and his exaggerated, angular style keeps the mood light as the stakes get higher. Part Hellboy, part Indiana Jones, with a dash of Better Off Ted, Atomic Robo is a sci-fi action comedy that shows how an all-ages book can be exciting and fun without sacrificing sophistication…

Warren Ellis is a rare breed of comic-book writer, embracing (and occasionally abusing) decompression, but also capable of telling a completely satisfying single-issue story. Secret Avengers #16 (Marvel) is the start of a six-issue run teaming Ellis with a stable of Marvel’s strongest artists for a series of done-in-one stories starring Captain America and his covert team of superheroes. Combining the sheer, unbridled fun of Nextwave with the sophistication and emotional weight of Global Frequency, Ellis and artist Jamie McKelvie tell a thrilling story about four Avengers in an atomic Cadillac preventing an underground city from materializing on top of Cincinnati and killing everyone. While Moon Knight scouts from the skies, Captain America, Black Widow, and Beast take the Cadillac to track down the source of the Von Doom radiation their sensors picked up. The radiation is a byproduct of Victor Von Doom’s time machine, and the Avengers set out to destroy it before it can transport the entire city through time and space. The characters have that signature Ellis snark, and the dialogue is clever without going overboard. McKelvie has done great work on more down-to-earth stories, but this issue shows how well he can handle grand superhero action. It’s not easy to create a thrilling car chase in a comic book, but McKelvie’s art maintains a constant sense of movement that emphasizes the short amount of time the group has. His intense detail shows the brutality of the violence (Moon Knight’s truncheon does some incredible damage), and he has a keen architectural eye that gives the secret city a sleek, retro sci-fi design… 

The first issue of a Casanova series tends to be trippy and confusing as hell, and Casanova: Avaritia #1 (Icon) doesn’t disappoint. Casanova Quinn has been displaced from his home reality for more than three years now, working with a father that hates him, doing a job that is quite possibly killing him. Matt Fraction continues to experiment with the form, and original series artist Gabriel Bá returns to bring his psychedelic, frenetic visuals to the multi-layered script. Like the other Casanova series, beneath the dimension-hopping antics lies a story about family, as Casanova learns that his father is dying of cancer. With a dead sister and a dying father, Casanova feels isolated and secluded, and when he travels to another dimension to see his sister, he stumbles upon news that will change his life: the true identity of Newman Xeno, evil leader of W.A.S.T.E. Casanova first issues make more sense once the entire story has been completed, and while this promises to be as complex as previous volumes, the real star of this issue is Bá. His stylized art has as much personality as Fraction’s script: It’s sexy and violent with a wicked design sense and strong eye for composition. Previous volumes of the book were colored with a single specific shade, and while the move to Marvel has brought a full color palette, there’s still a predominantly red hue that establishes a visual unity… 

In case the title doesn’t make it clear, Rick Veitch and Gary Erskine’s The Big Lie #1 (Image) isn’t trying to tell a story about the 9/11 attacks with any sort of pathos or compassion. This is an illustrated essay laying out various conspiracy theories about the government’s knowledge of and role in the attacks, and the rough dialogue is simply there to help Veitch transition between claims. A scientist travels back in time to save her husband from dying in the World Trade Center, armed with an iPad filled with news footage and documented evidence, but her audience refuses to listen to her. There’s no good reason why the executives would think that Sandra’s been sent by Steven Spielberg as a practical joke, or for her husband to not recognize her; Veitch just needs to have an intensely stubborn group of characters for Sandra to preach to. There are certainly some intriguing arguments, and Veitch has done his research, but the story just doesn’t have any emotional weight.