Comic Recommendations: October 21, 2015

Over at DC, Justice League #45 starts a new chapter of the “Darkseid War” with the huge implications of the events of issue #44 and Titan’s Hunt #1 continues DC’s odd post-Convergence attempt to reincorporate select portions of previous continuity into current continuity. Meanwhile, Marvel is continuing their second wave of new first issues that are hopefully going to stay around for more than 2-4 issues and define the current continuity with some pretty strong performances in The Amazing Spider-man #2 and Karnak #1.

UNSPOILED

  1. The Amazing Spider-man #2 (Marvel Comics), Unspoiled Edition

ASM 02 01

As some of the best Spider-man writers of the ages — Stan Lee, Brian Michael Bendis, and Dan Slott, among others — have proven time and time again, the best Peter Parker stories are not always the biggest epics. The Amazing Spider-man #2 is no exception. In this issue, Spider-man teams up with his personal bodyguard (What? Did you forget that Peter Parker is a CEO of a multinational corporation now?) Hobie Brown / The Prowler against the campy cosplay criminal organization known as Zodiac. Silly villains, amusing hench-people, and everyone’s favorite quipster make for an entertaining dialogue-driven romp.

2. Karnak #1 (Marvel Comics), Unspoiled Edition

Karnak 01 01

With the rise of The Inhumans both in the Marvel Cinematic Universe (Agents of SHIELD, proposed 2019 film) and in Marvel-616, we were bound to get more titles exploring the diaspora of Kree experimental superhumans. Karnak is a surprising choice for protagonist in an ongoing series, but under the creative control of Warren Ellis and Gerardo Zaffino the series is promising to become a slam dunk. The world of The Inhumans is much more vast than we might have thought a few years ago, and Karnak looks to be the most promising exploration of this relatively untouched goldmine of ideas.

SPOILED

  1. The Amazing Spider-man #2 (Marvel Comics), Spoiled Edition

I can think of issues of Dan Slott’s The Amazing Spider-man Superior Spider-man run that have made me cry, but to be honest I think his most memorable issue has been The Amazing Spider-man #690. In this more run-of-the-mill issue (every series has to have them), Spider-man’s infamous foe Dr. Connors / The Lizard is human in form but lizard in mind, a fact that he is trying to hide from Carlie Cooper, Spider-man, and the Horizon Labs staff who now see him as an ally. This is difficult because Curt Connors is missing an arm, but the Lizard’s brilliant healing power keeps regenerating the missing limb, so Connors must repeatedly hack off his own arm in order to maintain appearances. The story comes to a head when Detective Cooper notices that Dr. Connors is missing the wrong arm. I was cracking up and telling friends about this scene for months following its release, because to me there are fewer things more funny than an obsessive masterminded scheme that falls apart because you accidentally sawed off the wrong arm.

While The Amazing Spider-man #2 does not reach quite so high as the instant classic I just described, it certainly treads similar ground. It is hard to take Zodiac seriously. They look much more like Power Ranger villains than they do legitimate first rate arch-rivals, and yet Dan Slott likes to remind us that in the 1960s when Spider-man was created there is no difference.

ASM 02 05

“Make my monster GROW!!!!!”

Sometimes to treat characters like these seriously and lovingly, you have to depict them in all of their silliness and let the classic Spider-man wit become a voice for the readers. While Hobie didn’t pull any punches during this issue when it came to Peter Parker’s overabundance of quips, it was actually a bored, somewhat disenfranchised Zodiac goon who provided the greatest source of levity. As Spider-man and The Prowler infiltrate the undersea Aquarius base in a whale-camouflaged submarine vessel (I told you it was campy!), this lackey criticizes everything about the Zodiac operation from the fact that their patrol vessels actually draw attention to their secret base to the more fundamental issue that Aquarius, the Water Bearer, is actually an air sign and not a water sign.

ASM 02 04

“I know my astrology.”

Each time Spider-man uses one of the technologies invented by Parker Industries, we see another facet of Dan Slott’s comedy in his use of flashbacks. A good example would be when Spider-man uses one of his new and improved Spider-trackers and the reader is shown a flashback to a Parker Industries commercial promoting the same technology in use for finding missing keys, phones, and TV remotes.

ASM 02 02

Peter Parker, Capitalist

I would be careful not to dismiss this device as strictly for laughs. Dan Slott expertly introduces the multiple divisions of Parker Industries — consumer technologies, SHIELD law enforcement solutions, and gadgets with super secret Peter-Parker-eyes-only applications — and in so doing characterizes Peter Parker as unexpectedly shrewd. In the previous issue, we learned that a multinational corporation can have a heart; in this issue, we learned what Peter Parker can do when he’s thinking ahead of the game rather than responding to the newest threat. Knowing the luck of Peter Parker, this house of cards is likely to fall apart in an epic way, but it is fantastic seeing this adult Peter Parker with adult responsibilities.

I want to return to the flashback device one last time, because despite my love of the lighthearted nature of this issue there was something dead serious going on behind the scenes. The final flashback that Peter Parker experienced felt incredibly awkward. After several installations featuring comical scenes involving Parker’s technology, we get a dead serious memory of Spider-man leaving Silver Sable to die at the hands of Rhino in The Amazing Spider-man #687. I am of the opinion that the entire use of flashbacks was only included in this issue in order to lead up to this moment. While it felt like a strange meander in the flow of this issue, the issue’s epilogue justified the tangent. In this scene, Aleksei Sytsevich appears to have abandoned his life as Rhino. However, he is interrupted from drowning in his sorrows by the appearance of a man in a red suit who wants him to come back to action. Rhino, as always, will not be budged. However, the stranger sweetens the deal, revealing that Sytsevich’s dead wife Oksana is apparently still alive, and this monument of a man is moved.

ASM 02 07

From Beyond

At first I was kind of bored with this conclusion. The man in the red suit looked most like Matt Murdock in his maskless Daredevil costume from his most recent adventures on the West Coast, but the most likely suspect is Norman Osborn. The reason this doesn’t feel particularly exciting to me is because it feels like a not-so-well-disguised ploy to promote the upcoming Spider-man film featuring the Sinister Six. But that was just my first opinion. Thinking about the scene more, I thought of another possibility that would be much more fruitful, namely that the mysterious gentleman was, in fact, Mephisto.

Who do you think the man in the red suit is?

Who do you think the man in the red suit is?

As soon as Doctor Octopus hijacked Peter Parker’s body during the Superior Spider-man storyline, I had this half-baked idea that Dan Slott was slowly setting up a much bigger plot. What I imagined was that the mind-swapping and -warping was going to reveal a memory that was sacrificed during the “One More Day” storyline, the memory of the marriage of Peter Parker and Mary Jane Watson. I was, of course, wrong at the time, but I have good reason to believe that this reversal will come about in the near future, probably during this volume of The Amazing Spider-man. Perhaps the most lasting consequence of Otto Octavius’s tenure as Peter Parker / Spider-man is that his baby, Parker Industries, has forced Peter Parker to take on more adult responsibilities than he ever has before. This sets the stage perfectly for the adult responsibility associated with being a husband and a partner to Mary Jane Watson. There is further support in the Secret Wars Spider-man mini-series titled Amazing Spider-man: Renew Your Vows. While the current volume does not appear to share continuity with this mini-series, Dan Slott’s decision to depict Peter Parker as a husband and father broke open the concept of great responsibility, explored it for four issues, and then attempted to close the door on it. I say attempted because this is not a genie that you can just put back in the bottle; the responsibility of being a father is something that Dan Slott clearly wants to return to. “Renew Your Vows” was not even the first time Slott has referenced this concept this year. During Spider-verse, one of the key characters was Mayday Parker, the daughter of Peter and Mary Jane from Earth-982 (Marvel Comics 2). Finally, the appearance of Rhino’s deceased wife would suggest (perhaps as a red herring, but it suggests no less) that the man in the red suit has the power to make deals that involve resurrection. It is no stretch to think that any such character in a Spider-man comic might be Mephisto, the villain who saved Aunt May from doom.

While I am excited at the possibility of Peter Parker as a CEO of a multinational corporation who is married to Mary Jane and who may soon be expecting a daughter in Marvel-616, this leaves one likely and incredibly sad consequence: Aunt May, who has built a great second marriage and who has lived life to the fullest for the last few years, is going to die and this time it is for good. I might be wrong, but I don’t think I am.

2. Karnak #1 (Marvel Comics), Spoiled Edition

Karnak 01 06

“I know kung fu.”

Karnak is an example of both the best and worst that Marvel Comics has to offer. On the one hand, Warren Ellis and Jorge Zaffino immediately make it clear that there are unexplored portions of the richly developed Marvel Universe that they wish to focus on in this volume. In this sense, Karnak immediately reminds me of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction’s classic The Immortal Iron Fist. On the other hand, the inclusion of Agents Phil Coulson and Jemma Simmons into this tale of Inhumanity almost immediately discredit this book as propaganda meant to promote the more profitable Marvel Cinematic Universe.

Karnak 01 04

Did the inclusion of characters first introduced on Marvel’s Agents of SHIELD take you out of this issue?

As a reader, we exist in the tension that exists in-between, and though Ellis has been established over the years as a name you can trust, the uncertainty is further exacerbated by the fact that he is journeying from his wheelhouse of controlled story-telling (limited series) into the unfamiliar grounds of perpetual character development (ongoing series).

Ultimately, I was a strong supporter of this comic because of a couple of important factors, namely, that it is fresh and has a lot of promise. When you are reading a comic by a big name like Warren Ellis, you know that the author is going to have a lot more freedom to develop the characters and story than any up-and-coming author would. With the further addition of a non-central character, the sky is the limit. If you’re writing a series involving Wolverine, Captain America, or Thor, you are going to find yourself in a strange situation when the big shots at Marvel decide that Wolverine is going to be encased in adamantium and killed, Captain America is going to start looking his age and pass the torch on to Falcon, or Odinson is no longer chosen and Thor becomes a woman, but it wouldn’t shake the status quo if Marvel announced tomorrow that any of those things happened to Karnak. As such, I find myself excited that a name like Ellis is in charge of further developing the Inhuman biome.

Clearly, Karnak has some catching up to do when it comes to Black Sabbath lyrics, but he's learning.

Clearly, Karnak has some catching up to do when it comes to Black Sabbath lyrics, but he’s learning.

The main reason I am excited for Karnak is because I am enamored with Jorge Zaffino’s art style. While some of the ins and outs of close quarter conversation sometimes seem visually a little uninspired, when Zaffino is afforded a Stanley Kubrick-esque long shot on a scene the effect is just breathtaking.

Filling in The Inhuman map.

Filling in The Inhuman map.

The art is often simple and gritty, like a composite of Jeff Smith’s cartoonish work on Bone and the dark and gritty imagery Ben Templesmith’s 30 Days of Night. There is also a bit of homage in this series already to the pixilated coloring of early comic books and if I’m not mistaken the credit for that point of ingenuity goes to colorist Dan Brown (who I assume has nothing to do with The DaVinci Code. I think I was convinced, upon looking at the first panel of Karnak #1 (above), that I would go on to read Karnak #2 next month.

Before I sum up my feelings about Karnak, I want to point out a clever Easter Egg that Ellis planted in this issue. Writers at Marvel don’t pull any punches when they make fun of all of the acronyms involved with many of the bigger organizations within the universe like SHIELD and AIM and later SWORD. In this issue, Ellis introduces a splinter cell of AIM scientists dedicated to making life hard for The Inhumans titled IDIC (International Data Integration and Control). While it is certainly entertaining that yet another acronym has found its way into our Marvel espionage dictionary, learned science fiction fans will recognize the IDIC as the ultimate statement of Vulcan philosophy from the hit series Star Trek: “Infinite Diversity in Infinite Combinations.”

Inhumans vs. Vulcans?

Inhumans vs. Vulcans?

In the next couple of months, we will know for certain if Karnak was worth our attention as a comic reading community. It is my hope that the inclusion of Agents of SHIELD was just meant to be a kick-off so the community who knows Marvel from what they see on their television will get into this comic, because the further Karnak journeys from his tether to Coulson and Simmons, the more interesting his story becomes and the more vivid and exciting the art is to behold. That is not to say I want to see Karnak completely disconnected from the profane world. In fact, one of the most entertaining moments was the introduction where Karnak is guided by monks through the hallowed Tower of Wisdom only to find that he is needed to answer a ringing satellite phone. What I am saying is that Karnak needs some space to blossom into its own unique entity without its creative vision becoming too thoroughly diluted by elements that force you to think outside of the pages of the book. I think Ellis and Zaffino can deliver this, and I think that Karnak #1 serves as one heck of a promissory note, but ultimately this is an issue that only time will tell.

* * *

I am trying something different today for the conclusion, but I expect that it might become the new normal. Last week, my friend Zac, who had a hand to play in bringing me back into reading comics after a few years, pointed out that I missed out when I neither read nor reviewed I Hate Fairyland #1. Zac was right. I managed to catch up pretty quickly — which wasn’t hard because there is only one issue to catch up on — and by way of apology for not being on my toes about everything comics, I thought I would give you a little bit of a review here. No spoilers, though.

I Hate Fairyland 01 01

The premise of I Hate Fairyland is pretty simple. Rather than your usual lighthearted romp through fantasy with the occasional difficult decision like in Alice in Wonderland or The LabyrinthI Hate Fairyland reads much more like The Monkey’s Paw. The protagonist Gertrude lives a common life, playing in her room and parading around as a princess, but when the fantasy becomes reality she immediately wants nothing to do with it, fighting tooth and nail against getting sucked into Fairyland.

Does this look like someone who wants to enter a fantasy world?

Does this look like someone who wants to enter a fantasy world?

Thus the moment that most children would love to experience — the welcome to Fairyland — is turned on its head and becomes something of a dark comedy.

No place like home.

No place like home.

No worries. Gertrude need only find the key and she can be returned home. Just as soon as we find out how easy it ought to be for Gertrude to go back home, we flash forward 27 years and Gertrude is still stuck in Fairyland.

OH. NO.

OH. NO.

I Hate Fairyland is a complicated story and it is unclear exactly where it is going. Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this tale is the fact that either because of natural childish cruelty or some notion that murder in a dream is not actually a crime (after all, there are no bodies left over when you wake up), Gertrude transforms into something of a villain. She is the protagonist, yes, but the reader is just as often hoping that she can be stopped as wanting her to find her way home.

Skottie Young is a fantastic human being. I actually got to meet him at a convention a couple of years back and at that time I don’t know if anyone knew him for anything other than the graphic novelization of The Wonderful Wizard of Oz. Since then, he has become a common name at Marvel, and just about any comic that has an alternate art cover these days has Young’s signature on it. Young delivers a fantastic concept, the idea that maybe fantasy should remain fantasy and not become reality. If you look into any of the greats — The Neverending Story and Peter Pan come to mind — there is always some degree of danger and a feeling that the young hero just wants to go home, but Young turns the volume on this concept up to 11. Young is also fantastic on the anecdote level, as many of the scenes in this comic will prove. I especially liked the riddle scene with Gertrude and the Slug Lord. Though the concept and scene-by-scene execution is spot on, Young’s storytelling direction is not entirely clear by the end of the issue. My expectation: Things are going to fall apart in a very Coen Brothers kind of way, characters are going to have unexpected interchanges in the process, and readers are going to have a really fun time experiencing the whole thing.

Hit me up if I missed any fantastic comics this week. Otherwise, you’ll be hearing from me once I get through the October 28 releases.

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