I think about a world to come where the books were found by the golden ones, written in pain, written in awe by a puzzled man who questioned, "What are we here for?" All the strangers came today and it looks as though they're here to stay.

-David Bowie "Oh! You Pretty Things"

Tuesday, March 5, 2013

Justice League of America's Vibe #1

Comic writer Geoff Johns has an uncanny knack for taking over entire universes. He now commands the helm of the DC universe, which has shrunken by about fifty dimensions in the last few years, but which still comes with great responsibility. But he can see the forest for the trees. If his recent introduction of Simon Baz as the most recent earth Lantern in the monthly series Green Lantern didn't convince you of that fact, then his re-introduction of lesser known here Vibe in Justice League of America's Vibe #1 ought to bring the point home.

Vibe's origin brings many current political issues to the forefront. He is from Detroit, which is the only large city in America to do so poorly that the state has to take over the city government with an emergency manager. This is also the site of a catastrophic event, the invasion of Darkseid from another dimension, a terrifying moment in the DC universe that affects its characters in much the same way that September 11 affected us. The new DC universe, at its inception, has lost its innocense, as has Cisco Ramon, the boy who will one day be called Vibe. An inter-dimensional port claims the life of his older brother. The same act of violence gives Cisco a strange power that keeps him from being detected by cameras. In this first issue, we immediately understand who Cisco Ramon is, what motivates him, and we have a sense of what his future holds in store.

Not even Marvel's Brian Michael Bendis is capable of delivering something this emotional in his first issue. Johns has the advantage of having written the entire backdrop upon which Vibe's story plays out, but that doesn't necessarily make this kind of work easy. Any of the recently canceled DC titles could have fit into the events of the Darkseid invasion and delivered stories that touch the readers who read them, and yet many did not. But Johns is not just serious. It wouldn't feel as real without his brand of comedy. For example, when Cisco is asked to join a team that prevents further incursions from Darkseid and their beasts, he rightly notes the irony that the government wishes to make a border policeman out of a Latino.

In the end, I am skeptical about this series, but only for one reason. Johns has committed himself to the Justice League, and we know this because he has left Green Lantern behind in order to develop stories just like these. But will Johns continue to write Vibe after the first few arcs? Certainly, if the title is taken over by Tomasi, or another writer who works well with Johns, that could be really fun, but ultimately I want Johns to develop this character for more than just a year. I will stick with Justice League of America's Vibe for at least as long as Geoff Johns writes it. May that window last forever.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

George Saunders - Tenth of December: Stories

George Saunders is what my professors in the writing department would call a "rockstar writer." While rockstar musicians are likely to wear tight pants and sing falsetto, Saunders achieved rockstar status by writing genre-bending stories that break many, if not all, of the rules that students are taught regarding English grammar and composition. Reading Tenth of December: Stories, I realized that Saunders is the future that I was trained by Ander Monson at the GVSU writing department to be a part of. Saunders pushes the envelope in terms of style, content and format.

If you reflect on literary history, stream of consciousness is nothing new. It became popular and edgy in the first half of the twentieth century. Now that it is the first half of the twenty-first century, however, a writer needs to innovate in order to keep this style of writing fresh. Many have simply retired back into simpler, more staight-forward narratives, but Saunders understands that stream of consciousness evolves just as human language and interaction evolves. As such, stories like "Victory Lap" and "Tenth of December" go into the minds of children who are at once in both a world of fantasy and in the world of texts, blogs, and short attention span. Altered states of consciousness, be they drug- or war-induced, make the stream equally convoluted in stories like "Escape from Spiderhead," "Home," and "My Chivalric Fiasco." Asides are represented by parenthesies, questionable or excited statements are represented with question or exclamation marks in parentheses, and such verbal irregularities such as people who make their statements sound like questions are simply represented by a question mark at the end of a statement. The result of these methods is that each character sounds like somebody you might already know.

Mixing literary fiction, speculative/science fiction, lists, memos, and journal writing, Saunders proves in Tenth of December that he has become a sort of superman of literature. Of particular interest was his ability to tell a creepy story in the form of a message from an employer to employees with the intent of motivating the employees to do their job with more joy in the story "Exhortation." This same story is a fantastic example of the moral content of Saunders' stories. We don't know exactly what these employees are doing in Room 6, but it certainly doesn't sound very humane.

Many are comparing the moral component of Saunders' stories to that of the great Mark Twain. Just as Twain writes about a young boy who goes against conventional wisdom in liberating a slave in Huckleberry Finn, Saunders makes us value every-day suburban life over the irksome issue of human trafficking in "The Semplica Girl Diaries." In what feels like a nod to A Clockwork Orange, Saunders deals with drug trials and behavioral conditioning in "Escape from Spiderhead." No modern sin is overlooked, not child abuse ("Puppy"), nor experimentation on humans ("Escape From Spiderhead"), nor possible torture ("Exhortation"), nor slavery ("Semplica Girl Diaries"), nor even PTSD.

Tenth of December: Stories is likely to become a classic. The benefit of reading it now rather than when it is featured in literature courses in the future is that you can be one of the people who made it a classic instead of merely being one of those people who responded to the taste of more risky readers. This work by Saunders will be on your bookshelf eventually. Why not pick up a first edition?

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Friday, March 1, 2013

Uncanny X-Men #1

Scott Summers has become more than a man, more than a mutant, more than even an X-Man: he has become a cultural icon. Though the official opinion of the world is that Cyclops is a terrorist and a murderer, possibly the most dangerous person to ever walk the Earth, the chat in the cubicles and on the construction sites is that he is a hero. His face is like that of Che Guevara, plastered on the shirts of many, and on the hearts of many more. Some may say that Summers ended Xavier's dream when he ended Xavier, but with rock star artist Chris Bachalo and the hardest working writer in comics Brian Michael Bendis at the helm of Uncanny X-Men, some may say that Xavier's dream never looked so good.

There are a few things that you should maybe know about this book that you won't find out by reading the story. This is the third volume of the Uncanny X-Men. The first volume was canceled in order to make the battle between Cyclops and Wolverine truly consequential. At the time it was the longest running continuous comic published by either Marvel or DC. I still carry a fire of anger at this decision which decided to separate future writers from the legacies of Stan Lee, Chris Clairmont, and Grant Morrison, to name a few of the most influential Uncanny writers. For a handful of issues, Kieron Gillen took over with a grand scheme that involved the dastardly schemes of Mister Sinister. His plan was brilliant, but equal parts poor delivery and shrinking readership lead us to this Uncanny X-Men.

Now, Marvel tries to publish comics in pairs. Jonathan Hickman is writing both Avengers and New Avengers, Matt Fraction is writing FF and Fantastic Four, and now Brian Michael Bendis is writing both All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men. With Bendis and Aaron on the key X-Books, this is certain to be a great year for the X-Men. And it ought to be: this year is the fiftieth anniversary of the X-Men, after all.

The thing that people ought to be raving about regarding Uncanny X-Men is Chris Bachalo's art. I am always astounded at how Bachalo makes pages look bigger and more full than any other artist save maybe Jim Lee or Greg Capullo. This is the kind of artist that you just throw on a Marvel project and make it succeed. You could call him Marvel's real life Hulk option. Wolverine and the X-Men was one of the few to make the cut in Marvel Now, after all, and much of that had to do with the historical collaboration of Bachalo and Aaron. The Uncanny X-Men are decked out in all-new, all-different costumes, which make them look like they're approaching Age of Apocalypse, part two (which wouldn't be all that inaccurate, seeing that the death of Xavier caused the first AoA). While Cyclops is the mutant icon, I actually enjoy Magneto's all-white costume the best.

The unfortunate down side of Uncanny X-Men #1 is that it is missing a lot of the things that Bendis usually succeeds at, namely, strong dialogue and strong emotional content. This is unfortunate, because if it weren't for this book Bachalo could still be working Wolverine and the X-Men right now. On the bright side, I've found that Bendis is much weaker at first issues than he is at any other. I didn't think I was going to like All-New X-Men after the first issue, but it has already delivered one of the best, most touching X-Stories in their long history. With two of the best-developed Marvel characters (Cyclops and Magneto) at the center of one of the best all-time writers for character development (Brian Michael Bendis), I expect that I won't see many disappointing issues in the future.

Uncanny X-Men #1 is great, but it is not perfect yet. My prediction: you're going to need a box of Kleenex for what comes next. Bendis knows shortcuts to your heart that many writers don't. Never underestimate this man.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret History of the Foot Clan #2

The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Shredder find themselves after the same thing, the man who knows the "secret history of the foot clan," the one who has the ability to grant the Shredder secret power that could allow him to defeat his ancient enemies once and for all and have the most powerful ninja force on the planet at the tips of his fingers (or perhaps the tips of his toes, because they're called the Foot Clan, not the Hand Clan).

Much like in the first issue, the art is great when we're looking at people and not so great when we're looking at turtle-people, the narrative is strong, and the climax is interesting. It is hard to say much past that without either giving away the plot of the mini-series or being entirely redundant. Instead, I'd like to do something that I don't normally do, a digression on the character of Alopex.

Alopex is a mutant fox who was introduced in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Micro-Series issue about Raphael's solo mission. As far as I know, she is an entirely new character, not present in the original comics, the Archie comics, or the cartoon. She's popped up here and there, but it is not entirely clear why she was introduced. Prior to the introduction of Alopex, a mutant alley cat named Old Hob was brought into the origin story of the Turtles and Splinter. It is pretty clear what his future is for the series, but Alopex remains a mystery.

Meanwhile, in the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles: The Secret History of the Foot Clan, we learn the story of an ancient witch who made contact with a magical force from beyond the stars and sold that power to the ninja clan. This figure is surrounded with much of the same mystery as Alopex. My thought is that Alopex, who keeps popping her head up in this mini-series despite not being pivotal to the plot in any way, is the reincarnated witch. If Splinter can be the reincarnated Hamato Yoshi and the Turtles his children returned from the dead, then there is certainly room for more rebirths. I'm sure Splinter wishes he could see his own wife again, but maybe not until after the threat of the Shredder is defeated. Why would Alopex be a reincarnated figure and not others like Old Hob or Slash? I can't answer that question, but I can mention that Alopex had latent ninja fighting abilities that neither of the other mutants possessed.

Originally, I mentioned that this second issue is exactly the same as the first issue in terms of quality, but after this tangential discussion I think this one might be better. After all, one quality of great art is that you think about it for some time afterwards.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.

Young Avengers #1

Young Avengers is new territory for this reader of Marvel Comics. Characters like Wiccan, Hulkling, Marvel Boy, and Miss America are entirely unfamiliar while Kid Loki and the second Hawkeye (Kate Bishop) are only remotely familiar because I've read Matt Fraction's The Mighty Thor and Hawkeye. The storytelling method is something I'm familiar with: several young characters are introduced (re-introduced) with the expectation that despite their differences they will learn to work together. These characters simply look and sound a lot like your favorite Avengers, Captain America, Thor, Hulk, you know their names by now, only these characters are younger.

Despite a lack of zeal for this new title, I found myself drawn into the stories of some of the characters. Though Hulkling and Wiccan sometimes feel like a forced back-up gay relationship (because we all know that Northstar and Kyle Jinadu are the news-breaking first gay marriage in comic books), I found myself drawn to these two. There is something to be said for Wiccan's attempts to reunite Hulkling with his Skrull mother, and I'll admit that this story alone is my reason for deciding to keep reading this title. While I'm loosely interested in many of the characters and who exactly they are, I find very little to care about in the story of the team's central figure, Kid Loki.

Writer Kieron Gillen has gathered some all-star status over the last few years. It was he who developed Kid Loki into the character we all know and (sometimes) love in Journey Into Mystery. He also wrote the Uncanny X-Men during its short stint between the conclusion of Marvel's longest running title (such a bad decision) and the beginning of the Marvel Now Bendis run (such a good decision). Friends of mine said that Gillen was writing the definitive X-Book, one in which Mister Sinister is realized as the character behind all those years of great stories since 1963. The book fizzled, partially because everything at Marvel has to fit into the big event calendar and certainly partially because Gillen's vision wasn't as good as Jason Aaron's vision for Wolverine and the X-Men, one of the few X-books not to get a reboot during Marvel Now. As for Kid Loki, I found him much more interesting from Thor's perspective in Fraction's The Mighty Thor than in Gillen's Journey Into Mystery.

Seeing Gillen as the writer for Young Avengers is something of a turn off. He has the power to pull some great artists to his side, and Michael S. Norton is no exception. His work reminds me of Fraction's partner on Hawkeye and The Immortal Iron Fist, David Aja. Unfortunately, the title of this first issue "Style > Substance" reflects Gillen's work much too accurately. The title pages look great, like Venture Bros. meets Hawkeye, and the characters all look fantastic. There is love and sexuality and all the other things young people are concerned with, but it feels a little too superficial.

I mentioned earlier that the Skrull situation (coupled with the art, of course, which is great) will keep me reading for another issue, but come issue two Gillen has to bring something more substantial. His ideas for the development of the Uncanny X-Men with Mister Sinister were brilliant, but they were also poorly delivered. Without any such great plans for Young Avengers, will Gillen be able to deliver some really good content from here on out? I'm not very optimistic, but I'm willing to give him one more try.

I've syndicated this review at Examiner. You can read it here. If you click on it a few times, spend some time there, or navigate to a new page, I might get some money. But I'm only asking that of you if you liked reading the article here and want to show your appreciation.