Uncanny X-Men #1
The New Revolution
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Chris Bachalo
Inkers: Tim Townsend, Jaime Mendoza, Al Vey
Colorist: Chris Bachalo
Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna
20 pages, $3.99
This comic is shit.
OK, that was my original review of Uncanny X-Men #1– which I promptly sent to our usually unflappable column editor, Ian MacMillan. But my 16 character criticism promptly engendered this reply, “Dear Locusmortis, Four words is not a review!”… So I guess I better tell you why this comic is shit.
Beyond this turd’s obvious shitness, the second thought which struck me is the phrase, “You can’t teach an old dog new tricks.” Like the mangy old flea-bitten mongrel he is, Uncanny X-Men writer Brian Michael Bendis is lamely recycling some of his favourite moldy tricks in this new #1 comic. On the very first page, my heart sank when I saw one of Bendis’ pet characters– Maria Hill– striding toward me… So I half expected Luke Cage and Spider-Woman to pop up on the next page. (I’m guessing they’ll show in Issue #2— he can’t let them go for too long.) But no, instead of Luke & Jessica– I get Hill talking to some mysterious prisoners for six interminable pages.
On page 3, we got the first appearance of another of Bendis’ favourite tricks– the David Mamet inspired back and forth pitter-patter dialogue that always makes me want to punch my fucking fist through my computer screen. Here’s a brief example of what I’m talking about, to refresh your memory:
Jesus fucking wept, I’m going to mail Bendis 20 bucks so he can buy “The Big Book O’ Writing Comics”… Maybe then he can study some less irritating ways to write dialogue.
And I can assure you none of the characters in this book talk like themselves anymore. If you eliminate the word mutant from this comic, you could stick the dialogue into any random issue of New Avengers and you’d never know the difference. Since I had seen other reviewers (some on this very site) giving his other new comic, All New X-Men, praise– I went into this book thinking it might be at least vaguely tolerable… But Bendis must be putting all his effort into that other graphic extravaganza, because this thing I’m reviewing right here is the most lackluster hacked out garbage I’ve experienced this year… And that includes the radioactive train wreck Marvel calls Superior Spider-Man.
I could tell you about the plot, except fuck-all happened– and what did occur was dumb and illogical and totally out of character… So, you know, it was vintage Bendis.
Chris Bachalo can sometimes be a great artist. This is not one of those times. It also isn’t the first occasion where working on a Bendis comic sucks the life out of an artist, so I won’t lay the blame completely on the penciler. I can fully understand how dispiriting it must be to work on this drek. For the first 10 pages, Bachalo uses rigid multi-panel grids in an effort to squeeze in all of Bendis’ shitty dialogue– but then his mind seems to have rebelled and you can see him trying desperately to inject some dynamism into his layouts.
So what does Bachalo do to liven things up? He slants the panels by about 30 degrees for the rest of the pamphlet– so everything is at a diagonal viewpoint as you look at the page. It’s like he got so bored, he fell off his stool and knocked his drawing board (or the electronic equivalent) awry and couldn’t be bothered to get back up and draw the rest of the book from a chair… So he just drew the damn thing while laying on the floor. Sadly, this new “technique” doesn’t add much energy to the art and everything ends up looking annoyingly skewed.
There are three inkers listed on the credits page but, in truth, its hard to tell them apart– except the last two pages, which look particularly rushed and ugly. The colouring is by Bachalo too… And it looks like he uses it several times to cover-up some shortcuts in his penciling. There are a lot of weird orange and purple-hued backgrounds that seem to exist only to disguise a lack of detail in the middle 7 or 8 pages.
In closing, should you buy this book?
Only if you’re a masochist. If that’s the case, you could save $4 by repeatedly punching yourself in the face. – Locusmortis
Secret Avengers #1
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Luke Ross
Colorist: Matthew Wilson
Letterer: Clayton Cowles
20 pages, $3.99
Secret Avengers #1 is one of the better Marvel NOW! first issues I’ve checked out. The only real problem: It reads (at times) as if one of Brian Michael Bendis’ ghost writers– not Nick Spencer— wrote it.
Nick Spencer has the ability to write a very compelling, intelligent, serious superhero story. He proved this during the first six issues of his original Thunder Agents run. Some of that same talent can be found in this comic, but when he tries to be humorous or lighthearted, the results are wince-inducing… Primarily when the humor attempts to harken back to Bendis’ lame Avengers scripts. (Why any writer would want to go there is beyond me.)
Take, for example, when Hawkeye and Black Widow interview for jobs at SHIELD (positions neither Clint or Natasha seem too keen on accepting.) A very brief discussion about some scones Agent Coulson has left on the table is mixed in with this set-up. If there’s one subject I hope to never read about again, it’s the one about the Avengers and their seeming obsession with all foodstuffs. I’ve really had my fill of this idiocy. Later in the story, there’s some inane banter between Hawkeye and Nick Fury about James Bond films– smack in the middle of an action scene. Ah, yes, The Avengers do LOVE their pop culture references, don’t they? That’s another bit of Bendis’ Avengers I no longer need/want to ever see again… Especially since these trite quips and flat jokes ruin the dramatic flow of the comic. Spencer obviously intends these moments to be cute or funny, but they are simply annoying.
Ironically, when Spencer isn’t trying to ape Bendis the story is enjoyable and solid. I like how the narrative jumps back and forth in time within the confines of the story itself. Spencer does a great job in using this plot device to clever results. I also like how the title of the comic– Secret Avengers– is quite literal. SHIELD needs people like Black Widow and Hawkeye, but is not willing to share all of its secrets with the superhero team. SHIELD even devises a way to wipe their minds of a mission’s details by simply reciting a keyword.
Just how did Agent Coulson get these veteran Avengers to agree to having their memories wiped whenever SHIELD feels the need to do so? Well, that’s also a secret… One that’s kept from the reader– but NOT the team members:
This sort of humor works better with Spencer’s style of writing.
As for the rest of the comic, it’s mostly filled with action. Artist Luke Ross does a good job with all the activity and his sequential storytelling works well with the script… Even if his art style does seem to vary from time to time. There are panels that almost look as if Mike Deodato or Bryan Hitch drew them instead of Ross– which is kinda jarring. If this is on purpose, I have no idea what the style change signifies. (If any of you reading this review DO know why Ross drew some of the panels this way, please feel free to educate me in the comments.)
Overall, Secret Avengers #1 is a fun read– a lot better than the Avengers and New Avengers titles Marvel currently publish. It helps there aren’t many characters to keep track of right off the bat. I left curious to see how this title will play out– and if some secrets will be withheld from new team members. I don’t know how much mileage Spencer can get out of this concept, but I guess it will depend on how much creativity he decides to put into Secret Avengers. As I said before, he’s more than capable of writing a great, complex comic book with an intriguing story. – Jose Melendez
Powers Bureau #1
Powers That Be
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Michael Avon Oeming
Colorist: Nick Filardi
Letterer: Chris Eliopoulos
32 Pages, $3.99
First issues take me back to my childhood a little. Okay, they take me back a lot. At any rate, they remind me of a time when I was an eleven-year-old boy getting my comics via mail order. Mail order was the compromise my parents struck with me– since it was the only way I wouldn’t spend my lunch money on comics. I remember there being a check box on the Mile High Comics order form for “all first issues.” That box was so tantalizing I just had to check it. Even back in the 80s, there were a fair amount of Number 1s– mostly in the form of mini-series.
Second and third string characters that couldn’t bear the weight of their own monthly title would get four or six issue mini-runs. So there I was, sitting on the floor of my room every month– my comic books spread out before me in a semi-circle… And I would never hesitate to pick up those first issues to begin my reading binge. New characters, new worlds, new adventures– the potential was there for anything and I couldn’t wait to discover it.
I felt that way this week when I picked up Powers Bureau #1. I know nothing about this world or the characters in it… But it was clear from the beginning that even scumbags can have super powers here, and the government is struggling to deal with the problem.
Desperate for a solution, the FBI creates The Powers Bureau– in an attempt to manage the “Powers” and the threat they pose. This felt logical and organic, a credit to Bendis’ writing style. He crafts a compelling story (with only a few bumps)– while mixing backstory within flashbacks… Resulting in a fast-paced, somewhat satisfying read. Michael Avon Oeming’s art reminds me of the animated Batman and Superman TV shows. The strong jaw lines and excellent use of shadow make the book enjoyable on its own merits.
If there is a negative to be said, it’s that all the women’s voices sound like very cranky 20-something men. More than once I thought a character had suddenly transformed into a stereotypical angry lesbian or a very drunk frat boy. Surely Bendis can write tough, no-nonsense women without making them vulgar and crass. If he needs a good example of how to pull this off, I suggest watching an episode (or ten) of Castle. Castle’s mother, Detective Beckett, the coroner, his daughter… All of them are well-written women who take no crap off anyone– but never let loose like Coach Sue from Glee.
I plan on picking up a couple more issues to see if this comic lives up to its potential. – Tim Tash
Writer: Nick Spencer
Artist: Riley Rossmo
Colorist: Jean-Paul Csuka
Letterer: Kelly Tindall
22 pages, $3.50
The first reaction I had after I finished reading Bedlam #4 was, “What the fuck just happened?” After reading it a second and third time, that feeling has only slightly abated.
I selected this comic primarily because Riley Rossmo is the artist. I certainly didn’t pick it up because Nick Spencer is the writer… His star has definitely fallen far from the firmament these past two years. From the relative heights of DC’s Thunder Agents to the depths of the work-for-hire slurry that he’s shat out for Marvel recently… Spencer has experienced a spectacular fall from grace.
When it comes to the comics I review, I purposefully don’t read any preceding issues– so I am truly experiencing the feeling of picking up an unknown quantity and judging it with fresh eyes. This comic fails this test in a big way. It just isn’t accessible. I felt I was missing a large amount of backstory and context… And Spencer didn’t do anything to fill in the gaps. I understand a lot of writers don’t want to dump a heap of exposition into their stories (and Spencer certainly made sure this was a snappy, suspenseful read), but you can’t just throw new readers into the deep end and expect them to take it on faith that you will eventually reel them in.
After 22 pages, I still didn’t know half the characters’ names, let alone their functions within the context of the story– and it shouldn’t be up to me to have to wiki them. It’s the writer’s job to tell me the information I need, either via an introduction or spread through the tale somehow. It’s a pity, because I can tell there are elements of a decent story here: The opening scene of the priest being boiled/burnt alive in a bathtub is certainly an arresting one… As is the closing scene of (what seems to be) an angel walking into a hospital armed with several machine guns.
The art by Riley Rossmo is excellent. I love his fearless nature and willingness to experiment with form and technique. This is probably the most experimental art I’ve seen from him so far– and I can also see why it might not be to everyone’s taste. In this instance, Rossmo seems to be channeling Bill Sienkiewicz’s 90s work and Ashley Wood’s various IDW comics– with hints of Jasper Johns and the Russian Constructivist school of painting. His line work is often obfuscated with smudges and swirls of ink, as Rossmo uses different methods of shading to contribute to the feeling of terror and chaos throughout the story.
Rossmo is left to carry most of the storytelling burden here, mainly because Spencer is giving the reader so little. Colourist Jean-Paul Csuka also deserves a special mention, as his colours convey the story’s moods perfectly and complement the art tremendously.
I do not recommend Bedlam as a standalone read. Just wait till the trade comes out instead. – Locusmortis
A Lovely Sort of Death
Writer: Ed Brubaker
Artist: Sean Phillips
Colorist: Elizabeth Breitweiser
27 Pages, $2.99
I picked Fatale to review because I really like the idea that being a Femme Fatale is a curse… Something a person has no control over. Really no different from other things one can’t change about themselves– like skin complexion, height, hair color, etc… A curse that only inspires lust, cruelty, and jealousy. This intrigued me, so I picked up this flashback issue, even though I had serious doubts I would understand what was happening so far into the run. I figured it would be outside my comfort zone and I would hate it.
Yeah, I was really wrong. There was so much to like about this comic, I’m not sure where to begin. Has anyone else read Strange Tales of Suspense or am I just showing my age here? Sean Phillips’ art reminds me of those old stories… His clean lines carry a real-world weight to them.
When you start a story with a medieval witch burning, I hope you have the goods to back up your opening salvo. Brubaker does. He expertly drew me in, and I found the story both compelling and interesting. In a short 27 pages, I found myself liking these characters and caring about what happens to them. That type of emotional connection doesn’t come easy– especially in today’s comic books.
I agonized for a while whether this comic represented absolute perfection or if I could deduct stars for anything. Considering all the excellent elements inside, my decision was easy… Since I am already looking forward to the next issue.
– Tim Tash
Way of the Outsider
Writer: Ann Nocenti
Artist: Alex Sanchez
Colorist: Matt Yackey
Letterer: Taylor Esposito
20 pages, $2.99
Can anyone tell me what the hell is going on at DC and why their comics are so bad? If, like me, you’ve read any “comic book news” in the last few months– all signs point toward horrible editorial decisions being the main cause of this awfulness… But I think it goes beyond that.
There’s no denying DC’s New 52 did start extremely strong. But after 6 to 8 months, the bloom fell off the line… And the new comics quickly started to resemble decaying roses no one had bothered to bin. Flash forward to today– and things look even worse. Why? Well, it certainly didn’t help when DC tried to sell fans a “fresh” line of books, but then staffed them with creators who had no idea what “fresh” feels or reads like. I’m also still completely mystified why DC thought hiring 90s Marvel editor Bob Harras as its Editor in Chief was the right direction to go in. How could the guy who oversaw some of the worst comics ever produced be trusted to relaunch DC’s entire line? How did anyone think this was a good idea?
Fans who have been around awhile agree the majority of DC’s New 52 comics read like awful 90s retreads. And that’s exactly what anyone should have expected when DC hired a guy from that era as their EiC… Who then compounded the problem exponentially when he hired other writers AND editors from the same decade to shepherd DC’s “new” comics. I understand younger comic readers may think DC’s current output is “new” and “fresh”… But older fans recognize these comics for what they are– old and stale. And that’s a real problem in an industry primarily relying on older readers to buy a lot of books.
Which finally brings me to Katana #1. If you handed me this comic and told me it was written 15 years ago, I would totally believe you. This book is frustrating and, at times, a bit insulting. It’s as if writer Ann Nocenti read ONE chapter in a book about Japanese Culture and based her entire story on what she learned in that ONE chapter. Katana even speaks/thinks like an ancient soothsayer:
All the writing is this contrived and hokey. At the beginning at the story, Katana duels with a man named Coil. Since Katana is the hero of the book– it seems natural to automatically assume the person she’s fighting may be the bad guy (even if years of Bendis and Geoff Johns’ comics filled with heroes fighting heroes tried to prove otherwise.) But Nocenti seems to think readers won’t possibly understand this Hero vs Villain dynamic– even though it’s a staple as old as the comic medium itself. So, in order to drive home Coil is a bad guy– Nocenti puts these vile words in his mouth, “Women are weak from centuries of doubt and humiliation. It is not in a women’s blood to be the master of anything. Except perhaps her kitchen.”
Sigh. Yes, a woman writer actually resorts to misogynistic language to build character… But she’s not done yet! Coil also reminds Katana how she used to be a very loyal wife– who enjoyed her servitude to her husband. To make matters even more absurd, Coil’s dialogue is written in the exact same “ancient wise-man” tone as Katana’s… So when Mr. Bad Guy brings up the whole “women belong in the kitchen” meme that all the young boys love to use nowadays… It sounds out-of-place and reeks of trying to be relevant. (Please don’t give me some bullshit like, “That’s how Japanese society rolls…” because we all know that’s not true in the 21st Century.) Nocenti also throws in sad one-liners like, “Why so serious?” and “Epic Fail!” to equally disastrous results.
Not surprisingly, Katana– and all the people who fill her world– sound like the same awful stereotypes you could find in any bad 90s comics… Where this type of lazy writing and exposition was commonplace. If DC and Nocenti wanted to make Katana #1 relevant to today’s fan, why not give readers a modern take on a Japanese woman– not one better suited for the 1940s or 50s?
You don’t need to make a character sound foreign and outdated in order to point out they are a fish out of water. You can write a character who sounds quite modern, even though they are still bound by tradition. That would be interesting. Japanese Pop Culture is so ingrained in our society, it would be quite easy to write a modern Katana with only minimal effort put into some research. Instead, Nocenti seems to draw inspiration from Mr. Miyagi— and bits of Akira Kurosawa films that take place hundreds of years ago.
This first issue also does little to inform the reader of the comic’s mission statement. We get scant to no information as to why Katana is in San Francisco or how Coil knew of her presence there. Add in all the derivative dialog, some minor (if unintended) racism, a really dated writing style, some very inconsistent art (which is trying way too hard to be Travis Charest-esque– without any of the polish)… And DC publishes yet another hot mess of a comic.
So, seriously… How long do you think it’ll be before DC abandons their New 52 mistake and decides to morph back into their old, meatier, adult universe? They may not want to admit it, but where they’re headed already seems to have run its course. – Jose Melendez