Saturday, January 29, 2011

Avengers (Vol.3) #65-#70: "Red Zone"

**** (four of five stars) 

A mysterious red cloud spreads over Mount Rushmore and its surrounding areas, killing almost everyone it touches.  The Avengers, against the orders of the U.S. military on the scene, enter the "Red Zone" to determine its cause.  Inside, they discover that the cloud is a biological weapon developed under the direction of the U.S. Secretary of Defense.  Also, Jack of Hearts accidentally absorbs She-Hulk's radiation, causing her to revert to her Jennifer Walters persona.  She eventually resumes her She-Hulk form, but flees the scene in a rage.  Meanwhile, Iron Man and the Black Panther attempt to find ways to cure the victims of the cloud, but are stopped by the Secretary of Defense and later kidnapped by the U.S. military.  Henry Gyrich is revealed as leaking information on the Secretary to the Falcon, but the two discover too late that the Secretary is, in fact, the Red Skull.  Cap leaves the Red Zone to confront the Skull, but the Red Skull exposes him to the gas.  The Black Panther (soundly) beats the Red Skull, and Stark Enterprises and the Wakanda Government develop a cure.

The Good
1) I thought the pacing was great.  Johns dropped enough hints that the USG knew more than it was revealing, but it was still a surprise when it was revealed that the USG was actually behind the virus.  Then, just when you thought that the main focus of the rest of the arc was going to be stopping the virus and making sure the USG was held accountable, you get the revelation that it was all organized by the Secretary of Defense a.k.a. the ever-crazy Red Skull.  In the hands of a lesser writer, the Red Skull reveal might have been a little over the top, but Johns made it so creepily believable that it was sheer genius.

2) I would love to see Johns write the Red Skull more often.  Usually, writers make him appear just as a crazy super-villain obsessed with destroying Captain America, with little to differentiate him from all the other crazy super-villains obsessed with destroying Captain America.  Here, though, Johns really shows how evil he is:  racist, sexist, anti-Semitic, etc.  It really adds layers not only to the character but to the plot, given that his racism made him pursue creating a virus that would affect only non-whites, but his failure to understand that we’re all the same meant that even whites were also affected.  It’s a little '90s multi-culti, but it works.

3) "Don’t you dare salute that flag.”  Awesome.

4) I always enjoy the Black Panther, and I liked his role here in keeping Tony Stark honest.  After almost 30 years of reading Marvel comics, I’m still on the fence about how I feel about Tony Stark, so I always enjoy when someone actually calls him on his crap.  (Though, I was kind of surprised by the animosity the two of them had for one another.  I started collecting "Avengers" after Black Panther’s era so I’m not sure if Johns is drawing on animosity spawned during that time or if he’s creating it to inject some dramatic tension.  Either way, it works, both in terms of staying true to the personalities of the characters and advancing the plot.)

5) In general, I thought Johns did just an amazing job of portraying the emotions of the Avengers as they moved through the Red Zone.  The scene of Captain America collecting the dead soldiers’ dog tags was really poignant.  Also, I’d never seen the Vision talk before about his fears of being left alone given humanity’s mortality, and I liked how Johns used the carnage of the Red Zone to draw out those thoughts.  I even liked Warbird’s talk with the park ranger about the responsibilities of leadership, and I generally find Warbird to be a totally vacant character in the hands of most writers.  All in all, it was really, really well done.

The Bad
Not much bad here.  My only real quibbles are:

1) Pet Peeve #1I hate it when covers don't match the plot of the comic.  I don't know why, I just do.  It's why it's a pet peeve.  I mean, they don’t have to match-match (for example, the infamous cover of "New Mutants" #92 that reveals the surprise ending), but I’d at least like for the characters on the cover to be in the book.  Not so here.  Wasp appears on the cover of the first issue, but she doesn’t (as far as I can see) appear anywhere in the actual series.

2) I really never understood why Ant-Man and Jack of Hearts hated one another (see more on this subject over the next few posts).  Every time I saw the two characters appear during their entire run together, it annoyed me.  I felt like a decent amount of story-telling space got hijacked for squabbling between two fairly minor characters and said squabbling didn’t really do anything for their character development or to make them anything other than minor characters.

Friday, January 28, 2011

On Comics

It was, if I remember correctly, the return of Xorn and the revelation that he wasn't, in fact, Magneto (despite being revealed as such less than six months earlier) that made me finally cancel all my comics and decide life was too short to keep having new creative teams fuck with the characters I loved.  I mean, back in the day, comic books at least had the integrity to let dead characters stay dead for a few years before resurrecting them.  But, during the late 1990s and early 2000s, every time a new writer took over a series, everything changed.  The personalities of long-established characters morphed, people rose from the dead with hardly an explanation, and, when a new writer took up the reins a few issues later, the cycle began anew.  It was an insult to everyone who spent years getting to know and love these characters.  Part of the joy of comics is that, month after month, you build a sense of knowing a character.  You know what they would do in a given situation, how they should act.  I'm not one of those fanboys that expects my favorite characters to stay static, but I'd raise an eyebrow if Peter Parker suddenly started killing everyone or Wolverine felt that everyone deserved a trial by jury before being executed.  But, in the comics world of the late 1990s and early 2000s, everything went, and so did I.

Over the years, I collected the various X-Men MAJOR SUMMER EVENTS!  I was there for "Messiah Complex" and I was there when Gabriel was revealed as the third Summers brother.  But, it all mostly rang hollow, it was all mostly the type of stories I had seen before.  I didn't really have any relationship with the characters anymore.  Cyclops was kind of a dick while at the same time kind of a bore (a seriously difficult combination to inspire affection).  Wolverine was annoying as always.  It was all just...meh.  At no point did I feel the need to return after any of these MAJOR SUMMER EVENTS!

My return, when it came, came unexpectedly.  I heard that Superboy was back and the protagonist of "Adventure Comics."  I was always more of a Marvel guy, but I had collected "Superboy" in his first run and always enjoyed the character.  (Plus, you know, his adult-ish version is easy on the eyes.)  I picked up the first few issues and found myself hooked.  I mean, who can resist Geoff Johns AND Francis Manapul?  I dipped my toe deeper (much deeper) into the pool when I jumped on board the Dick-Grayson-as-Batman Express.  On a trip back to the States, I found a comic shop in Miami and bought up all the "Battle for the Cowl," "Batman R.I.P.," etc. issues I could.  I immediately added "Batman" and "Batman and Robin" to my pull lists.

Predictably, I'm now fully immersed in the deep section of the pool.  I'm getting about 30 titles a month (including special events and limited series) and I'm a pretty happy camper.  Since my return, I'm surprised by a few things:

1) I have to say that my favorite series, bar none, is "X-Factor."  Peter David is a genius.  DC should try to get him for "Legion" because I've never read a writer who can handle that many characters while making sure everyone has a defined personality that matches the personality they had at the hands of previous writers.  It's fun and it's funny and it's deep and it's great.  I read "X-Factor" back in the Val Cooper/Alex Summers days.  I felt ambivalent about Madrox then, but I feel that he's now one of comics' most compelling characters.

2) Right behind "X-Factor," I'd have to say, I'd put "Captain America."  Just like Dick taking up the mantle of the Bat, Bucky struggling to find his way to being a hero is one of the most interesting stories in comics.  The plot isn't perfect (I'm still not sure why Baron Zemo felt so offended that Bucky hadn't "earned" being Cap that he felt the need to torture him rather than, you know, kill him), but I look forward each month to seeing how Bucky grows.

3) The various Batman titles are great.  I fear, post-Return, that I'm going to have to cull a few, just because it's kind of getting crazy, with eight titles.  Surprisingly, I think it's going to be the Bruce Wayne books ("Batman, Inc." and "Batman: The Dark Knight") that go.

4) The Avengers line also kicks ass.  "New Avengers" is right good fun and, so long as Bendis doesn't get too overly complicated in the main "Avengers" series (***cough*** stay away from time travel ***cough***), I'm there to enjoy it.  I'm more or less ambivalent about "Secret Avengers," but I like Steve Rogers so I'm there.  "The Children's Crusade" is good (though getting kind of repetitive), and I'm basically reading it while I bide my time for the Young Avengers to get their own title.

5) The X-Men comics (except "New Mutants") just kind of...suck.  I basically read them because I feel I should, not because I find them compelling at all.  I like "Uncanny's" version of Cyclops, but I mostly want to smack him in "X-Men" and "X-Men Legacy."  I really can't stand Emma Frost, but I've lived with her long enough to deal, I guess.  But, I wonder, with limited space in my closet for comic books, at what point I'll abandon them again.  It's a shame, because, after "Amazing Spider-Man," the X-Men comics were always my touchstone.

Speaking of Spidey, we now arrive to the point of this blog.  As a result of missing a few years of comics, I've gone on a mad, mad back-issue buying spree to get myself up-to-speed on a lot of the comics I'm reading now.  I conceived the idea for this blog while reading about five years' worth of "Captain America" comics a few months ago.  I started taking notes while I was making my way through the late volume 3 "Avengers" issues and kept doing so as I began the undertaking of reading the 100+ comics that constitute the period from "One More Day" to now in Spidey's universe.  The purpose of this blog is to mix weekly or so reviews of comics I'm currently reading with more detailed reviews of back issues as I make my way through them.  Since I'm late to the party, I missed getting to discuss events like "One More Day" and "Avengers Disassembled" when they were happening and I figure someone out there, like me, is just getting to them and wishes s/he had someone with whom s/he could discuss them.  Or, maybe someone is reading this blog and wants to go back and re-read some of the issues to discuss.  Or maybe no one'll read it and it'll just be my way to have some fun.  At any rate, I'm going to try to post at least twice a week.  I've got a good store of posts, so hopefully that'll keep us good for a few months.  So, without further ado...onto the Avengers!