A couple of comics from last week that deserve attention, before we get into this week’s selections:
Miracleman Book 4 #3
The Qys – the aliens whose technology was co-opted by Dr. Emil Gargunza to create Miracleman and the Miracleman Family – have now joined with that same Miracleman Family to help usher Earth into a new Golden Age. Now it’s 1993, and another messianic promise is coming true in the wake of Miracleman’s ascent to god of the world: the dead are coming back to life.
Sort of. The Qys have begun resurrecting certain notable individuals in the form of androids. Using whatever DNA they can find, these “restored” beings have all the memories of the originals, up to and including their moment of death. This issue is told from the perspective the sixth restored version of the 1960s pop artist Andy Warhol. In total there are eighteen of them. Eighteen perfect copies – although #6 feels alienated even from the other versions of himself.
Mors – the Qys scientist seemingly in charge of the restorations – tasks Andy #6 with watching over and engaging with the latest dead person to be brought back to life: Dr. Emil Gargunza himself, the mad scientists whose illegal and torturous experiments created Miracleman in the first place, as well as Kid Miracleman, who ended up going bad and nearly destroying the Earth.
Using Warhol as the point-of-view character for this story was a stroke of genius. The issue investigates the meaning of similarity and difference, of nature versus nurture, of just how far one would have to go to create a perfect world. Earth under Miracleman is practically Eden, but the art by Mark Buckingham and colours by D’Israeli make the place seem more like hell than heaven. Who’d have guessed it would be so dark in paradise? Interspersed with pages wherein Warhol’s iconic multicoloured silkscreen reproductions are pastiched, the issue is a meditation on the meaning of life when even a human being can be recreated after death any number of times, just like Warhol’s famous images.
Warhol #6 likes being a machine – and yet he doesn’t like himself much. He wonders why he’s still ugly and scarred when he could have been made perfect instead. In this new world without rich and poor, without money at all, he despairs that the clearest marker of success has been eradicated. “How do you know if you’re more successful than anyone else? How do you know if what you’re doing is working?”
In the end, it turns out that the Qys are attempting to recreate a version of Gargunza whose genius can be harnessed for good – the first two attempts were dramatic failures, but they keep on trying. How many copies of a person do you have to make before they are perfect? Warhol’s prints were never identical – each reproduction was based on the same template but the colours, the textures, were different , sometimes accidentally and sometimes deliberately, but infallably. The Qys and the Miracleman Family are still searching not just for goodness, but for perfection. And the cracks have begun to show.
Where to Start: Miracleman Book 1
Time Investment: 18 issues to catch up with before this one.
Recommended if you like this: Sandman: Preludes and Nocturnes
Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles #50
Issue #50 of the original Mirage TMNT series was the beginning of the epic, 13-part “City At War” storyline that permanently changed the direction of the franchise. IDW is looking to do something similar with their own take on the Turtles, which has now been going on for more than four years and has had its ups and downs but generally stays true to the spirit of the Turtles incarnations that have come before.
This giant-sized issue wants to make its mark too, but it also has plenty of hints back at previous big moments in TMNT history that it wants to make sure we know it knows about. It was big news when Donatello was “killed” by Bebop and Rocksteady a few issues ago – even if he ended up surviving in the robotic body of Metalhead. This unified a few different ideas from past Turtles stories – most obviously redoing the awful Image series where Donnie becomes a cyborg in a way that doesn’t feel blatantly disrespectful to the character. It also makes use of a thread that was dropped a long time ago with Prof. Honeycutt becoming the Fugutoid. Donnie gets his revenge in this issue, when he self-destructs the Metalhead body only to return in his own newly healed one. The comic even throws in a subtle shout-out to the TMNT Arcade Game, with Mike and Raph defeating Bebop and Rocksteady using the same tactic you need to use in that game: namely, getting them to run into each other at top speed. It was a slick little move.
#50 culminates with the final battle between Splinter and Shredder. In a callback to the first issue of the original series, but moreso to the first Turtles movie from 1990 (particularly a panel where Splinter picks up one of Michelangelo’s nunchucks that had been cast aside – in fact, here Splinter uses each other of the Turtles’ weapons to fight Shredder), the Turtles all take their swings at Shredder but Splinter gets the last swing. There’s even a reference to the confrontation between Donatello and Casey Jones that occurred in the original TMNT #48, here in a flashback scene that recasts the opponents as the young Hamato Yoshi and Oroku Saki sparring together atop a fallen tree across a river.
Ultimately, Splinter defeats Shredder with a masterful katana-swing that even Shredder can’t fathom. What’s fascinating here is the complete reversal of the event of Shredder’s death in Mirage TMNT Volume 1 #1 – in that issue, more than 30 years ago, the four Turtles, having together defeated Shredder and avenged their master’s master, give Saki a chance to retain a shred of honour: they give him the opportunity to commit seppuku, ritual suicide. In the original, Saki not only doesn’t take the honourable way out, but attempt to blow up the entire rooftop – himself and the Turtles – with a thermite grenade. Here – and this is so interesting – when Splinter, having dealt a fatal blow, offers Shredder the same choice. This time he takes it. He uses the blades of his own gauntlet to impale himself before Splinter uses Leonardo’s katana to behead him (itself a reference to Leonardo executing Shredder for the second and last time at the end of the incredible”Return to New York” storyline of the original series.
The issue concludes with Karai, Shredder’s second in command, offering leadership of the Foot Clan to Splinter – and Splinter accepting. Michelangelo, evidently the most squeamish of the Turtles in this version, takes off on his own, unable to countenance Splinter’s killing of Shredder.
The next chapters of this series promise to take things in a very different direction, which will for sure be interesting to watch. But anyway, did you guys see the Season 3 finale of the Ninja Turtles cartoon on Nickelodeon?
Lance Henrikson as Zog? Michael Dorn as Commander Mozar? David Tennant as Fugitoid? Holy crap, am I right?
Where to start: Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Volume 1: Change is Constant
Time Investment: 49 issues, obvs.
Recommended if you like this: TMNT Ultimate Collection Volume 3
Whew, that was a heavy week last week. Now this week:Make Mine More Marvel!
There are these new Avengers, see? Actually a whole bunch of them. First of all there’s the team known as Avengers Idea Mechanics (A.I.M., which used to be a terrorist organization but seems to have been taken over and repurposed by S.H.I.E.L.D.), composed of B or C-Level superheroes like Sunspot, Songbird, Wiccan, and Hulkling; a couple of heroes using recycled identities, i.e. White Tiger and Power Man; and but also the Unbeatable Squirrel Girl and her sidecick Tippy-Toe, who is an actual, regular squirrel! There’s also the original Hawkeye (though Sunspot tells him to his face that he would have preferred the other Hawkeye) as “the super-secret traitor on your team” who’s reporting back to S.H.I.E.L.D. HQ because evidently they don’t completely trust these guys.
Now, I’m not super familiar with what most of these characters have been up to lately – like I said, they’re not really the big guns – but Squirrel Girl I have been following (you’ll see a review of that title here soon enough, but spoiler alert: it’s really really good). Writer Al Ewing has done a good job of keeping Squirrel Girl in the character that Ryan North has given us for her during his run on that book. North (who didn’t write this comic but does write Squirrel Girl’s own title) didn’t invent Squirrel Girl (she’s been around since 1992, and she’s even been an Avenger before – albeit a Great Lakes Avenger), but he’s made her his own nonetheless; she is now definitively a Ryan North character and she’s definitely herself in this book: a little weird, super into sciencey stuff, and apt to try making friends with a villain rather than fighting, but more than capable of kicking the living crap out of them when necessary (she’s singlehandedly defeated Dr. Doom, Thanos, Fin Fang Foom, and most recently Galactus (by the way, I’m probably just going to copy and paste this whole paragraph next month when the new Squirrel Girl #1 comes out, so fair warning)).
This first issue sees the new team dispatched to Paris to see what’s up with a bunch of French people who have turned into crystal-headed monsters. Turns out who’s behind it is The Maker, a.k.a. Evil Reed Richards from the recently destroyed Ultimate Universe, who I guess survives the Secret Wars that aren’t even over yet in our time. It’s an interesting debut, but kind of…not really interesting enough. Your comics dollar needs to stretch further and further these days, you know? How many Avengers do you really need?
…the answer to which question is apparently “at least seven,” because The Uncanny Avengers have also reassembled. Originally created as the Avengers Unity Squad to show solidarity between humans and mutants, the group has been reconstituted to included members of the various species of superbeings on Earth – mutants, inhumans, and regular old “got powers in an industrial accident and/or space” people. The original Captain America, Steve Rogers (who is now an old guy thanks to his Super Soldier Serum running out – Nick Fury, Sr. (not appearing in this comic) is also similarly geriatric these days) has created this team for similar reasons, now that the Terrigen Cloud surrounding Earth is turning so many people into Inhumans these days. This team includes the Inhuman Synapse, former X-Men Rogue, former Sorcerer Supreme Doctor Voodoo, Former Fantastic Four guy Human Torch, former Spider-Man Spider-Man…and Deadpool. In fact Deadpool’s inclusion compels Spidey to quit the team (they never got along), and almost leads Rogue to the same thing. As she says to Steve Rogers at one point, echoing the sentiments of many comics readers (and, it wouldn’t surprise me to learn, writer of this issue Gerry Duggan too) “I’M SO SICK OF DEADPOOL!” The merc with a mouth is not just overexposed in our universe, but in the Marvel Universe as well. Old Cap assures Rogue that Deadpool has earned his trust, but also that Deadpool is “using his increased celebrity to help fund the Avengers Unity Squad,” going on to note, “Look, I’ve been down this road before with Logan.” Which in context probably means that Cap and Wolverine had an argument about whether or not Deadpool is trustworthy, but on a more meta level strongly seems to refer to the fact that once upon a time not so very long ago, Wolverine was the one plastered all over absolutely everything, was a member of practically every superhero team in the world, and whose image on a cover would guarantee sales. Now Deadpool is that guy and Wolverine is dead. Or there are two or three of him now, or he’s also an old guy now from another reality and also the future or all of the above or oh dear I’ve gone cross-eyed.
So anyway they go to Boston to fight some flowers that turn into weird demon cat things and also some giant bees? Sent to destroy humanity by some Darth Vader-looking guy called The Shredded Man? I don’t know. Like New Avengers, Uncanny Avengers certainly has its charms and and its hooks but if I were only going to buy one Avengers book…I don’t think it’ll be either of these. Neither of these are even the core Avengers title! And we haven’t even seen any of the new X-Men books yet!
Marvel. Listen. Marvel, I love you, but you’re bringing me down. You’re spreading yourself thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread. You need to consolidate. Ten or twenty thousand people each reading three Avengers books is not better than the (I’d guess) two hundred thousand people who are not buying any Avengers books because there are just too damn many of them and we don’t know who the hell most of these characters are or what’s going on. It’s the same problem they’re having in the NHL, if I can make that comparison (gimme a break, I’m Canadian): there are thirty teams currently, and likely to be at least two more in the next couple of years. That’s too many teams! There’s more talent on the ice than there’s ever been before, but instead of leveraging it they’re diluting the brand. Only the best of the best should be professional hockey players – with thirty teams you’ve got almost eight hundred players you need to fill all those rosters. Who can pay attention to all that? Who can even remember all those names? Imagine the level of play we’d be seeing if there were only twenty teams, composed of the top 500 players instead of thirty composed of the top 800. Similarly, while it’s definitely the case that some of the greatest writers and artists in comics history are working today, if you’ve got fifty or sixty different books, you’re probably intimidating away more potential readers than you’re catering to.
But that’s just, like, my opinion, man. I don’t know anything about comics economics. I’m just a guy who wants to read everything and can’t and gets frustrated and I don’t think I’m the only one.
Where to Start: Press “Start” to Start.
Recommended if you like this: Avengers Volume 1 by Brian Michael Bendis
Captain America: White #3
This, though, this is the kind of book that Marvel ought to be publishing.
The third issue in this series is about captivity. We open with Captain America, Bucky Barnes, and Nick Fury and his Howling Commandos behind enemy lines, in occupied France, taken prisoner by a tankful of Nazis. In Captain America’s voiceover he describes the Nazis as “like nothing anybody had seen before. I guess that’s why we needed the super-soldier program. A new kind of hero to fight a new kind of enemy.” Overtop of this, the Nazi commander discloses his surprise that Captain America even really exists: “There are many in the High Command who think you’re nothing more than a propaganda tool used to sell war bonds…and comic books.”
Which, of course, in the real world, was at least partly true. As I’ve mentioned before, there’s a real tension between Captain America in his original place and time, and Captain America today. He really is a man out of time, and he can be hard to relate to because of that. Rather than avoiding that issue, writer Jeph Loeb is taking it on headfirst – in this case almost literally, because in a panel where Cap, deprived of his iconic shield, headbutts the Nazi commander in the chest, the caption reads: “I couldn’t wait to sign up to fight them.”
That’s a very alien attitude today. Particularly in the midst of the ongoing wars of the Twenty-First Century and the attitudes of many people toward them. I’m sure that some people might be itching to join up with the military to fight the declared enemies of America and its Allies, but it’s not exactly an attitude that will win you a lot of friends in polite company or, in all likelihood, one that you’d be comfortable expressing to comics readers who, let’s face it, are mostly more liberal than conservative. Steve Rogers, remember, was captive in the prison of his body, a 98-pound weakling who was rejected by the military three times as unfit for service – yet to serve was the one thing he wanted most of all. Captain America is the kind of good guy who wants to fight against evil – who not only believes in good and evil but who isn’t just reactively standing up for the status quo.
When the tables turn and the Nazis are defeated and captured by Cap and the Americans, Nick Fury just wants to throw them off a cliff. Cap, though, isn’t that kind of hero either. He ties them to a tree and steals their uniforms, so that the team can infiltrate the country undetected. When the Americans run into their contact in France, at first she and her team mistake them for Nazis and attacks.Once it’s all sorted out, though, she only barely warms to them: “There are many of us in France who do not relish the idea of the Americans as our saviors,” she says. “Particularly one who is so brazenly dressed up in your flag.”
The issue rolls up the contrast between contemporary and historical ideas of warfare and American warfare in particular, while at the same time complicating it even further: when Captain America asks their French contact if she happened to come across the Nazi officers from whom the Americans took the uniforms, the ones that he left tied to a tree, she says yes.
“So…they’re now your prisoners…?” he asks.
“No,” she responds. “We threw them off the cliffs.”
Captain America is outraged, but the Frenchwoman reminds him that “those men…were Nazi bastards. Responsible for the raping and killing of more French people than you know.”
Even the Captain America who was so eager to sign up to kill Nazis was reluctant to kill them in what he considered cold blood once they’d already been neutralized and captured. But not everyone – even purported allies – has the same humanitarian sense that he does. Particularly this Frenchwoman, who, after all, were under the control of the Germans at this time. For all our historical distance, as difficult as it may be for us to understand the patriotism and fervor for battle that Captain America represents, we also have to remember that he has a strict code of honour – one that may not even have been appropriate back then, let alone right now. Principles of any kind are rare today. No wonder Captain America feels so out of place here.
Where to start: Captain America: White #1
Time investment: Just two issues before this one. Get on it.
Recommended if you like this: Jeph Loeb & Tim Sale: Yellow, Blue, and Gray
Sex Criminals #13
Sex Criminals is a book about sex, and about sexy people having sex. But not everything about sex is about sex. (How’s that for keyword stuffing?) For a while now, the creators of Sex Criminals have been interested in bringing an asexual character into the book but haven’t had the opportunity. This issue is where they found it.
Basically it’s a first-person coming-of-age story like many others, except it’s narrated by a girl discovering her asexuality instead of her sexuality; which is nice, because it’s a perspective that we don’t get very often anywhere in culture. With the exception of, like, Sheldon from Big Bang Theory I can’t think of a single example of an asexual character – but with Sheldon, of course, his asexuality is treated as part of how weird he is. Characteristically, while Sex Criminals makes lots and lots of jokes about sex and how weird it is, it doesn’t treat the weirdos with condescension. The main idea behind the book is there is no normal, and it does a good job of treating this character with respect. Growing up she thinks there must be something wrong with her, she’s virgin-shamed, she’s accused of being frigid, and all that fun stuff. In adulthood, she discovers – as not everybody does – that sex just is not her thing. Her thing, it turns out, is BASE jumping.
Which is where the metaphysics of Sex Criminals gets more complicated. Until now, everyone in this book with sex powers has them triggered by orgasm. This character, Alix, is revealed as one of the sex-powered time-stoppers too by the end – but her time-stopping isn’t triggered by sex at all, which gives us a whole new perspective on what these powered people have going on in the first place.
So it’s sensitive, well-written and well-illustrated (as always), but it’s not especially funny and nothing much happens except that we’re introduced to this new character, Alix. And she’s an interesting character, for sure. She’s maybe a bad guy and she can speak weird cum-angel language. But we’ll have to wait until next issue to see what she actually, you know, does, if anything.
Where to start: Sex Criminals Volume 1: One Weird Trick
Time investment: twelve issues before this one.
Recommended if you like this: Howard the Duck Volume 0: What the Duck?