Howdy, sex pardners! How were your respective holidays? Did you get that copy of David Bowie’s Erotic Labyrinth you wanted? Good!
Because of the holidays, we’re getting a late start to the week, but we hope you’ll forgive us when you get down to reading. First up, we look at last week and make pronouncements about which comics we enjoyed the most! Just like old times, except now Brandon is missing an arm.
MY DOG ANNIHILUS, STARRING JOHNNY STORM
I think we need to all step back and appreciate the full scale of Jonathan Hickman‘s success with Fantastic Four and FF. Besides the fact that his entire run on those two series has been incredible and without a single weak issue, he is one of several writers recently who has been shattering the idea that superhero deaths don’t mean anything. Not only did he and Steve Epting make the “Three” story arc featuring Johnny Storm’s death both surprising and emotionally powerful (Read: I cried like a baby) despite the story’s outcome being part of a giant advance marketing push, and that they turned that into a sustained rise in sales against a lot of people’s predictions, but that they just brought Johnny Storm back in a way that was equally organic and powerful (Read: I cried twice).
Fantastic Four #601 is full of perfectly realized scenes and images that don’t shortchange Johnny’s return after the incredible (not to mention quadruple-length) #600. Peter picking up Johnny in his arms and giving him a bear hug. Sue crying. Ben crying. Reed’s subdued relief and happiness. Johnny’s flaming “4” in the sky. Each member of the team got a fantastic moment that showcased their characters perfectly, and it was an exceptional example of brevity in storytelling.
We’ll get more of Johnny’s return later, but in this issue, things needed to be brief because while Johnny is a big part of the story, there’s also that part where the Kree are preparing to destroy the Earth as a culmination of two years of Hickman‘s long form storytelling. The Human Torch is back and he is immediately put to good use saving the planet. That’s the bigest success of the last two years of storytelling: it’s returned the Fantastic Four to their rightful status as one of the premiere superhero teams in the world. It’s a story about adventure! And exploration! And family! And heroes! It’s a big book full of big ideas and every month it moves and excites me. No other comic has earned the Fire in the Sky Award more. (J)
STEP BY STEP, DAY BY DAY
It takes balls to create a story with 54 different collaborators. Forget the living nightmare that has to be keeping those deadlines on track – think about the logistics of keeping 54 different people on the same track, more or less at the same time. It’s mind boggling. If a project with that many creators even gets done it should be considered a victory… but hell, if it’s good??! It should be considered a god damned miracle on ice.
(You can probably tell the direction I’m taking this…)
Nelson was a book that shouldn’t have worked. The idea, as you might have guessed, was to take 54 creators, and tell a complete story. Each collaborator would focus their attention on one year in Nelson’s life. Each story would take place over the course of a single day, and be no longer than 5 pages long (or so). In the end, what would emerge would be a life well lived, with victories and hardships, and whatever. And damn if they didn’t accomplish what they set out to do.
Nelson is a stunning achievement, no matter which way you cut it. Right from the first page (provided by Paul Grist), where the clock starts with the mere picture of a hotel. Buckets of story contained in a single picture, presented without comment. And that’s the first god damn page. The story rockets through the years, and is made coherent through the efforts of the book’s editors, and a fairly strict adherence to the old improv rule of saying “yes”.
If you see this book in a store, buy it. If you don’t, order it. You’ll be very glad you did.(B)
I can’t lie, it was very difficult to make even the symbolic distinction between Awards and The Best this week. Batman was great. Batman Incorporated: Leviathan Strikes was great. Birds of Prey was great. Comics that didn’t start with a B were great, too. But one comic tickled my particular fancy just a little bit more:
Know who that guy on the cover of a Wolverine and… comic is? It’s okay if you don’t.
That in itself is part of the big miracle that is Wolverine and the X-Men #3. Superhero comics are not a genre that often tolerates or rewards not knowing who a character is, especially one that is such a big part of an issue that they’re on the cover. Jason Aaron and Chris Bachalo subvert that convention in a few big ways:
The first is Bachalo‘s frankly incredible cover that conveys everything you need to know about who Quentin Quire, the character on the cover, is:
- He’s a student. Given that he’s at a school for mutants, that makes him a mutant.
- He dislikes Wolverine (his professor and headmaster).
- He’s generally a disrespectful little shit.
It doesn’t matter what his powers are. That can be – and is – taken care of with one line and it can also – and is – shown through the story action itself. That’s easy. What’s difficult is conveying a character’s core succinctly. It’s especially hard to do in a single image, but Bachalo does an incredible job here. A cover like that might excite readers who have been waiting for a Quentin Quire story for a few years, but more importantly, it tells people like me who don’t know about him or only know about him from Wikipedia or Schism that this is a comic we can understand, that it’s okay to pick it up. That’s huge.
The second part of the comic’s subversion of the convention of reliance on knowledge of canon comes from Aaron‘s script. Don’t know who Quentin Quire is? Most of the characters don’t, either! The students at Wolverine’s school weren’t students at Xavier’s when Quire was, so they don’t know who he is. Quire, fashioning himself as one of the most important people in the world like only a teenager can, is incredibly pissed off at this, and his petulant adolescent foot stomping because of that is incredibly hilarious. More importantly, the students’ ignorance of Quire, mirroring that of many readers, encourages them to identify with the students instead of being alienated. If people who know him don’t really know him, then it’s okay for us not to. These two tricks prime the reader to come along for the ride, and it’s the job of the rest of the comic to take advantage of that opportunity.
It does not disappoint, either. Wolverine and the X-Men #3 completes the story of the first day at the Jean Grey School for Higher Learning in a big, exciting way. Quentin Quire’s frustration at not being known? That dovetails wonderfully into the fight against Krakoa, the Living Island and the way that part of the story concludes is both heartwarming and ridiculously funny. How do you take down a group of super-smart, super-rich evil children who are trying to destroy you with a combination of monsters, demons and superweapons? Probably not through what you normally think of Wolverine as being the best at. For a comic whose last issue featured guns that shoot out Frankensteins with flamethrowers, this issue somehow raises the bar even more. It’s funny, thanks in no small part to Chris Bachalo producing the best work of his career. It’s whimsical. It’s got explosions and heroes rising to the occasion. It’s also brilliantly written so as to welcome new readers despite the fact that it’s basically a continuation of a storyline from ten years ago as well every other X-Men story since. This is not an easy thing to do, but Aaron and Bachalo do it with aplomb and have made perhaps the best new continuing series of 2011. (J)
This is Comics! The Blog. We now commence our broadcast week.