On My Growing Frustration with Marvel & DC Comics…

I’ve been thinking about this a lot over the last few days. I’m not really sure what this post is supposed to achieve, either. But, I thought I’d write it down. Mostly, I think, it indicates a shift in how I’m going to read and review comics.

Since I started reading comics again, in September 2011 with the launch of DC’s New 52 reboot, I have slowly started to become more and more frustrated with the near-endless cross-over events. Sure, this is not a new complaint from comics readers, and certainly it won’t do anything to change things. But, it will change things for me.

I understand the business rationale for cross-over Events: it encourages people to try new series, which in turn could lead to consistent interest in previously-unread series. Or, at the very least, a short-term up-tick in sales that isn’t bad for the publisher, either.

For me, though, it is annoying. I’ve always approached Marvel’s titles with eyebrow firmly raised, because it’s a given that any title will be involved in an Event at least twice a year – and, in 2012-13, it seems like the rate of Events is spiraling so far out of control that the only conclusion is that Marvel’s brain-trust (or, more likely, executives) have zero imagination, and can’t conceive of any title surviving/succeeding on its own. Which is too much cynicism for creativity and long-term success, in my opinion. “Avengers vs. X-Men”, “Age of Ultron”, “Infinity”, and even in the Ultimate Comics line, we had “Divided We Stand/United We Fall” and the Ultimate Comics series will be brought to an end with the “Cataclysm” Event.

Let’s take a look at DC: First, there was the Bat-family “Night of the Owls” Event, which had one tie-in issue per series (more or less). Then there was the larger “Death of the Family” Event, which was pretty good (but a little flat, by the end), and quite expensive for anyone who wanted the whole picture/story. Now, Batman will also have the “Year Zero” event, which will include 10 tie-in issues from other series. Sigh. There was the “Throne of Atlantis” Event, which was relatively short, and only connected two titles together (Aquaman and Justice League). There is the just-completed “Trinity War” Event, tying together Justice League, Pandora, Justice League Dark, Phantom Stranger and Constantine. Now, we have “Forever Evil: Blight” (18 issues, total), which is a cross-over between Constantine, Pandora, Phantom Stranger, and Justice League Dark. In addition to this, there was the early, tedious daemonite cross-over mess that tied together too many series early on in the New 52’s history. Green Lantern series had the Rise of the Third Army and immediately-following Wrath of the First Lantern.

Valiant Comics have had at least two cross-over events, too. Which is rather excessive for a line that has only been going (after a renewal) for little over a year. And all of the Events mentioned in this post don’t account for all of the ones that have been unveiled, or are pending.

This endless crossing over, mixing is just too much. For me, anyway. So, I’m going to stick to a very limited number of New 52 titles, and also Ultimate Comics series, some older Marvel series (mostly Captain America-related), and explore more offerings from other publishers. Perhaps the only exception will be Vertigo Comics (the “mature” imprint of DC Comics), which has some truly excellent series – many of which are already complete, which makes it easier to plan purchases and reading.*

It’s just too expensive to get the whole picture with the Big Two. Marvel have been ridiculous for a long time. DC, after pulling off a great re-boot, seem to have caught the Cross Over Bug a little too hard, which has just killed my enthusiasm to fork over all that money. Getting the whole story is very important to me. As, I’m sure, it is for a lot of reading junkies. If you’re going to pursue a strategy that whiffs of gouging… Count me out. I have rent and food to pay for (which I can barely manage as it is).

So, yeah. I’m not really sure if this post really achieves anything. But there we go.

* That being said, even Vertigo are going to be running a Cross Over: Fables and Unwritten… It’ll hopefully be short, though, and does benefit from being comprised of two of my favourite comics.

Graphic Novel Round-Up (September)

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I’ve not been keeping on top of graphic novels and comics as I had been – just been too busy and distracted. Nevertheless, this weekend I was able to catch up on some, so I decided to write very quick reviews of those that stood out.

Reviewed: East of West, Vol.1; Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol.3; Astro City, Vol.1, Archer & Armstrong, Vol.1

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EastOfWest-Vol.01East of West, Vol.1 – “The Promise” (Image)

Writer: Jonathan Hickman | Artist: Nick Dragotta

This is the world. It is not the one we wanted, but it is the one we deserved. The Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse roam the Earth, signaling the End Times for humanity, and our best hope for life, lies in DEATH.

Collects: East of West #1-5

This is a pretty interesting series. It was much-hyped when it was first published, but I nevertheless waited for the first story-arc/volume to be available. It is a dystopian future, where much of life seems to have been consolidated onto the American continent. There is an apocalyptic storyline that keeps you guessing, as three of the four horsemen ride out (after being reborn) to track down their missing fourth. Death, as it happens, is the MIA horseman, and he is pursuing his own agenda and mission. Specifically, to find his missing love.

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There’s a fair mount going on in the first issues that make up this opening story-arc. It’s well-written and very well-rendered. The artwork is superb, with not a few arresting pages and panels (see, for example, above and below). The story has a lot of influences that one might be able to spot (I couldn’t say for definite if they are genuine influences, or just things I spotted and have associated with my own science fictional/dystopian favourites).

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It’ll certainly be interesting to see how this series shapes up in both the short and long-run. Count me in for the long-haul. This is a must-read for anyone who likes dystopian futures, apocalyptic stories, with a healthy dose of futuristic politics, technology, weirdness, and an expertly written story. The artwork complements Hickman’s narrative excellently. Plenty of surprises, but pleasantly familiar at the same time. Recommended.

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Wolverine&XMen-09Wolverine & the X-Men, Vol.3 (Marvel)

Writer: Jason Aaron | Artists: Chris Bachalo & Nick Bradshaw | Colors:

AvX tie-in! Wolverine is torn between two teams! Cyclops comes to the Jean Grey School to extend an olive branch, but will Wolverine’s X-Men join their estranged ex-teammates against the Avengers? And even if they do, will the students follow their lead? After seeing the events of AvX, the kids have a choice to make – but it may not be what you expect!

Plus: Iceman vs. Red Hulk! Kid Gladiator goes after the Avengers single-handedly! The Shi’ar Death Commandos take on the Phoenix! And the secret history of Warbird!

Collects: Wolverine & the X-Men #9-13

I enjoy this series a lot, actually. At first, I had been left a bit wary by the sense of humour, but it has leveled out very well – it’s quirky, funny, and well written. This volume, however, while still enjoyable, also highlights all of my issues with Marvel’s near-endless cross-title Events. In this case, the too-long-running Avengers vs. X-Men. Now, I was lucky that I had read the AvX twelve-issue mini-series, which meant I did have an overall idea of what was happening. However, without that, this book would have come across bitty and confusing: the characters jump about too much, not to mention suddenly, and it feels very much like only a small part of a larger story. There were also a few moments of fast-forward in order to prepare the characters for the massive Event. This grates, because it means Marvel consciously forced writers to refer everything back to the larger event. Therefore, this is not so much a “tie-in” but a “companion”. A pity. For those who have read the main mini-series, though, this book will give you more context and added depth to the conflicts of the central characters – particularly Wolverine. I also really liked the final chapter/issue collected here, and the background we got for Warbird, Kid Gladiator’s bodyguard. Really good issue – the art, story, everything. Excellent.

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The whole book is brilliantly rendered, actually. The contrast between Bachalo’s and Bradshaw’s artwork, while stark, does not jar when we do shift. Instead, they somehow manage to complement each other rather well. It’s vibrant, eye-catching, amusing, filled with detail and sometimes subtle. Superb support for Aaron’s writing and story, which they both really manage to bring to life.

Volume 4 is also connected to AvX, but I’ll be reading it anyway, given my fondness for the characters involved. The first two volumes focused more on the school and the new students (and the runaway bamfs, who are always amusing, as is Broo), which I hope we’ll return to in the very near future.

Wolverine & the X-Men is one of the few series that continued post-AvX basically unchanged, for which I am glad. I’ll probably read volume 4 this coming week(end).

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AstroCity-Vol.01-ArtAstro City, Vol.1 – “Life in the Big City” (DC Comics)

Writer: Kurt Busiek | Artist: Brent Anderson

Welcome to Astro City, a shining city on a hill where super heroes patrol the skies. Each chapter in this collection is a standalone story, highlighting different aspects or characters in the Astro City world. The city’s leading super hero tries to be everywhere at once, and berates himself for every wasted second as he longs for just a moment of his own. A smalltime hood learns a hero’s secret identity, and tries to figure out how to profit from the knowledge. A beat reporter gets some advice from his editor on his first day on the job. A young woman tries to balance the demands of her family with her own hopes and desires. Despite the fantastic settings, the characters in these slice-of-life stories feel like real people, and that gives the stories real power.

I’m not really sure what to write about this book. It is certainly interesting and worth reading – especially if you are a fan of comic-book heroes in general. The first chapter focuses on a very busy super-hero: he’s super-focused on saving as many people as possible, while also keeping down his job as a fact-checker at a publication. Unfortunately, he never seems to have the time to enjoy his super-powers. Like flying. It’s a very nice story, and the character is re-visited later in the book, when he goes on a date with a heroine of the city. This was an interesting chapter, which looked at the motivations of super-powered vigilantes, and also touched upon some of the classic clichés and patronizing tone leveled at female characters (which is, of course, the point).

The book is filled with nostalgic touches, from the use of a newspaper office as a location (a nod to Superman), but also the “$” signs on the swag bags from the robbery. It’s really quite fantastic. True, I think much of the attraction comes from nostalgia and a wish to peal back the curtain on the lives of super-heroes and those their actions impact.

If you are familiar with classic super-hero tropes, and are looking for both a nod to nostalgia and a development of the lives of these heroes, then Astro City is a must read. This is a really interesting introduction to the series, and I look forward to reading more of it. Certainly recommended.

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Archer&Armstrong-Vol.01Archer & Armstrong, Vol.1 – “The Michelangelo Code” (Valiant)

Writer: Fred Van Lente | Artist: Clayton Henry, Pere Peréz (#3-4) | Colors: Matt Milla

It’s history in the breaking! After years of meditation and training, 18-year-old Obadiah Archer has been dispatched to New York City to carry out the sacred mission of his family’s sect – locate and kill the fun-loving, hard-drinking immortal known as Armstrong! But as this naive teenage assassin stalks his prey, he’ll soon find that both hunter and hunted are just pawns in a centuries-old conspiracy that stretches from the catacombs beneath Wall Street to the heights of the Himalayas. And Archer & Armstrong will have to work together if the future is to stand any chance of surviving the past’s greatest threat!

Collects: Archer & Armstrong #1-4

This is my second Valiant collection, after the somewhat disappointing Bloodshot (sorry, it just didn’t click with me, despite my past fondness for the author’s work). After reading this collection, I must say I remain on the fence. The two protagonists had a lot of potential. Archer is the brain-washed son of a crazy, right-wing, creationist power-couple – the opening pages of the book leave little doubt as to how we’re supposed to think about them (if any member of the GOP needs ‘proof’ that publishing were an anti-conservative brand of the liberal media…). Armstrong is the immortal, and shares not a few characteristics with Obelix. This does not make Archer an Asterix analogue, but their relationship does have shade of the Gaulish favourites. Archer is tasked with killing He Who Must Not Be Names (Armstong), and to that end is shipped off to New York City, that hive of villainy and sin. But, our young crusader quickly comes across evidence that his parents are actually the crazy, evil bastards that he has been brought up to abhor. Naturally, this comes as something of a shock to our highly-gifted, rather deadly young hero. Together with Armstong, he sets off on a mission to save the world from the evil machinations of the Sect, who know nothing of the forces with which they are meddling.

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I’m not sure if this was meant to be taken at all seriously. I get the feeling that Van Lente and Co. are aiming for truth-through-farce, which is something they have certainly managed to achieve. The tone is light throughout – sometimes too light. True, I do like a bit of darkness in my comics, but this title seemed to not quite get the appropriate balance – when a supposedly ‘serious’ scene came along, it was overshadowed by something silly that happened either just before or immediately after. The “commentary” was at times rather forced, blunt, and simplistic, which weakened the impact. The humour ranged from smile-worthy to meh. (That really should be a technical term… Sadly, it just just an onomatopoeic way of indicating my lack of enthusiasm.)

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The story was a bit run-of-the-mill, focusing on one-percenters led mega-conspiracy to keep the masses poor and downtrodden. And yet, despite the unevenness, the lack of preparedness for the tone… I kept reading.

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I really couldn’t say for sure if I thought this was actually good or just so bad it went out the other side and became readable. There are certainly things I didn’t like, and yet it seems to be knowingly poking fun at all of the things I like to poke fun at, too. It’s left me rather unsure what I think. I hate that…

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Will I be reading the next story-arc? Well… maybe. I’m not in any hurry to do so, but given the frequency with which Valiant Comics offers sales on ComiXology, I will probably be tempted in the not-to-distant future.