Ambidextrous - A Cross Section of the Good Stuff

Ambidextrous - The Good Stuff

Got some big things on the horizon involving this column, and wanted a few things out of the system before then…

Haven’t officially named the series of articles about how not to break into comics, but any day now, I expect some burst of creative vision that’ll ultimately sort that final element out. Also prepping an exclusive look at how an independent comics publisher actually functions, survives, and thrives within this very challenging marketplace. And something that will examine some of my favorite creative runs in comics from what I hope is a fun, clever angle.

Right now though, as the weather here in Chicago starts to turn and summer wraps up its all-too-brief run, I’ve decided to take a look back at some of the books and developments that’ve helped made comics truly exciting these last few months. Obviously, this is only a small cross-section of stuff, from my very singular point-of-view, so feel free to add things at the end that made your own Wednesdays worth living these last couple months. Where else to start but with the two giant “events” that Marvel and DC have been offering, helmed by two of the most prolific writers in comics…?

The Days Evil Won-

Secret Invasion and Final Crisis are proving that as much as people bitch and moan about crossovers, comics will never be rid of the damn things, because when they’re done well, they’re just too much fun. Like dark, apocalyptic futures and black costumes (more on one of those later) seeing all your favorite heroes kicked in the teeth, only to fight their way back against impossible odds, just pushes a fanboy button that it’d be foolish for companies to ignore. And combining the three elements really only heightens the effect.

But both events have their own distinctive flavor and tone, but what they’re succeeding at is providing an energy and sense of urgency to everything else around them. Sometimes you have these stories that are billed as “the biggest thing that ever happened ever” and once you plug in, you just can’t believe the assertion this is a narrative we haven’t already seen three times before. Bendis and Morrison are taking some common elements and themes, yet finding new ways to make them truly progressive.

Morrison is doing it by intentionally keeping the readers almost completely off-balance, putting them in the same position the main characters are finding themselves in. Awful things are happening, there was little warning before it started, and with every scene, it gets just that much worse. Some folks have been talking about how impenetrable Final Crisis has been three issues in, but I think that really misses the point of what the book is supposed to be about. It’s designed for us to feel the same level of tension, confusion, and foreboding that the central characters are experiencing, if evil has truly won and the DC Universe is under assault from terrible dark gods, things should feel a little…off. Uncertain and out of control, one surgical attack after another until Anti-Life is broadcast over the ‘net. The premise of the story almost prevents it from being told in a more traditional, methodical way (which Morrison has done several times during his JLA run anyway) and I’m sure this more fractured method of storytelling will be more than justified by the time the series completes. Just be patient and Grant Morrison will take care of you, like he always does.

The tie-ins have been excellent as well, with Peter Tomasi turning in the incredible story of what really happened when Martian Manhunter was killed, Johns taking Superman into the future to complete the arc started in his recent Legion story, and Rucka finally getting Cris Allen and Montoya together again. I don’t care what anyone else says either…I love the design of Chip Kidd’s “banner” covers and think it makes the books pop on the shelves.

Meanwhile, Bendis is doing fine work with both the main Secret Invasion title, and his Avengers books, which are weaving in and out of recent history, filling in the blanks. The structure of the reveals has been well executed too, with elements being cleverly introduced in the Avengers books, and then picked up in the proper SI title. Couple weeks back, it was revealed in New Avengers just how the Skrulls developed the technology to make their presence undetectable on Earth, a smart and brutal ploy made possible by the Illuminati doing something really stupid way back when. The issue was one of the most effective tie-ins Bendis has written, and it was referenced in exactly one line in last week’s issue of SI. What’s happening in the other books isn’t necessary to understand the main invasion plot, but it’s really cool to see the curtain pulled back, and the seeds planted for characters like Spider-Woman, Nick Fury, and Maria Hill.

Only Bendis could even conceive of doing something like this, as he’s been the custodian of the Avengers franchise for several years, and this is the really cool thing about a creator staying on a book for a few years and making it their own. Without New and Mighty, he wouldn’t be able to offer so comprehensive a look at what is a very complex and well-organized invasion tale. Like he was able to do with Daredevil, and what Johns did with Green Lantern---being able to commit to these characters for an extended period has allowed them to hit readers with major payoffs down the road, and ultimately make for a more cohesive and evolving creative run. At this point, there’s literally no telling where the Avengers books will head once the dust settles…only that Bendis will continue to be heavily involved in their direction, and seriously, after more than four years already…how cool is that?

Dead Horses-

Stop me if you’ve heard this before---I love Mark Bagley and the work he did for years on Amazing Spider-Man, and after that, the record-breaking run that he and Bendis delivered on the Ultimate version. It’s safe to assume that a huge reason I grew so attached to Spider-Man in the first place was because of Bagley’s artwork. Hell, back when I was still deluding myself into thinking that I could one day both write and draw comics, I was attempting to learn by tracing Bagley drawn Spidey covers. For our recent anniversary, my lady surprised me with two pages of original artwork from the “Ultimate Knights” storyline, as I obviously spent a good deal of time gushing about my appreciation for his work. And every year, during the SDCC, I have this same argument with my friends about why Bagley is one of the best artists working and that the word “boring” is not an accurate or fair depiction of his skills.

So yeah, no surprise that it’s been particularly exciting to see Bagley draw every inch of the DC universe in Trinity, aided and abetted by Kurt Busiek. Honestly, even if this wasn’t a good book, I’d probably be buying it for the art alone, but Busiek is penning an incredibly engrossing and nuanced character study of the “trinity” while Bagley does his thing. Every arc of the story takes the examination one step further, and having the three characters begin merging in terms of personality and temperament has proved an inspired choice in recent weeks. The constant presence of the JLA and other DC stalwarts, as well as the careful integration of some interesting B and C list characters is another clear strength. It’s really just fun, clever, superhero stuff with art from one of the greats and it comes out weekly on top of all that.

And speaking of weekly (or almost weekly) books, Amazing Spider-Man continues to impress. After spending six months building up the “brand new day” with a flood of new characters, subplots, and villains, the banner is now stripped from the covers, Slott and JRJR are delivering the incredible “New Ways to Die” arc, and Waid and Kelly are on the horizon. To me, the art has really been the standout, with fantastic showings from McNiven, Larocca, Jimenez, Bachalo, Martin, Kitson, McKone, and probably some others I’m forgetting off the top of my head. Like Trinity, it’s a great superhero comic that offers no apologies for being one, and it continues to pick up steam the further it moves ahead and offers yet another good reason to visit the shop every Wednesday.

The First-

Remember the very first page of New X-Men #114? The one with Cyclops blasting a Sentinel through the skull while Wolverine kills another in the background? Remember just what that beautifully rendered Frank Quitely page actually signified? That the X-Men had somehow changed for the better and from that moment forward, the book was going to be a lot more interesting? Well, I’m happy to report that something like that is happening again---with a new status quo, a new base of operations, a newly aggressive fearless leader, and a new addition to the writing team. Once again, everything feels “New” again, but it all really starts with the recent developments focused around Mr. Scott Summers.

I am an absolute Cyclops nerd, have been from the minute I first encountered X-Men comics, and no one was more pissed than me to see how they just lamed him out in the movies. Joss Whedon knows it, Grant Morrison knows it, Warren Ellis knows it, and Matt Fraction knows it---when he’s written well, Cyclops is one of the most interesting and dynamic characters in the entire X-universe. Messiah Complex was bought primarily because it was promised that Scott’s role was going to be elevated to the status that he rightly deserves, and I’m glad to see this has carried over into Uncanny. From the moment Emma broadcast Scott’s “message” at the close of #500 and heading into the impressively scripted #501, it’s obvious that this next stage of the X-Men’s evolution is going to be sparked by the first X-Man, and to me, nothing else could be more appropriate.

The Alternates-

This Old Man Logan story is really good thus far. Yes, the beautiful McNiven artwork helps immensely in making this far more than an Unforgiven remix, but there’s just something about dystopian futures, isn’t it? Like black costumes, it’s one of those instant crowd-pleasers, and I think that Millar has created yet another pocket dimension that will continue to make Marvel money for a couple years. Maybe it was just the screwed-up black female Spider-Woman, but the latest chapter was enjoyable on several levels, and between her, blind Hawkeye putting arrows through people, and those horrible memory flashes of a broken Logan patiently waiting to be pulped by a speeding train, I’m confident this will result in another ongoing or occasional minis like the House of M stuff. Very cool with either possibility as this set-up is packed with story possibilities that likely won’t be extinguished by this initial arc, which will make for a fine oversized hardcover in the future…

Family Business-

So a funny thing happened on the way to 296---all of a sudden people want Lee Ferguson to draw their comics. Which obviously seems a normal response, as Miranda Mercury is the finest artistic showing from him thus far, even though all the stuff after what most people have seen is actually better. But while we’ve been waiting for the publishing stuff to get sorted out, my man Lee has been fielding a few offers to keep his hands busy. First thing people will see from him is Sheena: Queen of the Jungle, which once upon a time I was maybe going to write, but following that he’s also doing the new Zen series with Joe Casey. The latter is great for a couple reasons---Casey being a great writer and good friend one of them, and Miranda colorist Felix Serrano on board being the other. I asked Devil’s Due for some preview art from the latter and thankfully, they said yes.

The saga continues…

Thanks for stopping by, and please check out The Fiction House website for exclusive news on my next big project. Back soon.

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