Sunday, March 23, 2008

Messiah Complex(ities)

They've been sitting in the "To Read" pile next to my bed for weeks now, staring at me with silent reproach, asking, "Why are you reading that DC Spotlight: Raven before us? We're an X-Men crossover. X-Men, dude! You know you'll like us better than that emo goth chick."

And they were. Better than Raven #1, that is. Which is not the same thing as saying I liked them. I wanted to like them. I really did. I have fond memories of the X-Men from "back in the day" (well, back in my day). I vividly recall my first issue of Uncanny X-Men (#167), received one Christmas as a stocking stuffer. It featured the wrap-up/epilogue to the Brood story (with lovely Paul Smith art) and guest-starred my second favorite teen team from the 1980s, the New Mutants. (Oh, Sam Guthrie, you hillbilly heartthrob, you.) This was when the X-Men as a "franchise" was still in its infancy, mind you, and a crossover didn't need to span a whopping thirteen parts, as "Messiah Complex" does. As I was saying, I wanted to like them. I really did.

And it's not that I disliked "Messiah Complex." There was a lot of fun, interesting stuff going on here. But, not having read the merry mutants for a while, I was led to believe (via editorial hype, of course) that this would be a great place to jump back on, as the mutant status quo Would Be Altered FOREVER! EVER! Ever! ever. er. (Wow, nice echo in here.) Well, in a world of a thousand dystopian futures (past) and endless incarnations of the Phoenix force as red-headed hotties, "forever" needs to be understood as a fairly flexible term. X-Men no more? Yeah, wait two issues.

Ah, but cynicism be damned. This was a valiant effort from almost all quarters, and in no way ranks with the atrocities that have been foisted on readers of the X-titles in the past (I'm looking at you, X-Tinction Agenda).
Some highlights?

  • The Purifiers' attack on Cooperstown (as depicted by Brubaker and Silvestri in the crossover's first chapter) is truly horrific. (Between them and the Church of Hala, the Marvel U's faith-based initiatives are really going great gangbusters.)

  • The Marauders are resuscitated as something approaching a genuine they should be. (Though Sinister's whole endless clone solution to the untimely deaths of villainous flunkies is starting to wear a little thin. Let's really let dead mean dead, okay, Joe?)

  • Silvestri and Tan look great on this stuff.

  • It's always good to see Warren Worthington back in action.

  • Layla Miller. Heartbreaking.

  • I'm looking forward to the Young X-Men book simply because the "New X-Men" kids are generally pretty engaging. A little emo sometimes, but hey, you'd be emo too if your classmates kept getting offed every other issue.

  • Scott, you're so...bad-ass. I love it.

  • Deathstrike. Fine with me. She talks too much.

  • Nice to (ever so briefly) see Forge. Even if he was unconscious.

Some lowlights?

  • Ramos and Bachalo look...not-so-great on this stuff. They're both entirely competent artists. They're just not working for me here.

  • Thirteen parts. Really? You really needed thirteen parts for this? Really?

  • Predator X. Talk about anti-climactic. Though using Pixie was an effective device for bringing the fight to the rest of the X-Men, this seemed a little pointless to me. And chewing on mutant corpses? Um...ew.

  • Cable and Lil' Red as the new Lone Wolf and Cub? Not really feeling it. Sorry. (Though I can't wait for the special 150th issue of his solo title when he has to explain puberty for her.)

  • Put the sorry-ass prophecies of Destiny to bed already! They make Mystique all teary, and I don't like my Raven teary. I like her being viciously amoral.

  • If one more depressing mutant asshole comes back from the future, I swear to God I'm gonna open mutant detention facilities myself. (I'm looking at you, Lucas.)

  • Really? Thirteen parts?

  • God, this stuff isn't even remotely new reader friendly. The recap pages are nice, but try to make sense of those flashbacks without any prior knowledge.

My biggest criticism of this crossover is that I think it might have been better served had the various threads been more self-contained. That is, the X-Factor stuff really could have stayed primarily in X-Factor, the New X-Men stuff in New X-Men, and so on. I can't see a particularly compelling reason (from an aesthetic makes perfectly good sense from a sales standpoint) for so thoroughly intertwining the narratives. The clarity of the various plotlines suffered as a result, I think.

Pity the poor X-titles. They're in the untenable position of trying to please a fanbase who have a great deal invested in the complex histories of the books, but it's this same complex history that renders them distinctly unattractive to new readers. It would be nice if these books could find a way of jettisoning some of their baggage without having to resort to either Skrulls or Mephisto to make it work.

Well, at least I can finally get to those Divided We Stand stories now. Almost caught up! Hooray!

Monday, March 10, 2008


There are days, and then there are days, you know what I mean? And then, every so often, there are MONTHS. Well, this has been a MONTH, no doubt about it, full of presentations and productions and more presentations, basically all things that are less than interesting to you, Gentle Reader, so I'll just dispense with any further explanation. Suffice it to say that I was gone. And now I'm...


Once again, 50/50 involves a trip to my LCBS (Monarch Cards & Comics), where, with the help of my assistant, the lovely and talented Ed (yeah, that's right, Ed, you're my assistant...who's a minion now, huh?!), I randomly select two comics from the 50-cent bins. Then, I pit the two unlucky titles against one another in an effort to satisfy your bloodlust, you savages. This week, 50/50 watches through the window as Marvel and Image get it on, with Micronauts #44 (1982) giving it to Common Foe #1 (2005).

Given my proclivities (careful, now), this would seem to be a simple match, right? 80s Marvel versus...well, Image. Not so fast. Let's take a quick look at that cover to Common Foe. Whose name is gracing those creator credits? Is that a Giffen I see before me? This could be trickier than I thought. Well, let's take a look, shall we?

Covers --

Micronauts (my pick): Two words - Gil Kane. 'Nuff said, right? Well, not quite. It's Gil Kane (and quite lovely Gil Kane), but the coloring is a little, shall we say, garish. We've got Marionette, Acroyear, and Bug featured here, charging toward the reader (who is placed in the position of the enemy, if the guns intruding at the bottom of the image are any indicator). Marionette waves a standard (a magenta standard, no less, which, given the red, yellow, and orange in her costume, is already a questionable decision), and the sky in teh background shades from red at the top to a light orange at the bottom. These colors are more at war with one another than the Micronauts are against the forces of Mari's brother, Force Commander (also identified in the issue's creative credits as then-editor-in-chief, Jim Shooter).

Common Foe (Ed's pick): A more muted color palette here sets off some moody artwork by Esad Ribic depicting a soldier being attacked by two creatures, a ruined plane in the background. It's a simple yet effective composition, with a nice lighting effect as the muzzle flash of the soldier's weapon illuminates his terrified face.

Round One: Micronauts - 0; Common Foe - 1

Story --

Micronauts: Without going into too much detail, the Micronauts were a band of tiny adventurers who inhabited the Microverse (makes sense, I suppose), though they occasionally came to Marvel Earth, as well. A licensed property (based on a line of toys from Mego), they existed alongside the Marvel Universe proper. Along with Rom, Micronauts was one of the longest-running of Marvel's licensed titles. Others included Shogun Warriors, Godzilla, and The Saga of Crystar, Crystal Warrior.

In any event, this issue finds the Micronauts' forces (composed at that moment of Devil, Bug, Nanotron, Microtron, Commander Rann, Marionette, and Acroyear) divided, Commander Rann, Devil, Nanotron, and Microtron battling Computrex (a living computer) and Professor Prometheus (a cyborg whose human "half," now dead, is well along in the decompsition process) on Earth, while Bug, Marionette, and Acroyear, fight the good fight in the Microverse. There's nothing incredibly innovative about the story (told here by Bill Mantlo and Gil Kane), but it's energetic and jam-packed, hardly a panel wasted. It's stories like these that really illustrate what comics were like pre-"decompression." There are explanatory captions and thought balloons and villains conveniently explaining how they survivied their last encounter with the heroes. It's all quite wonderfully old-fashioned. (Three inkers, though? Really? This is starting to seem more modern all the time.)

Common Foe: The copy on the back cover explains the premise best: "World War II. Amid the blood and chaos of the Battle of the Bulge, a battered squad of American soldiers and a platoon of German infantry do everything they can to kill each other. But to survive the night, the two enemies must come together and united (sic) against an ancient evil hell bent on destroying everything in its path." And now you know almost exactly as much as I know. This issue begins with the men on the run from the creatures, then flashes back to show the two forces (Allies and Axis) playing cat and mouse in a bombed-out urban landscape. None of these characters are provided much individuality, so I found it difficult to care about their individual fates, and the source of the supernatural silliness receives no attention here. All in all, not one of Giffen's better efforts. Nice work from artist Jean-Jacques Dzialowski, though, with some interesting layout choices.

Round Two: Micronauts - 1; Common Foe - 0

Oh, boy. We're all tied up. Time for a third round.

This is what I call the lightning round. It's sudden death, ladies and gents. I start with page one, and whichever one contains something that tickles me, there's our winner.

Micronauts: OK, done in one. Page one contains this gem of opening recap text: "Computrex lives! Professor Prometheus does not! Together, they've trapped those Micronauts who remain on Earth in the ruins of the Human Engineering Life Laboratories--H.E.L.L.!" How can you resist any group that would give themselves H.E.L.L. as an acronym. I know I can't.

*le sigh*

The real world needs to be more like the comics.

Well, that's another 50/50, and the little guys take it this time, the Micronauts triumphing over supernatural hijinks in WWII. Tune in next time when we set the heroes of the Greatest Generation against Garth Ennis. Yikes!