Weekly Comic Review for 1/23/08

Astonishing X-Men #24

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W: Joss Whedon

A: John Cassady

This is the penultimate issue of Whedon and Cassaday’s run–the conclusion is going to be published in Giant-sized Astonishing X-Men #1.  Overall, most people seem to think that Astonishing X-Men has been the best X-book in a long while.  Yes, there have been a few speed bumps along the way (the “Danger” arc stands out as a less than stellar handful of issues), but as I’ve said before, even bad Whedon is better than most people’s best efforts.  That being said, Whedon’s characterizations of characters like Cyclops and Wolverine is spot on.  Hell, he’s done something that I thought was impossible–making Scott Summers interesting.  In addition to Whedon’s writing, Cassaday’s designs for these characters is phenomenal, he even makes me forget how much I hate Beast’s new cat-man look.

The X-Men (along with a platoon of S.W.O.R.D. agents and Danger) are still on The Breakworld, where a prophecy has proclaimed that Colossus will destroy the planet.  We learned in the last issue that the entire planet is powered by a reactor that only someone with invulnerable metal skin can enter and, conceivably, destroy.  The source of this prophecy has been in doubt since the get-go, although most of our Merry Mutants are convinced it’s a sham and that there’s a traitor in their midst.  Beast is sure the backstabber-to-be is S.W.O.R.D.’s Agent Brand (although she later takes a shot meant for Dr. McCoy), and Emma’s made a deal with Danger, promising to give the sentient robo-bint Charles Xavier in return for her (its?) assistance.  The treachery gets cranked up a notch when it’s revealed that Aghanne (a Breakworlder who was seemingly allied with the X-Men) is, at least partially, responsible for everything that’s been going on.

The X-Men are holed-up in Kruun’s impregnable fortress–which, Wolverine points out, they “pregged” fairly easily–and are faced with a battle on two fronts.  While on group stays behind to convince Kruun to abandon his plan to launch a missile at Earth, another group (comprised of Hank and Kitty) will attempt to destroy the aforementioned missile.  With the clock running out, Kitty phases into the missile and finds an interior devoid of the usual guts and gadgets one would find in a missile.  It’s at that very moment that Beast realizes that this isn’t a missile.  It’s a big-ass hollow-point bullet, which fires with Kitty trapped inside.

Now, there’s been a bit of speculation among fans that Joss is gearing up to kill Kitty.  It is a possibility.  First of all, he has a history of killing beloved characters.  And, secondly, Whedon has repeated stated that “happy characters are boring characters”, and with Colossus resurrected and reunited with his “Katya,” Ms. Pryde could certainly be considered happy (maybe he’s going to kill Colossus, you say?  Well, since Peter’s slated to appear in the new Defenders book, that’s unlikely).  The only argument that I can come up with against Kitty’s death (other than the fact that it would make me terribly, terribly sad) is that Whedon–despite the almost child-like joy he gets in torturing and killing his characters–doesn’t strike me as the kind of guy who would kill a character he doesn’t out-right own and leave the mess for someone else to clean up.  That’s just my two cents…only time will tell.

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Countdown to Final Crisis 14

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W: Paul Dini & Tony Bedard

A: Pete Woods, Tom Derenick & Wayne Faucher

So, the complete and total annihilation of Earth-51 continues.  The Monitors continue to be too disorganized to mount a sufficient counter-offense against Monarch and his forces.  Meanwhile, in the Nexus, Solomon shows the cranky, hormonally-charged Superboy(man)-Prime that Monarch’s forces are destroying the entire Multiverse, including the “perfect Earth” that Prime’s been searching for.  By the end of the issue, Prime decides to go and have a few words with Monarch.

Now, while there are a few bits and pieces of fun things going on–Monitor-51 going all John Rambo at the sight of his perfect Earth being razed, or Donna Troy defeating Belthera and gaining control of her giant-bug legions, which she promptly leads into battle against Monarch’s forces–the best parts of this issue of Countdown to Final Crisis focus on Jason Todd and Batman-51. 

Jason and Bats-51 have been chilling in Batman’s gun-filled “Bat-Bunker” since Bruce saved Jason’s bacon a few issues back.  Once Jason explained that he was from another Earth and was really Jason Todd (or, at least a Jason Todd), Batman-51 loosened up a bit.  He explained how the death of “his” Jason led him down a path of violence and destruction, how that single event led the Bruce Wayne of this Earth to single-handedly wipe out all of the villains on his world.  At first, Bats thinks Jason is insane for wanting to run off and fight over-whelming odds, but he eventually relents.  He even gives Jason a new costume, the Red Robin costume that he had made for his Jason before the kid died.  Together, Batman-51 and Red Robin open a giant-sized can of whoop-ass on the bastards attacking Earth-51.  I wouldn’t be surprised if Jason considers staying on Earth-51 when this is all over.  This is just the kind of Earth Jason would thrive on.  This Earth’s Batman is as vengeful and bloodthirsty as Jason is, what with the gun-wielding and knife-fighting.

This series, as a whole, is hit-or-miss.  Sure, it has a few good moments and, occasionally, an entire issue kicks a moderate amount of ass.  But, the problem with Countdown is the very nature of the title.  It’s counting down.  To what?  A final crisis?  What the shit is that?  Part of the reason 52 did so well was that you never had the slightest idea what the big mystery was, so you couldn’t help but say “Holy shit” when the Multiverse returned.  With Countdown, the cat was let out of the bag almost immediately, and DC’s put itself in an awkward position trying to live up to all of the hype. 

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Gotham Underground #4

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W: Frank Tieri

A: J. Calafiore

The battle for the control of Gotham’s criminal empire goes on.  In the opening pages, we finally meet Johnny “Stitches” Denetto, the man who ran Tobias Whale out of Metropolis.  Denetto, as his new nickname implies, had his face slashed to pieces and then stitched back to somewhat resemble a human face.  The trauma did not sit well with Denetto, who now feels compelled to slice the hell out of anyone he thinks is pretty, as seen with his brutal slashing of a call-girl in this issue.  Denetto has also teamed up with Bruno Mannheim, head of The Religion of Crime.

Elsewhere in Gotham, Scarecrow double-crosses Scarface’s gang and leads them into an alley where Whale’s goons blow them away.  After the massacre, Whale double-crosses Scarecrow and hangs him from a lamppost, scarecrow-style, as a message to all of the other masks in Gotham City.  With most of the Big Bads in the DCU hauled off to “Salvation Run” and both Whale and Mannheim making a play for Gotham, it’s no surprise that Penguin has hired a bunch of Rogue understudies–seriously, a bunch of schlubs dressed like The Flash’s Rogues Gallery–to watch his ass.  The irony is that the dude in the Heatwave 2.0 costume is Dick Grayson, who’s being watched by some dude in a black costume with a red V on the helmet.  Am I supposed to know who this is?

Meanwhile, Bruce–still disguised as Matches Malone–is still locked up in Blackgate.  After his run-in with Zsasz, Bruce placed himself in a “trance-like state” so he would be taken to the prison infirmary and have access to a locked door that he’s sure holds the key to watch the Suicide Squad’s doing in Gotham.  After the guards bust into the infirmary to handle the riot that’s rocking the prison, Bruce manages to get into the locked room and discovers a seriously fucked-up Great White Shark strapped to a gurney.  Why is he there?  Was he deemed “not dangerous” by the Suicide Squad and stashed there to cover-up what they’re doing?  Or is he there for a completely different reason?  Could it have something to do with Tobias Whale?  Whale…Shark…it could fit.

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Ultimate Fantastic Four #50

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W: Mike Carey

A: Tyler Kirkham

That sound you heard around 7:30 PM on January 23rd, 2008 was my exasperated sigh as I made my way through the newest issue of Ultimate Fantastic Four.  I was extremely happy with Carey’s last arc.  It had everything I want in a Fantastic Four story: action, adventure, humor, crazy-ass science, and monkeys.  Unfortunately, this issue negates all of that, as Ultimate FF backslides into another ridiculous cosmic escapade involving Thanos, the Cosmic Cube, those god-awful “soldiers of Seed 19 from Halcyon” (seriously, what the fuck?), and more poorly written alien dialogue than you could shake a partial arboreal limb at.  Guys, seriously, you can’t force dialogue to sound “alien”–okay, sometimes you can, but not everyone is capable of doing it (I know I’ve mentioned the plague of genre fiction known as “Tolkienitis”).

Now, the last thing I want to do is sit here and bash another person’s work into an oozing pile of jelly.  Carey did right by me with his last arc of this book (not to mention his arc with El Diablo), and I wanted to see more of the same.  I understand that certain parts of the Fantastic Four mythos demand to be dealt with in the Ultimate Universe–like Galactus, like Namor, like Thanos–and I’m okay with that.  I just wish that Ultimate Fantastic Four could be more like the goofy fun of the original ’60s and ’70s comic.

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Ultimates 3 #2

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W: Jeph Loeb

A: Joe Madureira

I know a lot of people who really don’t like what Loeb and Madureira are doing with Ultimates.  Now, I’ve gone on record saying that this is not the best book on the market.  Ultimates 3 is to the first two volumes of Ultimates as the Justice League relaunch is to the JLA.  However, I’m sticking around to watch the impending train-wreck.  Good thing this volume is only five issues long.

Like with the first issue, the art is nigh inscrutable.  It’s so muddy, murky, and washed-out that I have no idea what the hell is going on most of the time.  On top of that, most of the character designs look like they came out of someone’s portfolio from the 1990s. 

As for Loeb’s story……  Well, unfortunately, I’m less than jazzed.  Apparently, something “big” is happening.  This “big” thing involves Venom and the Brotherhood (yeah, I’m confused, too), as well as Black Panther and (it would seem) the Tony Stark sex tape.  With both Venom and the Brotherhood involved it should come as no surprise that both Spider-Man and Wolverine make appearances in this issue.  Gee…Spider-Man and Wolverine, huh?  Hanging out with Captain America and Iron Man, ya say?  When do we get to see Luke Cage? 

Anyways…Magneto–with Blob, Sabretooth, Mystique, Madrox, and Lorelei in tow–shows up at Stark’s mansion to claim the body of his daughter, who was felled by an assassin’s bullet at the end of the last issue.  Yeahbuwha??  Why is Mystique there?  Isn’t she supposed to be locked up in Magneto’s place?  I will admit that Loeb gets a few points for letting the newly-insane Hawkeye take out his frustration by executing Madrox after Madrox after Madrox.  Loeb also gets points for having Cap lecture Sabretooth (who really doesn’t look like Ultimate Sabretooth anymore) on his manners during a brawl.  Unfortunately, these high points are few and far between.

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Quote of the Week:

“Standing around talking feels a lot like standing around talking.  When does Pete get to throw me at something?”–Wolverine in Astonishing X-Men #24.

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