Thursday, April 30, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 8: The Leftovers

I’ve largely tried to keep the chapters of this series A) grouped thematically and B) under 1,000 words each. As in life, not everything fits into such neat little boxes. With that in mind, here are some of the events the previous chapters missed.

Acts of Vengeance (1989): It’s the old supervillain switcheroo. A group of Loki-led nasties (Dr. Doom, Magneto, the Red Skull, the Kingpin, the Mandarin, and the Wizard) decides the best way to thwart their enemies is to change dance partners. And so you have Spider-Man fighting a giant mutant-hunting Tri-Sentinel, and Rusty and Skids from the New Mutants fighting perennial Spider-baddie the Vulture. The plot, of course, fails, mostly because the villains can’t stop fighting each other, to the point where Loki ends up imprisoning the Kingpin, the Wizard, and the Mandarin. Most importantly, we get a story in Uncanny X-Men about Psylocke being transformed into an Asian, bathing-suit clad ninja programmed to serve regular Iron Man enemy the Mandarin. This version of Betsy Braddock has largely stuck ever since. “Acts of Vengeance” also gave us the first appearance of the New Warriors superhero team, who would go on to inadvertently cause the Civil War. Fun fact: Among the villains who declined the supervillain team-up was Apocalypse. (Matt's aside: A personal favorite from this event is when Holocaust survivor Magneto slaps around Red Skull's Nazi ass in Captain America #367)

Operation: Galactic Storm (1992): A big Avengers-family crossover that spanned Avengers, Avengers West Coast, Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Wonder Man and Quasar. The Avengers butt into a war between the Shi’ar and the Kree because the conflict is somehow destabilizing Earth’s sun. The story is considered a throwback to the 1970s’ Kree-Skrull War, in which the Avengers also took part, and features a uniting of the two Avengers teams – East and West Coast – and an overall beefing-up of their ranks (Hey, everybody, Gilgamesh is back!). The crossover has a bit of a bummer ending: A Nega Bomb kills billions of Kree, the mastermind of the whole conflict turns out to be the Kree’s Supreme Intelligence and the Shi’ar annex the Kree, leaving Lilandra’s mad sister Deathbird in charge of them.

Maximum Carnage (1993): AKA the crossover that got me reading comics regularly. Carnage – the figurative lovechild of Venom and the Joker – breaks out of prison and goes on a killing spree across New York with his Harley Quinn, a new supervillain called Shriek, and a gang of Spider-villains including the demonic version of the Hobgoblin, Spidey’s Doppelganger from the Infinity War, and Carrion. To stop them, Spider-Man teams up with Venom, Captain America, Iron Fist, Deathlok, Nightwatch, Cloak & Dagger, Morbius, Firestar, and the Black Cat. The villains are finally defeated with the power of love and hope – in the form of a Stark-tech device apparently powered by the Star Sapphires and Blue Lanterns. The Spidey-title crossover went on to inspire a 1994 Super Nintendo/Sega Genesis video game that came in a sweet red cartridge (And shortly after all that, there was “The Clone Saga,” but the less said about that mess the better).

World War Hulk (2007): A few years back, a secret superhero cabal called the Illuminati (Reed Richards, Tony Stark, Charles Xavier, Dr. Strange, Black Panther, Namor, and Black Bolt) decided the Hulk was too much of a threat and blasted him off into space. While away, he overthrew the rulers of the planet Sakaar, took a wife and made a nice little life for himself. Then the ship that took him there exploded and killed his pregnant wife, and Hulk. Was. Pissed. So he makes his way back to Earth with some space friends to get revenge. After all is smashed and done, Hulk is reverted to his Bruce Banner form and arrested. The Incredible Hulk is renamed The Incredible Hercules, following that hero’s adventures with Amadeus Cho. A new series, Skaar, Son of Hulk, follows the adventures of … well, I suppose it’s obvious. And another new series, Hulk, debuts featuring a Red Hulk who is later revealed to be famed Hulk-hater Gen. Thaddeus “Thunderbolt” Ross.

Shadowland (2010): Before Mark Waid could relaunch Daredevil into one of Marvel’s best books, the character had to be completely run into the ground. And how better to do that than turning him into a demon-possessed ninja lord in a sprawling crossover with the company’s other street-level heroes? In addition to the main series by Andy Diggle and Billy Tan, Shadowland sucked in Spider-Man, the Heroes for Hire, Daughters of the Dragon, Punisher, Wolverine, Moon Knight, Ghost Rider, Black Panther, the Thunderbolts, Shang-Chi, White Tiger, the Night Nurse, and Elektra. Even the Kingpin appears to team up with the heroes in an attempt to stop Matt Murdock and the Hand from destroying New York. Among the series’ repercussions, Daredevil kills Bullseye (Don’t worry, he gets better); Daredevil kills himself (he gets better AND gets a new series); a new Power Man is introduced who looks like the one from Disney XD’s Ultimate Spider-Man cartoon; and the Black Panther, who has an entire country to deal with, takes over patrolling Hell’s Kitchen.

Spider-Verse (2014): A reality-hopping, Spidey-chomping, vampirish character named Morlun and his kin, the Inheritors, seek to wipe out every Spider-Man ever, until they all team up to stop them. We’re talking Peter Parker, Miles Morales, Spider-Woman, “Mayday” Parker aka Spider-Girl, Peter Porker the Spectacular Spider-Ham, Spidey 2099, Ock-Spidey, the Scarlet Spider, Gwen Stacy (whaaaa?), Uncle Ben (whaaaaaaaaa?), et al. Many Spiders die, but many Spiders also live, and some even get their own ongoing series, such as Silk, an Asian-American woman who was bit by the same spider that bit Parker; and new fan-favorite Spider-Gwen, a Gwen Stacy from a reality where she got bit and Peter Parker became the Lizard and died.

So there you have it. It’s not every crossover ever, but hopefully this series gave you more than enough background headed into Secret Wars, which if we’ve timed these right, should be starting nnnnnnnnnnnnnnnnow. Happy reading!

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 7: All-New Crossovers NOW!

Avengers Vs. X-Men brought about a mass renumbering and creator roulette known as Marvel NOW, heralding a new era in which the original five X-Men from the ’60s were pulled to the present, the Avengers expanded to deal with the just-simmering end of the universe, Dr. Octopus went gallivanting around in Peter Parker’s body, and Daredevil and Hawkeye became two of the Best Books Ever.

The first big event of the NOW era was Age of Ultron, a 10-part series by Brian Michael Bendis with art by Bryan Hitch, Brandon Peterson, Carlos Pacheco, Butch Guice, Alex Maleev, David Marquez and Joe Quesada.

Ultron opens in media res, with the killer robot already having won and platoons of Ultron Sentinels prowling the streets looking for the remaining heroes. Time-travel hijinks ensue. A common theme of the Marvel NOW era is how Earth’s heroes keep screwing up the timestream with their shenanigans, vis a vis their actions in Ultron (Wolverine and the Invisible Woman travel back in time to kill Hank Pym before he creates Ultron, creating an alternate reality in which Earth is a casualty of the Kree-Skrull War, necessitating even more time travel), Beast pulling the ’60s X-Men to Earth, Kang being himself, etc.

Among its effects, Age of Ultron brought Angela – a character Neil Gaiman created for Image – into the Marvel Universe (and made her Odin’s secret daughter from a heretofore unseen 10th realm), Galactus was shipped to the Ultimate Universe and the company launched Avengers A.I., a book about Hank Pym and a bunch of android characters, which lasted 12 issues.

Marvel has been scheduling two events a year for most of the NOW era, so later in 2013 we got Infinity, written by Jonathan Hickman (also the architect of the upcoming Secret Wars) and drawn by Jim Cheung, Jerome Opena and Dustin Weaver.

“Infinity” at Marvel has always implied a universe-spanning cosmic adventure, and so we get the mad titan Thanos attacking Earth while the Avengers are away in space trying to fight the Builders, a race of aliens introduced in Hickman’s first Avengers arc. Part of the storyline involves Hickman’s ongoing series of incursions – the collisions of Earths across the multiverse, which is how the upcoming Secret Wars will start.

Thanos and the Inhuman king Black Bolt wail on each other pretty hard, as BB tries to prevent Thanos from finding his Inhuman-descended son, Thane. In the process, Thanos sets off a Terrigen Bomb, creating more Inhumans, including the new Ms. Marvel. Among the event’s other effects, a new volume of Mighty Avengers launched, starring Luke Cage and a group of other street-level heroes (Monica Rambeau, Blade, Spider-Man, etc.), who were left behind on Earth during Infinity.

The next event is a murder-mystery. Original Sin, by Jason Aaron and Mike Deodato, centers on the death of Uatu the Watcher and the theft of his eyes, which have dirt on everyone. Teams of investigators scour here, there and everywhere to determine who may have killed him. One of the eyes is in the possession of the Orb, an old Ghost Rider villain with a giant eyeball for a head. So that’s appropriate.

Along the way, the heroes also find the real Nick Fury, an old man with a seemingly limitless supply of Life Model Decoys of himself. Original-recipe Fury reveals that, in addition to running SHIELD for decades, he had a secret job protecting Earth from extradimensional threats, which jibes with his underground work during Secret Invasion. He’s also revealed to be the man who murdered Uatu, but ends up becoming his replacement. Bucky Barnes, the Winter Soldier, in turn, replaces Fury as Earth’s guardian against extra-dimensional forces, so who’s gonna have an army of LMDs now?

Sin revealed secrets about a number of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Spider-Man learned someone else had been bitten by the same radioactive spider that bit him, the character Silk, who now has her own series. Tony Stark apparently had tinkered with the gamma bomb that turned Bruce Banner into the Hulk. Angela is revealed as Thor’s half-sister from the Tenth Realm. Dum Dum Dugan, the Howling Commando, learns he died in the 1960s and is, in fact, an LMD.

Oh, and at some point, Fury whispers something in Thor’s ear that makes him unworthy of wielding Mjolnir and being Thor. Hence, new lady Thor.

Finally, we come to Axis, an Avengers/X-Men crossover that wraps up a storyline – the Red Skull stealing Charles Xavier’s brain – that Rick Remender launched in his Uncanny Avengers title. Remender wrote Axis with art by Adam Kubert, Leinil Francis Yu, Terry Dodson and Jim Cheung.

The Red Skull has taken over Genosha – Magneto’s former mutant haven – and turned it into a concentration camp and base for broadcasting a global message of hate. Magneto is predictably pissed and confronts the Skull, who turns into a being called Red Onslaught.

Doctor Doom and the Scarlet Witch cast an “inversion spell,” intended to bring out the Xavier aspect of the Red Onslaught’s mind. The spell casts a wider net, however, and suddenly guys like Carnage, the Hobgoblin and Sabretooth are acting like heroes, Tony Stark is being a huge jerk (and is drinking again), Deadpool is a pacifist and the X-Men have pledged their loyalty to Apocalypse. Eventually, a reinversion spell is cast, returning most of the heroes and villains to their normal selves, with Stark among the few exceptions.

Oh, and at some point, it’s revealed that Magneto is not the biological father of Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch. Because movie rights stuff, I assume.

Among the new series spun out of Axis were Superior Iron Man, about the new, jerkier Stark; a new volume of Uncanny Avengers starring Quicksilver and the Scarlet Witch, and Wolverines, which features an inverted Sabretooth among other characters directly affected by the death of Wolverine.

That brings us to the present, mere days from the start of Secret Wars. But wait, there’s more! Check back later this week for a bonus installment, featuring a few of the crossovers we overlooked.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/22

Beyond Belief #1
Story: Ben Acker & Ben Blacker
Art: Phil Hester

Who cares what evil lurks in the hearts of men? Me for one, if that evil is spooooky and being investigated by Frank and Sadie Doyle in the pages of Image Comics second series based off the wonderful Thrilling Adventure Hour, Beyond Belief. Beyond Belief is my favorite segment of TAH, starring Paul F Tompkins and Paget Brewster as everyone's favorite married mediums, the Doyles, and as with the other TAH comic, Sparks Nevada, this takes place before the events of the podcast, so no prior knowledge is needed. You get to meet the Doyles, bon vivants and alcohol aficionados, who love nothing more than booze and each other. But their bliss is interrupted when Sadie's best friend, Donna, calls to ask for the Doyles' help, as the house she just bought is haunted. For those who know their TAH, Donna will one day be Donna Henderson, vampire and wife of werewolf Dave Henderson, and mother to the beast of the Apocalypse. But right now, she's just Donna Donner, new homeowner. The Doyles enter the haunted house to find a room full of creepy dolls, ancient spectres, and the ghosts of Mary Ellen Capp and her dead husband, Ted. With the story written by TAH creators Ben Acker and Ben Blacker it's not surprising that the dialogue is spot on; I can hear the actors reading the dialogue in my head. It's funny and with just a hint of creepy, especially the flying evil dolls. Phil Hester does a great job, not just capturing the horror, but also the essence of the Doyles. Frank and Sadie look dapper, dashing, and just a tad drunk, which is the ideal for the Doyles. And as a bonus, this issue also contains the digital first Beyond Belief #0 from the same creative team that tells the story of how Frank and Sadie met! If you've never tried Thrilling Adventure Hour, and like horror and comedy, this is the book to try, and if you're already a fan, well, you know what's in here, so get out and pick it up.

Empire: Uprising #1
Story: Mark Waid
Art: Barry Kitson

I love that no project is ever completely dead in comics is the creators have the passion and the rights (yeah, that last one is a little more problematic, but still...). It's how John Ostrander can return to Grimjack after a decade plus away, how I still hold out hope for Mage: The Hero Denied from Matt Wagner, and how we can get a new Empire story a decade after the last. I've been reading Empire through all of its incarnations, the two issues through Image and then the six from DC, so its new life at IDW is exciting. Empire is the story of a world conquered by Golgoth, a supervillain, and the workings of his inner court; it's like Game of Thrones with supervillains. This issue picks up a year after the end of the last issue, and the reader gets a primer on what has gone before from a schoolteacher talking to her class about world history; we hear her sanitized version of history along with panels showing exactly what Golgoth did to bring about his utopia, which is a nice touch. It's the anniversary of the death of Golgoth's daughter, Princess Delfi, and the world will have a moment of silence. And we quickly see that moment of silence is enforced with lethal force for anyone who breaks it. It's chilling to see that there's no real heart in Golgoth. This isn't the villain who has some kernel of good in him; he's a monster. He is also ridiculously powerful, which is evident as he slaughters a group of resistance fighters who attack during the moment of silence. Attacking in masks of Delfi is creepy enough, but as they cry out "Daddy!" in combat, well. brrrrrr. With the soldiers put down, we see various members of Golgoth's inner circle, and get a feeling for those who surround him. And we see Golgoth change his mind, something that does not go unnoticed by the various villains who serve him. Predators always sense weakness after all. It's a strong set-up for the return to this dystopia, and I'm looking forward to heading back in and seeing exactly who is trying to overthrow Golgoth and what their plans are.

Velvet #10
Story: Ed Brubaker
Art: Steve Epting

One of the numerous impressive things about Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting's spy thriller, Velvet, is the way they balance action and plot.Over the course of this arc, Velvet Templeton, on the run from her own agency, ARC-7, has been attempting to find a traitor, and done some things along the way that would indicate to an outside observer she is the traitor, including freeing imprisoned traitor Damian Lake. Well, Damian escaped at the end of last issue, and now Velvet, on a train, is confronted by French authorities. This sets off an issue that is full of intense action, with a fight and flight on the train, through the woods, and to a farmhouse. Epting is at his best in this issue, drawing Velvet making her way through and on top of the train, diving off it, and fighting gendarmes and dogs hunting her through the woods. Brubaker gets to do some nice character work during the chase, especially as Velvet has to fight a dog and does so with reluctance. But as we get to the end of the chase, we see that Damian sold her out to the local ARC-7 office, and we meet the next of our potential traitors, local chief Jean Bellanger. But Damian is up to tricks, and a captured Velvet doesn't remain so as Damian's plan unfolds. The final pages, both Velvet's final scene and the epilogue, set all the gears that have been moving slowly into full speed. There is blood and bodies, and a power vacuum left at issue's end that will need to be filled, and whoever does it is going to want Velvet. It's a nail biter of an ending, one I absolutely didn't see coming and left my jaw on the floor. Velvet is the best spy comic I think I've ever read, adding a modern tilt to the classic James Bond formula. This issue marks the end of the second arc, so it's a perfect time to catch up before the third act begins.

And Dan Grote looks at this week's most talked about comic...

All-New X-Men #40
Story: Brian Michael Bendis
Art: Mahmud Asrar and Rain Beredo

X-Men post-crossover issues are often some of the franchise’s best moments, a chance for creative teams to mold memorable character beats, like Jean Grey proposing to Scott Summers or Jubilee teaching Professor X how to rollerblade. Frankly, I’d be weirded out if Brian Michael Bendis, who wrote many a breakfast scene during his run on the Avengers, couldn’t hack that.

Cards on the table: As someone who has been reading X-comics for more than 20 years, I have no problem whatsoever with Iceman being gay. Let’s be honest, the original five X-Men – five white kids, one of whom was “the girl” – were the Blandest Teens of All. Stan and Jack couldn’t even bother to write origin stories for them; they were just born with powers. Having one of them turn out to be gay at least adds a little spice to the mix. And it’s not like Chuck Austen didn’t toy with the idea during his run on Uncanny, much maligned as it is. And how many stories have there been in which somebody accused Bobby Drake of holding back? Perhaps that wasn’t just about his powers. I guess my only REAL question is: Whatever happened to Opal Tanaka?

I know some have raised issues about the WAY the reveal occurred, with Jean being telepathically invasive and the sort of heteronormative idea that gay people need to “out” themselves whereas straights can just be. I won’t pretend to be an expert in those things, nor should I, but as to the fact of a longtime character being retconned this way, I’m on board. I also really like Jean’s facial expressions and hand gestures in those panels.

All-New X-Men #40 wasn’t just about Bobby and Jean’s heart-to-heart, though. We also get a midair chat between young Angel and X-23. Warren is sporting new wings after the Black Vortex story, a move he says he made deliberately after learning how his adult self was corrupted by Apocalypse and then essentially erased by a Celestial life seed.

The framing scenes set up one last storyline (because Secret Wars) involving a band of mutants protecting Utopia, the X-Men’s old island base. I won’t spoil who they are, because I could only make out two of the six, one of which is an Obscure ’90s Relic.

Also, heh heh, Tyke-lops.

Thursday, April 23, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 6: Disassembled to A vs. X, the Bendis Avengers years

In 2004, Marvel gave the Avengers to writer Brian Michael Bendis, who immediately disbanded the team, in a line-rebooting story called “Disassembled.” The Scarlet Witch went crazy; Jack of Hearts, Ant-Man (Scott Lang) and Hawkeye were killed; Tony Stark appeared to have fallen off the wagon again in front of the United Nations; and the Avengers realized they needed a little bit of a break (except Lionheart, who was all, “but I just bloody got here!”).

From the ashes of the Avengers rose the New Avengers, a Bendis-helmed team that mixed classic heavy-hitters such as Captain America and Iron Man with street-level heroes such as Spider-Man and Luke Cage. There also rose a story called Secret War (singular), a Bendis-penned mini in which the aforementioned heroes went on a classified mission for Original-Recipe Nick Fury into Latveria that resulted in Fury going underground and the appointment of a new SHIELD director, Maria Hill, who was decidedly anti-hero.

The next big event, 2005’s House of M, was the first of the post-“Disassembled” era and was mainly told in its own book, written by Bendis and drawn by Olivier Coipel. House of M dealt directly with the fallout from Disassembled, specifically the Scarlet Witch’s out-of-control powers. Wanda warps reality and creates an alternate world in which her father Magneto’s dream of mutant dominance comes to fore. Through a young girl named Layla Miller (a future star of Peter David’s second run on X-Factor), the X-Men and Avengers come to realize they are trapped in a world they never made, and confront Magneto and the royal family. Reality is restored, except for the part where Wanda whispers “No More Mutants,” and all but 198 of the world’s homo superior lose their powers.

Meanwhile, tensions between SHIELD and the tights-and-capes set kept climbing, coming to a boiling point in a massive explosion in Stamford, Connecticut, that was a direct result of the New Warriors hunting supervillains for a reality show. This led to the creation in Congress of the Superhuman Registration Act and caped crusaders of all stripes taking sides and battling each other in a superhero Civil War, written by Mark Millar and drawn by Steve McNiven. On one side was Team Iron Man, which favored registration and the regulation of powers, and on the other side was Team Captain America, which favored freedom and the right to privacy. Civil War is notable for a few things, namely Spider-Man unmasking on national television, the death of Goliath (Bill Foster) at the hands of a robot clone of Thor, Tony Stark becoming director of SHIELD and, most importantly, the death of Steve Rogers. Don’t worry, he got better.

As if Civil War hadn’t done enough to prove superheroes have trust issues, the New Avengers had stumbled upon Elektra’s body morphed into that of a Skrull, a green, shape-shifting, craggy-jawed race of aliens. This led to months of “how do I know you’re not a Skrull?” stories that culminated in 2008’s Secret Invasion, an event series by Bendis and Leinil Francis Yu. A number of people are revealed to be Skrulls, including Hank Pym, Dum Dum Dugan and the Avengers’ butler Jarvis. Chief among the secret Skrulls though, is Spider-Woman, who is revealed to be the Skrull queen, and who also had been playing double agent for both SHIELD and Hydra. The queen is killed by, of all people, Norman Osborn, who at the time was running a government-sponsored Thunderbolts team. This leads to Osborn disbanding SHIELD and running its replacement agency, HAMMER. As a result, all heroes – not just the anti-registration ones – are now public enemy No. 1.

Osborn’s Dark Reign culminated in Siege, a 2010 event series by Bendis and Coipel that plays off recent events in Thor. The Odinson was reborn and in turn revived all his friends and Asgard itself, which was now floating a few feet off the ground in rural Broxton, Oklahoma. Loki convinces Osborn to make a play for Asgard, which, naturally, leads to Osborn’s downfall, as participation in Marvel events is mandatory for all heroes, from Spider-Man right down to Howard the Duck. Osborn falls, the government apologizes for treating superheroes like dirt for the past few years, Steve Rogers is appointed commander of all goodie-goodies and the Ewoks sing “Celebrate the Love.” Oh, and there’s a super-gross double-page spread of the Sentry ripping a dude in half.

In the next crossover, 2011’s Fear Itself by Matt Fraction and Stuart Immomen, Odin’s brother, the Norse god of fear, takes on Earth’s mightiest. Eight hammers carrying the power of the former generals of Cul, the fear god, fall to Earth to be wielded by Sin, Juggernaut, the Hulk, Titania, Attuma, Grey Gargoyle, The Thing and the Absorbing Man. In response, Tony Stark and Odin forge new weapons to be wielded by Spider-Man, Black Widow, Hawkeye, Wolverine, Iron Fist, Ms. Marvel, Red She-Hulk and Dr. Strange. If there’s ever a crossover where death meant squat, it’s this one, as Bucky Barnes, the Thing and Thor were all shown to die but quickly got better. That said, it is in Fear Itself that Steve Rogers returns to being Captain America after leaving the role to Barnes, and Colossus becomes the Juggernaut.

The Bendis age of Avenger-dom ends with 2012’s Avengers vs. X-Men, which is fitting, considering after the crossover he jumped over to the X books. The main series was co-written by Bendis, Ed Brubaker, Matt Fraction, Jason Aaron and Jonathan Hickman and co-penciled by Coipel, John Romita Jr. and Adam Kubert. The event is incited by the Phoenix Force, which was coming to Earth, supposedly to possess the X-Men’s ward, Hope. The Avengers want the X-Men to fork her over, Cyclops says no and eventually we get Civil War 2: Mutant Boogaloo. When the Phoenix Force finally does come to Earth, instead of going after Hope, it splits and possesses Cyclops and his four capos: Emma Frost, Colossus, Magik and Namor. Fighting continues, Namor levels Wakanda, Cyclops kills Professor Xavier, Hope gets a training montage in Iron Fist’s home of K’un-Lun, Cyclops goes Dark Phoenix and, finally, Hope and Scarlet Witch’s powers combine to repel the Phoenix Force and, BONUS, reverse the effects of M-Day, giving all the mutants their powers back. As additional fallout, Matt writes a piece about how Cyclops was right.

Next week, we wrap this series with a look at the crossovers of the Marvel NOW era and a bonus look at some of the stories we previously missed.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Wednesday, April 22, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 5: Onslaught to Second Coming: Even More X-overs

So you guys remember when Charles Xavier turned Magneto into a vegetable in X-Men #25 during “Fatal Attractions?” Well, apparently a small part of Magneto had burrowed into Xavier’s head as a result and was corrupting him from the inside, causing him to do things like rocket-punch the Juggernaut into Hoboken and create Post. These events led to the big companywide crossover of summer 1996, Onslaught, named for the hot mess that was supposed to be the combined personalities of Xavier and Magneto. Onslaught encompassed all the X-books, the Avengers, the Fantastic Four and the Incredible Hulk, and featured cameos by Dr. Doom, Apocalypse and the Watcher. In defeating Onslaught, the Avengers, FF and Doom end up getting sucked into a pocket dimension created by Franklin Richards that led to a yearlong series of books under the banner Heroes Reborn, featuring the return to Marvel of Image ex-pats Jim Lee and Rob Liefeld. In their absence, Xavier was arrested for being Onslaught, a new character named Bastion fed the flames of anti-mutant hysteria, fellow mutant-hater (and mutant supervillain progeny) Graydon Creed ran for president and a new team of superheroes showed up called the Thunderbolts. The events of Onslaught would later inspire Rick Remender’s work on Uncanny Avengers and a recent, equally messy crossover called Axis.

Bastion is the focus of the next year’s crossover, Operation: Zero Tolerance. The Master Mold-Nimrod hybrid uses an army of human-sentinel hybrids called Prime Sentinels to capture key members of the X-Men under the aegis of the U.S. government. He is apprehended by SHIELD in a scene in which he gets a stern talking-to by, of all people, Iceman, who is in revenge mode after his father was beaten to death by Graydon Creed’s lackeys before Creed was assassinated. OZT marks the addition of two new X-Men: the Morlock-Gene Nation member Marrow, whose body produces weapons made of bone, and Dr. Cecilia Reyes, a reluctant member who has force-field powers.

Next came the “Hunt for Xavier,” a tight crossover of the two main X-books in which the X-Men fight a Cerebro that has gained sentience – apparently all the X-Men’s tech has to Pinocchio at some point (see also the Danger Room) – and the professor is found to be working with the Brotherhood of (Evil?) Mutants.

The next two X-overs center on heavy-hitter villains. “Magneto War” restores the master of magnetism from bearded vegetable to top-dog baddie and gets rid of Joseph, the young Magneto clone who had ingratiated himself among the X-Men for the past few years. The story ends with the United Nations ceding to Magneto the island of Genosha, which hadn't been messed with in a while, so it was ripe for the picking.

The dawn of the new millennium brought the long-promised reveal of “The Twelve,” a group of mutants who were predicted to … do something. It turns out that something is power a machine that would help Apocalypse take over the body of Nate Grey, the refugee from the Age of Apocalypse. Sadly, nearly 15 years of build-up (The Twelve were first mentioned in an early issue of X-Factor) didn’t quite deliver the story some were hoping for. Nevertheless, the Twelve were revealed to be Magneto, Polaris, Storm, Sunfire, Iceman, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable, Bishop, Professor X, Mikhail Rasputin (?) and the Living Monolith (???). Apocalypse fails to possess Nate Grey but ends up possessing Cyclops instead. After a series of reality-warping stories called Ages of Apocalypse, Chris Claremont returns to the X-books and jumps them forward six months for some ill-explained power swaps, couple swaps and guys-named-Thunderbird swaps.

Then for a while, nothing happened … well, not really, but the early 00s saw a series of writers rotate through the X-books. Chris Claremont came and went, followed by Scott Lobdell, then Grant Morrison and Joe Casey, then Chuck Austen, then Joss Whedon and Claremont yet again, et al. Brian Michael Bendis wrote an X-Men/Avengers crossover called House of M, which we’ll touch on in the next post.

At this point, all but 198 of Earth’s mutants have been depowered, and the X-Men are super bummed about it. Then, for the first time in a long time, Cerebra (the sequel to Cerebro, which met its demise in the “Hunt for Xavier”), picks up a blip in Alaska, a state crawling with Summers family blood.

Which brings us to 2007-08’s “Messiah Complex,” the first of three crossovers that will center on Hope, the first baby born after M-Day. Complex finds the X-Men in a race against Mr. Sinister’s Marauders and the Rev. William Stryker’s Purifiers to find Hope. Among its significant events, Xavier is rendered comatose, Mystique kills Sinister, Cyclops sanctions Wolverine to form a new X-Force that will serve as the X-Men’s secret kill squad, Bishop loses his crap and suddenly remembers Hope is the Antichrist of his timeline, and Cable takes Hope into the future to raise her, because if the future was good enough for Cable, then goshdarnit, it’s good enough for his adopted daughter.

Cable and Hope return from the future in 2010’s “Second Coming,” which is largely a battle of military wits between Cyclops – who by now has turned the remaining mutants into a paramilitary strike team all living on the same island off San Francisco – and Bastion – who has resurrected all your favorite mutant-haters, from Cameron Hodge to Graydon Creed. The good guys win, but at a pretty hefty price: Both Cable and Nightcrawler are killed (obviously they've both since gotten better). The story ends with Cerebra registering five new blips, launching a series called Generation Hope that would last 17 issues.

Internecine strife (lowercase, with an i) among the X-Men reaches a boiling point in 2011’s Schism miniseries by Jason Aaron, which saw Cyclops and Wolverine break the X-Men into two different camps, one of which stayed on the island off San Fran and the other of which rebuilt the Xavier Institute and renamed it the Jean Grey School, in a split that remains to this day.

For more good guys fighting good guys, stop by later this week for a look at the Bendis age of Avengers crossovers, from Disassembled to A vs. X.

Dan Grote’s new novel, Magic Pier, is available however you get your books online. He has been writing for The Matt Signal since 2014. He and Matt have been friends since the days when making it to issue 25 guaranteed you a foil cover.

Tuesday, April 21, 2015

Animated Discussions: Batman Vs. Robin

In July of 2013, Warner Bros. Animation made a change to the way they were handling the DC Comics direct to DVD movie program. Instead of a series of one off stories, they were going to start making most of the animated features fit into a cohesive universe based loosely on the New 52. You haven't seen me talking about this new program thus far because I felt it met with mixed results. There was a feeling to me that they were pushing the boundaries of blood and violence simply because they could. But each none has gotten progressively better, and I would have written up the previous entry, Justice League: Throne of Atlantis, if not for want of time. But last week, Batman Vs. Robin was released, and I enjoyed it so much that I felt I had to write it up, despite being a bit behind the curve, putting the review up a week after release.

The plot revolves around two conflicts, one external to Batman's family, and one internal, that come together in the end. The external conflict is Batman dealing with the appearance of the Court of Owls, a secret society that has shaped Gotham City's history for centuries. The internal conflict is Batman dealing with his son, Damian, who came to live with him in an earlier film, Son of Batman, and who, having been trained by his maternal grandfather, Ra's al Ghul, to be a master assassin, is having a hard time fitting in with Batman's more strict morality. As the Court makes its play to not only destroy Batman and win Brcue Wayne to its side, Damian is wooed by Talon, the Court's assassin, to become his apprentice and abandon Batman.

This story isn't a direct adaption of any one story, but actually draws it's main inspirations from two, and neither of those is the Grant Morrison story, "Batman Vs. Robin." The first story is obviously Scott Snyder and Greg Capullo's "Court of Owls," the very popular inaugural arc of the current volume of Batman. The Court and their Talon are the main antagonists of the film. The second story is the first arc of the second volume of Batman and Robin, "Born to Kill," by Peter J. Tomasi and Patrick Gleason. The stories are blended together well, having the Talon take the place of Nobody, the villain of the latter story, who was trying to win Robin away from Batman.

With a screenplay from comic book writer J.M. DeMatteis (who also wrote a handful of episodes of Justice League Unlimited and Batman: The Brave and the Bold), this is one of the best written of the DC animated movies. DeMatteis gets to the heart of Batman and Robin's relationship, and establishes the conflict between them well; it's not just that Damian is a brat with a chip on his shoulder, it's that Bruce doesn't know how to be a father. Nightwing and Alfred both appear, giving their own opinions on how Batman should be dealing with this, but they are used sparingly, allowing the conflict between father and son to keep the central place in the narrative.

By removing Lincoln March, the central villain of the initial Court of Owls story, the movie allows the Talon to take center stage as the villain. That Talon remains unnamed throughout the story, but his background is revealed, and he is not one of the Talons that we've met in the comics. His background is not a direct parallel for Batman's, making him another anti-Bat, but with his training and his being raised by a criminal father he betrays to the police, it's clear that he is meant to understand Damian and what it's like to have a father who doesn't understand and love you, allowing for a logical conflict between Batman and Talon for Damian's loyalty.

The new animated style is also starting to grow on me. While it's not as clean as the classic Bruce Timm style, it has a great sense of fluidity and lends itself to more detail. The designs for the Talons, and the creepy way they move and heal, was a highlight of the movie. The characters in costume look great, but the one place I feel still needs a little work is some of the more sedate moments. This style is very action oriented, so the faces when not masked or in motion can occasionally look a bit off model, with oddly flat faces.

Jason O'Mara, now in his fourth outing voicing Batman, has grown well into the role. It's always hard to hear a new Batman, since Kevin Conroy has inhabited the role for so long, both in screen and in my head, but O'Mara is finding a nice balance, making his voice gruff but understandable. Stuart Allan also does a good job as Damian; it's not often that an actual kid voices a kid in an animated feature, but Allan is a professional, and his Damian can sound both haughty and tragically young at the appropriate times. Jeremy Sisto, who once voiced Batman in the Justice League: The New Frontier feature, voices Talon, and is well suited for the villain. Because it's a Batman project, do keep your ears open for the requisite Kevin Conroy cameo, this time as Bruce's father, Thomas, who gets to read the Court of Owls nursery rhyme. And listen for a brief appearance by an almost unrecognizable Weird Al Yankovic as this world's version of the Dollmaker, who combines the version from the pre-Flashpoint continuity with the current version, giving him an interesting and creepy tie to classic Superman villain, Toyman

I know there has been some grumbling from various internet corners about Warner adapting these new stories when there are so many classics to still be adapted. But for the reason that they're new and can be changed, versus something like Killing Joke that is etched in stone after twenty plus years of being regarded as a classic, it makes sense to me. While I too would love to see Kingdom Come on my TV, this is anew bit of universe building. And if Batman Vs. Robin is any indication, this new program is moving in the right direction.

Monday, April 20, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/15

Archie Vs. Predator #1
Story: Alex de Campi
Art: Fernando Ruiz

Yes, you read that right: Archie and the kids from Riverdale are now the most dangerous game in Archie Vs. Predator, copublsihed by Dark Horse Comics and Archie Comics. After Jughead wins a contest in a bag of chips, the gang from Riverdale gets to go to the island resort of Los Perdidos on spring break. And while they're there, a ship arrives carrying movie's most legendary alien hunter: The Predator. It's a pretty simple set up, and most of the first issue is taken up by the gang's usual Archie-style adventure: Dilton has to finish layouts for the yearbook, and having not done any of the polls (most popular, most likely to succeed, etc). everyone agrees to help, despite there being only twenty or so kids there of the entire high school. Hey, this is the Archie world and we know only they matter. Cheryl Blossom and her twin brother, Jason, show up, and as the other local rich kids, decide to start instigating fights between Betty and Veronica, simply because Cheryl has it in for Veronica, thus interfering with the "Best Dressed" competition. Sounds about right for a high school hijinks Archie story. right? Well, that would be true if the Predator wasn't watching them in his creepy infrared vision. And if Veronica and Betty didn't get into a full on fight and Veronica broke Betty's nose. And if Betty didn't wander into an ancient temple the Blossoms were talking about looting and inadvertently take an obsidian looking dagger. And if the Predator didn't flay a couple kids. This, ladies and gents, is not Archie Meets Punisher, where the violence level was more akin to an Archie story; this is a Predator story with Archie and his pals & gals in it. As the issue ends, the kids head back to Riverdale with the Predator following.  Fernando Ruiz is one of the masters of the classic Archie house style, and while his Archie, Betty, Veronica, Jughead, et. al. are all spot on, this doesn't mean his Predator looks light and goofy; it's as monstrous as you would expect, and that juxtaposition, of monsters and gore with classic Archie, is what really blows your mind reading this issue. It's fun, crazy, and not the least bit what you'd expect, and that's what makes it all the better. It also earns extra bonus points for a one page back-up strip of Sabrina the Teenage Witch meeting Hellboy, which is excellent, and has some great art from Robert Hack, who is the regular artist on...

Chilling Adventures of Sabrina #2
Story: Robert Aguirre-Sacasa
Art: Robert Hack

After a long delay, the second issue of the second Archie Horror title comes out, and it was worth the wait. The first issue of Chilling Adventures of Sabrina set-up Sabrina's status quo in this darker world, establishing her character, as well as those of her aunts, her familiar, Salem, and her friends and nemeses at school. This second issue focuses mostly on her actual enemy, Madam Satan. Madam Satan was the witch Sabrina's father abandoned in favor of Sabrina's mortal mother, and we spend this issue watching her as, recently freed from Gehenna, she cuts a swath through the world, starting her plans for revenge. She initially exacts revenge on Sabrina's parents, but finding that they have a daughter, she begins a deeper, darker game as she arrives at Sabrina's town and works her way into Sabrina's circle. The design on Madam Satan is really creepy, with skulls for eyes, kind of taking the Corinthian from Sandman design for the next level of horror. Robert Hack's style, with it's many lines and heavy shadows, along with the colors, give the book a feeling of a classic horror movie, something akin to Rosemary's Baby, with its creeping dread, so setting the story in 1966 feel appropriate. The time we spend with Sabrina in the issue deals with her trying out for the school play, and we get a great little scene where Sabrina meets with another witch, who just happens to be a famous movie star of the time, but I'll let you find out who that is one your own. After six months, it was a dicey proposition to have your protagonist relegated to being a supporting player in your second issue, but I felt like it worked. Letting the reader really see Madam Satan's motivation, and exactly what she can do, ratchets up the tension, and makes us more worried for Sabrina. I never thought I'd say that Archie was publishing some of the best horror comics on the market, but between this and Afterlife with Archie, that seems to be the case. I just hope it's less than six months before we see the next issue.

The Fox #1
Story: Dean Haspiel & Mark Waid
Art: Dean Haspiel

The Fox mini-series that came out under the brief Red Circle imprint from Archie a year and change ago, "Freak Magnet," was one of the strangest superhero comics I'd read in a long time, and intentionally so. The beginning of the new ongoing from the same creative team is no less strange. Paul Patton, the titular superhero who attracts weirdness to himself, is out on a job as a photojournalist, taking pictures of his home town, that is about to be flooded to make a watershed to help Impact City, where he and his family live. He and his son, Shinji, are taking pictures when a supervillain, Dream Demon, arrives, and Paul must reluctantly don his costume to try to stop her. Only it turns out Paul knows Dream Demon as his childhood sweetheart, Linda, who wants to stop the town from being flooded for nostalgic reasons. It's a very thoughtful story, with Paul's memories shown throughout, and he does his best to stop Linda without actually fighting her. As much as this is a superhero story, it's more a character piece, really letting the reader get into Paul's head and understand him, and setting up his family life, with Shinji and his wife, Mae. It's clear being a superhero isn't what Paul wants to do anymore, but he does it because it's the right thing to do. It's a really enjoyable first issue, and stands so differently from the other Dark Circle superhero title from Archie, Black Hood, that I'm impressed by how hard they're trying to do different things. Just because the line is called Dark Circle doesn't mean everything has to be doom and gloom; The Fox is a very entertaining and fun debut. The end of the issue sets off the "Fox Hunt" that is the title of the arc, and introduces new readers to local mob boss Mister Smile and a group of other supervillains, who have some great designs and a loopy personality or two amongst them. If you picked up "Freak Magnet" or enjoy your superheroes with a little touch of the surreal or with strong character behind the mask, you should definitely try out The Fox.

Friday, April 17, 2015

Recommended Reading for 4/17: Code Monkey Save World

Music and comics have a long and strange history. All sorts of artists have had their own comics; while Kiss has probably the longest history, Prince, the Wu Tang Clan, and others have had their own comics, and various artists have guest starred in popular titles, from Aerosmith in Shadowman to Pat Boone in Superman's Girlfriend, Lois Lane. And some musicians have written comics, like Gerad Way's Umbrella Academy. But I'm not talking about them today. Today, I'm talking about geek singer-songwriter  Jonathan Coulton's collaboration with writer Greg Pak and artist Takeshi Miyazawa, Code Monkey Save World. I'm just starting with some historical context.

I first encountered the music of Jonathan Coulton through some of my wife's friends. They started bringing up YouTube clips, and by the third or fourth song, I was hooked. His lyrics were smart and funny, and he was singing about stuff like being a programmer, the presidents of the United States, Ikea, and the Mandelbrot set. And when he started as the one man house band on NPR's Ask Me Another, well, you add NPR to that other geekery, and this was a guy who was right up my alley. And I was vaguely aware that he had a Kickstarter for a comics project, but I wasn't doing the whole Kickstarter thing at the time. More the fool me.

Flash forward to New York Comic Con this past year, and I'm talking to Greg Pak, a tremendously nice guy by the way, whose run on Incredible Hulks I had just written up. Among the books he had for sale, I saw Code Monkey Save World, and I remembered that Kickstarter. And you toss in a a writer whose work I love with a musician whose songs I love, and it became a must buy. Greg signed my copy, and I was off. I read it shortly thereafter, loved it, and knew I was going to write it up, but was waiting for the right time. That time is today, and you'll find out why a little later.

Code Monkey Save World follows the misadventures of Charles, a computer programmer for SCM Industries who happens to be, well, an actual monkey. The graphic novel follows Charles as he goes from his humdrum, boring day-to-day life into a wild adventure involving supervillains, beautiful women, the fate of the world, and curling.

After his office is attacked by robots and their armored female leader, and all his coworkers are kidnapped by the robots to serve on mines on the asteroid Chiron Beta Prime, Charles finds out that his company is actually owned by Skullcrusher, a supervillain whose main methods involve corporate bureaucracy and patent lawsuits, and whose goal is to get the attention of Laura, the Robot Queen, who he had a crush on when they were in school together. Charles is willing to help the Skullcrusher in his attempts to thwart Laura's plans (because if you're a pair of supervillains, you can't just send flowers. Thwarting is courting) because one of the people kidnapped was Matilde, the receptionist who Charles has a crush on.

One of the things I really enjoyed about the book is the Matilde doesn't need Charles to save her; as a matter of fact, every attempt to do so just makes things worse. Matilde happens to be former Staff Sergeant Matilde Sanchez, and she does way better on her own. And Laura is a way better supervillain than Skullcrusher. Pak presents his female leads as far more competent than his bumbling male leads; Matilde is no damsel in distress and Laura could have probably taken over the world with little problems except for that classic bumbling interference from Shullcrusher and Charles.

As the story progresses, the cast grows with even more bizarre characters. When Skullcrusher decides to take the fight to Laura, he calls in the other members of Villainy Affiliated, LLC. These supervillains include a giant squid, aan animated, one-eyed, psychic creepy doll named Creepy Doll, and Zombie Bob, who's an office worker turned zombie. They're frankly all more evil than Skullcrusher too, and once again Charles is in over his head. Soon a government agent, code-named B-12 and a curler named Skip Jorgenson are also on their way to stop Laura. It all comes together with a team up of all our leads to stop Zombie Bob's hordes from overtaking the world to determine who will rule the world after the averted zombie apocalypse. And in the end, Charles makes a choice about his life. He grows as a character over the course of the book, and by the end isn't the same code monkey he was at the beginning.

Yes, that's a lot of plot for the equivalent of four single comics. But that's part of the fun. It's this constant stream of crazy jokes, big plot, and fun character beats. Pak is a writer who has always had a strong sense of character, and even though a lot of these characters start out very broadly drawn, which makes sense as most have their origins in 2-4 minute long songs, he spends time with each to let you understand their motivations. Well, everyone except Zombie Bob and Creepy Doll. They're pretty much just evil.

Artist Takeshi Miyazawa (best known for his work on Runaways with Brian Vaughan and co-creating Amadeus Cho with Greg Pak) goes a long way helping establish character, as his style, with its manga influences, gives a lot of big, wild expressions that carry a lot of weight. His designs for all the characters, from Charles's put upon look at the beginning to his more confident one by the end, to Laura's armor and robots, to the especially disturbing punkey (read the book, trust me) are original and really eye catching.

At the back of the book, you'll find some making of material, and a series of short strips by various other creators inspired by other Couton songs. A couple of these include Fred Van Lente and Ryan Dunlavey of Action Philosophers fame do a more historically accurate take on former baseball commissioner Kenesaw Mountain Landis and Pak teaming with Faith Erin Hicks for "Mister Fancy Pants." It's a nice little bonus gallery to compliment the main story.

If you've never heard a single Jonathan Coulton song but this sounds like something you'd want to check out, that's perfectly ok, as it's not like you need to know the songs to get what's going on, but it sure does add a level of depth as the characters from various songs wind up together, and you pick up all the other inside jokes. It's also nice that the jokes fly so fast and furious, and serve the plot so well, but it doesn't take time to stop and wink at the camera every time one happens. If it did, all you'd see was a lot of winking.

I picked this book for this week's recommendation because Coulton, Pak, and Miyazawa recently completed a Kickstarter for a second book, a picture book based on Coulton's song The Princess Who Saved Herself, about a princess who stops an evil queen with the power of friendship and rock n' roll. I contributed and just got my digital copy, and it's wonderful. The print copies are due in a couple months, but if you liked this review and are curious about Code Money Save World or Princess Who Saved Herself, you can now pre-order either book here. So seriously, go to Spotify or your favorite music streaming service, check out some Jonathan Coulton, and then check out the books. They're all gonna bring a smile to your face. Especially if you love monkeys. And who doesn't, really?

Thursday, April 16, 2015

Fit to Be Tied In: A History of Marvel Crossovers and Events- Part 4: X-Cutioner’s Song to Age of Apocalypse: More X-overs

For more than a year from the debut of X-Men #1 in fall 1991, the X-books remained crossover-free. The interim saw some creative upheaval, with Chris Claremont, Jim Lee, Rob Liefeld and John Byrne all leaving, and Scott Lobdell and Fabian Nicieza becoming the main architects of the X-verse, with new names like Andy Kubert and Greg Capullo coming up on art.

The new crew got their first big story in 1992’s “X-Cutioner’s Song,” a 12-part event that spanned Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Force, and X-Factor. The main antagonist of the Song was Stryfe, the pointy, silver-suited supervillain who had shown up about the same time as Cable, the paramilitary leader who turned the New Mutants into X-Force. Stryfe is out for revenge on a number of important X-characters, including Professor X, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Cable and Apocalypse. Late in the story, he appears to reveal himself as the baby Cyclops sent to the future in X-Factor #68, all grown up. This is later debunked, with Cable proven to be the child and Stryfe the clone. Stryfe is defeated, but in a last act of villainy tricks Mister Sinister into releasing the Legacy Virus, a disease that will go on to kill a number of mutants. He also unleashes Stryfe’s Strike File upon the world, so that’s two posthumous F-Yous.

In 1993, after 30 years of existing, Magneto gets to be the main bad guy of a crossover. “Fatal Attractions” sees Big M build a new orbiting space base, regain control of the Acolytes from Fabian Cortez and invite along any X-Men who would like to completely isolate themselves from civilization. Colossus bites, getting up in the middle of his sister’s funeral (she died of the Legacy Virus) to join the X-Men’s sworn enemy. Professor X launches an attack on Magneto’s new digs, which results in Magneto ripping the adamantium from Wolverine’s body, which remains one of the most badass things I’ve seen in a comic. Xavier responds by turning Magneto into a vegetable. Wolverine – whose claws are revealed to have been part of his skeleton all along – leaves the team to go find himself.

Magneto’s goons weren’t done playing with the X-Men, though. “Fatal Attractions” was quickly followed by “Bloodties,” an X-Men/Avengers story in which Fabian Cortez, the former leader of the Acolytes, kidnaps Luna, Magneto’s granddaughter by Quicksilver and the Inhuman Crystal, and foments civil unrest in Genosha, which can’t get its act together in a post "X-tinction Agenda" world. Things go from bad to worse when Exodus, Magneto’s current capo di mutie, shows up and drops and big-ol’ psionic dome over the Genoshan capital. The good guys win, but the Avengers lose their U.N. charter for interfering in Genoshan political stuff.

As the crossovers continue through the years, the number of X-books expands, and writers and editors struggle to spread the events to all the books in the line, as opposed to three or four books. “The Phalanx Covenant,” for example, is spread out over Uncanny X-Men, X-Men, X-Factor, X-Force, Excalibur, Cable, and Wolverine (By today’s standards, that’s a downright reasonable number of X-books. Scary). The Phalanx are a techno-organic alien race that crept on the scene immediately after Fatal Attractions (and who would many years later team up with Ultron to menace the Kree Emprie in Annihilation: Conquest), assimilating thought-dead characters such as Stephen Lang, Cameron Hodge, Doug Ramsey and Candy Southern. At the opening of the covenant, the Phalanx have taken the X-Men, and it’s up to a B-team made up of Banshee, Emma Frost, Jubilee and Sabretooth to gather more mutants, specifically the team that would become Generation X. Elsewhere, Cyclops and Jean Grey, fresh from their honeymoon in the future raising Baby Cable, team up with long-rogue Wolverine and Adult Cable to shoot, snikt, teke-blast, and eyeball-laser their way to the rest of the X-Men. The ancillary teams, meanwhile (Factor, Force and Calibur), are charged with figuring out a way to stop the Phalanx on Earth from contacting reinforcements from their home planet.

Just a few short months later, Xavier’s son, Legion, goes back in time and accidentally kills his father (he was gunning for Magneto), forking the timestream and creating everyone’s favorite Age, “The Age of Apocalypse.” For 30 years, Bishop is trapped in a world where Apocalypse rules all of North America, Magneto leads the X-Men, Cyclops has one eye, Wolverine has one hand, Colossus has one red do-rag and so-on. All the X-books, right down to the just-started Generation X, were put on hold for four months to create an alternate reality that Marvel’s revisited a couple times since and is making part of the Secret Wars’ Battleworld. Uncanny and adjectiveless X-Men became Astonishing and Amazing X-Men and were about Magento’s core team. X-Force became Gambit & the Xternals, in which the thief is hired to swipe the Shi’ar M’Kraan Crystal. X-Factor became Factor X, about the Summers Brothers working for Mr. Sinister. Excalibur became X-Calibre, about Nightcrawler’s adventures in the Savage Land. Generation X became Generation Next, about a team of young mutants overseen by Colossus and Kitty Pryde. Wolverine became Weapon X, about Wolverine and Jean Grey running covert ops. And Cable became X-Man, about the genetically engineered child of Scott Summers and Jean Grey. In the end, Magneto (quite awesomely) kills Apocalypse, and four characters – Nate Grey, Holocaust, the Sugar Man and the AoA version of the Beast – escape to the restored 616 reality. As a result, the X-Man series became an ongoing. For those of you keeping score at home, that means we’re up to nine ongoing X-titles, plus the quarterly X-Men Unlimited.

In our next installment, we’ll traipse through yet more X-overs, from Onslaught as far as my self-imposed word counts will allow. Expect Bastion to show up a lot.

Tuesday, April 14, 2015

Reviews of Comics from Wednesday 4/8

Birthright #6
Story: Joshua Williamson
Art: Andrei Brissan

After a brief hiatus, Birthright is back and picking up right where it left off, both in story and quality. Brother Mikey and Brennan are now on the run together, and Mikey is using all the skills he learned spending years in the fantasy otherworld of Terrenos. There's some nice binding moments, as the two brothers act brotherly, playing and teasing in the way siblings do. But there's the darkness in Mikey, not just the fact that some aspect of the evil God King Lore is driving him, but what seems like PTSD from his years of adventuring. The jumping up from nightmares, the callous way he kills, it's clear that there's a darkness driving him. While the two brothers are off having this adventure, their parents are once again left to pick up the pieces of "real life." Aaron, the boys' father, is once again being interrogated by Det. Brooks, the officer who has been investigating the case form the start, and just as Wendy, the boys' mother, is getting through to Aaron, the NSA arrives in the form of the pompous Agent Kylen. As Kylen immediately says that Aaron's son is a threat, he seems to have less of problem with the idea that Mikey has aged twenty-plus years in the space of a year, so I'm wondering if he's just playing Aaron or if the government has some idea of what exactly is happening with Terrenos. Artist Andrei Brissan seems to have stepped up over the course of the short hiatus; while his art was excellent before, it's on a new level. The two pages spread that shows Lore and his realm is creepy and disgusting in the way you'd want the domain of a dark lord to be. There's a scene with a bear coming across the boys in the woods that really stands out, not just because the bear is gorgeously rendered (which it is), but also for the way Mikey acts towards it. The last couple of pages introduce who look to be Mikey's new nemeses, and while we know Mikey's the "bad guy" in this situation, we know him and care about him enough to want him to defeat them, which is a sign of how well written he is. Joshua Williamson amazes me; some writer have a hard time getting one book out in a month, and he writes three very strong creator owned titles, each with a different flavor. Birthright is one of most original books on the racks, mixing fantasy with modern family drama. The first trade is out now, so grab it and this first issue of the second arc now.

Convergence: Nightwing/Oracle #1
Story: Gail Simone
Art: Jan Duursema

As Convergence starts is earnest this week, we got the first week of mini-series set in old worlds, this week focusing on the pre-Flashpoint world. They were kind of a mixed bag, but shockingly, one of the really strong ones was Nightwing/Oracle from Gail Simone, who wrote Oracle longer than nearly anyone, and Jan Duursema, whose return to DC after years at Dark Horse doing some of the best Star Wars art ever is welcome. After a year under the mysterious dome, Barbara Gordon, better known as Oracle in this world, is starting to lose hope. She's been partnering with Dick Grayson, Nightwing, and they've been keeping Gotham safe. The issue is narrated form Barbara's point of view, and we see just how close she is to sinking into despair. It's hard to see Barbara, who is such a string character and been through so much, at this point, but it does make the situation seem all the more dire. Meanwhile, Nightwing is still full of so much joy and energy; Simone writes a Nightwing who is a big, grinning kid, not dumb, but as Barbara says, living every moment in the now. Duursema's kinetic style works perfectly with the acrobatic Grayson. As the issue progresses, we get the standard Convergence set-up, the gladiatorial conflict between heroes of two cities, and after seeing them wipe out the Justice Riders at the beginning of the issue, it's not a shock that our heroes will be facing the dark versions of Hawkman and Hawkwoman from the Flashpoint reality. But the deal that is offered isn't like anything else going on, and it leaves Dick and Barbara in a bad place. Barbara has just turned down Dick's marriage proposal and now tells him she's not going to fight the Hawks. But after Dick leaves, the last panel of the issue is one of those knock you off your feet ones, not for action or shock, but because it's so perfectly Oracle. Gail Simone writes a better Barbara Gordon as Oracle than pretty much anyone, and if these are the last two issues we're ever going to get, well, that last panel sums up what I want from an Oracle story and makes me even more excited for the next issue.

Convergence: The Quesion #1
Story: Greg Rucka
Art: Cully Hamner

And equally not shocking, the second Convergence title that really blew me away was The Question from Greg Rucka and Cully Hamner, who wrote the excellent backup stories featuring the character on Detective Comics. And as you'd expect from Rucka writing the Question, this is a very personal and human story about Renee Montoya. Most of the characters who formed Renee's supporting cast are all here: Huntress, Two-Face, Batwoman, and while they don't physically appear, her family's presence is felt. Renee's relationship with Two-Face has always been complicated, and while the two are working together at the beginning of the issue to find morphine to her father, who is dying, Two-Face doesn't realize Renee is the Question and they have a very different relationship. Rucka's Two-Face is one of the most sympathetic and well-rounded presentations of that character, and his time in the dome has clearly not been going well. Meanwhile, the easy camaraderie between Renee and the Huntress makes for some great interplay between the two. I don't think I'd realized how much I've missed either character more than when they were simply bantering in the apartment they share. But Huntress warms Renee not to trust Two-Face, but Renee still has faith in him. But when the dome falls, Two-Face decides it's time to leave the dome and finally act on the death wish he has by finding another Harvey Dent to finally kill him. Renee does care about Two-Face, just not in the way he cares for her, and so she does try to stop him, to not much effect, and the issue ends with Renee once again meeting the one that got away, Batwoman, another character I can't wait to see Rucka write some more. I have one minor quibble/question that if either of the creators happen to see this, maybe they can answer: historically, Two-Face has a two headed coin, one side scarred, that he flips. That's part of the shtick: Two-Face with a two-faced coin, and it's an important part of his origin. The coin he has here clearly has heads and tails, as he both says it and we see the scarred side is a tails side. Did I miss something? Is this not the original coin? Other than that, which is at best a minor quibble, this was a great character piece featuring one of the characters who has been lost to the sands of time. No one writes these characters better than Rucka, and as with Simone and Oracle, I'm glad to see one more go around for this combination of writer and character.

Copperhead #6
Story: Jay Faerber
Art: Scott Godlewski

Another Image series returned from its between arcs hiatus this week, and it's return was also strong and impressive. Copperhead, the frontier Western in space, is back, and the events on the mining colony aren't getting any easier for Sheriff Clara Bronson. After a very cool action opening where Bronson and her alien deputy Budroxifinicus (Boo for short) stop someone from robbing secrets from the local mine, she finds herself stymied as local land baron and mine owner Mr. Hickory refuses to press charges. Hickory proved at the end of the last arc that he is no fan of Bronson's, and while she warns him not to take justice into his own hands when the man goes free, it's clear that Hickory is not pleased. This becomes more clear when he later goes to talk to Boo about a... change in regime. It's nice to see more of Boo's home life, meeting his mate, seeing another of his flashbacks to the war between his people and humanity. We don't get Meanwhile, Bronson's son Zeke sneaks away from home to talk to Ismael, the artificial human who saved him in the first arc; since this is a good jumping on issue, despite this being a brief scene, it's nice that all the principle characters show up. Bronson's night is a little more action filled, as she goes to local saloon "undercover" since it's pay day for the miners and that usually means things get rowdy in town. She stops a particularly sleazy specimen named Nestor from beating one of the local ladies of negotiable affection (a phrase from Terry Pratchett I've always loved), and meets a new character, Madame Vega, the local, well, madame, who appreciates another strong woman in town, and I find myself wondering if Vega will be a friend in whatever is coming between the sheriff and Hickory. We also see local school teacher Thaddeus Luken, a purple skinned near human, talk to Barton at the bar and ask her out, something that is interrupted by Nestor, but an invitation she accepts later at the schoolhouse. One of things that Jay Faerber is doing with this book is playing on a lot of the classic Western tropes, and so having the school marm and the sheriff as a couple works as one of those tropes, but here the genders are reversed. Copperhead is a great genre mash-up with strong characters and great designs for its world; if you ever enjoyed a Western or a sci-fi series set out on strange new worlds it's a great book, and this is a perfect time to jump on.

Descender #2
Story: Jeff Lemire
Art: Dustin Nguyen

After last month's strong start, Descender returns with a powerful second issue. The first issue ended with a group of robot scavengers arriving at the moon where boy robot Tim-21 had just awakened. This issue begins with a single page that has narration boxes talking about a memory download. The story then moves in alternating pages. One page is in the present, where we see Tim and Bandit (his robo dog, fleeing the robot hunters, while the opposing page is a differently colored page showing Tim's memories, from the moment he awakened for the first time to when he went to sleep ten years prior. we get to see his creator, Dr. Jin Quon, who we met last month, from his point of view, and then we see him meet the family he was sent to, Ms. Travers and her son, Andy. It's heartwarming to see how Tim becomes part of this family, and it's juxtaposed against the hunt for Tim and the violence that is perpetrated both by the hunters and by Tim in defense of Bandit and himself. The story winds up looping back around to the first page in a clever narrative device, and gives a view of the scene from that first page pulled further back to show the full, painful scene. The issue ends with Tim in mortal danger and a new possible friend entering his life. For a story about a robot, Tim is one of the most human characters, and his heartbreak as he finds the body of one of the victims of the catastrophe that killed most of the moon's residents is palpable. Dustin Nguyen puts in some of the best work of his career on this title; it works perfectly with Jeff Lemire's script. With two issues down, it looks like Descender is another strong title from Image.

And Dan Grote bids a fond farewell (temporary as it might be) to Deadpool...

Deadpool #250/45
Story: Gerry Duggan and Brian Posehn
Art: Mike Hawthorne, Terry Pallot, Jordie Bellaire and Joe Sabino

Backup strips: Ben Acker, Ben Blacker, Scott Aukerman, Mike Drucker, Jason Mantzoukas, Paul Scheer, Nick Giovannetti, Matt Selman, Mirko Colak, Todd Nauck, Ty Templeton, Jacob Chabot, Natalie Nourigat, J.J. Kirby, Scott Koblish, Val Staples, Veronica Gandini, Ruth Redmond and Irene Y. Lee.

Well, as promised, Deadpool’s dead. But so’s everybody else. Without spoiling things too much, there’s a reason this is happening right before Secret Wars.

That said, the main story of Deadpool #250/45 (gotta love Marvel’s selective numbering) is actually a happy ending for Wade Wilson. The last few pages find DP surrounded by the supporting cast of the Duggan/Posehn/Hawthorne/Koblish era, the closest thing he’s ever had to family, from his illegitimate daughter to the Life Model Decoy of his SHIELD handler to the ghost of Benjamin Franklin. When the end comes, Wilson loves and is loved – a far cry from the psychopath who used to keep a blind old lady prisoner. Matt went into greater detail on this last week, but for my money, the Marvel NOW volume of Deadpool is easily the best since the original Joe Kelly run in the late ’90s.

And now, backup strips galore! Duggan and Posehn’s comedy-writer friends fill half of this supersized issue, with mini tales by Thrilling Adventure Hour’s Ben Acker and Ben Blacker, Comedy Bang Bang’s Scott Aukerman, The League’s Paul Scheer and Jason Mantzoukas, and more. Deadpool’s demon wife, Shiklah, catches up on ’80s pop culture! The Prestons get a talking dog (my favorite strip)! Kid Apocalypse tries to be bad but fails! Agent Adsit takes wisecracking lessons from Spider-Man! The Thing and Ghost Franklin team up (favorite single panel)! And Michael the Necromancer goes on a date!

Finally, we come to the last of the Scott Koblish-drawn flashback stories, in which Deadpool steals the Infinity Gauntlet from Thanos and throws himself a roast guest-starring the entire Marvel Universe, which subjects him to a merciless barrage of jokes, many of which are fart-based. After he’s had enough, Wade freezes the scene and turns to camera, calling the reader out for making his life so miserable, reminding us once again that he is the ultimate self-aware sad clown. To which emcee Howard the Duck replies, “Kid, I was you before you came along,” bringing the curtain down on a money’s-worth read.