As it would turn out, graduating from college and applying to jobs takes up a lot of time, especially when punctuated with episodes of crying and wondering what the hell you’re going to do with your life. However, I have been able to keep up with some of Marvel’s new series, and few series got me more excited than the new Young Avengers. For the first time in the series’ relatively brief history, the title is under a creative team other than Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung. One of the biggest complaints about Young Avengers arcs in the past has been the delay in their publishing. Due to Heinberg’s outside writing commitments, Young Avengers was an infrequently published title, and there was usually a two-month wait between issues. This time, the title is headed by writer Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man) and artist Jamie McKelvie (Defenders, X-Men: Season One), who worked together prior to their Marvel days. Read more
There’s something about the good guys that people want to break. These days, it seems like every hero from our time has earned themselves an anti-hero streak, more gray to their character than before. Of course, some of that comes with the time. We’re living in an age of more complex writing, more artistic freedom. Writers want to add more complexity to characters to keep them interesting, and that sometimes having them do things that maybe they wouldn’t have done twenty years ago.
But there are certain heroes who writers just love to outright fuck with. Those heroes that are just so goody-two-shoes you can’t help but want to mess with them. Sometimes it means having Superman wear a pair of Wranglers and walk across America. Other times it means having Peter Parker’s mind die inside the body of one of his worst enemies as that enemy now lives in the body of Peter Parker, and then goes on to continue being Spider-Man.
The final issue of Amazing Spider-Man is the latter. It’s as bad as it sounds.
Allow me to briefly recap while you pick up what remains of your brain off the floor before it stains the carpet. Y’see, Doctor Otto Octavius, who has been slowly dying for the past couple of years now, had managed to create a device that switches his mind and that of Spider-Man’s. With the switch, he learns everything about the man behind the mask, and has all of his memories. Peter Parker, meanwhile, is stuck inside of the dying body of Doc Ock. This sort of plot isn’t farfetched by any means, in truth. Maybe a little bit old school, maybe requires a little more suspension of disbelief, but it’s a storyline that could exist in the universe. The problem is, it’s the last storyline for Peter Parker. Ever.
Peter Parker dies, and now Doc Ock is Spider-Man. For real.
Let’s address some obvious questions that arise from this. Is Doc Ock still evil? Not really. Before Peter Parker died, he managed to use the device that made them swap bodies in the first place to allow Ock to experience all of Peter’s memories as if they were his own. So now Ock has a respect for what Peter accomplished, yet he still thinks of himself as the superior scientist. Also, he’s hooking up with Mary Jane, and he hates all of Peter’s friends. Mind you, he doesn’t have any of Peter’s personality, so how nobody has noticed that Peter has been extra serious and super-dickish lately is beyond me. Will this be addressed in Avenging Spider-Man? Will Doctor Strange or some psychic be all like OMG THIS AIN’T NO SPIDER-MAN as they are wont to do? I suppose that’s the allure.
I won’t lie, I have a morbid curiosity in seeing how Doc Ock grows into being Peter Parker/Spider-Man. But what I have a problem with is the fact that Marvel effectively took its most iconic, and more importantly, its most relatable character, and killed him. There is no universe in which Peter Parker, the kid who had great responsibility with his great power, the nerd-turned-superhero, the subject of two separate movie series, three cartoon series, and the longest-running comic book series in history, even exists.
Peter Parker was the most genuine superhero in history. Always quick with a laugh, he never shied away from danger, or from sacrifice. He was never the dick, though he wasn’t much of a boyfriend (too busy saving the world, knamean?) He always sought out Avengers for friendships, joked about himself, and was generally just really, really nice. You rooted for Spider-Man, even though he competed with Wolverine for the “In Too Many Issues to be Canonical” Award. You were happy when he showed up. I loved Peter Parker.
Now, the nicest, most-genuine guy in the Marvel Universe has been replaced with a sociopath mad-scientist who gets his jollies by asking the longtime on-off girlfriend of his arch-nemesis to deliver “Face it tiger, you just hit the jackpot.” A lot of editors at Marvel have commented that they liked how the finish “[brought] the Ock/Spidey conflict to a head after so many years.” What, like the conflict Spider-Man had with the ENTIRE Sinister Six? How about his conflicts with Venom, Carnage, and other villains? Was Doc Ock really that interesting of a character that he just HAD to stick around and be elevated? Why not go the Ultimate universe route? Peter Parker still dies, but so does Doc Ock, and now some new kid takes his place?
I didn’t expect to get so sad reading this issue. Like most readers, I was spoiled beforehand, and I came into the issue with white-hot fury, expecting to hate it. Instead, it’s mostly disappointment. The sadness mostly comes from the fact that, according to all of Peter’s dead loved ones, he failed. While in Doc Ock’s body, Parker died for about three minutes, and got to see a bunch of people in heaven, including Uncle Ben, who told him he couldn’t allow a heinous villain Doc Ock to live in Peter’s body. Bizarre violent character turn aside, Uncle Ben was right. Peter did fail. He died. Ock lives. The bad guy won, and now he gets to be the hero.
I’ll read the new Superior Spider-Man when it debuts in January. Let’s just hope Marvel has another semi-plausible Steve Rogers revival hail mary in them. Until then, rest in peace Peter Parker. You were amazing.
What makes the Marvel NOW! reboot/refresher/tidying up so interesting is that virtually every writer is working with a team or a character they not only have never worked with before, but a universe or realm they’ve never had to write about before. Brian Bendis is moving from writing about the Avengers for over a half-decade to writing about the X-Men, a team he’s worked most with on House of M and AvX; massive storylines that involve the entire Marvel universe. He’s never had to work with them issue-to-issue, for what will likely be years at a time. Not only that, he’s writing All-New X-Men, a series that’s bringing back the original X-Men from the 1960s, an extremely daunting task for someone who’s only possible interaction with THAT universe is as a fan.
Marvel’s also moving Matt Fraction from Iron Man to a series that fits his dialogue-driven science-nerdry even better in Fantastic Four, yet it’s Fraction’s first team issue, having only written solo characters issues before (stray issues of X-Men and Defenders not withstanding). Jonathan Hickman is moving from FF to Avengers and New Avengers, his first (arguably) non-nerdy, and hopefully non-complicated series. I was barely keeping up with Fantastic Four, and FF put me to sleep, like a baby trying to watch an episode of NOVA. Rick Remender is moving from the dark underbelly of Venom and Uncanny X-Force to the front-and-center titles Uncanny Avengers and Captain America. What’s clear is that Marvel, without changing the characters or the history, is making significant changes through tone. By putting these authors in unfamiliar territory, the reader will explore the parts of these characters brains that we haven’t seen yet. We’ll know some of Remender’s Captain America, sure. It’s Captain America, after all. But we’re going to see Cap experience things we, the reader, and perhaps Cap himself hasn’t experienced before in a Captain America book.
So what can we expect from a Kieron Gillen-penned Iron Man book? Gillen’s as big of an odd duck as they come, exploding onto the scene writing Thor, later renamed Journey Into Mystery (I always loved that title). JIM is an internet-favorite, with Gillen’s original creation of Kid Loki stealing everybody’s hearts while trying to avoid his dark destiny, and accidentally fucking everything up in the process. Kid Loki was a heartbreaking character, and relatable for so many reasons to young readers because of a) his age, but more importantly b) he’s emotionally on the same field as other tweens and teens. Kid Loki is just trying to do good, have fun, and yet he feels, correctly, that his destiny will haunt him for the rest of his days. Teens often look at their parents or other adults, especially those with boring jobs or who are divorced, and feel their lives are doomed. They’re doomed for mundanity, and so they rebel, and they cry, and their lives start changing and they can’t stop it, but they still try. Kid Loki felt that way, and by the end of Iron Man #1, it’s clear Tony Stark feels that way.
Moving from the world of gods, magic, and beards into the world of science, guns, and goatees, Gillen seems no worse for it. Unsurprisingly, the Tony Stark we see is the core of his character. This is a number one, with a new author. It wouldn’t help to delve into Tony’s very soul right off the bat. Matt Fraction’s run on Invincible Iron Man saw Tony Stark go through some heavy shit. He deliberately relapsed, he was forced to abandon science to fight gods, and had to fight to protect his entire reputation, all while building a brand new company. Shit got a little crazy for Tony, so it’s smart on Gillen’s part to make it simple for new readers.
Yet the first story Gillen goes with is a nod to the modern classic Extremis, which was, in fact, a new origin story for Tony Stark, as well as keeping the character that Fraction helped build. The story is simple, with the Extremis virus being sold to four buyers, and now Iron Man has to hunt down those who have it and prevent them from using it. Extremis, for those who don’t know or don’t remember, acts as a super-duper soldier serum, affecting the mind and body in incredible ways, but it only works with a few people, Tony Stark being one of them. I assure you, if any of this sounds complicated, just read this issue. It’s all shown to you with pictures and words that are, like, better than my words.
There’s a major flaw with this issue, though, and it’s kind of a doozy. The art. All of it. Oh my fucking god, the art. These are some of the ugliest faces in comic history. Greg Land decided it would be a good idea to keep having his characters smile like they got hooks in their mouths. Their facial proportions are constantly changing, and they never look good. It’s bad art, it’s lazy, and it’s impossible to ignore. Land isn’t always a bad artist, and I’ve liked a lot of his stuff, especially on X-Men. Truth be told, the action scenes in this issue aren’t bad, but considering how much of the book is talking, flirting, laughing, being serious, etc., it’s not good enough. Art aside though, if you’re an Iron Man fan or someone who’s never read the series, pick up this issue. If you’re not a Tony Stark fan, well, it’s not changing your mind.
He shaved his goatee though, so if that’s the deal-breaker… well, good for you!
I’ve never been able to get into Captain America’s solo work that much. The issues always seemed so staid, like the issues would enjoyed by only someone as old as Captain America himself. They were a CBS procedural in the guise of an action movie. But I’ve had nothing but respect for the character of Steve Rogers. He’s always stood up for the side of justice, and has defended those in times when nobody else would. He’s truly a defender of the people, and it’s something he’s never lost sight of. It’s unfortunate, then, that being so perfect makes for such a boring character. I was actually excited when Bucky Barnes became Captain America, because we finally had a truly flawed man in the costume. Bucky had kept trying to make good for his days as the Winter Soldier, and becoming Captain America was finally his chance at retribution. The best part? He was good at it! He hung out with characters like The Patriot and Rikki Barnes, and could relate with the more complicated characters of the Marvel Universe. Everybody liked Cap, sure, but nobody got him. Nobody could really see inside his head, and if Rick Remender’s writing is any indication, I’m not so sure he can either.
Captain America #1, the launching pad for another new series in the Marvel NOW! semi-reboot, is the kind of issue you can read, and understand how those stiff, corny comics of the 50s and 60s inspired so many great writers and artists. It’s an issue that doesn’t have any great dialogue, or even really human dialogue. I mean, human characters speak to each other, but it’s so choreographed, if that’s even something written dialogue can be. Steve Rogers is still the same man. He’s heroic, he’s kind, a little oblivious, and … kinda dull. He and Sharon talk like a married couple in their 70s, but still have all of their mind and memory left, and still love each other. It’s sweet, but uninteresting. The internal dialogue of Cap is even more snooze-worthy. Remender apparently believes Cap is this guy who breaks down everything in his mind, being very explicit and using excellent grammar. I can’t necessarily blame Remender for writing Cap like this, because a study of Cap’s personality would indicate this is how he thinks. Being able to break down what’s happening so easily, having perfect sight, perfect speech, and a perfect body would indicate he has a perfect mind, too.
Yet here I am, rooting my ass off for Captain America, riveted on every page. Why? Why do I care about the perfect man when I know everything will turn out alright? Well, because he’s Captain America, dammit! He’s the red, white, and blue, a man whose heart is brave and true. The thing about following Captain America is, while you know he’ll be fine, and that he’ll get out of any jam, it’s how he does it that is so awesome. He throws the shield around, socks some guys right in the mouth, then jumps out a window, steals a plane, then figures out where to go from there. It’s plain-jane drama, but it’s done flawlessly. That’s why I said reading an issue like this makes me understand how old issues can inspire writers. There’s nothing out of character here, and we all know and love him. We don’t want to see Superman go rogue. We don’t want to see him act selfishly. We want him to do the “right thing,” whatever it may be, use his heat vision, then put on the dorky glasses, and with a wink and a nod, go back to living amongst us. Captain America is the blueprint for writers. Build this character we can trust, have him go through adversity, but ultimately, have him remain true to his ideals and his character, and succeed in the end. Or if he fails, have him learn from that failure, but don’t have him become somebody else. Captain America can’t become an alcoholic now, or somebody who kills criminals. It’s not in his nature, and Rick Remender has written an issue (with a somewhat shocking final page) that stays true to Cap’s nature.
The art of John Romita Jr. is perfect for the issue, too. He captures that retro vibe that seems to follow Cap around, and even when he’s traveling through another dimension, it feels right for Cap to look the way he does. Romita’s face work isn’t the best, but it’s still better than his work from Avengers: Prime just two years earlier. I look forward to reading more issues like this one. I recommend reading it, taking a day to think about it, then read it again. The first time I read through it, I was a little hung up on the dialogue, but there’s no denying that this issue feels like a classic Captain America adventure. The more things change, the more they stay the same, and that’s a good thing for Steve Rogers.
Captain America #1. Written by Rick Remender. Drawn by John Romita Jr. Published by Marvel Comics.
I love going out to dinner for a lot of stupid reasons. I like free water. I like ordering my steak the way I want it, and it comes out that way. I like booths. But my favorite thing is the bread before dinner. That hot loaf of bread, ripe for a buttering, is a good omen for your meal. It’s a sign of good faith. It’s the restaurant saying, “hey, don’t worry about us fucking up your dinner. We didn’t fuck up the bread. So why not give us a shot?” All-New X-Men #1 is that loaf of bread. It’s good, but more importantly, it’s likeable.
You might have heard of All-New X-Men. It’s by far the most intriguing new series coming out of Marvel NOW. Y’see, with Cyclops, Magneto, Emma Frost and Magik on the lam as mutant revolutionaries, the good guy X-Men bemoan what has become of Scott Summers. Bobby Drake waxes nostalgia talking about how the way things are now is even worse than the sort of situation the X-Men were always trying to prevent. He also mentions that the Cyclops of old would have “slapped the crap out of” the current Cyclops. Hank McCoy, going through another next-generation mutation (it’s how he got his blue fur), has decided to go back to the Scott of old and, um, maybe bring him back? The issue ends on Modern Beast meeting Young Beast and the whole original gang of X-Men. It’s a refreshing low-stakes cliffhanger from the usual OH GOD HERE’S SOME NEW BAD STUFF HAPPENING WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN OH GOD.
So what makes this number one a perfect opener and a good omen for the rest of the series? Well, it’s just plain good. A lot of people were looking forward to going right into the mythos of time travel and science-y stuff from the get-go, but writer Brian Bendis wrote this in a thoroughly Bendis style, with good action, a remarkable amount of splash pages, and simple dialogue that’s true to the characters. Bendis is not an extraordinary writer, but he might be the perfect writer for an X-Men series. Considering so much of recent X-Men history deals with the survival of the species as a whole while weathering in-fighting and new threats. It’s large-scale stuff. Multiple-series stuff. With Bendis’ experience writing both Avengers and New Avengers, thus placing him in control of (essentially) the central characters of the Marvel Universe, he can handle the X-Men on such a wide scope.
For hardcore X-Men fans, I know this isn’t thrilling news. You were just getting used to focusing on one core group, depending on the series, and All-New X-Men is promising to follow the original X-Men team, the teachers of Jean Grey School, and Cyclops’ renegade team. You don’t want JUST competence, you want next level shit. I get it. You do not get next level shit in issue one. But look, Bendis doesn’t undersell ANYTHING. He’s the master of the modern “Next Big Thing” in Marvel, whatever it may be. If you think the original X-Men team coming into the present from the 1960s is going to be ordinary just because Bendis is writing it, you’re going to be wrong. Patience. Treat this issue like it’s the introduction to a book. This might actually be the first book in Bendis’ bibliography that seems to set a slow pace. His Avengers titles have always had explosions from the start of any storyline, so it seems he’s playing the long game with All-New X-Men. That’s a good thing.
Briefly about the art, I’m convinced Stuart Immonen is the new blueprint for every Marvel artist, or at least should be. His style keeps the defined body language and strong faces of the old school, while having a certain looseness that keeps it in reality. The 60s X-Men are drawn BEAUTIFULLY, clearly steeped in their time. If nothing else, this book will not be sore on the eyes.