Weekly Comic Round-Up, November 20, 2013 Edition

by Aaron Einhorn
Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

batwoman_25Batwoman #25
This is the first issue from the new creative team, and I want to find good things to say about it. Marc Andreyko is a heck of a writer, and in another world, I would have been overjoyed to see him writing Batwoman.

Sadly, we don’t live in that other world, and the one we live in had the previous creative team depart under unfortunate circumstances that poisoned me on the idea of the book, and this issue simply wasn’t strong enough to make me decide to stick around.

The problem is that instead of giving us a solid Batwoman tale, we instead get a Year Zero story of Kate Kane engaging in vigilantism during a power outage in Gotham. And we have seen so many retreads of “Gotham before Batman” that this was probably one of the weakest ways to introduce the new creative team to the book – especially for those of us who aren’t big readers of the other Bat-family titles.

The art is good, the storytelling is serviceable, and if I hadn’t been such a big fan of the title from the start, this issue would have been moved to the “Meanwhile” category. But things being how they are, this issue had to convince me to keep the book in my pull list, and it didn’t succeed for me.

dd_33Daredevil #33
Sometimes you can have a book that is almost totally devoid of connections to the greater comic universe and have it absolutely succeed. I am happy to say that Mark Waid’s run on Daredevil is one title that this is normally the case for.

With almost completely ignoring the goings on in Infinity, Daredevil’s story of his battle against the Sons of the Serpent has been consistently entertaining and fun, even while the stakes have been high. And they have been high. Racial violence and tension aren’t “light” topics, nor is having Foggy fighting (and possibly dying of) cancer.

But Waid has kept this book really fun, and the art has been spot-on.

This particular issue brings Matt into contact with Jack Russell (the Werewolf by Night), Frankenstein, the Mummy, the Living Zombie and Satanna. And it is hilarious. But also still high stakes, as anything involving getting pages from the Darkhold should be.

Check it out.

superior_spider_annualSuperior Spider-Man Annual #1
So, much like last week’s issue of Superior, I think I’m missing something because of being unfamiliar with the character of Blackout. Fortunately, that doesn’t seem to matter all that much in terms of being able to enjoy the issue.

I’m kind of unsure where Dan Slott and company are headed here, to be honest. They seem to keep going back and forth between having Otto utterly fail in his ability to keep up the charade of being Peter, and then to having him be, as he claims, the Superior Spider-Man.

And ultimately, that may be the case. Otto may be better at being Spider-Man, but far worse at being able to actually take care of the people in Peter’s life.

We see here a case where someone targets May Parker because of Peter’s known affiliation with Spider-Man. But we also see where Otto than utterly decimates that opponent – complete with torturing him to the point that the underworld is warned away from the Parker family. It seems like it’s working (for now), but it seems like it might drive a deeper wedge between Otto and May Parker – at least as long as “Peter” is working with Spider-Man.

On the other hand, we’re still seeing Norman Osborn and the Goblin Empire maneuvering behind the scenes, and from the get-go, Osborn has known the true link behind Parker and Spider-Man. How that dynamic will be changed the first time that Goblin faces the Superior Spider-Man is anyone’s guess, but I’m looking forward to it.

I’m not quite ready for Peter Parker to come back yet, but I’m also ready to see the signs of it coming down the line. And I think that Norman will, in the end, be a big part of that.

uncanny_xmen_14Uncanny X-Men #14
The exact timing of this issue and where it lines up with the end of “Battle of the Atom” is a little unclear. But you know what? Who cares?

What we get this time around is a really nice, fun exploration of New Mutant Benjamin (who has no code name yet), and what his more subtle powerset actually can mean. It’s interesting that, much like Cypher, one of the powers that would be the most useful in the really real world is totally unsuited for combat. And it’s very, very appropriate that Emma would be the one to recognize that.

But what Bendis does so well here is make sure that this is still a really fun issue, with clever, playful banter from Emma, Illyana, Benjamin, and even from Scott. And it comes with a plot element as well, with Emma using the new mutant to send a strong message to S.H.I.E.L.D.

It’s not the best comic on the stands. It’s not even my favorite comic written by Brian Michael Bendis this month. But what it manages is to remind me how much I used to love the X-Men, and it makes me glad that I’ve started reading X-titles once again.

xmen_7X-Men #7
I’ve never considered Lady Deathstrike to be one of the most compelling enemies in the X-Men’s roster. Heck, I’ve never even considered her to be all that exceptional as a member of Wolverine’s solo rogues gallery. When she died, I didn’t care.

Along those same lines, the characters of Monet St. Croix and the Omega Sentinel are both characters who came into the X-Men while I was studiously avoiding anything involving Marvel’s Merry Band of Mutant Misfits.

So, this issue should have fallen flat for me.

It didn’t.

I don’t know if it’s the redesign and new origin for Lady Deathstrike (which has potential), or if it was watching Jubilee realize that she was going to be legally Shogo’s mother, but what I do know is that by the issue’s end, I was super excited to see the team ready to go after Deathstrike and her new partner.

Meanwhile, A+X #14 continues the “Cap & Cyclops vs. the Skrulls” storyline in one half, while giving us an odd story of Magneto and Superior Spider-Man in the other, Avengers #23 continues “Infinity,” mainly focusing on the space battle and watching the alien leaders decimate one of Thanos’ minions, Batman Beyond Universe #4 brings us to the end of the Live Wire story, and sets up the ending for the Superman Beyond in the Phantom Zone storyline, Cataclysm: Ultimates #1 has the B-List Ultimates dealing with a Gah Lak Tus doomsday cult, including a potentially really bad ending involving a gamma-powered behemoth, Indestructible Hulk #15 concludes Hulk in Time, Secret Avengers #11 is part two of our newly-discovered Inhuman agent as she helps the team put down one of her own and finds herself unsuited for the work, Thunderbolts #18 has the Thunderbolts kill a bunch of mobsters in a storyline that might have been interesting in a Punisher comic but left me utterly unsatisfied with a “hero” team book, and Young Avengers #12 manages to use its unconventional format so well that I was unable to follow the issue, other than to see that the team of young heroes was fighting off Mother and her minions and that Mother might be Loki.

Underneath the Mask: Why Marriage In Comics Matters

by Aaron Einhorn
A few days ago, the word came out that due to an editorial edict by DC Comics that Batwoman (Kate Kane) and her fiancé, Maggie Sawyer would not be permitted to ever actually get married, the creative team of J.H. Williams III and W. Haden Blackman would be walking away from the title.

At first, this seemed like a feckless move that was insulting to the LGBT community. I certainly looked at it as such. But in the light of a recent statement made by Dan DiDio during the Baltimore Comic Con, I have realized that it isn’t just a short-sighted move designed to avoid dealing with the possible backlash from showing a gay marriage in their comics (despite the fact that Marvel certainly didn’t seem to suffer after Northstar’s marriage in the pages of X-Men a few years back.) No, if DiDio is to be believed, this instead shows a serious flaw in the attitude towards marriage from DC Comics as a whole.

No happy marriages can be here, so we'll just pretend these two never existed.

No happy marriages can be here, so we’ll just pretend these two never existed.

The statement is as follows (from The Beat):

Heroes shouldn’t have happy personal lives. They are committed to being that person and committed to defending others at the sacrifice of their own personal interests.

That’s very important and something we reinforced. People in the Bat family their personal lives basically suck. Dick Grayson, rest in peace—oops shouldn’t have said that,—Bruce Wayne, Tim Drake, Barbara Gordon and Kathy Kane. It’s wonderful that they try to establish personal lives, but it’s equally important that they set them aside. That is our mandate, that is our edict and that is our stand.

Wow, this strikes me as an incredibly sad and pathetic statement, although I will confess that it makes a lot of the decisions from The New 52 make a whole new sense. The dissolution of Clark Kent and Lois Lane as a couple, the erasure of the marriage of Iris West and Barry Allen, and the absolute lack of existence of either Wally West and Linda, or Ralph and Sue Dibny suddenly makes sense. (Along with the invisible erasure of the marriage between Arthur and Mera. And we won’t even touch on the just pre-New 52 murder of Lian Harper.)

Yes, fans had waited nearly fifty years for this, and we had ten years of compelling stories, but it's better to keep Clark and Lois apart.

Yes, fans had waited nearly fifty years for this, and we had ten years of compelling stories, but it’s better to keep Clark and Lois apart.

Each of these couples illustrated that marriage can co-exist with superheroic activity. It’s hard, and none of these marriages were perfect, but they showed that it can work. Meanwhile, despite erasing one of the highest profile weddings in their history in the form of Peter Parker and Mary Jane, Marvel is happy to have Reed and Sue Richards running around the Marvel Universe along with their family, Luke Cage and Jessica Jones and their child, along with many heroes with non-super-powered wives.

On the first hand, I find this troubling for the reason that it paints a terrible image from our “role models.” What DiDio is saying there is essentially that being a superhero means sacrificing everything that makes life worth living. We look at superhuman characters as heroes and role-models, but I’m not certain I can agree that setting aside everything that a hero wants in their family life in service to their duties as a hero is actually admirable.

I’m a father. I have two little girls who I absolutely adore and love and would do almost anything for. I’m also an employee of a company, and the head of a local branch of superhero costumers for charity. I have responsibilities that override my desires – and while the world I live in doesn’t mean my choices have the same stakes as “Go home to be with your wife or the Joker will destroy Gotham,” it doesn’t change the fact that I have situations come up where what I want for myself, or for my family, conflicts with my other responsibilities. And sometimes work wins out, and sometimes family wins out, and every day is a different struggle.

reed_sue

All of which is my way of saying that having the line be clearly drawn, that a married superhero is compromising their duty to “the mission,” seems terribly black and white. And it means that being a superhero ultimately means cutting yourself off from the very humanity you are vowed to protect.

Which brings me, in a roundabout way, to the other area that DiDio is missing. Outside of Disney movies (ironically, the owners of Marvel Comics where marriage between characters is not verboten), marriage does not mean “Happily ever after.” DiDio is married himself, so I’m sure he knows this, but being married doesn’t mean “a happy personal life.” Marriage is a commitment, and a two-way street, and it is often hard. Is it fulfilling and worthwhile? I certainly think so, but I also don’t think that it’s always easy. Christina and I fight. We disagree about many things and our life together is a series of compromises and balancing our own desires and needs with the desires of each other and our children.

Luke-Cage-Jessica-Jones

We also love each other, and we take a great deal of joy in each other’s company and we are stronger together than we are apart. Which just means that the daily struggles are worthwhile. Kind of in the same way that superheroes struggle against their obstacles, using the powers that make them stronger than an ordinary human, huh?

Luke Cage and Jessica Jones struggled with what being members of the Avengers meant for two people (even two superpowered ones) who were trying to raise a child. Reed Richards must often decide between spending another hour in his lab or taking time to have dinner with Sue and Franklin. For both of these cases, the struggle to balance family and their roles as heroes wasn’t a boring story or an easy out – it made for some of the best stories in their character’s histories.

And of course, through their parent company, Marvel also owns these guys, who are all about finding that balance between family and heroism, and showing that the struggle is never easy, but is always worth it.

1483059-the_incredibles_the_incredibles_620936_1280_994

Love is hard, but endures. That's a terrible message to see from our heroes.

Love is hard, but endures. That’s a terrible message to see from our heroes.

Back in the pre-New 52 days, DC was able to do this same thing. Lois Lane gave Superman the perspective and humanity he needed to stay among man and not fly above it. Linda West gave the Flash the emotional anchor he needed to return from the Speed Force. And in the poorly conceived Identity Crisis, the murder of Sue Dibny broke the Elongated Man, and ultimately led to the path that had him losing his life, only to finally be reunited with Sue as a ghost.

I don’t know whether or not the “no marriage” edict is better or worse than the idea that DC simply wanted to bury the idea of a marriage between Batwoman and Kate Kane. But I do know that, either way, it reinforces my belief that DC Comics no longer wants my money, and that the stories being created by Marvel are much more in line with what I want and need to be reading.

I want to see stories where my heroes are human underneath their powers. I want to see those family connections. And yeah, I’m ok if that means that some of these marriages fail, either because the stress of being a superhero is too much and one member cracks under pressure (like Hank Pym and Janet Van Dyne), or because of infidelity (Scott Summers and Jean Grey), or because of a literal deal with the Devil. Because marriage is hard, and just like we want to see heroes fail from time to time when fighting Doctor Doom or Thanos, it’s ok to see them fail in their personal lives.

But the counterpoint is seeing the strength that Reed Richards can derive from Franklin, Sue, Valeria, Johnny and Ben. Because if heroes are meant to show us where our own strength is, then they shouldn’t be cut off from the same relationships that make each day better for so many of us.

peter_mj_wedding

J.H. Williams III to Leave Batwoman

batwoman1_c01by Aaron Einhorn
Since the reintroduction of Kate Kane into the DC Universe back in 2010, she has been one of my favorite members of the Bat-family. She debuted in 52 #7, and then took over the flagship Batman-title, Detective Comics starting with #854 and running through the events of the Battle for the Cowl.

After she left Detective Comics, Batwoman ended up in several miniseries which focused on her and her girlfriend, Rene Montoya (The Question), and even survived as one of the flagship titles in The New 52, making her easily the most high-profile LGBT character in DC Comics, and possibly in all comics currently published by the Big Two.

And for almost all of that time, she has been carefully shepherded by J.H. Williams III, along with such notable collaborators as Greg Rucka, W. Haden Blackman and Amy Reeder. And she’s been handled masterfully.

To begin with, Williams’ art is among the finest in comics today. I will freely admit that while I read a lot of comics, I’m not actually a fan of the medium. I would far prefer to read more superhero novels than to read more comics. I like superheroes, not comics – comics are simply the easiest way for me to get my fix. So, I will rarely read a comic I don’t enjoy just because the art is good. Bad art can keep me away from a book with a good story, but good art won’t bring me to a book whose story I can’t get into.

(Which, yes, is the reason I never really bought in to the early Image Comics revolution.)

Williams’ art on the other hand, is that good. I would have bought Elegy even with not enjoying the story, because the art is so beautifully done. Fortunately, I didn’t have to.

It would have been easy to make Batwoman derivative, or simply a stereotype. Rucka, Williams, Blackman and Reeder have not done that. They have given her a good set of motivations, distinct from those of Batman and his Bat-family. They have elaborated on her backstory and supporting cast, even when the insanity of the New 52 reboot took away Rene’s secret identity and totally borked Flamebird’s history. The series has even taken us to the point where Kate has proposed to Maggie Sawyer (as of Issue #17). They’ve given her a unique and intriguing Rogue’s gallery (Alice is every bit as fascinating as the Joker at his best), and all in all, they have made Batwoman an awesome and incredible character.

Now, I’m not a fan of the New 52. Before the New 52, I read about 25 DC Comics titles a month. When they announced the New 52, I gave well over half of the titles of the New 52 a try, and I am now done to reading six titles.
Green Lantern, Green Lantern Corps, Green Lantern: New Guardians, Earth-2, World’s Finest and Batwoman.

I’ve been ready to drop the three Green Lantern titles ever since Geoff Johns left the Lantern family, and I think once they finish the “Light’s Out” storyline, I’m going to be done. Similarly, when James Robinson left Earth-2, that threw up warning signs for me, and while I haven’t dropped the book yet, I think it may be happening soon.

But Batwoman? I was still in love with Batwoman.

And then this and this happened on J.H. Williams III’s and W. Haden Blackman’s blogs.

For those of you who don’t feel like following the link, the important snipped of their statement is as follows:

In recent months, DC has asked us to alter or completely discard many long-standing storylines in ways that we feel compromise the character and the series. We were told to ditch plans for Killer Croc’s origins; forced to drastically alter the original ending of our current arc, which would have defined Batwoman’s heroic future in bold new ways; and, most crushingly, prohibited from ever showing Kate and Maggie actually getting married. All of these editorial decisions came at the last minute, and always after a year or more of planning and plotting on our end.

We’ve always understood that, as much as we love the character, Batwoman ultimately belongs to DC. However, the eleventh-hour nature of these changes left us frustrated and angry — because they prevent us from telling the best stories we can. So, after a lot of soul-searching, we’ve decided to leave the book after Issue 26.

This is the cover to Batwoman #25, so, not quite the final issue.

This is the cover to Batwoman #25, so, not quite the final issue.

To put it mildly, I am extremely saddened by this news. Saddened, but not disappointed. DC’s editorial board has been consistently inconsistent over the past few years, and this has shown in the pages of every single comic, in the interviews and online activity of the creators and in the plans for films and television shows based on their creations.

I’m kind of heartbroken here. I love the DC Comics characters. My first superhero costume was Superman and my third was Batman and I’ve now added Superman Blue (yes, from the crazy nineties storyline) to my line-up. I own a Green Lantern sterling silver ring, and all of the promo rings. And Justice League Unlimited remains one of my all-time favorite cartoons.

But each and every move from the New 52 has served to remind me that these are no longer the characters I knew and loved. As of Batwoman #27, I will be dropping the title – and I think I’ll finally be dropping the Lantern family books as well.

I understand that DC is trying to revitalize and excite readers about their characters, and I sincerely wish them success in that, but I cannot help but feel that they no longer care about the interest of fans like me. Meanwhile, Marvel is taking just as many creative chances, and giving me characters and stories I enjoy reading, and really enjoy seeing on film.

Regardless, I would like to thank Williams, Blackman, Reeder, Rucka and all the others who have given the new version of Kate Kane life. DC Comics may own the rights to the character, but you fine people have the rights to her soul.

Weekly Comic Round-Up, July 17, 2013 Edition

Welcome back! If you’ve followed me here from Comic Hero News, or going even farther back to Underneath My Mask, than you probably remember that one of the regular features I had was a review of the comics I’m reading that week. Full disclosure: This is not everything I read, and it’s not everything that hit the stands this week. It is, however, the books I feel merit being talked about, either because they were awesome or because there was something really, really wrong with them.

So, here we go. What came home with me from The Laughing Ogre? Read on.

all_new_xmen_14_c01All-New X-Men #14
Brian Michael Bendis has done something really remarkable here. In a world where Jean Grey is dead, Hank McCoy is dour and depressed, Ice Man is a grotesque monstrosity and Cyclops is Magneto, he’s given us a world with the original X-Men.

This week’s chapter has the newly-discovering-she’s-a-telepath Jean Grey scaring the beejezus out of her team by pretending to go all Dark Phoenix on them, in an attempt to scare off Mystique, Lady Mastermind and Sabretooth who are busy trying to buy Madripoor.

This is the X-Men the way we like ’em. Serious stories, but light-hearted and fun. Bendis has really caught what made these characters enjoyable, and if you’re only reading one X-Men book, make it this one.

batman_66_c01Batman ’66 #1
Something that will quickly become apparent if you stick around here – I am not a fan of The New 52. I’m not a fan of dark, gritty stories. I want heroes to be heroic and inspire me to want to be a better person. The 1966 Batman television show was, perhaps, a little too light-hearted and camp, but it was still fun. So, if nothing else, I wanted to send DC Comics that fans of their older stuff are still around, so I picked this up. And I’m glad I did. It’s an utterly light and silly Riddler tale with a guest appearance by Catwoman. Will it change your life? Absolutely not. It’s entirely as easy to consume as an episode of the television show.

But then, that’s what we paid for. The cover tells us what we’re getting, and Jeff Parker and Jonathan Case delivered.

batwoman_22_c01Batwoman #22
One of the few books I’ve been completely happy with since the New 52 has been Batwoman. I wasn’t sure about seeing JH Williams III move from artist to writer, but the book has seemlessly picked up from where the Detective Comics run with Williams and Greg Rucka left off.

This issue gave us a whole lot of Bette/Flamebird, preparing to attack the DEO with help from the Colonel, all in an effort to “free” Kate. Meanwhile, Kate is hitting up villains to figure out how best to defeat Batman.

I don’t really want to see Batman enter Kate’s title. It can’t go well for her, and that weakens her character in my opinion. But if it’s going to happen, this seems to be the best way to manage it.

thunderbolts_13_c01Thunderbolts #13
I’ve picked up Thunderbolts ever since the very beginning, regardless of what Marvel has done with the title. This current team of ‘bolts, led by Red Hulk/General Ross and featuring Venom (Flash Thompson), the Punisher, Deadpool and Elektra, with the Red Leader and now Mercy has little relationship to the original concept, but that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been fun.

That said, I’m kind of glad to see a change of the artistic team on the title.

This issue wasn’t really about the team – it was really the origin of Mercy and how she ended up on the team. But that story was creepy enough, and I eagerly look forward to seeing what the team’s next mission ends up being.

ultimate_comics_spiderman_25_c01Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #25
There’s a lot of controversy over whether or not Miles needed an “Uncle Ben” moment, but in any case he had one. Two issues ago, Miles lost his mother, and New York lost their Spider-Man. Again.

It’s taken three issues and a lot of badgering by the people in Miles’ life, but finally we get him moving and agreeing to be the hero he was born to be. And from the looks of things, this is where we will begin seeing a lot more of Gwen Stacy, Aunt May and Jessica Drew.

We’ve also got a Miles who is growing a little bit older, and that’s not a bad thing either.

This is another Brian Michael Bendis book, and it also has me hook, line and sinker. But then, I’m a sucker for Miles.

what-if-avx-2_c01What If… A vs. X #2
What If… has always been Marvel’s escape valve. The real secret about major comics events is that, at the end of the day, the status will remain quo. It kind of has to. But in What If…? All bets are off.

We know that the world won’t be destroyed in A vs. X.

We have no such assurances here.

That’s not to say this is perfect. Much like the original A vs. X, the pacing flies by too fast, and some characters are too broadly painted. Magneto, for instance, is just this side of growing a long mustache to twirl. There are also some weird continuity issues. I’m pretty sure that the modern Nova wasn’t a part of A vs. X. Still, it’s worth checking this out.

Meanwhile, in A + X #10, Fantomex and Black Widow almost team up to steal a McGuffin while Scarlet Witch and Domino team up their probability powers to stop a Celestial Roomba from destroying the planet, Avengers #16 continues to be an incomprehensible mess with lots of powerful superhumans coming together to stop something, Batman Beyond Unlimited #18 introduces us to Batgirl Beyond while Terry and the Metal Men save Gotham, and Green Lantern New Guardians #22 has Kyle get abducted by Relic who uses Kyle’s ring power to learn all he needs to about this universe he wants to destroy.

Thoughts? Disagreements? Want to offer up ideas on what books you’re reading this week? Let us know in the comments!