Weekly Comic Round-Up, September 11, 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.

astrocity4_c01Astro City #4 “On the Sidelines”
There are a few things that you can safely skip mentioning when talking about comics. You hardly need to say that “The Hulk is strong,” or that “Reed Richards is smart,” or that “Bruce Wayne is rich.”

In that vein? It’s almost beside the point to say that any particular issue of Astro City is good. It’s not that the series has been perfect (as it has evolved from publisher to publisher), but overall, Busiek, Anderson and Ross have managed to create an extraordinary world of supers by focusing on the human inside the superhuman. This latest issue focuses on a middle-aged telekinetic, but she isn’t a superhero, nor is she a supervillain. She mainly works in film, providing special effects work. She’s not alone – there are any number of superpowered individuals who just aren’t wired for hero work, but who also aren’t dishonest enough to become villains. These “sideliners” have an informal network, keeping in touch with one another and helping each other out.

Of course, this wouldn’t be much of a superhero comic if all it ever dealt with was their personal lives, so sure enough, an idiotic supervillain-wannabe tries to coerced the sideliners to work for him. With predictable results.

As always, this gets my strongest endorsement. There aren’t many books out there that are more worth your purchasing dollar than Astro City.

mongul_c01Earth-2-15-2-Solomon-Grundy-0Earth 2: Solomon Grundy #15.2 and Green Lantern: Mongul #23.2
You may recall that last week, I had some kind things to say about Forever Evil, the “cornerstone” book of DC’s entire Villains Month. I stand by that statement.

That said? Don’t waste your money on the individual titles. At $3.99 (thanks to their 3-D covers), these books are already overpriced. They insult the creative teams by not including their names on the covers. And the biggest offender? They’re almost entirely pointless.

I tried Desaad and Relic last week, and in both cases, was underwhelmed but not offended. They filled in some back story elements for the characters, and it was story that for the most part, we hadn’t seen yet.

To be fair, that’s true here as well. But by the time I had finished reading them, I realized that while it may have been new, it was entirely pointless. Did I need to see Solomon Grundy’s first incarnation, complete with “let’s rape the main character’s wife and have her commit suicide to give him pathos”? No. I knew everything I needed to about the New 52 Solomon Grundy from reading Earth 2. Similarly, watching Mongul destroy a civilization and kill a hapless admiral established him and Warworld as a threat – but that had long been established in the pages of Green Lantern.

I was expecting these titles to advance the ongoing story of their parent titles. I wasn’t expecting the Villains Month books to just rehash a backstory. I’m disgusted that DC has gotten as much money out of me for these books as they have, and really don’t intend to give them any more.

mightyavengers1_c01Mighty Avengers #1
I was a big fan of the original run of Mighty Avengers, and I’ve always been a fan of Luke Cage and his team of heroes. The down-to-Earth nature of Cage, compared to the more “big picture” views of many of the other Avengers, has always been a nice contrast. So, I was really excited for this book.

Sadly, what I got was fairly disappointing. Doctor Spider-Octopus has been entertaining to read in his own book, but in a crossover title, he’s just an ass. Cage was uncharacteristically slow to respond to Spidey’s accusation about being “mercenary,” and the actions of White Tiger and Power Man were just abrupt and cold.

It was great to see Monica Rambeau/Spectrum again – I enjoyed her brief appearance in Captain Marvel, and I have long been eager to see Marvel do more with her, but I also thought she was acting out of character. And I neither know nor care who the new Ronin is, which is a major failing for the primary mystery in the first issue of a series.

Perhaps I’ll enjoy the comic more once it moves away from Infinity, but I don’t know if my desire to send Marvel the message that, yes, books with heroes who are of color can sell, can win out against my “But it’s not very good right now, why spend the money?” desire.

XMen_BattleOfTheAtom_XMen_5_CoverX-Men #5
The third chapter of “Battle of the Atom” is here, and I’m happy to report that Brian Wood and company deliver. This meshes seamlessly with the last two installments, and I am loving seeing where this story goes. Young Scott and Jean are on the run, hijacking a Blackbird and fleeing from both the future X-Men (including a very scary vision of Xavier’s grandson and an older Jean), and the current team.

The X-Men being who they are, of course there is dissent among the team about what should happen to Scott, Jean, Hank, Bobby and Warren, and we see that as Kitty and Rachel express their… displeasure with seeing how their teammates are treating the kids.

Ultimately, Jean realizes that they will need allies to protect them from their fellow mutants, and she reaches out to a rather unlikely group of mutants to assist. The final panel wasn’t completely unexpected, but it still left me eager to see what will happen next. And that’s ok. There’s nothing wrong with a story that can take you down a familiar road if you’re enjoying the trip.

“Battle of the Atom” rages on next week, and I’ll be happy to pick it up. I hope that this gets collected as a single trade, instead of having the issues appear in the trades of their respective titles. Because if it does? This could sit proudly next to “Days of Future Past” or “The Phoenix Saga” as being among my favorite X-Men arcs.

Meanwhile, Avengers #19 shows us a little bit more about what is happening to Carol Danvers and company among the Builders, and also sets the alliance up for betrayal, Avengers Arena #15 has the teens take down Bloodstone, while one (possibly two) of the youngsters join the ranks of the dead, Indestructible Hulk #13 takes the time-traveling Hulk into Camelot to defeat the next chrono-thief, Infinity: The Hunt #1 ties in to Avengers Arena as the Avengers Academy, Jean Grey School, Braddock School and other schools for superpowered teens come together for a contest, while Atlantis is devastated by Thanos’ forces, and Ultimate Comics Ultimates #30 brings an end to Reed Richards, the Hulk and “Kang”’s reign of terror in a rather unsatisfying whimper that sets us up for Hunger.

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

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