This series had slumped, but it’s been back in a big bad way. The emotion that Ennis is so great at mustering was present on the page and I was enraptured once more. It was nice to fall back in love. This issue falls into a trap Ennis has stumbled upon far too often with this series, there’s nothing but talking heads. Not to say you need a fistfight in every issue but Ennis bogs this issue down with a lot of chatter and it’s a lot to take in.
I often wonder if Ennis wants to tell us stories in this world or if he simply wants to detail this world for us. If it’s stories he wants to tell then he should tie history and character into those narrative flows. Instead, we are served up history lessons of who works with whom and what has previously occurred to these characters. The next arc is going to be yet another story where Hughie sets off to learn more about the past of this world. It’s interesting but it stops feeling like a narrative and just becomes a really engaging textbook. I don’t think that’s what I want.
That’s all not to say things don’t occur in this issue. But those things are spoken, mostly. It’s the personal interaction in this comic that seems to matter more than the fights. It’s like My Dinner With Andre if Andre was a megalomaniacal deviant and Shawn was a brooding hulk with revenge on his mind. It’s an interesting concept but it can make for a slow issue at times.
I’m surprised by a moment of restraint as a man is accosted by a wheelchair bound woman and tied to a bed in a highly compromising, and uncomfortable, position. Yet all we see is his head face down on the mattress, the rest is described. For a comic that was sold to us as going to ‘out-Preacher Preacher’ this moment of tact and coyness seemed like a tease and a cop out. Is Ennis really shying away from showing a little sex toy play?
One interesting moment in this issue is seeing a governmental higher-up run a program that tries to work out who will reign victorious in a battle royale between the Seven and the Boys. The outcome shown might not be quite what you’d think. Very interesting, indeed.
I’ll say it again because I want as many people to know and spread the word as is possible – Russ Braun is the perfect artist to follow on from Darick Robertson. His art brings these characters to life and makes the scenes pop, which is more of a shame when Ennis only serves up talking heads.
Verdict – Check It. There’s enough happening here that it’s not an issue you want to miss but overall this issue ultimately comes off as yet more setting up of people, places, and events. For an arc called “Proper Preparation and Planning’ that’s about all we got. I suppose we haven’t been lied to.
People keep complaining that this issue, and whole series, is just about name-dropping historical figures and hoping that will count for characterisation. And such annoyance is well founded. It’s a delight to see Hickman drop Da Vinci, Newton, Nostradamus, Tesla, and now Michelangelo into the fray but it would be appreciated to see him develop them as his own characters.
In the case of Newton, I feel plenty of nuance and development has been made but Da Vinci is simply being used as a paragon of truth and dedication and a bit more time needs to be set aside for true understanding of this character (not just Da Vinci as we culturally know of him but this Da Vinci on the page) to come to the reader. I feel if given time this might happen but considering this title ships bi-monthly, I don’t think many want to watch an arc trickle by each year. Personally, I don’t mind as much.
The brewing war within S.H.I.E.L.D. finally spills over here as factions for Da Vinci and Newton struggle through the streets of the Immortal City. It’s a great idea but ultimately a battle that feels mildly neutered as those in battle we either don’t know or we don’t care if they perish. Then with Leonid caught in the middle it seems like he is possibly the most powerful being there and yet he is largely ignored by others. It doesn’t quite make sense.
Meanwhile, Tesla as The Night Machine has been hunted by the senior Stark and Richards but caught in a time trap they must work together to forge a solution. The antagonism between these two is muddied and so their union not completely sold. There’s interesting science afoot but the characterisation that it all hinges on isn’t always working.
Dustin Weaver, who I picked as my top artist for 2010, doesn’t seem to be bringing the same amount of detail and specificity to these pages. The backgrounds that sold this series and the vast expanses of these visuals feel muted. They still look good, and it’s hard to demand such intense work each issue, but this is what brought many readers into the title. To see Weaver not firing on all cylinders is a disappointment, I’d be happy to wait 2-3 more weeks to see his glorious work as good as he can possibly make it. It must be said, though, that Christina Strain has kept up with every page as far as her colours go. She dazzles and makes the comic look and feel amazing.
Verdict – Check It. Hickman has built this comic more on science, and the shoulders of the titans of science, rather than actual character development. As we close on this first volume, there are far more questions to be asked than have been answered, and not in a grand LOST way. For the few moments where Stark and Richards have shown great depth, we are then served a very thin lead in Leonid and the aforementioned titans are more often used as bookmarks instead of deep studies. I like this comic, it has plenty going for it, but it’s not capitalising on the promise it showed in that first issue.
We left the team at the peril of Hyperion as he looked to be selling them out for his own freedom. We pick that scene up see what happens when someone tries to sell out a group of villains being forced to do good – they don’t appreciate it.
It’s interesting to see Jeff Parker make these characters work like heroes just because they want to defeat someone worse than them, and also someone willing to endanger their lives. It’s part self-preservation but it’s also the fact this team is coming together and getting each others’ backs. It might be a little, dare I say, corny but it’s also really well done.
Juggernaut steps up to be a bloody good man in the face of this ragingly powerful douche bag. This heroic moment is beautifully juxtaposed against Ghost relishing the chance to perform mouth-to-mouth on a few female cast members. It reminds you this is still a team of not very nice people and while they might not act like villains that doesn’t stop them being skeevier than you or I. Ghost does manage, later, to also be incredibly sweet about his views of the team.
In the end, Hyperion is bested. The team, with their many powers and personalities, gets one up on him and their final judgment of him is a great comic moment – one of the best of the week. This is why every team should have Man-Thing lurking about.
I also need to shout out to Rokk’s Comic Book Revolution for noticing the Thunderbolts tramp stamp on the back of Moonstone’s costume in his weekly Cheesecake of the Week. Golden.
Verdict – Buy It. This comic isn’t getting up because it’s a perfect rendition of sequential art, or that it propels the medium forward in artistic leaps and bounds, no, Thunderbolts is a comic you should buy because you will enjoy yourself on every page. There’s no slow time for you to wonder if you should drop the book. That’s good comics.
Uncanny X-Force #5
Due to the hype, and some borrowed issues to catch up, I jumped onto this title and I’m kind of glad I did. Here we start a new arc, one that’s going to be 3 issues if I heard Remender correctly, and it’s all centred on Fantomex right here. I don’t have a lot of history with Fantomex but what I’ve gleaned I’ve liked. He’s one of those very new wave comic characters but under the watchful eye of a writer like Remender he is a lot of fun.
Fantomex has been protecting The World, a place where soldiers are built and grown, and things there are going a little haywire. Something is wrong with the evolution of this artificial world and he can’t figure out exactly what it is, but he is determined to. Then the problem comes to him as many cyborg versions of heroes we know and love hunt Fantomex to his home. It’s a great fight sequence to see Elektra and The Thing, amongst others, but it only leads to a reveal we all knew was coming. I can see how many will be annoyed with an issue’s worth of set up for something that was the sell for the whole arc anyway.
It might be a gripe but that doesn’t stop the comic being damn good fun. Ribic’s art is a great match for the story and characters – though one scene with Wolverine shows us the Canuck, and his expressions, aren’t a strong suit.
There is one scene set away from this action and it deals with the actions that ended the last arc. It is interesting to see how everyone is handling this turn of events, but most intriguing is Deadpool's reaction to murder. It is not what you think and it is smartly written if you really slow down and break it apart. The scene is good and deserves to be discussed, something done really well over at 4thLetter.
Verdict – Buy It. This comic is good, but it’s a tease. There’s a few good concepts dropped, and it’s definitely leading into more, and the fights all satisfy on their own, but it doesn’t quite feel like an issue to stand alone – something I feel every issue should be able to do to some degree. This is inventive fun that feels more subversive, even with just a straight up fight issue, than most X-books.
What If Venom Possessed Deadpool? One-Shot
This one-shot, for just $2.99!, collects the backups from this season’s latest What If…? issues. And I really didn’t think this would be my top comic of the week. Remender delivers a Deadpool tale that manages to be funny and interesting and goofy but also very biting against the comic industry, and Marvel in particular. It’s a silly little throwaway comic that you absolutely cannot miss.
The premise is that Deadpool has been hired by Galactus to kill The Beyonder in the middle of the 80s. It’s silly. But Deadpool is going to use the Retcon Expungifier. This set up then manages to sprawl across decades and give Deadpool the symbiote which apes the Beyonder, who Deadpool is bro-crushing on hard, to give the Merc With A Mouth prehensile Jehri Curls.
As Venompool tries to work out what went wrong as he hasn’t brought himself to wipe out The Beyonder and he’s reduced to selling Tony Stark to A.I.M. just to get some money, he sees the true problem. Venompool isn’t as cool as the Beyonder because he isn’t involved in as many crossover events. He’s not as relevant.
Now, is the Beyonder truly relevant, or was he ever? Not really, but having an xtreme 90s version of the Sentry just hammers the point home. You only matter if you’re in the stories in the middle of the Marvel U. You only become the best by being in everyone’s eye. If you can maim others then you might just matter. If you’re a street level character then you’ll never be allowed to grow above the streets. It’s a cycle and you’re either in it or you are not.
Venompool then sets about retconning everyone else out of existence so he’s the only one left to care about. It’s an interesting issue that gives us plenty of What If…? (and What The…!?) zaniness while also delivering a message. If people then read into it and think about themselves then that’s great, if they just laugh at the many cameo jokes then that’ll work for you, too.
Verdict – Must Read. You just don’t get much like this on the stands anymore; stupid, puerile, hilarious. Remender makes every page work and you’ll be stuck to the page because there’s plenty to soak up. If you can’t laugh at this then you’re probably taking the Big Two too seriously. In the immortal words of Eddie Murphy, “have a Coke and a smile, and shut the #*%# up.”
If you read any comics this week then throw your own thoughts into the comments below.