Welcome to the 47th edition of Leave Your Spandex At the Door.
This week I’m getting back to reviewing duties after a long absence. One is a book that is very much in the spandex category, but it also one that I discussed extensively online, and one for which I felt the need to get a concise opinion down on “pen and paper”: X-Men #166, the first issue by new writer Pete Milligan.
A feature that I had planned to run last week, alongside the Nexus Indie Comics awards were the Mature Readers awards. Unfortunately, due to time constraints, I didn’t manage to complete the individual title blurbs for each of them but I’d still like to acknowledge the great work put in by these creators to create best of the best for the past year. (Note: when considering which titles would be eligible for this niche category, I included titles with mature themes who still don’t carry a MR label, like some Image comics and Marvel’s Marvel Knights line)
and the Top 15 best Mature Readers titles from 2004 are:
By Pete Milligan and Mike Allred (MARVEL KNIGHTS)
Marvel’s ground-breaking team of mutants made their last big splash this year. After the serious blows the title was dealt last year with the Diana fiasco, it moved on to the Marvel Knights imprint with the title’s final storyline, pitting the team against the Avengers, in search of Doop’s brain. Although apparently noone from the team has survived their last issue, they will forever remain a bright spot in Marvel comics’ history, as the team of characters that dared to be different and real.
2. FALLEN ANGEL
By Peter David and David Lopez (DC COMICS)
Lee, or the Fallen Angel is the best character to come out of DC’s mainstream universe. The Angel stands firmly on the line between hero and villain, as does the whole cast of the book, and she always surprises with her choices of action. For the past year, Peter David has really put her through the wringer, with the highlight of her plight being learning she was pregnant but coming very close to losing her baby from a surprise attack by Shadow Boxer.
By Grant Morrison and Cameron Stewart (VERTIGO)
Seaguy was Morrison’s first major card, after taking leave from Marvel and her mutie menace. Seaguy is a non-stop adventure, through highly imaginative settings, reminiscent of Homer’s Odyssey, as Seaguy (a non-powered scuba-diver hero in a world where heroes have become unneeded) and his sidekick, the flying tuna fish Chubby Da Choona (“Da Fug!”) race from the eery Mickey Eye amusement park to the chocolate covered glaciers, Antarctica and all the way up to the dark (and hollow) side of the moon to find the truth behind the talking processed foodstuff Xoo. Cameron Stewart was a true revelation on this title, after his impressive Catwoman debut.
4. HUMAN TARGET
By Pete Milligan, Cliff Chiang and Javier Pulido(VERTIGO)
(I enjoyed Chris Delloiacono’s comments on this title, voted Best Title of the Year in the Nexus Awards, so I’m repeating them here: )While The Human Target is not the best selling title on the market today, clearly a large percentage of The Nexus’s reviewers consider it one of the best. It’s great to see a book that doesn’t get the press it deserves garner one of the highest honors in our awards ceremony. Peter Milligan is telling some of the most mesmerizing stories in comics. Couple the stories with Cliff Chiang and Javier Pulido’s artistic abilities and magic springs from the page. The story of a master of disguise and his problems coping with his own identity has been utterly brilliant. This is the type of stuff that transcends the age it was written in. We are talking about a classic series that’s still being published. The legend of The Human Target will grow as the weeks, months, and years pass us by.
By Grant Morrison and Frank Quitely (VERTIGO)
Morrison’s ground-breaking second title from Vertigo this year, follows the story of three animals: a dog, a cat and a rabbit who have been cybernetically modified to become the ultimate armoured killers and have been granted the ability to speak in some fashion. After the government shuts down their program, they escape the compound to earn their freedom. Frank Quitely shines here with truly innovative work, both in terms of character design but also with his original panel settings and page layouts, that even break out into the 3rd dimension. Years after now, artists will still look back and draw inspiration from this work.
By Mike Carey and Pete Gross (VERTIGO)
God has left Heaven for good, and Creation starts to crumble as a result. Heck of a setting to start off the year with, and Mike Carey even took all that a step forward, by evicting all supernatural creatures from Lucifer’s pet universe, re-introducing Adam’s original wife Lilith and revealing her origins, bringing about Ragnarok and after the smoke clears, revealing a third Creation.
7. THE MILKMAN MURDERS
By Joe Casey and Stephen Parkhouse (DARK HORSE COMICS)
A middle class housewife, tormented by her husband and kids, suffers a mental break-down after being raped by a milkman, and slashes her way through her family, taking her revenge and assuming a new unexpected role. Stephen Parkhouse is a newcomer who managed to bring Joe Casey’s haunting story of gore and retribution to a frighteningly grizzly reality on paper.
8. MY FAITH IN FRANKIE
By Mike Carey and Sonny Liew (VERTIGO)
When you have your own personal god, you can’t help but grow up a bit pampered, like the adorable Frankie, who has gotten easily used to playing the teenage godling and her best girl friend around her fingertips, but is about to be played by her ex-dead boyfriend who returns from hell with a scheme. Mike Carey takes a break from his more gritty repertoire to pen a romance story that spans dimensions and shows that love can bloom in the unlikeliest pairs.
By Bill Willingham and Mark Buckingham (VERTIGO)
After Fabletown finally manages to deal with the brutal invasion of the Wooden Soldiers in an explosive action-packed battle, they have to deal with changes within as a new Mayor is elected and Snowwhite moves off to the Farm to raise her baby cubs, and the babies’ father, Bibgy Wolf relives his WWII encounter with the Frankenstein Monster. Willingham and Buckingham are a match made in heaven, and Buckingham further experiments throught the year with his patented “themed” pages, where each scene in the issue features a different set of frame around the panels.
By Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips (WILDSTORM)
Sleeper relaunched as “Season 2” during 2004. Double agent Holden Carver had long suffered in Tao’s criminal organization, after Lynch, the only person who knew of his sleeper status, was put in a coma. By the end of season 1, after staging a successful escape, he rejoins Tao’s ranks of his own will as a normal agent, not knowing that Lynch has woken up and is now trying to win Carver back to the side of angels.
11. Y THE LAST MAN
By Brian K. Vaughan and Pia Guerra (VERTIGO)
The story of Yorrick, the last man on earth (well, the only man anymore, technically) after a terrible plague instantly killed every X-chromosome carrier on the planet. 2004 was a year of revelations for Yorrick, as he regressed to his past memories to discover the secret behind his knack for being placed in dangerous situations in the most unexpected personality revelation, and just a few weeks ago as the storyline revealing how Yorrick survived the plague concluded.
By the Luna brothers (IMAGE)
Sex and the city starring spandex clad superheroines that punch in cards and are employed by organized superhero corporations. Three superheroine best friends get an enigmatic fortune reading, which signals a hellish week for them. The title heroine, Ultra, will meet a regular guy, but what she mistakenly thinks is love-at-first-sight will prove to be the paparazzi nightmare ending to her career and the ending of her close friendship. The Luna brothers write and draw this series, which has proven one of the most enjoyable surprise hits of the year, featuring witty dialogue, and exploring the sexy mature side of superheroics.
13. BAD IDEAS
By Wayne Chinsiang, Dave Crosland and Jim Mahfood (IMAGE)
A series of bad ideas that evolved into the funniest read of the year. Chinsiang, Crosland and Mahfood got together in a true vanity project. The first issue finds them in a comics festival, discussing various bad ideas for a collaboration together, ranging from a 90s superhero satire, drawn in a Liefeld parody style that proves to be the heroes’ downfall, to a sex-perverted candy-slasher piss-take on animal girl’s manga. The second issue picks up on the most successful of those ideas, Comic Kid and Hot Chick, and expands it into a full-issue mayhem, complete with supervillainess Pussy Voodoo and gay hero and sidekick couples. I wish all bad ideas could be turned into comics half as good as this.
14. FREAKS OF THE HEARTLAND
By Steve Niles and Greg Ruth (DARK HORSE COMICS)
A moody thriller featuring an isolated country society that hides her monstrously deformed children from the world, keeping them locked away in their basements. When one boy decides he’s had enough he stages a rescue for his hulking kid brother and bands the rest of the “freaks” and their brothers and sisters together, the small community’s secret will come out in the open. Freaks of the Heartland is a visually striking psychological thriller which stands out thanks to Greg Ruth’s beautiful moody illustrations using yellow tone washes to capture the sense of isolation and terror in the small community.
By Mike Carey, Leonardo Manco and Marcelo Frusin (VERTIGO)
Mike Carey has made his mark on the longest-running Vertigo title, providing a clearly-focused storyline. After Constantine is tricked into releasing Armageddon and madness across the globe, he manages to twart the threat with the help of the Swamp Thing and his friends, but at the cost of his memories and his personality. He then accepts the offer of a demon to restore his memories in return for one day’s servitude. During that day, Constantine lives for 40 years and fathers three children, that are then unleashed on the world and target all of John’s loved ones.
FEATURE REVIEW: X-MEN #166
By Pete Milligan and Salvador Larroca
Plot (spoilers): The X-Men heed a distress call to Antarctica where they discover a mutant massacre and the word “Golgotha” written with blood on the wall. Rogue’s efforts to absorb information from the victims proves fruitless and temporarily sinks her in a fetus mind state. After an attack by a group of surviving mutants, Emma Frost arrives on the scene and is about to provide answers on who (or rather, where) Golgotha is, before the “next issue” blurb ruins the fun.
The enjoyment you derive from a comic is often dependant on your expectations of it. It’s easier to be impressed by a creator you come in contact with for the first time, than by a creator you are already familiar with. Take Tom Strong for example. Greatest super-hero story in a good few years. Written by Alan Moore. Compared to his other superhero work, it’s not as ground-breaking as Watchmen (but then what is) or V for Vendetta and so on. But it was still better than most of the superhero books out at the time.
Milligan’s X-Men works in the same analog, constrained to the X-Men line of titles. If I had read this first issue of his run without checking the credits, I would say it’s a solid X-Men issue, and the best issue Chuck Austen had written. Knowing though, as I do, that it is in fact Pete Milligan at the writing helm, I can’t help feeling underwhelmed and unsatisfied by this opening issue. Being such a huge X-Statix fan, when I first heard Milligan was going to follow up after Morrison’s run (that was months before the original announcement), this was the best possible writer appointment in the x-men core titles that I could ever hope for; I was of course expecting to get “X-Statix featuring the X-Men”, just as many people were expecting the second coming of Grant Morrison (seeing as how the latter was influenced by Milligan’s work) or a Joss Whedon clone. Well, the higher the cliff you jump off, the greater the pain of impact will be. Grant’s first issue was a big mind-blower because it came after a long period of truly bland x-stories, and it broke the mold of what everyone thought an x-book could be. It was the Big Bang of the new Marvel age of Joe and Bill. It was good shit. Milligan’s first issue may follow Austen’s sub-standard and prematurely-canned run, but it is still the new kid in the family that includes the finally rejuvenated father of the X-men, and the most beloved geek TV writer. By choosing to forego a big splash opening and delivering a first issue that doesn’t really read so much as a first issue, but as a continuation of Austen’s team’s adventures, Milligan may have alienated the majority of the fans from the get-go.
Milligan doesn’t assemble his own cast here, but uses the team Austen/editorial assembled for the X-Men run, minus Austen’s niche characters (Juggernaut, Nurse Annie, Nocturne and Carter), whom Austen promptly cleared out of the playground in his last storyline. Paired with Claremont’s de-blinding of Gambit last issue, Milligan gets a clean streamlined slate to work with: a couple of lovers (Rogue and Gambit) and a perpetual love triangle (Iceman-Polaris-Havok). I expect he will be adding in his own favorites down the line. Although the characterization follows the same road as what we saw previously it is more… kind to the characters, whereas Austen’s was unrelenting and portrayed some characters in harsh light. Iceman is still the less mature in the bunch and prone to inappropriate comments, he is not the huge jack-ass of the last 2 years. Lorna is still unbalanced after the events of Genosha and can’t control her violent outbursts, but she’s a far cry from the genocidal female version of Magneto; surrounded by the massacred piles of bodies, her mind relives the terror she experienced in Genosha, when she was buried with the dead mutants after Sentinel attack; later, when a survivor attacks her, she lashes out and kills him without a second thought. Havok, as the leader of the team, reacts to this with the (oft-ignored in the pages of Wolverine and Morrison’s run) motto that “the X-Men don’t kill”, but it reads more like a slap on the wrist than a severe reprimand; all the X-men by now have gotten their hands bloody at one point or another and, following canon, Polaris was accepted back on the team after going psycho and attempting to kill all the guests in her wedding; she appears to receive special lenience in all her “slips” of conscience, I’m curious to see if Milligan will further touch on this later on. Gambit and Rogue still haven’t been shown dealing on-panel with the return of Rogue’s powers which deters them from all the hokey-pokey they used to indulge on in X-Treme X-Men. I can’t even recall the how and when of Rogue’s powers returning, but this marks the first time in memory that she has been shown using her absorbing powers in the X-Men title; Milligan hints at Rogue’s addiction to absorbing people that was first touched on by Steve Seagle during his ’90s run on Uncanny X-Men; Rogue is very willing to use her powers in any situation, even when more obvious solutions are at hand, and she has a difficulty in breaking contact.
The writing style overall isn’t what I’d expect to see in a Peter Milligan comic. Milligan is at his best when he’s going inside the character’s head and transferring their thought processes to the reader as narration through captions. This storytelling technique is only used in one page of the issue. It’s peculiar why Milligan would shy away from his preferred tools, and past occasions lead me to suspect there may be an editorial finger somewhere in this, maybe asking Milligan to “dumb down” his writing for the mainstream X-fans.
The art chores are still handled by the now-veteran X-Men artist Salvador Larroca. Larroca has undergone many changes in his art style over the years. Starting out as a very stylistic artist with an angular “gritty” style in Ghost Rider, but then adopting a more mainstream superhero flavour as he moved on to Heroes Return and then Fantastic Four. Moving from manga-esque (and abnormally large-breasted) character designs to more detailed work coloured straight from his pencils in X-Treme X-Men and now to a washy bland-coloured style in the X-Men title. He’s exhibited great range over the years, and he’s been dangerously close to copycatting other artists’ styles; for a while he sported a close resemblance to Carlos Pacheco’s style (the X-Treme X-Men annual being the brightest example), and at other times his work had elements from Leinil Francis Yu; some of those elements can even be seen in this issue’s cover. Judging from this issue, I don’t believe Milligan and Larroca will be a good match creatively. Larroca has lost his edge over the years, and seems unable to draw a decent bloodbath, with a prime example being the pile of decaying bodies in the opening two-page splash, who all seem very “smooth” and featureless, blurred even more by the nouveau coloring approach…
Story: 6/10Art: 3/10Overall: 5/10
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As always, I’m waiting for your comments through email or in the new official LYS@D discussion thread.
Manolis Vamvounisa.k.a. Doc Dooplove
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