“That’s what I came to tell you, that I can’t free our people from the rule of the Romans.”
“Because that’s not true freedom. Any freedom that can be given can be taken away. Moses didn’t need to ask Pharaoh to release our people, our people didn’t need to be released from the Babylonians, and they don’t need to be released from the Romans. I can’t give them freedom. Freedom is in their hearts, they merely have to find it.” (Christopher Moore, from Lamb)
Avengers Academy #31 (“Protective Services Part 3”) by Christos Gage (writer), Tom Grummett (penciler), Cory Hamscher (inker), Chris Sotomayor (colorist), and Joe Caramagna (letterer). $2.99, 20 pgs, FC, Marvel.
Gage continues to take swipes at AvX (see below), as the two groups of kids are the most even-handed bunch about this idiotic event (I really hope that Tony Stark didn’t call his attempt to kill Hope “amazing” and that he was only talking about the energy force that is the Phoenix, but that still came off as … disturbing). Whenever I think Gage is going to have two groups of heroes start bashing each other, he manages to figure out a way to pull the plug very quickly and make the two groups sit down and talk about it. It might not make for really exciting comics, but it makes for very interesting ones, and Avengers Academy is certainly that. Gage is writing a superhero book from a major publisher that is just not that concerned with superheroics, which might mean the book won’t sell very well (the latest solicitation in Previews has me worried about the future of the comic) but means that Gage is trying to figure out what makes superheroes tick, more than most people. Even the endless glut of “what if superheroes existed in the real world” don’t delve into this too much before the punching starts, but Gage is, weirdly enough, writing the anti-superhero text of current comics. Both fights in this issue are derailed, one because the kids realize they shouldn’t be fighting, and the other because it’s fake. The fact that Tigra would stage a fight to “fool” Captain America and Iron Man and their machismo-driven pissing contest is brilliant, and while you can fault Gage’s science (as a certain commenter has done for the past two issues), you can’t fault his dead-on take of the ridiculousness of many superhero comics. I have to give a caveat: I do miss the fact that the kids don’t fight bad guys more often – the fight with Titania and the Absorbing Man remains a high point of this series – but not enough to want Gage to stop writing issues that destroy other superhero comics on a regular basis. His characters are so brazen about how idiotic the big events are, and it’s refreshing. The lattice-work of superhero comics is gossamer-thin at the best of times, and while I don’t think I’d like every book to be this honest about the world of Marvel (and DC, to be fair), it’s kind of neat that Gage keeps getting away with it. We know that editors don’t read the comics before they’re printed, so I guess that’s it.
This is also a pretty damned funny issue, too. That’s also appreciated. It makes the honest, emotional moments all the more powerful, because they seem more organic. Superhero books can be fun, right?
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I’m not sure how long Spencer plans to write Morning Glories (I hope it’s not as long as Kirkman plans to write Invincible and The Walking Dead and as long as Willingham plans to write Fables, which is until you pry the keyboard from their cold, dead fingers), but this issue is a pretty big game-changer, and it’s pretty cool (well, not the event, which is horrific, but the way Spencer leads up to it). I always like when a writer puts his characters in peril and we think not all of them can come out alive and then one of them actually doesn’t come out alive, because with corporate comics, it’s far too easy to throw a deus ex machina at the situation and save everyone. Spencer actually does throw a deus ex machina at us in this issue, but that doesn’t mean it saves everyone. It’s a very tense issue, because a lot of it is a chase scene, but Spencer also throws in some backstory that helps us understand one of the characters a bit better (yes, I’m being vague on purpose; sorry!). The biggest problem I had with this story arc is that Spencer tried to focus on separate threads in each issue, so it’s been a while since we’ve seen Zoe and what she was doing the last time we saw her, which wasn’t pleasant. As with almost every modern comic, it will probably read better in trade (or, for me, when I sit down and read all the issues), but as a serialized drama, it’s a bit frustrating. But Spencer still has gotten more and more control over his comic, and as a consequence, the book becomes more and more intriguing. As we’ve seen some of the odd stuff pay off in very good ways, Spencer can throw other odd stuff at us and we can trust that it, too, will pay off. So that’s nice.
I’ve been praising Eisma a lot recently, so I won’t do it too much today, except to say – man, that double-page spread at the end. It’s good pacing by Spencer, but Eisma nails it. I was just staring at it in disbelief for a while. Really well done by Eisma.
As I’ve mentioned before, I doubt if now is the time to jump on board Morning Glories, but it’s become a consistently excellent comic. I’m glad I stuck with it when it was being so weird early on.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Here’s the key to enjoying a Jonathan Hickman comic, especially if it’s an ongoing: Accept that the pace will make Brian Michael Bendis tap his fingers with impatience, and just go along for the ride. I swear – Hickman must have read a lot of BMB in the past 15 years and thought to himself, “Man, this dude gets to the point waaaaay too fucking fast!” With Secret #2, he takes the pace of Secret #1 (which at least featured a massacre) and kicks it … down a notch. We get a flashback to the main character’s childhood, and then we get pages and pages of characters talking to each other, but with such minimalistic dialogue that you might be forgiven in thinking they’re saying random words to the ether. Witness: A three-panel sequence of the main character … pulling a tarp off of his car! Behold: A page of the main character … looking at his mail! Gaze upon: Two pages of a man … getting off a plane and getting into a limousine! Yes, I’m making fun, but that doesn’t mean I hate this comic. Hickman usually pays off it quite well, and I’m only going to bail on this if it goes on too long, and two issues isn’t too long for a slow burn (I’m looking at you, Fantastic Four, which everyone agrees is superb but was so boring early in the run that I couldn’t stay with it). Bodenheim is a decent artist, but Garland makes this a visual treat with his odd coloring choices that have to make some kind of sense, don’t they?
All I’m saying is that this comic moves really slowly. If you trust Hickman (and I generally do), then you’ll probably like it. If you don’t trust him, this is not the comic that’s going to change your mind. I have no idea what’s going on with Secret yet, but I do want to find out, so I’ll give him some rope!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
I refuse to call this book Dark Avengers in anything other than the most ironic fashion, so it shall be quote marks (or inverted commas, if you’re a stuffy Brit) from now on when I’m referring to it, and it shall reside alphabetically under “T.” I still haven’t even made up my mind if I’m sticking around, but this first issue shows that Parker is still writing a good comic, so I might have to. But a group of idiots like Clor and some six-armed Spider-Man? Blech. I dig Jane Covington, however, although I’m a bit puzzled how she seems to have offensive powers these days. I’m sure it’s explained somewhere!
Parker does give the readers a good in-story reason for dragging the Avengers Noir into this book – the actual Thunderbolts were lost in time for a while, and I assume they’ll be back, but the big bosses can’t count on that, obviously. The biggest problem with this issue is that, unlike Gage, Parker doesn’t avoid the “heroes fighting heroes” scene – Luke Cage, who has some issues with the Dunkel Avengers, sees them and attacks, which lasts seven pointless pages (sorry, Parker – it’s true). Now, the set-up of the issue, which takes place in North Africa, is pretty keen, and the fact that Hank Pym and Luke have sort-of figured out how to find the time-tossed T-bolts is decent, and I like how Luke gets Skaar on the team and ends up on the mission anyway, but man! seven pages in a 20-page issue is long, man.
But whatevs. If changing the name to Avengers Escuro means it moves a few more units and doesn’t get axed, so be it. It’s depressing that people are sheep, but that’s the way it is. I mean, my retailer expected to sell far more copies of Earth 2 than normal because people still think “important” issues will skyrocket in value. Jeebus.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
This is Greenwood’s last issue on the book, which oddly depresses me. I say “oddly” because I’ve never loved his artwork, but I still want the book to have a consistent look, which it had for so long with Mitten drawing it, and although I wasn’t that jazzed by Greenwood’s artwork, he was getting better, and I think he could have done good things had he stayed. I also always worry on small books that are so defined by the creators when one of them leaves – it’s why I was anxious when Mitten left the comic, and I hope Johnston can manage to finish this epic without again getting bogged down in artistic problems. Issue #39 is coming out on time, apparently, which is great, but I don’t know if Johnston has a new regular artist. I hope he can find someone to finish the book with him, because that would be cool.
Much like Morning Glories above and unlike many mainstream superhero comics is that Johnston is free to do whatever the hell he wants, and both this issue and Morning Glories put their characters in peril that might not be possible at companies that refer to characters as “properties.” In this issue, Gerr finally tells his story, and while it’s a decent enough story, when we reach the end, if this were some kind of corporate comic, it would certainly not have ended the way it did. Johnston gives us a powerful ending that is perfectly sensible given the characters involved while also showing how far one character has come since the beginning of the book. If this were a standard superhero comic, I’d not only think that this ending wouldn’t have happened, but if it actually did, it would have seemed forced and also, possibly, have no repercussions whatsoever. Perhaps the ending won’t have any repercussions in this book, but it seems unlikely.
Johnston occasionally stops by here. Maybe he’ll reassure me about the art situation. Because, you know, I’M THAT IMPORTANT!!!!!
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ½ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
Peter David eventually gets around to this in this issue, but while I was reading it, I was wondering if he would: Rahne, as a good Presbyterian, had to know what John Maddox tells her at the end of this issue; that is, everyone is forgiven, no one is beyond the grace of God, and no one has done anything so terrible that God can’t forgive them for it. I get that Rahne was raised by evil, small-minded Presbyterians rather than the wacky liberal Presbyterians around whom I was raised, but it’s been a while since she’s been a small girl cowed by a crazy, fire-and-brimstone kind of preacher, and I’m surprised it took John Maddox to bring up the idea of redemption to her when Theresa is a fine Catholic lass who ought to know this as well. Self-pity can be a very strong feeling, I know, and so John Maddox’s extreme solution to Rahne’s problem is probably necessary, but I always find it interesting when Christians don’t understand some of the basic tenets of their religion. I mean, I haven’t gone to church in 20 years and I know this shit.
I do like this issue, though, because I always like it when superheroes go off and do non-superhero things that are still tied to their superhero stuff. I mean, Rahne is feeling guilty because she rejected the child that she vomited up out of her abdomen and then watched kill someone in the next moment, so it’s not like she’s like a normal mother – her feelings are directly tied to her superhero life, yet David generalizes them so that the story is still powerful. He’s quite good at this, and I always enjoy when writers have their characters actually think about the weird shit that happens to them and try to process it rather than just dealing with it in one panel where Wolverine tells them to suck it up. Not helping, Logan!
Oh, and at this stage of career, I imagine David sits around and thinks of the worst puns he can think of, then rubs his hands together and says out loud, “This will make Joe Rice pull his hair out!” and then puts them in his scripts. He has to know that people go batshit over the puns, right? If I were that deft at coming up with puns, I would totally put them in scripts just because I knew it annoyed people. But then, I’m kind of evil.
Rating: ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆ ☆
One totally Airwolf panel:
A Cairene decides to rob a bank when he can’t pay back a loan shark, and gets involved in all kinds of political corruption. It looks really nice, too, with frenetic black-and-white art. And yes, “Cairene” is totally correct. Deal with it.
There’s a murder mystery on a planet where everyone wears masks to indicate social status. It sounds keen and looks great. And no, I’ve never read anything by Jack Vance. Yes, I suck. I was too cool in high school singing in choir and acting in plays to read nerdy science fiction, bitches!
I didn’t buy the first Before Watchmen book, because I have absolutely no interest in it or what it represents, but I did flip through it out of morbid curiosity. You know how people say they would buy a comic of Darwyn Cooke (or another artist they love) drawing the phone book? Well, I was impressed that DC actually allowed Cooke to draw 26 pages of Dan DiDio taking a shit on Alan Moore’s head and then rubbing it into his luxurious beard. I mean, that took some balls by all concerned, right?
I happened to see this post about Jean-Claude van Damme’s hot daughter, and what caught my eye is not Bianca Bree van Varenberg’s hotness (she’s attractive, sure, and yes, that is her full name), but the fact that JCvD has been married to women named Gladys Portugues and Darcy LaPier. Now THOSE are some names!
So Ray Bradbury died at 91. I know this is more heresy, but I am not the hugest fan of Bradbury, not because I don’t like his writing, but because in my big science-fiction phase of reading (the ages of 12-16 or so), I read Arthur C. Clarke, Frank Herbert (not Dune, though, which I cannot get into, much less through), Roger Zelazny, and Orson Scott Card. I don’t know why, but Bradbury just wasn’t on my radar. Years later I read Fahrenheit 451 and liked it, and who doesn’t like that short story that starred Edward Burns? Yessiree, that was pretty keen. But I know he’s a legend, so raise a glass to him tonight!
In case you’re interested with the behind-the-scenes crap here at the blog (and, to be honest, why the hell wouldn’t you be?), the format of our “dashboard” changed again. We no longer see the last few comments left on the blog on the dashboard, which is kind of annoying. The “Edit Post” page, where real men type their posts instead of typing them in Word and saving them and then copying and pasting them like some people do (the ones we real men call scaredy cats), is atrocious – the font has been changed, so it looks like I’m typing on a Commodore-64 in 1983. I mean, the zeroes have diagonal lines through them. Really, WordPress? Sheesh. Obviously, you can see that everything still looks the same on the published version – including the continual and distressing lack of tags – but backstage, it’s like we had a budget cut and we can only afford the most basic, shitty font out there. I don’t even know what this font is called. Did Richard Starkings finally take over the entire font world and denied WordPress the use of everything else? (Raises fists and looks the sky) STARKINGS!!!!!!!
I think my iPod will be back soon, but this week, let’s check out my Top Ten Favorite Wars. Obviously, all wars suck, but as a historian, some wars are more interesting to study than others. These are those, with one thrown in that I just love because it’s the most ridiculous war in history. These are in chronological order, by the way.
1. The Hundred Years’ War, 1337-1453. Hey, that’s not 100 years! And hey, there were several times throughout these years when England and France weren’t actually fighting! But who cares – this is still a great conflict to study. Edward III decided he wanted to be king of France as well as England, hearkening back to the good old days of Henry II’s Angevin Empire of the twelfth century, so he went across the Channel to bitch-slap the actual French king, Philip VI. This war, which was fought in stages, was momentous in the development of Western history. It led to the first expressions of French and English nationalism and the creation of standing armies. At the battle of Crécy in 1346, the English longbowmen annihilated the French knights in one of the most stunning “upsets” in history; the age of the knights ended that day, as long-range weaponry forced generals to come up with new tactics (something the French didn’t learn, as in 1356 Edward’s son the Black Prince used the same tactics at Poitiers and captured the French king, John II). Years later, of course, Henry V won the day at Agincourt, inspiring one of Shakespeare’s great speeches. Henry couldn’t press his advantage, and with the inspirational leadership of Joan of Arc in the late 1420s, France finally gained the advantage. The war officially ended in 1453, although the English held Calais for another 100 years. By then it was clear the Henry VI, Kenneth Branagh’s son, was not a terribly good leader, and England was about to be riven by another of my favorite wars!
2. The Wars of the Roses, 1455-1485. The second “civil war” of England came about because, well, nobody liked the king. Henry VI was a crappy king, and since the family of York, led by Richard, the city’s duke, was descended from Edward III just like Henry was, they decided they should rule. It didn’t help that Henry was often off his rocker and that his French wife was wildly unpopular. The war was also fought in fits and spurts, like many medieval wars, with years of peace and short bursts of violence. Henry was replaced for a while by Edward IV (r. 1461-1470), came back for a while, then died. Edward returned, but his wife was as unpopular as Henry’s had been (for different reasons; she wasn’t royal, so the marriage brought no advantages internationally to England), and after Edward died, his brother Richard (the famous Third) took over instead of allowing her family to dominate Edward’s two young sons. Those kids conveniently disappeared into the Tower of London (where Richard had then killed) and Richard took over. However, some mangy Welsh claimant defeated Richard at Bosworth in 1485, killed him, and married Edward’s daughter to unite the houses. Richard, however, provided Ian McKellen with a great role 500 years later, so that’s something!
3. The Thirty Years’ War, 1618-1648. Like all long wars, this was a series of armed conflicts that all centered around Germany, but lurched back and forth over three decades. This is probably the most horrific of the religious wars that wracked Europe for a century or so, as Protestants and Catholics killed each other in the name of that peaceful Jesus dude you may have heard of. This is another interesting war to read about, because of the way it was fought. It’s occasionally considered the first “total war” in that civilians were often slaughtered along with soldiers. Civilians had suffered in wars before, but usually as collateral damage, not because the soldiers went out of their way to kill them. This is also the war in which Sweden (yes, Sweden!) was a major player, as the country reached the height of its power under Gustavus Adolphus, who died on the battlefield in 1632. It can also be seen as the first full-scale European war, a tradition which led to the Seven Years’ War, the Napoleonic Wars, and those two in the 20th century you may have heard about. As usual with wars, this inspired a great piece of fiction, Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children. It’s a brilliant play, and if you get a chance to see it, check it out!
4. The First and Second Opium Wars, 1839-1842; 1856-1860. I know only a little about the two Opium Wars, but these were early attempts by the West to impose their economic will on China, and led to some really horrible things, such as the Taiping Rebellion, which almost destroyed the country. I just love how the British (and, in the second one, joined by the French), forced the Chinese to allow opium imports, after the Chinese tried to make it illegal. Remember when countries wanted to traffic in drugs? Ah, the good old days!
5. The Franco-Prussian War, 1870-1871. I’m a fan of Otto von Bismarck (as a historian, of course; as a person, he seems like a complete bastard), and this was his crowning achievement. After wars with Denmark and Austria, Bismarck was ready to unite Germany under Prussia and he needed a big-time war to do it. So he whipped up some antagonism between the Germans and the Second Empire (under one of the lamer rulers of the 19th century, Napoleon III), and managed to get France to declare war on Prussia. The Prussians, who were far superior to the French in every regard, beat the crap out of Napoleon for six weeks before capturing him at Sedan, and then beat the French armies under the Third Republic for another few months before capturing Paris in early 1871. In the aftermath of the war, Paris became a Socialist stronghold for a few months, which led to lots of bloodshed. Bismarck, meanwhile, wrangled a new crown for his king, Wilhelm I – that of the German Empire, which was declared in May 1871 at Versailles. This upset the balance of power in Europe that had been established at the Congress of Vienna in 1815 and led somewhat directly to the great world wars of the 20th century. Bismarck stayed in power until 1890, when Wilhelm II, the second emperor, fired him. That might have not been a mistake, but Wilhelm’s thirst for overseas glory, which Bismarck warned against, certainly was.
6. The War of the Cricket Match, 1896. This is the shortest war in history, clocking in at 37 minutes 23 seconds. The Sultan of Zanzibar was peeved because the English admiral, Sir Henry Rawson, brought all his warships close to shore so his men could disembark and watch a cricket match. The Sultan declared war and sent his only battleship into action. The British sank that and bombarded the Sultan’s palace. He escaped into German territory, and the war ended. Good times!
7. The Boer War, 1899-1902. This is technically the Second Boer War, but it’s the one every remembers. I read a book about this years ago, and it’s really a fascinating war, because it might be considered the first modern war, in that correspondents were “embedded” with the British troops (Winston Churchill was one of them!), it turned quickly into a guerrilla war, which allowed the Boers to fight the British for two years after the South African government capitulated, and the British set up concentration camps! Yay, concentration camps! This war reminds us that the Dutch had set up two independent republics in South Africa back in the day, which is kind of weird to think about today. South Africa became a part of the British Empire after this war, and Churchill got a taste for blood that wasn’t sated even after World War I!
8. The Russo-Japanese War, 1904-1905. I’ve always been interested in Japan and China, even though my first love is European history. The Meiji Restoration of the 19th century, in which the Emperor regained power from the shoguns, is a fascinating time in history, and the speed with which Japan embraced Western technology is one of the shocks of the past 200 years. They showed off their new prowess by absolutely destroying the Russian navy at Port Arthur in 1904 and bringing the czar’s army to its knees, leading indirectly to the 1905 Revolution that was a precursor to the Bolshevik takeover 12 years later. Teddy Roosevelt got a Nobel Peace Prize for bringing the two sides together, Japan earned the respect of the West by showing they could kill vast numbers of people as easily as white people, and it embarked on a path that led to Pearl Harbor.
9. The Balkan Wars, 1912-1913. Another region that fascinates me is the Balkans, and although I need to read more about this particular war, anything about the area and the Ottomans’ dominance of it is keen. These wars also crack me up a bit, because in the first one, Greece, Bulgaria, Serbia, and Montenegro allied with each other to fight the Turks, even though they fought pretty much separately because they didn’t like each other that much. After defeating the Turks (ending the “first” war), they pretty much immediately turned on each other, especially the Greeks and Bulgarians. Their fighting allowed Romania and Turkey to enter the second war, and the Ottomans regained a great deal of territory that they had lost a few months earlier in the first war! I like this war because it shows how difficult it is for an outside power, like the United States and the United Nations in the 1990s, to go into the region and try to talk peace. The people hate each other there with a centuries-old passion, and as the Turks learned, the only thing they hate more than each other are Great Powers coming in and telling them not to kill each other!
10. The Spanish Civil War, 1936-1939. I find this war fascinating, because of the somewhat confused sides, the involvement of several different nationalities, the fact that the Nazis viewed it as a “preseason” war in which they could field-test new weapons, and the involvement of the Basques, which threw a weird spanner in the works. It was a horrific war by all accounts, too, and probably should have alerted the world to what was coming. That it didn’t remains a tragedy of history. Of course, it did give us a terrific mural, so I guess all the deaths were totally worth it.
There are, of course, plenty of other wars that I’m interested in. I didn’t count crusades, which I love to study, or even general military actions from medieval times, when “wars” didn’t really exist. I mean, Charlemagne was always campaigning against someone, but that’s just what he did. So although I like medieval history the best, it’s hard to define a “war” for a lot of that time. That’s why these more modern conflicts are my favorites. War definitely sucks, but it’s perversely fascinating to study. Maybe I’m just bloodthirsty.
So that’s another week of comic bookery. I hope everyone has a nice weekend, and I should let you know that this column is going to be a little bit late next week. I’m on a plane on Thursday and in Pennsylvania on Friday and Saturday and back on a plane on Sunday, so I might not get this posted until Monday the 18th. Can’t be helped, folk – Marillion is touring North America for the first time in over a decade, and since they won’t come to Phoenix, I have to go to Philadelphia! My hands are totally tied!