THE MARVEL MANIFESTO
This week, Marvel is releasing only three regular monthly books. And I plan on reviewing all three of them in this column, with plenty of tangents and side trips to discuss things like the new movie SHREK, the Comics Code Authority, and the mind games that all this can play on you.
X-FORCE #116, THE COMICS CODE, SHREK, AND MORE
I think you'll be deciding after the first issue if this book is for you. The book is just that unique in the mutant pantheon that you'll either love it and be excited by the possibilities that this first issue contains, or you'll reject is as being too different or too modern or – if your taste in art swings that way – too ugly. I don't see much in the way of a middle ground here. It isn't like most other "new" series, either, where it may take three or four issues to find its feet. I think this one is landing just fine.
This first issue is all I needed to read to know I like it. A whole lot. And here's one character's quote that sums is up nicely:
"Don't be ridiculous, Axel! Why do you think we're in this if it isn't for personal business? … The missions we go on… they're just the sideshow we have to deal with… so we can have this life." -Edie
This is Rob Liefeld's YOUNGBLOOD concept finally being done right. Heck, it's the concept finally being done. A few books have touched on it here and there, but this is the best execution of the concept of superheroes as media stars that I've seen to date. Writer Peter Milligan covers it from most angles, including the press conferences, the ego trips, the drugs, the sex, and the public opinion polls. It takes the concept of super-heroes as media stars and looks at it from more angles than I would have thought they'd go with at once. It devotes a large portion of its time to the dichotomy between what's real and what's created in the media. That's not an uncommon theme in the entertainment field today, but it's not one that's been focused on by comics a whole lot.
While this first issue doesn't contain a straight-ahead simple story, it does a fine job of introducing all the main characters to us and showing us one major adventure in their lives. The main thrust is the story of X-Force needing a good public relations blitz. What better way to engender support amongst millions than by saving the butts of Boyz R Us, the latest hottest boys band? But even that doesn't come without consequences, as the members of X-Force stop to think about what's in it for them, above and beyond the simple glory of the moment. Who gets the movie rights? Who gets the action figures? Etc.
Along the way, we get little snapshots of their lives, both as celebrities and as broken people. I think the ending of this issue will surprise a lot of people. And so long as Milligan, et. al. have the courage to stick with it and not hit a reset button next month, I think it'll be well worth it.
Mike Allred's art looks like everything else Mike Allred has ever drawn. I have to be honest and say that I'm not a huge fan of it, in general. MADMAN has never done anything for me. The art here, however, doesn't bother me. It works in this book where a certain level of pop art serves better than "realistic" or extremely stylized art would. This book is all about image, so a style of art where you get to fill in many of the blanks for yourself is fitting.
There is one minor hiccup to this love fest of a review. The book starts off with the team already formed and well established. It's a bit jarring to walk into the middle of the story like this. Maybe if it had started off with X-FORCE #1 again I would not have minded so much. But if you're a long time X-Force fan, just be warned that this isn't your book anymore and that there's probably a month or three gap at least since the last issue. Doesn't make it a bad thing. I just want you to be warned up front.
On the other hand, if you've never read a single issue of a Marvel Universe comic, you can easily hop into this book. It's completely new reader friendly. This book has all new characters in a new situation. Aside from the "X-Force" name, there's nothing connected to the rest of X continuity here. So don't be afraid to try it, particularly if you like both Vertigo comics and super-hero comics. This has something of a similar feel to it, without the cuss words. It does have the nearly naked bodies, though.
It's almost impossible to discuss this comic without discussing the comics code. The Code rejected this book. Marvel said the worst the book had was three characters in a jacuzzi. What Marvel failed to point out is that it's three naked characters in a Jacuzzi and the implication is pretty strong what's going on there. I know, the Code has passed plenty of comics in the past which intimated at certain situations, but which generally passed so long as the act itself wasn't shown. This book is fraught with sexuality. If Joe Casey is right and the next evolution of comics is a sexual one, this book is a prime example.
For what it's worth, I'm glad Marvel is dropping the code. It's an out-dated pointless little logo that causes more grief than good. The trick now is to see how Marvel handles itself in the future. Will they try to insert gratuitous swearing and situations designed to be more "mature"? Or will they just allow their creators a little more leeway and freedom, knowing full well that they don't have such a strict and nebulous code of conduct that their characters have to act under.
And to you parents who are concerned: Have you ever taken a book that had a Comics Code seal on it at face value and handed the comic over to your little one? Don't you at least do a cursory scan of the comic first before handing it over? I mean, shouldn't you? Parenting is an individual thing. If you're letting the Code dictate your child's reading material, you're in trouble. The Code is so arbitrary and so useless that there are books out there that are more appropriate for teenagers displaying the Code's insignia next to books like SUPERMAN ADVENTURES, which are truly appropriate for all ages, including your little kindergartner who's just learning to read. (And, hey, what better way to learn to read than with phrases like "tactile telekinesis" and "adamantium skeleton"? ;-)
The thing that really irks me is the inconsistency of it all. X-FORCE got bounced. I can remember when Todd McFarlane was drawing adjectiveless SPIDER-MAN and had stuff rejected that showed Shatterstar shoving a sword in Juggernaut's eye, or an impaled Lizard. I remember an issue of Peter David and Dale Keown's INCREDIBLE HULK being flagged for having a character lying in a pool of red blood. They had to change the blood to purple to get the book passed. Meanwhile, this week's DEADPOOL shows a mobster impaled on a pole and a silhouette of a guy with an ax through his head, both images accompanied by red blood all over the page. The Comics Code passed the DEADPOOL issue. They also passed last week's issue of the truly kid-friendly SUPERMAN ADVENTURES. So isn't it a better idea for Marvel to develop its own set of guidelines to tell the difference between books suited for all ages versus books suited for teenagers?
I went to see SHREK this weekend. It's rated PG and is generally dirtier than any Marvel Comic I've read with a Code seal on it in a long time. I've never been one to laugh at flatulence jokes. They always ring hollow to me and are the sign of a bunch of lazy writers looking at each other trying to come up with stupid silly inane repetitive gross-out gags for the kiddies. These are writers who probably come up with plots for Adam Sandler movies in their spare time. Have I mentioned yet how little tolerance I have for jokes about flatulence?
Anyway, aside from being peppered with too many toilet jokes and a few out and out swear words (although none of the really "hard" swears) and another Eddie Murphy-voiced sidekick who can't shut up and gets rather tiresome really quickly, the movie is funny and worth a watching. Seriously. The pokes at Disney make it all worth your while. You'll be waiting for the DVD to come out so you can relive the bluebird moment again and again and again.
The point is that this is what passes for kids' entertainment these days. I don't like it. I think it's dumb and below the level of where we should be placing our children. If this is the current level for animated movies and afternoon animated series, why should the Comics Code be even more restrictive? Why must Marvel be stuck in a 1950s mindset? EC Comics is long dead now. The CMAA has done their jobs well in that regard. Let's move on and give the creators a chance to tailor their books to a specific audience that might not necessarily be 7 years old.
Oh, and read X-FORCE #116. It's very good.
A NEAR MISS?
I've run this past a couple of people and they see it, too, so I'm not afraid to point this out, if only for the oddity that it is.
Check out the fourth page of the X-FORCE #116 preview in NEW X-MEN #114. Look at the second page that has its dialogue and caption boxes lettered in. It's obviously not the final lettering, as it looks like Times New Roman font or something. But look at the third caption box on that fourth page. Tell me you don't see the "f" word there. The Code may not have approved the issue, but there certainly isn't that word in the final book. Take a look and let me know what you think. Am I just seeing things?
In the final printed version of X-FORCE, the word is "luck."
So here's a great question for you armchair psychologists: Does that little smudge of a word truly look like a curse word, or is it the state of mind we're all in when reading Marvel Comics today that make us more susceptible to seeing such things?
…this week starts a two-part story in which Deadpool is contracted to go after Punisher by a member of the famed Gnucci family. (If you read the PUNISHER 12 issue series from last year, you know the family. If you didn't, do yourself a favor and pick up the trade that just came out not too long ago. All twelve issues are in there. It's pretty good stuff.)
Jimmy Palmiotti and Buddy Scalera handle the writing duties. And there's a lot of writing in here. The book is fairly choked with exposition, dialogue, captions, and wisecracks. The pacing suffers from just reading too darn slow, with relationships that are probably too complicated for the purposes of the story.
On the other hand, they get much bonus points for putting these words into Deadpool's mouth: "Pretty sneaky, sis." We Child of the 80s remember that commercial well…
There's an interesting enough plot to get to here, that could be easily simplified. It's all just a setup to put Punisher and Deadpool in the same room with guns drawn. The first combat between the two is handled extremely well. The second one starts off wrong, I think, and ends the first issue on a cliffhanger. It seems Deadpool learned nothing from his first encounter, and that's what ruins the cliffhanger moment for me.
Georges Jeanty and Jon Holdredge are uneven in the art and unspectacular in style. When Punisher shows up in civvies for a function, I couldn't tell that it was him and thought it was Deadpool with his hologram projector on. Part of that blame has to go to the letterers, though, who failed to change the caption box style to match the different speaker.
Steve Dillon draws the cover. If you like Dillon's work, I'm sure you'll appreciate this piece. Tim Bradstreet handles the duties next month.
This one's a miss for me, although it has some worthy moments in it.
TANGLED WEB: THE THOUSAND #2
This is the second issue of the latest Spider-Man ongoing series, labeled "Tangled Web." This first story is a three-parter, written by Garth Ennis with art from John McCrea and James Hodgkins. Glenn Fabry does the covers. The story centers on yet another kid from Peter Parker's high school past who's never been mentioned in the nearly forty years of continuity he's supposedly been involved with. According to the solicitations for the story – if not the story itself – he tried to duplicate the experiment that made Peter Parker into Spider-Man. His results have not been as spectacular or as amazing as Peter's were. And at the end of the second issue, the disgusting truth is shown.
Garth Ennis is writing a surprising book here. For starters, he's got a scene in the first issue that is almost enough to bring a tear to a long-term Marvel Zombie's eye. It's a simple scene with Peter Parker and Aunt May dancing in the kitchen. It's surprisingly tender and sweet for a book written by the guy who gave us The Punisher and The Hitman. He's definitely working against type here. The second issue reads like another classic Spider-Man fight scene, complete with wisecracks. The only difference is that the villain is a bit ickier here.
But his basic plot misses the point for me. The idea of the book is to show the effect that Spider-Man has on the city and the people around him. Yes, obviously he's had an effect on Carl King, who's the antagonist in this storyline. But this is a story that's been done before. It's the long-lost friend or enemy who comes back years later to reveal to the super-hero that he knows his secret and is out to get him. While Ennis tells the story with grace, style, and ickiness, it's not the bold new thing I was hoping we'd see in this series.
John McCrea decided to create a new style for himself with this series. He's channeling, by turns, Rob Haynes and Geoff Darrow. He's gone for a thin-lined approach to his art, with no spotted blacks and a reliance on his colorist for mood. The opening scene at a fashion show in the second issue introduces a slightly more angular look to the art style than is shown in the first issue. It's a bit more art deco-like than the rest of the two issues so far, and maybe that's just appropriate given the setting. One point definitely in his favor is that Spider-Man looks younger and skinnier here. His head has a tendency to be just a bit too big for his body in many of the shots, which has the effect of showing him as a teenager. The book is set in present day continuity, really, but since the storyline evokes memories of Peter Parker as a teen, I think we can let this one slide.
Steve Buccellato is credited with colors, so at least McCrea put his fate in the hands of a skilled color artist.
While X-FORCE was a hit and DEADPOOL a miss for me this week, TANGLED WEB neatly straddles the middle. We'll see what Ennis and McCrea pull out of their collective hat in the conclusion to the story next month before passing final judgment.
NEXT WEEK: PIPELINE GOES DAILY
In case you haven't seen the little notes at the bottom of the last couple of columns, here's an official announcement:
For the week of May 28th through June 1st, Pipeline will be updated once a day, each day. In other words, there will be a new Pipeline on Monday next week. Then another new one on the traditional spot of Tuesday. Since I just can't get enough of me, I plan on writing another one on Wednesday. Thursday, I'll be grinding out the fourth column of the week. And then on Friday, I'll probably get really desperate and ruin reader e-mail. ;-)
Seriously, though, it's something I've wanted to do for a while, so we're doing it next week. One week only. (Unless reaction is just that great and the hits go through the roof and you all beg nicely.) 5 Pipelines in 5 Days. Join in the madness at this very URL then.
But don't forget to come back on Friday first for the long-delayed and long-promised BONEYARD review. And more. It won't be just that. I promise at least one review of a book that comes out to a comics shop near you this week.
Special thanks to Madison, NJ's own Dewey's Comic City, and its librarian-in-training, Matt.
More than 200 columns are archived here at CBR and you can get to them from the Pipeline Archive page. They're sorted chronologically. The first 100 columns are still available at the Original Pipeline page, a horrifically coded piece of HTML.
This year, you can still catch me at the Chicago Comicon (i.e. WizardWorld) and the San Diego Comicon (i.e. the Comic Con International: San Diego). I might even show up at the Small Press Expo in Maryland later this year, but that's tentative at this point.