Posts Tagged ‘Brian Michael Bendis’
In 1977, Marvel came up with a pretty fantastical (and most likely drug-induced) idea. Comic books are always talking about their multiverses, where somebody at some point did something drastically different and changed that universe’s reality forever. Essentially, the writers wanted to nerd out and ask the big, cringe-worthy-fan-fiction-inducing question: “What if?”
With Uatu the Watcher playing narrator, the writers told tales of what might have been which, considering the breadth of what could be asked with this concept, had a tone that ranged anywhere from goddamn ridiculous to downright grim. Even so, it seems like a huge chunk of issues were dedicated to what would happen if Character X had/had not killed Character Y. Over the years there have been two regular volumes (followed by many, many series of one-shots, most being event tie-ins), a parody series titled What the–?!, and (although they’d probably deny it outright) inspired the DC Comics Elseworlds imprint.
Considering the almost 200 issues of the series, most of which are pretty terrible (I think there’s a reason nobody who wrote any of the 90’s What If? issues were ever heard from again), it’s hard to figure out what’s actually decent. Man, good thing you got me here to force my opinion on you. TOP FIVE TIME, Y’ALL.
7. What If? Vol 1 #10 (…Jane Foster Had Found the Hammer of Thor?) – Originally, in Journey Into Mystery #83 Donald Blake went on vacation to Norway by himself. Here, he instead takes Jane Foster and she’s with him when he gets attacked by those weird aliens from Saturn. She beats him to finding Mjolnir and transforms into Thordis (which, considering that who Donald Blake is has no bearing on who Thor is, makes no sense). She goes around fighting Loki and more aliens in typical Thor fashion. While Thordis is off creating the Avengers, Blake saves the drowning Sif and falls in love with her. Odin realizes that this is all wrong and gives Mjolnir it to Donald, turning him into Thor. And then this gets all daytime soap opera on us. Poor Jane is now crazy-bummed, losing both the powers of Mjolnir and the man she loves to the Asgardians. Odin decides to fix this by granting Jane goddess status and marrying her, making Jane Foster the stepmother to the man she used to love (seriously, that’s like Lois Lane ending up boning Pa Kent). Yeah, gross.
6. What If? Vol 1 #13 (…Conan the Barbarian Walked the Earth Today?) – Okay, I’ll admit that the only stuff I know about Robert E. Howard’s Conan franchise I learned from that movie where he punches a camel in the face (in other words, I don’t know jack shit). There are three things that make this issue of What If? great to me. First, Roy Thomas and John Buscema, the regular writer and artist on the more mature Savage Sword of Conan title, handle this issue. Second, everybody in the present either mistakes Conan for Sylvester Stallone or Arnold Schwarzenegger (a full four years before the movie, mind you). And lastly, Conan spends his one day in the present beating the shit out of a lady cab driver’s car with his sword, immediately going back to her apartment and fucking her, and foiling an art heist at the Guggenheim. That’s one hell of a day, Conan.
5. What If? Vol 2 #24 (…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires?) – Most of the second volume of What If? is just so terribly, terribly 90’s. Every issue seems to either deal with Wolverine or the Punisher and, well, this issue is pretty much about both of ’em. During the fight with Count Dracula from Uncanny X-Men #159, Dracula ends up biting Wolverine, Nightcrawler, Storm, and Colossus who go out and start turning all of the heroes and villains into vampires. Realizing that Doctor Strange is the only one who has the power to stop his horde, Wolverine sets out to kill him and succeeds. Apparently death doesn’t really stall Strange, whose spirit launches Plan B: possessing Frank Castle, giving him the Eye of Agamotto and Cloak of Levitation, and going crazy with garlic grenades and a Super Soaker full of Holy Water. To top off the ridiculousness, this issue got it’s own What If? treatment 13 issues later in the story “…Wolverine Was Lord of the Vampires During Inferno?”
4. What If? Vol 1 #26 (…Captain America Had Been Elected President?) – In Captain America #250, the New Populist Party offered Cap the chance to run for president as a third party candidate and he declined. But what if he’d have run against Jimmy Carter and Ronald Reagan in the 1980 election and won? After Cap reveals his secret identity to the world, President Rogers spearheads a massive movement to replace America’s dependency on foreign oil with solar power. He then supplies solar powered weapons to the some revolutionaries in the South American country of San Pedro, hoping to free them from some oppression or whatever. After accepting an invitation by the revolutionaries, it is revealed that their leader is actually Red Skull, who has hacked into the solar energy collecting satellites and turned them into giant laser beams. Cap manages to smash the Red Skull’s controls causing the laser beams to blow them both to bits. Okay, yeah, Captain America’s dead, but look on the bright side! In this reality there was never a President Reagan!
3. What If Jessica Jones Had Joined the Avengers? #1 – Now, this one is just terribly depressing. With Brian Michael Bendis and Michael Gaydos, the men behind ALIAS, handling this issue you know it’s gonna be good. Following her horrific eight months as a slave to the Purple Man, Jessica Jones is asked to join the Avengers, to which she agrees. Rather than working for The Daily Bugle and having a child out of wedlock with Luke Cage, Jessica winds up marrying Captain America and bringing Wanda’s mental breakdown to light before House of M can ever happen. However, what really makes this story great is that instead of being narrated by Uatu, those duties are given to Bendis himself, drawn conversing with a random patron at a diner in New York City while a forlorn looking Jessica Jones dines behind them.
2. What If? Vol 1 #14 (…Sgt. Fury Fought World War Two in Outer Space?) – In this dimension, it turns out that Leonardo DaVinci’s flying machine actually worked and, therefore, humans were waaay more advanced in the field of flight by the time 1941 rolled around. December 7, 1941, Space Station Pearl is attacked by a bunch of kamikaze lizard men. Later on, Nick Fury and Dum Dum Dugan host a conference in the Space Station Midway where it turns out that Baron Strucker has been the admiral of the fleet of space stations the whole time, trying to promote Space Nazism while working with the lizard men. It’s cool though, because Sgt. Fury gets rid of Strucker the same way every badguy in any fight on a spaceship has died: getting flushed out of an airlock. The best part of the story has to be the tagline on the cover: “First Star Wars— Then Battlestar Galactica— And now!!!”
1. What If? Vol 1 #11 (…The Original Marvel Bullpen Had Become the Fantastic Four?) – This is by far one of the goofiest issues of any comic I’ve ever seen, made even stranger considering it was written and drawn by Jack Kirby. A mysterious box shows up at the door of Marvel HQ and is opened by Stan Lee, believing it to be a box of cigars. Instead, it’s a small gamma bomb that douses the whole of the staff with radiation, giving Stan super-stretchy powers, Kirby the rocky skin of the Thing, Sol Brodsky the ability to control fire and fly, and Flo Steinberg (at the time Stan Lee’s secretary, later publisher of Big Apple Comix) the powers of invisiblity. After finding another of the boxes, the foursome meets Namor and discover that the boxes were planted by the Skrulls who plan to take over the world from their new undersea base. Kirby and Namor punch a hole in the base’s hull, defeat the Skrulls, and THE END. So, I guess the big question is how the hell did Jack Kirby draw this with those new big, orange sausage-fingers of his?
It’s hard to write an original love story. How does one make the most universal of plotlines fresh and interesting? By re-telling his tortured relationship between his fundamentalist Christian upbringing and his first real love, Thompson gives us a unique twist on the autobiographical love story. Most of Thompson’s childhood and teenage years in small town Michigan are set during the harsh winter season. Thompson’s beautiful black and white drawings are a perfect complement to the stark, bleak beauty of his Midwestern hometown. Thompson has a big, sweeping lyrical style, but finest moments in Blankets are mostly silent. Like a silent film, Blankets’ strongest impact is in the images, such as the long dream sequence where the two lovers are mingled in the patchwork quilt Raina gives Craig.
What makes Blankets so compelling is Craig’s conflict between his deep-seated devotion to God and his passionate feelings for Raina. Religion rarely gets tackled in comics, and rarely as subtly as Thomson tackles it here. Without demonizing his former faith, he raises good, hard questions about his beliefs, and doesn’t give us any easy answers. What’s so refreshing is that Thompson leaves Craig’s relationship with Raina unresolved. When his relationship with Raina ends, it isn’t neat and tidy. Like real life, it’s messy and complicated, and sometimes we never see that person again. You wait to see if he’s going to circle back to Raina, and tell the reader what happened, but they are left hanging, just like in real life. Thompson spent five years on his 500+ page labor of love, and he leaves a moving testament to childhood, love and faith.
Set in 1970s Seattle, Black Hole is about the spread of a sexually transmitted disease that causes grotesque mutations in the teenagers who contract it. It’s also a horror comic, and Charles Burns’ tremendous work draws heavily in its aesthetic from the fantastically lurid grindhouse and slasher films of that era. But as you might expect, Black Hole is really just about growing up, and the physical transformations that the kids in the story go through only serve to literalize the genuine horrors of real-life adolescence. The sexual nature of their encounters and the complications that arise in their relationships reflect universal themes of immaturity, ignorance, shame, and alienation that pretty much all of us experience at that age. And, as with the high-schoolers in Black Hole, these are the trials that ultimately lead us to make the awkward transition into adulthood… or at least to just get the fuck out of town as soon as we’re able.
If you’ve never read a Spider-Man comic before, what do you know about him? How does our impression of arguably the greatest character in the history of comic books differ between his official continuity and the cultural canon? It probably isn’t all alien symbiotes or organic web shooters versus mechanical or having six-arms or clones names Ben or the trials of marriage (let alone any “Brand New Days”) or the even Daily Bugle and getting his ass yelled at a lot for just trying to get on with his day.
Well, wait. Maybe that last one…
Spider-Man is beloved above and beyond all else for being the superhero we can relate to, the guy who’s life as Peter Parker was often as dramatically true to life as his costumed exploits were fantastic and, more importantly, were just as compelling and fun to read than the smash and bash, if not more so. So when the Ultimate Universe idea came around, it makes sense that Spidey was the most perfect fit for the update: Take all the stuff that we remember and love about Peter Parker’s history, and place it in a simple, modern context without all the decades of convolution. What you get is a 15 year old kid who has to deal with new powers (and new responsibilities) after he’s bitten by a radioactive spider… on top of dealing with high school. And it works. All the greatest moments get their due, and Brian Michael Bendis gives us as much meaningful time with Gwen Stacey, Mary Jane Watson, and the gang as he does thrills watching Pete quip one-liners as he puts the beats on the Green Goblin, Electro, and Doctor Octopus.
It works so perfectly that, like an awesome TV show that runs way too many seasons too long, it inevitably becomes just as convoluted as the series it was created to simplify, and actually had to be rebooted/relaunched itself! That’s comics for you. But for sixty-some issues, Bendis and series regular artist Mark Bagley delivered our friendly neighborhood web slinger as not as we know and love him, but as we felt like we knew and loved him. Which is really way better anyway.
Love him or hate him, Geoff Johns was unarguably the continuity guru of the 2000’s, and his rise to prominence can be pinned on a single event: Green Lantern: Rebirth. Regardless of what critics have said of his work, Johns’ impact on the DCU was both immense and undeniable. First off, Johns brought Silver Age legend Hal Jordan back to life, reviving popular interest in the previously b-list Green Lantern Corps, spawning several on-going books, and a big-budget blockbuster movie. If that wasn’t enough, the success of this single story line managed to set the tone for DC continuity, landed Johns some of the best selling comic mini-series of his day, and poised him for a role as the head creative voice at DC Comics. Not too shabby.
DMZ’s portrait of a besieged Manhattan told through the lens of a semi-disaffected, semi-independent reporter is a book firing on all cylinders. Striking visuals evoke a place almost, but not entirely, unlike the New York City of today, and Brian Wood guides the reader through the morass of the city with the same ambivalence to the journalistic form as his lead character, Matty Roth. Whether you think Brian Wood glimpsed the future of the fragile Union, or if he’s just writing a different kind of the “real America,” cultural polarization hyperbole that has been the media’s stock-in-trade for the past few years, DMZ thrives so deeply in the ambiguity that it will keep even the most opinionated engaged. Not that this book lacks clarity of moral vision—there is good and there is evil—but they are rarely as clear as borders on a map.
There isn’t much going on at Marvel that I’m interested in right now, which isn’t terribly surprising. Marvel tends to be a boy’s club (said the female comic geek) and even though I’m sure Marvel Divas is fine if you’re into that sort of thing, I’ll start buying what Marvel markets to women when they can stop wrapping it in Pepto-Bismol pink. I like comics, ok Marvel? When you name a comic book “Divas” I half expect Celine Dion to show up. I’m not saying Divas is bad, I haven’t read it yet. For all I know, it’s the best book ever; but when comics are running $2.99+ an issue, I damn well do judge them by their covers. I don’t need a cutesy looking book, DO YOU HEAR ME JOE QUESADA? Just get some kick ass writers to write kick ass female characters and try not to call them Divas and wrap them up in SPECIAL FOR GIRLS TPB pink. Girls who LIKE comics are insulted, and girls who don’t like comics still aren’t going to buy them.
That said, thank you for Spider-Woman. Thank you, thank you, thank you. I like Bendis (Ultimate Spider-Man is one of the four Marvel titles on my regular pull list, thankyouverymuch) so I picked up Spider-Woman last week. I know next to nothing about Jessica Drew, except that the Skrulls impersonated her and used her likeness to fuck a lot of shit up, but now the real Jessica is back. That’s it. That’s all I know. Well, other than the fact that along with Ms. Marvel, she’s one of only two women in the Marvel U carrying her own title right now.
The only other female Marvel character I can think of who’s carried her own title in recent years is She-Hulk, and they keep shoving her into the Fantastic Four and the Lady Liberators. Oh, and cancelling her book. Most of Marvel’s female characters weren’t created to be standalone heroes, but to be part of a team. When a character is created to fill a specific role in a group, he or she is hard-pressed to carry a successful solo series. Wolverine is the exception that proves the rule, but come on, would you really buy a Cyclops solo book?
Jessica Drew might be able to carry a solo title longer than Jennifer Walters has ever managed to. She-Hulk’s never had much going for her. Seriously. There just aren’t that many places to take a watered down, big-boobied version of the Hulk. She-Hulk is completely derivative of the male Hulk which makes her one dimensional at best. Besides, the only time she actually seems to get used these days is in courtroom scenes anyway. Spider-Woman, on the other hand (name not withstanding), exists outside of Spider-Man continuity. Her powers are different from Peter Parker’s, her origin isn’t remotely related to his and she’s been screwed far more thoroughly than he has. Between the crazy scientist parents, the being raised in stasis, the HYDRA brainwashing, the Skrull invasion, Jessica is indeed the most screwed person in the universe. At this point she’s been screwed over just as hard, if not harder, than Wolverine – a comparison Bendis makes in issue one.
Bendis has proclaimed his love for the character a million times over; I love it when the powers-that-be give a good writer the chance to reboot a personally beloved character. Take a seasoned writer and let him have at the character he’s wanted to write for years and I guarantee you it’s going to be a blast to read. I never watched more than a preview of the motion comic version of Spider-Woman, and while I know this book was designed specifically for that format, I didn’t notice. Spider-Woman is dark, brooding, gritty and hot damn! Abby Brand shows up within the first ten pages, gives Jess a skrull detector and sends her off to Maripoor to wreck shit.
The Big Two have finally begun to put some serious effort into growing their female ranks. Rucka’s Batwoman should get her own title when Bruce gets back from the dead (sort of) and wants Detective Comics back, if she doesn’t get one it’ll be a crime. Abby Brand has become the female Nick Fury (Abigail Brand: Director of S.W.O.R.D. anyone? Close enough.) and if the first issue is any indication, Spider-Woman is going to be kicking ass for a while to come.
I drank a chilled glass of UV Pink Lemonade over ice with Spider-Woman. This is what happens when we start to run low on booze.