Four Colors to Infinity: Pile of Dead Hitlers Edition

Welcome back to Four Colors to Infinity, where I read comics that I have not read in years and try to make some kind of sense out of them for no reason than to pass the time until I die.  This was originally supposed to be a monthly series, but I am an unemployed shut-in, and walking to the nerd store every Wednesday to pick up the latest overpriced garbage is just about the only thing that gets me out of the house anymore.

The pattern that has developed here is that I buy two Marvel comics, two DC comics, and two “indie” comics, which gives me a nice balanced approach to what’s going on in the medium, much as one would be eating a balanced diet if one ate two meals a week at McDonald’s, two meals a week at Burger King, and two meals a week at Dick’s Drive-In.  (Non-Seattleites, feel free to substitute your own venerable, overrated local burger chain.)  I try to exercise some degree of discretion but honestly, I have no idea who any of these people are or what they are doing, so the whole thing is pretty much a crapshoot, just as God intended.  (God, in this scenario, will be played by Dan DiDio.)

Last week I thought that I had hit rock bottom when I trudged through a nearly incomprehensible issue of Hulk, but I didn’t know how good I had it, because this week features not one but two nearly identical and utterly disposable stories that illustrate perfectly how well that much-vaunted ‘symmetry’ between comics and movies is working out for the rag trade.  Let’s hold our breath and jump in feet first!

ALL-NEW X-MEN #36:  “No Title”.  This is what I’ve been dreading since I started this.  The lunatic complexity of the X-titles is what first drove me away from comics way back in the late 1980s, and judging from the convoluted backstory text page that constitutes the first page of this issue (and blew the part of the budget they normally would have spent on a title, apparently), it hasn’t gotten any better.  The original X-Men have traveled through time, and now they’re scattered all over various dimensions and alternate universes, and there’s a head-spinningly perfunctory battle with a goat-legged version of Dr. Doom that goes nowhere slowly until he literally just disappears from the story seven pages in because apparently even Brian Michael Bendis was bored with the fight scene.  His trademark choppy back-and-forth dialogue is still a thing, but it’s completely wasted here since no one has enough of a personality to make it resonant, and artist Mahmud Asrar has the increasingly common problem of drawing everyone so it’s impossible to know how old they’re supposed to be.  Worse, though, is how much this book resembles big superhero blockbusters:  huge, noisy, alienating fight scenes where you don’t know what’s going on, a sprawling cast so big that no one ever develops a personality (you could have more or less randomly switched all the speech balloons in this story around and it wouldn’t have made much difference at all), and plot points designed to appeal to fans without any weight or consequence.  It’s also got an impenetrable story; there’s literally no chance a new reader could possibly understand what’s happening here, which means it combines the worst of comic books and comic book movies.  It wasn’t totally dismal, but it did confirm the rightness of my belief that I never need to read anything involving the X-Men ever agin, so this gets a rating of 0.9 Peepers.

THE EMPTY #1:  “No Title”.  Jesus, people, come on.  Give your issues titles already.  It doesn’t cost anything, and it’s not like you’re cramming them with so much brilliance you just can’t spare the creative effort.  It’s getting to be either no title or some unwieldy nonsense like “THE HYPERSTRIKE COLLOQUY, PART 7”.  Anyway, this is Jimmie Robinson’s new book for Image, and it’s got a lot of potential, but it’s also got some flaws that run into to the old it’s-not-a-bug-it’s-a-feature problem.  The initial premise is pretty promising:  grim huntress Tanoor and her pet jackalope gather food for her dying tribe in a bleak, hellish desert landscape where toxic roots and poison gasses make growing impossible.  Into her life drops Lila, an innocent mystic who has been exiled from her own utopian community for unrevealed reasons.  Aside from a few rough patches (the first issue’s antagonist, a thick-headed village elder, is one-dimensionally evil to the point of stupidity), it’s not bad, with some gorgeous landscapes, an intriguing setting, and a compelling enough mystery.  Unfortunately, some of the most distracting elements are intentional:  Lila’s goofy neck-brace, Tanoor’s past-her-ankles arms, and the ridiculous high-fantasy mode of speech everyone affects.  Still, it’s got me curious to see where it goes, so give it a rating of 6.1 Damnation Alleys.

JUSTICE LEAGUE UNITED #7:  “The Infinitus Saga, Part 3 of 5″.  See what I mean?  For embarrassing psychological reasons, I am better disposed towards the Justice League than I am the X-Men, but at this point, they’re essentially the same:  fifty different titles, multiple versions of every character, and a continuity nearly impenetrable even to people who are thoroughly familiar with the background.  What’s more, this one was depressingly similar to the big-screen Smatterhorn pomposity of All-New X-Men #36:  Jeff Lemire’s writing is a little worse (Bendis has style, even if he doesn’t apply it with any discipline), and Neil Edwards’ art is a little better (although his layouts are still atrocious, with characters speaking towards the reader with no sense of where they actually are in a scene; good visual storytelling is not a quality the comics medium can afford to lose), but overall it’s the same effect.  Too many characters (the JLU plus the Legion, for a grand total of about a hundred people whose dialogue and personalities are entirely interchangeable), too much chaos in the action (I read this through three times before I knew what was going on in most of the fight scenes), and a convoluted time/space/dimensional travel plot that was both weightless (that is, it added nothing to the story, and was merely the backdrop for a pummelingly dumb bunch of punch-ups) and oppressive (that is, it added a bunch of continuity and backstory that made the whole thing unintelligible).  I’ve always preferred solo titles to team books, but this kind of cinematic overkill is just murdering the genre.  Let’s give this one  1.7 Starro the Conquerers.

SECRET SIX #2:  “Down the Rabbit Hole”.  The last time I bought monthly comics on a regular basis was almost 10 years ago, when DC first debuted the “52” idea that they still haven’t gotten right nearly a decade later.  Regardless, one of the highlights of that period was Gail Simone’s Villains United spin-off Secret Six. It’s been revived for another go as part of the “new” 52, and they’ve brought back Simone, who’s teamed up with Ken Lashley on art.  Catman is the only returning character, but Simone’s writing style hasn’t changed a bit:  dark storylines lightened by clever dialogue and (thank God) distinctive characterizations.  It’s a gimmick that she never strays too far from, but in this instance, I happen to like the gimmick, so I’m happy to see it again even though the book is breaking no new ground.  I also like Lashley’s craggy faces and painterly style.  This isn’t an award-winning title, but it’s enjoyable, readable, and easy to follow, which makes it a massive improvement over the X-Justice garbage I picked up this week  I give this one 6.5 Crimson Dawns.

THOR #5:  “Behold a New Age of Thunder”.  While I’m complaining about Marvel, what is with numbering the issues like “005”?  Who are you kidding?  That aside, Thor was the biggest and best surprise of the week, an utter delight and, of the titles I’ve picked up since I started this, tied with Ms. Marvel as the one I’m most likely to pick up again. I didn’t know what to expect from the new female Thor character, but this thing was terrific:  Jorge Molina isn’t the regular artist but he does an outstanding job, and Jason Aaron’s script is just fantastic.  This is a real old-school comic, not necessarily in style, but just in terms of solid, concise storytelling.  The dialogue is crisp, the characterizations are strong and individualistic (Aaron does a fine job of playing up the venality and ‘humanity’ of the Norse gods), the fight scenes are comprehensible and actually accomplish something, there’s a great balance of seriousness and humor, and he keeps a lot of plot threads going without ever getting them too tangled to suss out.  He keeps the mystery of Thor’s identity forefronted to whet our appetite, ends on a solid cliffhanger, and provides just the right give-and-take of action scenes and character moments.  There’s even some good jokes obviously meant to needle the fanboys who went ballistic over the very notion of a female Thor, and putting them in the mouth of slope-browed recidivist the Absorbing Man keeps them from getting too meta.  The most enjoyable book I’ve read since I started pissing away $30 a week on this glossy-print foolishness, this gets 9.1 Zarrko the Tomorrow Mans.

ÜBER #22:  “No Title”.  This is a book (written by talented Britisher Kieron Gillen) I’ve been meaning to pick up for a while, thanks largely to its clever premise:  the Nazis, at the close of the Second World War, develop a game-changing technology that allows people to call cabs right from their cell phones.  Ha ha! I am the first person ever to make that joke!  No, this is the series about a superhuman arms race during WWII, and it’s pretty good.  It’s a real treat to see how Gillen incorporates real-life historical figures into the narrative (and how Canaan White illustrates them), and he captures the horrors-of-war angle well enough in terms of moral sacrifice, considering how over-the-top the action tends to be.  The whole thing skirts the edges of good taste at almost every turn, as is probably unavoidable in any story involving Nazis and superheroes, and it’s gory as hell, and it almost can’t help being campy by its very nature; in less than ten pages, we’re treated to Alan Turing eye-zapping a German like so much Cyclops and Josef Goebbels getting plastic surgery so he can stand in for his boss at important genocides.  Still, it’s hard to dislike a comic that gives us both a naked Nazi spy’s murderous dong and a giant pile of dead Hitler doubles in a single issue.  Probably not for everyone, but if you tune into its weird vibe, you’ll probably love it.  Let’s say 7.0 Hate-Mongers.

Join me again next week, when I once again blow the cost of my electric bill on whatever madness comic book companies have chosen to unleash on me!

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