Karsten’s Pull List (9/11/10)

Ladies and gentlemen of the Hearwax Universe, your not-so-weekly dose of awesome has returned! Circumstances beyond my control resulted in the several week gap since my last Pull List, but as of next week we’ll be back on a regular schedule. In the mean time, we’re going to catch up with a few of the books that caught my attention recently. It’s all superhero fare this week, so slap on your capes and tights and join me, will you?

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Action Comics #892 (DC)- “The Black Ring” pt. 3.

Paul Cornell and Jeff Lemire (writers), Pete Woods and Pier Grillo (artists). Covers by David Finch and Ivan Reis.

So as a rule, I try to stick to reviewing the first or last issue of a miniseries or storyline, but I’m going to break that rule here though, because I’m enjoying Paul Cornell’s run on Action Comics far too much to not mention it. Under Cornell and artist Pete Woods, the pages of Action Comics have become the home to Lex Luthor and his obsessive quest to reclaim the taste of power he got during “Blackest Night” by finding himself a new Power Ring. In this issue, Lex and his posse- including the always awesome Deathstroke the Terminator- have made their way to Antarctica to investigate a spatial anomaly that seems to be tied to the Black Lantern energy. It’s a fun story, especially since Cornell treats Luthor like the ruthless and amoral asshole he should be, yet somehow also makes him completely likeable to the reader.

We also get a nice backup previewing the new upcoming Superboy series. Now truth be told, I usually couldn’t give less or a damn about the Clone of Steel and beteeshirted adventures, but the backup here almost makes me want to check the new series out. We join the story in progress, with Superboy, the Teen Titans and a few faces I don’t recognize fighting a massive dirt colossus- “Smallvile itself is attacking us!” we’re dramatically informed. The preview gets even weirder when it ends with mutated pigs and an appearance by the Phantom Stranger, as well as a promise that we’ll find out just what the hell is going on in Superboy #1. It doesn’t make a whole hell of a lot of sense, but it’s still a lot of fun- it reminds me of how stories in the Silver Age would almost always start off with an utterly insane splash page before jumping back in time on page two to explain exactly why Batman is wearing a bright pink suit, or how Lois Lane’s had her head swapped with that of a cat.

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Deadpool Team-Up #890 (Marvel)

James Asmus (writer), Micah Gunnell (artist). Cover by Humberto Ramos and Edgar Delgado.

Yeah, yeah, I know… Deadpool is the most overexposed Marvel character since Ghost Rider circa 1994, but I’ll say straight out that I have loved the hell out of Deadpool Team-Up ever since the book launched. Deadpool is such a caricature at this point that any writer can tell a decent story with him, but he works so much better when paired with another hero or villain. The best issues of his original series were the stories where he was riffing off of the Rhino, and his shared book with Cable made Nathan “Pouches” Summers interesting for the first time since… well, ever. The guest stars of DPTU have been a cornucopia of awesome, ranging from the well known (Hercules and Franken-Castle) to the downright obscure (It the Living Colossus and U.S. friggin’ Ace!). With this issue though, Asmus kicks it up another notch by co-starring maybe the greatest hero in the entire Marvel Universe, the post-Nextwave Machine Man.

For anyone who isn’t familiar with Warren Ellis’ fantastic 12-issue series Nextwave, first of all, go slam your hand in a car door. You deserve it. But now before you head off to the emergency room and your local comic shop, I’ll catch you up to speed with the rest of us. Though once an utterly bland superhero with all the personality of an Amiga 1200, the Machine Man, Aaron Stack was transformed by Ellis into a hilariously arrogant android adventurer, more interested in getting shitfaced and preaching robot pride than doing anything to help “the fleshy ones”. Needless to say, Aaron Stack is AWESOME, and Asmus captures his unique brand of snark perfectly. Like all DPTU issues, this is a done-in-one story, and well worth a look, if only because I’m going to be quoting it for weeks to come, and it would be nice if at least a few people get the reference.

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Heroic Age: Prince of Power #4 of 4 (Marvel)– “Omnipotence for Dummies”

Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente (writers), Reilly Brown and Adam Archer (artists).

Speaking of great characters, we have Amadeus Cho, Marvel’s latest attempt to recreate the relatable young hero archetype they’ve been trying to recreate since the Spider-Man graduated from high school. Unlike a lot of these experiments- I’m looking at you here, Darkhawk- Amadeus Cho actually is actually a  pretty cool character with a unique take on the fairly standard superpower of kicking your ass at Trivial Pursuit. With his platonic life partner Hercules lost in the multiverse, this miniseries gave Cho his first real starring role as he and villain Vali Halfling race around the realms of the gods competing to find the ingredients of immortality.

With this final issue, Cho makes his big play to rescue Herc and solve his issues with gal pal Delphyne. We get a few conclusions but the series ends without any real resolution, as the last page is a direct lead in to next month’s Chaos War #1. There’s a little caption that promises with Stan Lee like bombast that Chaos War will be “bigger than The Infinity Gauntlet! More cosmic than Annihilation!” and that’s all well and good, but after a reader invests four months and sixteen bucks (plus tax) into reading Prince of Power, is it too much to ask to get an actual ending?

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Incredible Hulks #612 (Marvel)– “Dark Son” pts. 1 and 2

Greg Pak and Scott Reed (writers), Tom Raney and Brian Ching (artists). Cover by Carlo Pagulayan.

Once upon a time, Stan Lee and Jack Kirby decided to create a new kind of superhero. As the story went, scientist Bruce Banner was transformed by a massive dose of radiation when he risked his life to save a teenager named Rick Jones who had inadvertently snuck onto the test site of Banner’s newly invented gamma bomb. Transformed by the gamma radiation, Banner found that whenever he got angry, he was transformed into a ridiculously strong green skinned behemoth with a savage, child-like intellect, equal parts monster and hero. But of course, you probably knew all that, since the Hulk has long since been established as one of Marvel Comics’ most immediately recognizable characters. It’s a fairly straightforward concept, a cross between Jekyll and Hyde and Frankenstein’s monster and the formula for a typical Hulk comic was also pretty simple- Banner turns into the Hulk, wrecks up a joint while fighting a super-villain, then has to flee from the military and whatever superheroes happen to be in the neighbourhood.

That was the classic formula anyways. Bu contrast, we have the newly renamed Incredible Hulks #612. That innocuous little “s” in the title alludes to this book’s ballooning cast of characters- beside Hulk Classic, Incredible Hulks features no less than seven other Hulkish individuals. There are Skaar, Son of Hulk and Hiro-Kala, the, um, other son of Hulk; there are no less than Three She-Hulks, the Savage She-Hulk (Hulk’s alternate-reality daughter Lyra ), Red She-Hulk (Hulk’s ex-wife Betty) and the adjectiveless She-Hulk (Hulk’s cousin Jennifer);  finally, there are Hulk’s best pals Korg the Stone Man from Saturn and A-Bomb (the aforementioned Rick Jones). Oh, and this story spins out of another story featuring the Red Hulk (Thunderbolt Ross) and a butt-load of other Hulked Out Heroes including Spider-Hulk, Captain Hulkmerica, Thorulk and Hulkverine.

Complete disclosure: That was the most annoying paragraph I’ve ever had to type out. If you’re willing to wade through that quagmire of gamma irradiated nonsense, more power to you. Frankly, it gives me a headache.

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Secret Avengers #4 (Marvel)– “Secret Histories” pt. 4 of 4.

Ed Brubaker (writer), Mike Deodato Jr. (artist). Cover by Marko Djurdjevic.

When I first heard that the premise of Secret Avengers was that Steve Rogers would assemble a black ops team to go on missions the other Avengers teams couldn’t, I was a bit worried that the book may not mesh with the established Avengers mythos I love so much. Turns out, “black ops” in the Marvel Universe translates to flying to Mars to stop a an inter-dimensional invasion by chthonic Old Gods, while a shadowy organization of subversives and terrorists try to suicide bomb the red planet to smithereens.

Hot damn, do I ever love comic books!

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Shadowland: Moon Knight #1 of 3 (Marvel)

Gregg Hurwitz (writer), Bong Dazo (artist).

…At least, I usually love comics. Then we have books like Shadowland: Moon Knight, which make me want to throw up my hands and say to hell with this crap, I’m finding a new hobby. Maybe I’ll try macramé. But before I go off in search of decorative twine, lets dig into this piece of crap. Expect some spoilers- I make it a rule not to spoil good comics, but if I can dissuade someone from wasting money on a bad one, all the better.

In this jolly little romp through Gregg Hurwitz’s psyche, Moon Knight’s life has taken a turn for the better. He has a fancy new mansion, his lovely girlfriend Marlene Alraune has moved in, he’s a (Secret) Avenger and his multiple personalities are gelling together for a change. Naturally, this means that things are about to turn to turn to shit, as post-heel turn Daredevil hires Moony’s enemy The Profile to capture the hero (rather than just send an army of ninjas after him, which would probably have made a lot more sense). Instead, The Profile travels to Egypt and finds a suicidal ex-soldier who just happens to be able to shoot crazy death beams out of his eyes, and convinces him to become the new avatar of Khonshu, the Shadow Knight. Of course, the ex-soldier immediately pledges fealty to an ancient Egyptian deity he’s probably never even heard of and has no reason to believe is anything other than a mythological creation- but hell, if we’re going to apply logic to this comic, we’ll be here all week, so let’s just move on.

The Shadow Knight ends up New York where he stars brutally murdering prostitutes- with all the unnecessary gore shown on panel, of course- and writing messages in their entrails calling Moon Knight out. Several murders later, the Shadow Knight is on the loose, but rather than go after him, Moon Knight agrees to go undercover as a prisoner within Daredevil’s Shadowland fortress, so Steve Rogers will have an agent inside the dungeons. I guess those hookers can just fend for themselves. Ah, but I almost forgot- before Moon Knight agreed to allow himself to be captured, he had a lovely romantic dinner with Marlene, in which she revealed that she was pregnant. The Hack Writer Playbook tells us what’s coming next then- Moon Knight is unavailable, so that means Marlene is of course attacked in her home by the Shadow Knight, who smashes her face through a mirror, blasts her in the stomach with his eye beams, and leaves her laying in a pool of her own blood to miscarry and/or die.

Far better writers than me have gone on at length about how the go-to tactic of poor writers looking for a cheap emotional hook to their story is to have the hero’s girlfriend murdered, de-powered, assaulted, raped or otherwise abused. It’s a disturbing trend that speaks to both the writer’s laziness and the frequent misogynistic overtones of the superhero genre, to say nothing of the disturbingly ghoulish way in which some readers absolutely eat these stories up. There are even entire websites dedicated to this tope (commonly called “women in refrigerators syndrome,” named after a particularly egregious example). But since this topic has been beaten into the ground, I’ll just say this- Gregg Hurwitz, go screw yourself.

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Spider-Girl: The End One-Shot (Marvel)

Tom DeFalco (writer), Ron Frenz (writer and artist).

The greatest strength behind serialized comic series as a narrative medium can also be the greatest weakness- that is to sat, with stories set in a non-finite shared world, readers rarely get any real resolution, especially for the most established characters. Simply put, Batman will never rid Gotham City of crime, Spider-Man will never stop trying to make up for the death of Uncle Ben, and Archie will never choose between Betty and Veronica (or talk them into a little bit of “experimentation”). Marvel found a neat workaround to this catch-22 with its series of “The End” one-shots and miniseries, which prevent a possible final story for a character or team. Unfortunately, these stories can end of being a little on the depressing side, since they inevitably end with a hero dying or retiring for one reason or another.

In this case though, DeFalco and Frenz succeed in maintaining the light heartedness that makes Spider-Girl such a breath of fresh air. The result is a satisfying story that gives readers a heroic sacrifice, the redemption of a fallen character and the rarest of beasts in comics these days, a happy ending. And it is an ending for now, as Mayday Parker once again is without a monthly book. Still, Spider-Girl: The End is a fitting send off the character- at least until her very vocal fan base demands her return once again.

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Well, that’s it for this week, folks, but before we go, a quick note- if you, the loyal Hearwax reader have any requests for books you’d like to see reviewed (new or old), I’m always happy to take requests- just post your picks in the comments section below, or drop me a line at karstenschool@gmail.com.



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