Invincible Iron Man #19 (Marvel): Matt Fraction and Salvador Larroca pick right up where they left off from the crazy twist ending in the last issue. I’m sorry, but how frickin’ awesome is the idea of Pepper Potts rescuing Black Widow and Maria Hill while she’s pulling off an inside sneak attack on the extant Stark tech with the Rescue suit? And the dialogue that accompanies these sequences only spells it out in even more glorious detail. This book is exciting, thrilling, well written, well drawn, and employs terrific characterization, especially for Osborn (“You sound like my kind of guy” or “This proto-Hulk patois”) and all of the women (Hill: “I never asked. I’m a soldier. And an order from the boss is an order from the boss. Boss says go and get the thing, I go and get the thing.”). Fraction displays a mastery of the characters and a veteran conductor’s control of the plot that I found so lacking in Uncanny X-Men recently. Straight up superhero comics just don’t get any better than this. I grew up a DC kid, but Fraction and Larroca have made me care about a Marvel character that I never really paid much attention to. Every moment is grand, with wall to wall rousing action mirrored by great lines. There’s not a speck of mediocre on this thing. Larroca has grown in the space of a year and a half from being an artist earnestly working, but overly photo-referencing, to a confident craftsman who no longer needs the training wheels. His panel transitions are clear, he can capture the big widescreen action or even the quiet character moments that rely on facial expressions to convey nuance. And at the end of it all, we’re left with yet another ingenious twist that feels organic but sets up even more events to follow. Man, this is one of those rare instances when the grading scale really needs to go higher than Grade A+.
Sugarshock: One Shot (Dark Horse): Joss Whedon and Fabio Moon’s Eisner Award winning contribution to the Dark Horse MySpace Presents online anthology finally sees print in a stand alone book. It’s got a great page to dollar ratio and the added bonus material creates some good value. Moon’s visual shortcuts strike you right away, gags in themselves, hidden in the background signage or lettering of the sound effects. On the scripting end, it’s full of typical Whedonisms in the phrasing and cadence of the speech, all sprinkled with fun verbal digression. “You remember that you’re not allowed to talk until after I’ve used you for sex, right? And also not then.” The band competition that sets the adventure in motion spins into an alien intergalactic contest of another kind. Along the way, we get an abortive Abe Lincoln opening for the second chapter, which I loved, a Pan interlude, wonderful L’Lihdra monologues, and Viking slurs that remind us what a good world-builder Whedon is, creating imaginative internal rules and customs for his characters to follow. I loved the writing on the single page explaining “The Saddest Song in The World.” It’s crisp and smart, reminiscent of the best Buffy or Firefly moments. “Not the poor people of course. Please.” Grade A.
Justice League of America #38 (DC): I’m wondering if Plastic Man’s extensive expository dialogue was meant to be a tongue in cheek wink at the reader? I’m unclear as to what the authorial intent was there, but we’ll come back to that general feeling in a bit. Vixen seems to be having a crisis of conscience similar to what Hal Jordan experienced in Cry for Justice, which put that book’s plot into motion. It’s odd that events in this book seem to post-date Cry for Justice though; since that book hasn’t wrapped, it feels out of sequence here with Vixen talking about her broken leg and “the loss of all those people.” Despero appears out of nowhere as a sort of… Diabolus Ex Machina, I guess would be the proper Latin term, as a force of evil whose presence has no possible explanation other than its needed to advance the plot. I liked the Sodam Yat reference, the appearance of Gypsy, and Zatanna, who saves the day. It was interesting to me that there was a moment when nothing but women Leaguers appeared to have survived the short fight, with Vixen, Dr. Light, Gypsy, and Zatanna all standing in a panel. To me, that idea held the most drama and the gender politics would’ve been an interesting notion to explore. I would have actually preferred if Despero really took Plastic Man and Red Tornado out of commission. When he broke Plas, that was a genuine shocking and unexpected move that I wish would have stuck. At the end of the day, Robinson didn’t even deliver us a de rigeur “gathering the team” issue, but more an instance of destroying the remnants of the old one first. So far, this is playing like prologue to his new lineup and there is absolutely no cohesion to the disparate elements. There’s JLA history, random members, random villains, strong ties to Blackest Night, and a sequential fissure with Robinson’s own mini-series.
It would be easy to complain about yet another death in the DCU serving as the catalyst for a big event, new series, or changing of the guard arc, but I’m actually wondering about the larger sociological reason as to why this seems to be happening in an endemic fashion. Is this a post-9/11 dynamic in our collective consciousness, wherein pop culture consumers are so desensitized to violence that writers need to literally open with a death in order to even have a chance at grabbing their attention? It must be a particularly fun game for writers to play, selecting their “targets” that is, within some sort of unspoken corporate guidelines. They know they can’t kill off a big gun A-lister, not permanently anyway. Superman died and returned. Batman died and shall return. As a side note, I’m wondering how long it will be before someone has a story featuring the death of Wonder Woman in order to truly break the trinity. B-listers have had their moments as well, with the deaths of Martian Manhunter and Sue Dibny. Now I guess we’re down to the C-list, as writers comb the DC archives in search of also-rans that nobody has used for a few years, those with a minority handful of fans, those that the vast majority won’t really miss and will simply utter a lackluster “who?” when they find out the news. It’s a bit of a paradox, isn’t it? Assumably you want to open with a “shocking” death, but aren’t allowed to pick any characters that would truly shock, so instead you get to kill off some nobody, which tends to de-shock your big shocking reveal.
So anyway, yeah, James Robinson opened his arc of Justice League of America by killing a hero named Blue Jay. While I remembered him vaguely from a good Action Comics run with Nightwing a couple of years ago, I honestly had to Wiki him to learn anything more. The most interesting thing though? Robinson killed another gay character, this after killing Tasmanian Devil in a very throw away panel in his still-running (or stillborn, depending on who you ask) Cry for Justice mini-series, and Mikaal Thomas’ boyfriend. Maybe it’s all coincidence, but me? I tend to think that three points make a trend. If I was a gay superhero in the DCU right now, I’d be sleeping with a gun under the pillow and surrounding myself with the most powerful metahumans I could find. Again, I find this really interesting, not from a storytelling perspective – the killings-as-substitute-for-story are played out – but in the “why’s it happening?” sense. Why is it that heterosexual male writers tend to fetishize and revere lesbians (I don’t see Batwoman or Renee Montoya getting killed any time soon, not with them headlining their own book), yet continue to marginalize gay men? It seems we’re only upholding these tired conceits of homophobically demonizing gay men, but perpetuating endless fascination and easy/lazy titillation with gay women.
Also, is it me, or have many of the books with gay male characters, which have been critically praised mind you, been cancelled? Young Heroes in Love and The Power Company come to mind. Is it coincidence that almost all of the examples I can think of are DC owned properties? Does Marvel seem to handle their gay men better? The Rawhide Kid, Northstar, members of the Young Avengers, and members of the current X-Factor team come to mind. I don’t see a brazen trend to kill them developing. I don’t necessarily have any answers to these queries, they’re just observations and the subsequent questions that’ve popped into my head after a reading of this book. But yeah, if I was gay in the DCU I’d start looking at forming a coalition to defend myself with the way things are currently going. Hell, I’d form a gay Justice League. Come to think of it, maybe this is really where Robinson has been going all along.
Remember that big dust-up over the title lettering of JLA: Cry for Justice being mistaken as JLA: Gay for Justice? Maybe that was deliberate. I mean, Mikaal Thomas is gay. Maybe he’s been deliberately paired with Congorilla so that we can finally get some real monkey-lovin’. Maybe Freddie Freeman will spurn Supergirl’s advances because he too is secretly gay, and we all know young girls are attracted to pretty boy gay guys. Maybe that rejection will force her into the arms of Batwoman when she finally joins the team. I mean, what self-reviling fanboy fanfic hasn’t considered the notion of Supergirl and Batwoman getting down? By extension of Wildstorm, DC has already witnessed their male analogues for Batman and Superman get together in the form of Apollo and Midnighter’s relationship, so we might as well see their female counterparts become involved. Maybe the real reason that Ollie and Hal are bickering like an old married couple is because they really just want to… kiss? I’m sure Ollie could put those handcuff arrows to use and hey, Hal’s a pretty imaginative guy, I’m sure he could conjure up some fun green sex toys with the ring. "Show me your Oan face." Maybe they could pull Atom into a three-way and he can shrink down to back door intrusion size and do a little prostate dancing for them. Yeah, I’m being facetious with all that, but only since this is tough to evaluate because I’m not privy to Robinson’s intentions.
No, I seriously doubt he’s outright gay-bashing with his fiction, but if he’s earnestly cranking out these stories with no conscious recognition of the trend (and ramifications) he’s creating, then they’re really down in Grade D range, and that’s being generous for Bagley’s perfectly ok art. But if he’s deliberately using this last batch of stories as a cipher to raise the level of public debate, if he’s attempting to make some sort of commentary about social mores and preconditioned bias and challenge his audience, then it could be more in Grade B range. It really will come down to his authorial intent and the character’s ultimate denouement; I hope that all becomes clear in the future. Honestly, the book is superficially not very good, but with a deeper dive I find that I also haven’t thought about the social conditions behind a book’s creation this much in a very long time. That’s gotta' be worth something. For now, let’s split the difference and call it a very tentative Grade C.
I also picked up;
Scalped: Volume 5: (DC/Vertigo): Collecting the High Lonesome arc.
Aya: The Secrets Come Out (Drawn & Quarterly): …and randomly, like three weeks late, Good ‘Ol Sea Donkey finally gets one (one!) copy of this book in.