WWH #5

October 4, 2007

So this week I picked up World War Hulk number 5. Let me back track a little bit. When I went to buy it, I was still drinking my afternoon coffee AND I was going to the gym, so I had a coffee in one hand, my gym bag and a jacket on my shoulder. On top of all that, I had to hold the book in the other hand.  All very mundane, yes? Yes. However, I am human, and do feel attraction, and this time it happened to be directed at one of the people behind the store counter.

So, standing in line to make a purchase? Mildly cool. Breaking out in a caffeine sweat, fumbling with all my accoutrement and being unable to make eye contact, resulting in non-stop shifty eyes? Not cool. Oh well, maybe he thought I was being mysterious.

In any case, when I did get around to wiping the sweat from my brow and reading the book, it dawned on me that I had more fun buying it.

Dear Marvel: step one: avoid having the cover art trump and shit on the interior art. No disrespect to the artists, but at times the panels were a bit silly. For a marketing ploy this epic, the art work should match.

At least the plot got moving, and over all, this one was more fluid and less stagnant than any of the X-men arcs I’ve seen in the past year. Sorry Whedon. I love you to death, but 14 months of the Break World? C’mon now. Kanye was right. I do admit watching Reed Richards attempt to molly wop Tony Stark with a huge ass can of mace and pleading with Tony to defend himself is simply fantastic (no pun intended). I anticipate watching the battle, and hopefully it’s a fight between Hulk and Sentry.

That is, if my attention span will allow me to remember what’s going on a month from now.


The Marvel Civil War, Part 2

August 13, 2007

In the wake of the Marvel Comics Civil War Crossover, nothing of the old landscape exists (as marketed by the Marvel itself). What saw the most change was the core of the Marvel Universe, the superhero teams and their respective books, starting with Marvel’s flagship team and title: The Avengers.

“Earth’s Mightiest Heroes” were collectively hit the hardest by the Civil War. With the team leader Captain America on one side of the argument and Iron Man, the team’s chief financier on the other, the Avengers were split down the middle. On top of that, the death of Steve Rogers (if you don’t know the name, you need to read more), along with the Registration Act & 50 State Initiative becoming law, the Avengers divided into two teams – one lead by Ms. Marvel and sponsored by the government, and the other led by Luke Cage and outlawed.

The latter team, housed in the title New Avengers is comprised of heroes who resisted the Registration Act or remained neutral, and is concerned with the corruption of S.H.I.E.L.D. and a supposed Skrull invasion. It’s comprised of Iron Fist, who finances the team, Doctor Strange, who houses the team in his magically enchanted and hidden home in Greenwich Village, Luke Cage, Spider-Man, Wolverine, Spider-Woman (who formerly served as double agent for S.H.I.E.L.D. and terrorist organization HYDRA), Echo and Hawkeye (now going under the guise of Ronin). All in all, the New Avengers are very street level, which really suits the vibe of the book.

The government-sponsored team is called the Mighty Avengers, or the New York Initiative team, funded by Stark Industries. Led by Ms. Marvel, the squad also includes Iron Man (now the director of S.H.I.E.L.D.), Ares the God Of War (yeah, actually), Wonder Man (whose ionic form makes him one of the strongest heroes alive – he doesn’t eat, sleep or breath), The Sentry (who has the power of a thousand exploding suns), Black Widow (who’s been an active super spy since the Cold War, and who, along with Iron Man, is the only Level 10 S.H.I.E.L.D. agent), and the Wasp (a founding Avenger). This power team defends the world from such threats as the newly resurrected Ultron, who is very close to wiping out the entire human race. Written by Brian Michael Bendis (who’s been with Marvel since 2002) and illustrated crisply and cleanly by Frank Cho, this series is Marvel at its present day best. Despite my feelings about Civil War and the Registration Act, the Mighty Avengers are at the top of my “It List.”

After the war, Sue (Invisible Girl) and Reed (Mr. Fantastic) Richards left the Fantastic Four to focus on their marriage, which almost cracked under the pressure of the Registration Act. However, Ben Grimm (The Thing) and Johnny (Human Torch) teamed up with another super couple – none other than the oh-so diverse combination of Black Panther T’challa of the fictional African nation of Wakanda, and mutant weather goddess Storm of the X-men. Although I approve of this Circle of Life marriage, I can’t help but doubt that this is a pretty transparent ploy to create a multicultural comic. T’Challa belongs with the Avengers and Storm belongs with the X-men. Their marriage was cute enough, but some classics don’t need a remix.

Speaking of the hot mess known as the X-Men, there are just too many of them. Out of six X-Men team books, I only take three seriously, and invest readership in just one – the flagship title Astonishing X-Men, written by Joss Whedon and drawn by John Cassaday. Up until about a year ago, this book competed with Bendis’s New Avengers as Marvel’s top book. No offense to Whedon – and I say this with the utmost respect – the Break World does not constitute a year’s worth of interest for me.

The last arc about the Hellfire Club was a bit of an unresolved plot stretch, but at least it was interesting. However, the only things saving this book right now are its art and roster. This is by far the best X-Men group I’ve seen in a while – Emma Frost, Colossus, Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Shadow Cat. It has a perfect balance of cool powers and strong personality dynamics. Unfortunately, there has been a lot of foreshadowing of Emma, as well as Colossus, either leaving the team or even dying (again). If either of those two leaves the group, as far as I’m concerned it’s a wrap for the book and the X-Franchise as a whole.

I don’t even read the other X-Men books. But for documentation sake, the other titles are: The Uncanny X-Men and just X-Man. The Uncanny X-Men consist of Havok, Polaris, Rachel Grey, War Path, Nightcrawler, Professor X and some D-lister called Darwin. Although as of right now, with Havok, Polaris and Rachel taking care of some BS in space, the has taken on Storm (who I guess is on two teams), Hepzibah (no clue), and Caliban (WTF??). In short, it’s a complete waste of publishing if you ask me.

As for the plain ol’ X-Men? Well it <em>was</em> Mystique, Lady Mastermind, Sabertooth, Iceman, Rogue and Cable, Omega Sentinal and Cannonball. That’s just wrong on premise alone.

As a franchise the X-Men are going through a crossover called “Endangered Species,” which began with an ambush by a newly revamped Mauraders, consisting on former X-men turned Horsemen of the Apocalypse, Gambit and Sunfire, along with Mystique and Lady Mastermind showing their true colors. Their attack resulted in Rogue getting shot in the chest, and the only certain survivors being Iceman and Cannonball. Hot. Mess. Hopefully in this storyline all the filler “X-Men” will die leaving a team of Cyclops, Emma, Wolverine, Colossus, Storm, Iceman and Nightcrawler…IN ONE BOOK. That’s what it should’ve been, maybe with Sage, Beast, Shadowcat, Polaris, and Rachel Grey, Gambit, Psylocke and Vulcan either on a separate team or making cameos every now and then.

Also out of the Marvel Universe wreckage come a few new teams from the 50 State Initiative. The Order (formerly known as the Champions, but they changed their names due to copyright issues) is based in Los Angeles (cuz that’s obviously the ONLY city in the state). Here we have a team of actors, models and other gutter punks, trained and given super suits and a one year contract. Their roles on the team and powers are modeled by members of the Greek mythological pantheon (so why not call themselves the Olympians…who knows?) I checked out the first issue in the store, and basically, The Order is not “dope, yo” (since when do all Californians talk like that?)

Chosen to defend Colorado are The Thunderbolts, basically a rag tag group of convicts who have been infused with microscopic bugs that will neurologically disable anyone who breaks protocol. Making the Rocky Mountain state safe for all are Venom, Swordsman, Moonstone, Songbird, The Radioactive Man, Bullseye and Penance.

But I ask you readers, if you had seven spots to design your “Dream Team,” who would you choose? And if Thor and Captain Mahr-Vell do join teams, which ones will they join?

What I’d love to see is the Runaways (a group of teenaged heroes comprised of the children of L.A.-based villains) take on the so-called Order to see who really reps the West Coast. And how do the Young Avengers (a group of teens who have various ties to the original Avengers, assembled by The Vision’s Avengers Failsafe program) play into all this? Lastly, because we’re all dying to know, which team of Avengers would win in sudden death grudge match of Quidditch?!

And that, true believers, concludes our Marvel super team role call – or at least the teams worth mentioning.

 

Terry Taplin, Oakland, California


I’m Back -or- The Marvel Civil War, Part 1

July 31, 2007

Hey, true believers, I have returned after a very long absence, which is quite appropriate, considering the other people who’ve returned to comics as well. However, unlike them, I was not dead, merely frozen in ice – the ice of vacation that is!

That’s right, accompanying me in my return are none other than Thor, Hawkeye and Mahr-Vell of the Marvel (and most supreme) Universe. But how do an alien, an Olympic level archer/ex-villain turned Earth’s mightiest hero and a god of thunder return from the dead, you ask? Well, first let’s explore how these characters “died” in the first place.

It all started with the Avengers (actually it all started when aliens came to Earth millennia ago and tampered with the DNA of early humans, but that’s a different story altogether). Captain Marh-Vell of the Kree Empire once faced off against a villain named Nitro, who – long story short – caused Mahr-Vell to develop cancer which ultimately killed him. That was arguably the most important death in comics until…well you know.

Then there was the Scarlet Witch (aka Wanda Maximoff), married to the robot or synthezoid known as the Vision, who used her reality altering powers to produce twins, created from two imprisoned souls. However, for reasons yet to be properly explained, the souls were more or less confiscated and the Witch’s memories of them suppressed.

Hey, would you want your children to go to school with living breathing manifestations of the black arts?? (j/k, everyone knows she’s the SCARLET Witch).

However, the Witch’s teammate, Wasp (don’t read too deeply into the name) let slip during her own pregnancy scare that Wanda mistakenly thought she could raise children in such a dangerous atmosphere as the Avengers Mansion. While grieving over her lost children, Wanda suffered a nervous breakdown, subsequently losing her mind and ultimately control of her powers. And when your teammate can tamper with the fabric of reality itself, you really don’t want them to be angry….or mentally unstable, because as Clint Barton (Hawkeye) can attest to, she’ll probably kill you. If hell hath no fury like a woman scorned, imagine what a stark raving mad, mutant witch powerhouse can do.

The answer is apparently trigger Ragnarok, seeing as how that’s what happened to Thor and Asgard. Thor, bless his god-awesome heart, was able to end it however. Turns out Ragnarok was existing as a cycle, which Thor discontinued by cutting the threads of fate. Of course, that resulted in Thor and the rest of Asgard being lost in Oblivion…I think.

But what do you do with a wicked witch of the East Coast who no longer has control or limits to her powers? You hold a meeting between the surviving members of the Avengers and the X-Men to decide her fate. You invite Quicksilver, long time Avenger and twin brother of Wanda Maximoff. Quicksilver is also, by the way, the fastest hero on Earth, which means he can run off to Genosha where Magneto is trying to nurse his daughter’s mind, and manipulate his sister in her fragile state to recreate the entire world, where mutants are the majority.

Quicksilver also (get this) uses Wanda to tap into the mind of the most powerful telepath to grant everyone their deepest desires in this new world. In this new world Hawkeye is alive. But Wolverine, who has retained his memories of the original world, rounds up a resistance of heroes that confronts Magneto and Wanda, only to discover Magneto had no hand in remaking the world. In the end, Wanda does put the world back, but not without three final words to her family and former allies: “No more mutants.”

Personally, I couldn’t be happier. Not that I don’t like mutants – I just think there are too many X-men for them to be credible as characters.

Now most people, both in the real world and the comic world, regard Wanda a villain. However, I think she’s the most pivotal and important mutant ever. And an incredible plot device, I regard her as the mother of the modern Marvel machine. Now we have a world (in which Hawkeye has been resurrected by the same women who killed him) where the heroes are faced with the question of what to do when their ultra powers go unchecked, creating a perfect backdrop for what happens next…

…which brings us to the superhero Civil War. A team of reality show superheroes engage a group of villains who are living in a school zone in Connecticut, and the brawl results in the death of five hundred school kids and civilians. As a result, Congress pushes for legislation that requires all active super humans to register, receive government training, and be drafted a team as part of the 50 State Initiative, which would put a super team in every state of the US. In itself not a bad idea….but the methods of achievement are horrible.

S.H.I.E.L.D., the United Nations task force, approaches Captain America to hunt down heroes who won’t register. Cap refuses and beats the crap out of agents, who then resort to brute force in trying to him bring down. The Star Spangled Avenger is declared a fugitive after going AWOL, but he rounds up his old allies, The Falcon, Hercules and Iron Fist (who is posing as Daredevil to clear Matt Murdock’s name).

On the other side, Iron Man, Hank Pym, and Mister Fantastic all pledge to bring the rogues to justice. In doing so, they convince Spider Man to unmask himself publicly to show support for the Registration Act (he later defects to the other side after realizing the extent of Iron Man’s vision). They also employ known mass-murdering super villains, clone a cyborg Thor, plant a spy into Cap’s ranks, blackmail a retired Wonder Man into the fight, etc.

However, Cap and his Secret Avengers are not without their own tricks. Cap is joined by Sue and Johnny of the Fantastic Four, Black Panther, Storm, and The Punisher, who rescues Spiderman from an ambush. The Punisher also breaks into the Baxter Building and steals info about #42 (a prison in the Negative Zone, where Iron Man has been holding apprehended villains and heroes, including a time and space-displaced Captain Marh-Vell serving as warden). Using the team shape shifter, the rogue heroes break into #42 and free all the captives, which results in an epic battle that gets teleported to Manhattan. There Namor, the King of Atlantis, joins the fray along with his Atlantean sleeper cell, which lends a hand to Cap and the anti-registration heroes.

The battle wrecks the city, forcing Cap to surrender “We’re not fighter for justice we’re just fighting” some heroes, give in and register, some reject the amnesty they’re offered and some retire altogether. In the midst of all this, Thor – the real one – returns to Earth and sets up shop in Oklahoma, far from all this mess (that’s what I said). This new landscape of government-sponsored heroes wrecks the Marvel Universe to its core – not even the long standing superhero teams remain intact as they once were.

So what happened to the Avengers, the X-Men, the Fantastic Four and everyone else, you ask? Are the deaths of comic characters a daring move or a lame plot device?

You tell me.

How will these three resurrected heroes (Thor, Hawkeye and Mahr-Vel) react to this new climate? What would you say to Iron Man if he had cloned you while you were incapable of protesting? To what extent does the government have the right to use un-civil means to achieve the safety of a few? Is any world power justified in taking the lives of others or imprisoning them without trial, rights or a definite crime? What do you do when two vigilante parties don’t agree on the definition of justice?

And if it took an act of law to divide the heroes of the Marvel Universe and a series of tragedies to bring back old icons, what will it take in the real world to resurrect old and basic values?

 

Terry Taplin, Oakland, California


Superpowers

June 28, 2007

My name is Terry Taplin, and I’ve been reading comics for three years. However, I don’t really fit the stereotypical image of the average comic book “nerd.”

First off, I don’t wear glasses (although both my parents do). I don’t wear suspenders, flannel shirts, or pocket protectors. Also, it is no longer 1995. I am neither a six-year-old jumping up and down on my brand new car-bed in my Spiderman pajamas, nor a middle-aged dungeon master who hasn’t shaved in twelve years.

Despite all these things, I do find myself spending a significant amount of time in Comic Book Stores (yes, capitalized). Even though I don’t spend a dime at Comic Book Stores, I do accomplish a task of cosmic import: I master the arcane art of accurately matching my closest friends to my favorite superheroes. What I lack in nerd attire, I make up for in pure dork imaginative prowess! SNIKT!

But here’s why I think most people are attracted to the Fine Publishing Arts – superpowers. There are about four power groups: Physical, Energy-based, Magic-based, and Gadget/Artifact-based. But since every single aspect of universe comics is dictated solely by the writer and artist’s imagination, there’s bound to be overlaps and anomalies – as there are with the mutants of Marvel Comics.

In Marvel Comics, mutants are born with their abilities, rather than achieving them. For example, long-time Avenger and former mutant terrorist Quicksilver was born with the physical power of super speed. Similarly, Quicksilver’s twin sister, the Scarlet Witch, was born with the “chaos magic” ability to alter reality.

Powers are bestowed upon heroes through various means. Whether evolutionary mutation (the X-Men), scientific augmentation (Captain America, Spider Man, Hulk, the Fantastic Four), tampering with magic (Doctor Strange, Doctor Doom), cosmic interference (Captain Mar-Vell, Quasar, Nova), or my personal favorite, godhood (Thor, Hercules, Ares).

The power group archetypes are as follows:

The most immediately recognizable superpowers and superheroes are those associated with peak human conditions such as super strength and endurance (Colossus, Superman), super speed (Quicksilver, The Flash), agility (Spider Man), enhanced senses (Wolverine, Daredevil), martial arts (Daredevil, Black Widow, Iron Fist), and to a lesser extent, a term I like to call biomorphic capabilities like healing abilities, shape shifting and stretching abilities (Mister Fantastic).

[A note about flight: flight can be achieved by any of the specified power groups, whether physically by wings, or magically, through the use of jetpacks, or by a propelling force (Storm, Human Torch, Cannonball, Magneto, Telekinesis).]

Classic heroes (my favorites) who derived their power through physical abilities include: She Hulk, Ms. Marvel, Rogue, Captain America, Daredevil, Spider-Man, and Colossus.

One power group that baffles writers, fans, and even the characters themselves (especially Tony Stark, aka Iron man) is magic – the arcane, divine, celestial and mystical arts. Characters can receive their magic powers at birth, such as the beloved gypsy turned involuntary arch nemesis, the Scarlet Witch, and her magically ill-begotten son, Wiccan. Heroes can also receive their magical powers through years of spiritual mastery, like Doctor Strange. Let us not forget the fictional Inuit deity Snow Bird, or Norse powerhouse the Mighty Thor, who got their powers from…well…being gods.

The largest and most open-ended power group is comprised of those beings that yield and draw their power from various forms of energy. These include cosmic (Phoenix, Quasar, Captain Mar-Vell), and elemental (Storm of the X-men, Crystal of the Inhumans, Iceman of the X-Men, and Human Torch of the Fantastic Four). There are all also those that command the electromagnetic spectrum (Magneto, Photon), and those comprised of energy themselves (Wonder Man).

Another type of energy that deserves its own subdivision in the marvel universe is psionic, or psychic energy. There are braniac hordes of heroes relying solely on their mind. From the street level Lady Mastermind, who specializes in horrible convincing full sensory illusions, to the “personification of life itself,” the Phoenix Force (who is eternally bonded with mutant Jean Grey and has control over all matter at the atomic level), and former White Queen of the Hellfire Club, Emma Frost, who makes up for what she lacks in raw psychic power with a sharply honed telepathic prestige.

At the end of the day, both Tony Stark and Bruce Wayne – despite their weight in their respective universes – are vulnerable. They are tragically human men with no actual superpowers. Instead, one is an alcoholic who resents himself for his father’s unmet expectations, and the other is torn apart by self-loathing and guilt over the death of his parents. They are also both billionaires, with a plethora of toys and gadgets at their disposal – Iron Man has his bio-psionic responsive life suit, and Batman has his Batcave and Batmobile. These two men, along with many other heroes, rely on hardware to save the day. There are even heroes who are essentially hardware themselves, such as synthezoid turned human, (almost) turned accidental villain, turned robotic adolescent, better known as the Vision.

 

Terry Taplin, Oakland, California