Monday, April 2, 2012

Make Mine whatever: confessions of a former True Believer

 

I have earned somewhat of a reputation among the regular visitors to this blog site as the source for reviews, etc. of alternative reading in comics.  I certainly do enjoy writing about  genres other than super-heroes - - - focusing on more independent publishers, controversial subjects and themes, horror and sometimes autobiographical and illustrated history. I’ll gladly take that badge and wear it proudly!

That doesn’t mean I don’t also read standard super-hero fare.  I also buy a good amount of books from the “Big Two” publishers.  I’ve devoted quite a bit of column space in the last six months to the DC NEW 52 titles.  DC right now seems to have a good grasp of what readership has been asking for.  They have assembled a great group of creators and the stories have become exciting again.

However, if you look over my collection you will find that MARVEL issues outnumber the DC issues by a ratio of 4 to 1.  I never followed any DC books on a continuing basis, a practice that began for me back in the early days.  In my comics-reading formative years, I was weaned on a steady formula of Lee and Kirby.  I was able to relate to Spider-Man, the Fantastic Four, the Hulk and other MARVEL characters more.  They seemed closer to not just my age, but also my values, principles and beliefs.  I could never get into the “head” of any of the wooden DC characters back in the 1960’s – 1970’s.  (I did immerse myself much more in the DC universe in the mid 1980’s and early 1990’s – but it didn’t last.)

It was MARVEL that held the super-hero magic for me.  To further reinforce my preference in recent time - - - along came AVENGERS DISSASSEMBLED, CIVIL WAR, and SECRET INVASION  to hold my attention.  But since those days,  I find myself enjoying MARVEL books less and less.  The classic characters are still there - - but they aren’t pulling me in like before.  It seems like the only new things from the “House Of Ideas”  is to stack one mega-crossover on top of another and stretch out  story concepts across multiple titles far further than they ought to be.  (The upcoming crossover in the DC Bat-titles  - - the Council Of Owls storyline – has me feeling both anxious and apprehensive. One of the things I liked about the NEW 52 was the promise of concise and compact story arcs and no more crossovers. Well, at least it lasted almost six to seven months.)

So, the AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN mega story / mega crossover has me intrigued.  It’s been a very long time since I used to follow both teams on a monthly basis.  When the X-MEN expanded to multiple titles I lost interest in trying to keep up (in the late 1990’s).  When the same thing occurred with the AVENGERS in the last five years or so I gave up on them as well.  So, it will be interesting to see if I can renew my interest by following AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN for the next six or so months it takes this mega-event to play out.  I’m committed to the limited series only.  We’ll see if I venture into any of the other titles that this battle will continually cross over into.  (I will probably sample one issue of the secondary series - - the  A vs. X “battle” issues - - for sure.)  It’ s going to take something major or shocking  to occur (as in AVENGERS DISASSEMBLED and/or CIVIL WAR) to win me back.  Show me what you’ve got, Marvel !

If I feel the magic has returned,  I’ll be commenting on that right here.  And, since I’ve decided to write something about every issue as it comes out - - if this series turns out to be garbage it will cause me to violate one of my personal rules for reviewing .  That rule is “don’t write negative reviews.  Write about books that excite you; books that could benefit from further attention and need more readers.  If you don’t like it, ignore it.”   I sure hope that doesn’t happen.  So, without further delay, let’s get to it ! . . . .

*** Alert!! - - Spoilers beyond this point ***

AVENGERS VERSUS X-MEN PROGRAM GUIDE one-shot . . . . .

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Those of us who frequent their  local independent comics stores on a regular basis were able to snag this little gem back in February.   There are short previews of both AVENGERS VS X-MEN #0  and AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #1.  The clues are all there - - the major threat/challenge in this series and also possibly the event that causes the battle lines to be drawn between The Avengers and The X-Men is the return of the Phoenix force to Earth.  The current line-ups are shown for The Avengers, New Avengers, Secret Avengers, Uncanny X-Men, Wolverine & His X-Men.  Storm and Namor are part of The Uncanny X-Men while Beast is shown with The Secret Avengers.  Wolverine doesn’t get a spotlight (yet) but he can be seen in a tiny shadowy panel with Uncanny X-Force.  There is also a page with six  “Wild Cards” posing the question  “Where will they stand?”  Here are my guesses - - Scarlet Witch will fall back in with the X-Men (based on a snub in AVENGERS VS X-MEN #0) and Quicksilver will stand with his sister.  Deadpool and Cable should be on the X-side.  I can’t think of any reasons why they wouldn’t.  Nova and Hulk will side with the Avengers.  (We’ll see how well my predictions are soon enough.) I’ll cover the #0 preview in the following paragraphs.  Here’s what up with the #1 preview =

The Avengers alert the U.S. government that the Phoenix is headed to Earth and looking for a new biological host - - and they feel pretty sure they know exactly where it is headed.  Captain America makes an early attempt to enlist Wolverine and his school but doesn’t get a reply from a reflective and remorseful Logan.   Cyclops/Scott suspects that Hope will be the target and is contemplating allowing it to happen in the hopes (pun)  that she can be trained to control the energy force for the good. 

AVENGERS VS. X-MEN #0  :  Writers = Brian Michael Bendis (Scarlet Witch story) & Jason Aaron (Hope story).  Artist – Frank Cho.  Color Art – Jason Keith.  Letterer – Chris Eliopoulos.

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Nobody will complain about this choice of writers - -  both Bendis and Aaron are at the top of their super-hero scripting games (although they may slip a little from time to time, these two are consistently solid).  It’s also great to see Frank Cho back drawing a super-hero team.  His clean and fluid style is very inviting.  He goes all out in this preview with some big panel action, some of it exploding across two pages.  The rest of the art team makes it all look awesome.  I loved what Cho did with The Avengers a few years back and was sorry to see his assignment end too quickly.  (Rumor is that he couldn’t keep up with the monthly deadlines - - hope that doesn’t happen again with this series.) 

In the opening story by Bendis, the Scarlet Witch returns and interferes with an assassination attempt by M.O.D.O.K. and some A.I.M. forces and constructs.  She gets an assist from some Avengers  followed by an invite to visit their HQ.  This Scarlet Witch is very beautiful and “wholesome” as portrayed by Cho, and I like the touch of modesty and self-consciousness Bendis brings to her.  She’s been out of practice for some time and is far from being sure of herself.  The first person she meets at the door of Avengers Mansion is The Vision, who makes it clear she is not welcome.  The Vision was one of my favorite Avengers back in the 1970’s and it’s cool that Bendis is bringing him back to the forefront.  I always liked his cool demeanor and logical statements tempered with a soft and sensitive side.  How else could an android win the heart of a mutant witch except with sincerity and conviction?    I didn’t expect the exchange of conversation between the two to come off the way it did here.  It’s a neat surprise and makes sense after what happened.  And Bendis/Cho hint a little that the Vision is not as unaffected as he wants it to appear.   The page that has almost no dialogue and just shows the body language/reactions of several team members is priceless, as is the lonely and discouraged expressions of Wanda.  Cho does it right by isolating her on the far right of the page against a blank white background.  Hey, I’m warming up to this book.  This is the kind of story telling that gets my attention!  Especially when we are getting to this in the #0 issue !  My favorite line in this issue occurs after M.O.D.O.K. tries to humble Wanda by reminding her of the damage she caused in the super-team ranks.  She responds with = “Please. I’m begging you.  If I wanted to hear a crazy monologue I’d move back in with my father.”

In the second story by Aaron,  Hope shows just how tough she is. First she holds her own both verbally and physically against Cyclops.  Then she takes on the Serpent Squad and puts them down.  Scott/Cyclops is trying to guide her but she has her own ideas and values.  She is ready to meet the Phoenix. Scott thinks she can be their savior but is apprehensive because of what happened to Jean Gray many years back. He worries she may be killed or driven crazy.  My favorite line in this story was Hope’s retort to Scott  = “And here I thought this place was called Utopia. Funny name for a prison.”

I like the way this series is starting out.  Things are actually happening here.  Obviously both Wanda Maximoff and Hope Summers will be major players in the events to come.

NEWS FLASH:  After an immediate sellout of Avengers VS. X-Men #0 in comic shops all across the country, Marvel has bumped up the on-sale of Avengers VS. X-Men #0 Second Printing Variant to April 18th .   Not only will Avengers VS. X-Men #0 Second Printing Variant be available in time for Avengers VS. X-Men #2, but a second printing of Avengers VS. X-Men #1 as well!

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