Monday, May 23, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Astonishing Ant-Man #7-8

2016, Marvel

A tremendously weak Canadian dollar meant the prices of comics were starting to skyrocket.  A $3.99 book was now over $5 which meant my monthly pull suddenly was costing 25% or more.  Changes had to be made.  Some books had to be dropped.  A cold hard assessment of what I actually wanted to read, and what I enjoyed had to be performed, and in the process the Astonishing Ant-Man fell victim to the chopping block, being put on the "going digital" list.  The problem with the "going digital" reality is that I don't have a good platform for reading digital comics, and, as I showed with the Nameless a few posts back, there's an actual tangible difference between physical and digital such that I prefer the former pretty much always.

I've never cared all that much for Ant-Man.  Being a DC kid, he just was a pale imitation of the Atom, like Namor was a nudist iteration of Aquaman and Hawkeye was just lame Green Arrow.  But with Marvel Studios bringing little dreams to big life on the silver screen, one can't help but be charmed by these cinematic iterations, and perhaps look at them in a different light.  The fact that they've gotten to the big screen, and successfully, well before their DC counterparts has given them a tremendous edge in cool factor, intrigue and bragging rights (especially given DC's otherwise general mismanagement of their characters in the comics over the past half decade).

I was particularly charmed by Paul Rudd as Scott Lang, as Paul Rudd tends to charm in any role he's in.  And with the Ant-Man film we also ventured into my favourite superhero terrritory: legacy.  Having Michael Douglas as Hank Pym trying to find a successor for the Ant-Man role, all the while his daughter Hope was vying for the part and his once-protege Darren Cross was attempting to figure out the whole shrinking thing on his's all kinds of legacy swirling about.  It's not a perfect film (there's a lot of "why would they do that?", or "what's the logic here?") but I loved it tremendously.

 Shortly after Ant-Man came out in the cinema Marvel launched The Astonishing Ant-Man comic, and of course I ignored it.  I don't read Ant-Man comics.  I read a trade of the Irredeemable Ant-Man by Robert Kirkman and Phil Hester quite some time ago, and I loathed it.  I pretty much swore off Kirkman after that (Phil Hester, meanwhile, is a tremendously underrated writer, and I tend to perk up when he's writing something...but he only drew that Ant-Man series).

Three months later though, I happened to notice while reading Marvel solicits that Nick Spencer was writing The Astonishing Ant-Man and that in the series Scott Lang was employing reformed (or supposedly reformed) supervillains in his new Miami-based security agency.  I knew immediately this was a book I had to read.

Anyone who read the Superior Foes of Spider-Man (and there were far too few of us for a book of such tremendous quality) knew that Spencer + D-level super-villains equals superhero comedy gold.  And I have an incredible soft spot for D-level super-villains.  It stems back to the Dark Side Bar from I think issues 43 and 44 of the Giffen-DeMatteis Justice League America with Wally Tortellini winning a bunch of gear off of super-villains in a poker game and downright shaming he JL.  Actually, it predates that even, with the introduction of the Injustice League, a group of lackluster villains (Major Disaster, Big Sir, The Cluemaster, Clock King, Multi-Man and the Mighty Bruce!) much earlier in the series.  Or maybe even before that with Suicide Squad.  Regardless, these were comics where the writers and artists were plumbing the depths of the DC pantheon and pulling out the dullest, most tarnished, impurest of nuggets and polishing them into gold.  Spencer did the same in Superior Foes, and continues to do so with the Astonishing Ant-Man.

Not only that but Spencer is dealing with Ant-Man legacy in a much different way than the Ant-Man film.  It's not so much about Hank Pym and Scott Lang, but rather about Scott Lang and his daughter Cassie, who was in the Young Avengers as the giant-lass Stature.  Darren Cross stole her heart, literally, and now she has no powers and has lost a tremendous sense of her identity, while Scott has the poorest of coping skills for all these events, and mishandles pretty much everything.  But then he always has... and he always faces the consequences... such as his short-lived relationship with Darla Deering, aka Miss Thing, in the pages of Matt Fraction and Mike Allred's run on FF (I thought I was missing something, as I read all of Jonathan Hickman's FF run, but did not carry forward with Fraction/Allred's) that has reared its head again in Spencer's book.

Meanwhile there are two competing smartphone apps for hiring supervillains at the touch of a button, not only that, but the creators of one of the apps is able to bestow superpowers upon willing new recruits.  Cassie herself enlists with one, gaining new Wasp-like powers, and the moniker "Stinger".  Her task is to infiltrate Darren Cross' organization and corrupt his competing super-villain app.  Scott's all too aware of the danger his daugher is in, and needs to enlist a group of super-villains himself to infiltrate Cross' org and get his daughter back.  (Spencer has carried the latest incarnation of the Spider-Man villain Beetle over to Ant-Man as a quasi-love interest for Scott).

I'm not sure why I dropped this from my pull, but I was so very wrong to do so.  Watching Civil War, my favourite part of the film was Scott Lang's transition into Giant-Man.  It's one of the most giddily delightful things I've ever seen.  It reminded me how much I liked the comic and I felt that I had made a huge mistake in dropping the title.  Thankfully, it was easy to catch up on and it's great.

io9 pointed out today one of the greatest highlights of the series so far: the group of Scott's super-villains showing the new guy the ropes, dropping knowledge on all the pain points of the Marvel U.

Monday, May 9, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: The Manhattan Projects

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars #2-4 (2015-2016)

I've noticed more than a few creator-owned books have gone from being regular series to mini-series format.  Think Tank, Life After, and The Manhattan Projects are all books I've read their full run but have been negligent in picking up their follow-up books.  I don't think this would have happened if they were still ongoing.  I would have made sure that I had the next issue of an ongoing I was reading.  It's long been stated in comics retail that mini-series don't sell as well as ongoing series which is why DC and Marvel tend to offer up left-of-center things like Prez and Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur as ongoing rather than as minis.  But I wonder if there's a different attitude these days at the indie or smaller presses, where they can sell (and make money selling) 4000-8000 copies of a title regardless of whether it's an ongoing or regular series.  Is it the case when your likely selling as many copies of a series run in trade paperback that it's indistinguishable on the trade shelf wheter a book was the next volume of an ongoing or a subsequent mini?

If I look at the "unread" stack beside the bed (which isn't so much a pile anymore, but an easily flip-through-able row of books on a bookshelf beside the bed) I notice most of the titles remaining unread are either mini-series I'm waiting to finish or ongoing series I prefer to read in arcs rather than issue by issue.  I really should be trade waiting on most of these books but then I'm thoroughly entrenched in the Wednesday habit so it's kind of easier (if a tad more expensive) to do it this way. Plus I still get a charge out of buying floppies that I just don't get from trades.  I'm rarely as excited to dive into a trade as I am into a new floppy. And reading a run of floppies is so much better than reading a trade.  The ritual of getting to the end of one floppy, rebagging it, and unbagging the next one is kind of like a mini-Christmas.  It's certainly a more interesting process than just turning a page to continue a story.  It's just too bad floppies don't look as good on a shelf and aren't as easy to lend out.  Plus I'm much more protective of my floppies than my trades, the old collector mentality.

The Manhattan Projects: The Sun Beyond The Stars is a characteristically weird entry in the MP series.  It looks like Hickman and Pitarra are using the mini-series format to tell a concentrated story centered on a subset of the cast rather than continue the ongoing story of the entire cast. I'm not dissatisfied but I quite miss the more sprawling scope and erratic nature of the ongoing, not to mention the character glossary that each issue contained was a great part of its charm.  I'm in for pretty much anything Hickman does so lets just say I liked the mini-series format plenty, just not quite as much as when it was ongoing.

Wednesday, May 4, 2016

Catching up on Comics with CGraig: Nameless #1-6

(2015, Image)

After my disappointment with Annihilator, I was a bit worried that maybe Grant Morrison was becoming too "Grant Morrison", too into metafiction, too into self-reference or deep fictional reverence.  For a creator who so rarely disappointed me in the past, and was so frequently unique, Annihilator was like brushing every raw nerve the critics have exposed with a wire toothbrush.

I had amassed all of Nameless before I got to reading Annihilator, but had I actually read it beforehand I likely would have passed on this Image series.
I'm both glad I didn't, but also wishing I did.

Nameless starts off in a very cinematic fashion, opening with our titular hero -- a very British, Constantine-esque mage -- en media res, finishing up a case where he's making an escape through Inception-like layers of surreality.  It's weird, but also speaking some familiar enough language to not make it too off-putting.

By the end of the first issue Nameless has taken on his new assignment and is off to the moon.  In the second issue he meets the boss (virtually) and the team he's to join.  Their objective is to destroy or divert a giant asteroid with a trajectory towards Earth.  Nameless' role is to ward off the negative mojo the rock is emanating, a particular sigil emblazoned on its face a signal that it's not just an errant piece of rock.

As the crew takes off, its revealed that the face of the boss in the virtual console is a facade, masking a room of horrors about him.  Prometheus --or Alien before it-- as Nameless deduces the origin of the structure as an ancient prison for a mad god, and he's worried they've just freed it.  What happens next is a literal horror show as the crew is attacked by an ancient evil and rapidly succumbing to it in horrific ways. 
The crew has a daring mission of exploration and destruction before them, and issue 3 is a wonder, an absolute awe-inspiring visual feast from Chris Burnham (see the preceding post).  There some of the better elements of Ridley Scott's

The third issue ends with the reality of the entire series called into question, doubly, with a two page spread taking place with Nameless on Earth, and the final page showing Nameless horrifically mutilated yet kept alive in a nightmare world.  The fourth issue expands upon all these, weaving between the three realities of space, Earth, and nightmare, and Nameless (and the audience with him) completely unsure of what is real.

The fifth issue features, presumably, a flashback showing Nameless has not been as in control of any situation as he thinks he has (as most of the situations he's been involved with haven't been working out very well), while the story starts looping back to the beginning, bringing back the veiled lady and the angler fish men from whom he tried to steal a key in the opening pages. 

What went from being straightforward through to most of issue three (well, as straightforward as far as Morrison goes) descends into one of Morrison's lesser used traits of total insane mindfuckery.  This is comparable, if not even more confounding than The Invisibles, but, coupled with Burnham's terrifying imagination, far more unsettling.  (About halfway through issue 3 I was convinced that Nameless would make a great movie, and then it takes its turn and I uttered aloud "Nonono, I don't want to see that.")

There was a point where I thought I understood what was going on in the book, a point when I thought I got the story, but this is one of those Morrison-mind-trips where really only he gets all the connections.  They're so mired in his research and knowledge of arcane topics and horror fables well beyond Lovecraft, that deciphering these six issues would be a full time job for at least a year.  This isn't to say that the book isn't worth reading (I hesitate to recommend it because it is so damn weird and gross, but at the same time it's very fascinating and engaging) but it's not wholly satisfying either.  Then again, its structure is one that demands you loop back and give it another pass, or two, or three...if you can stomach it.  

Some of Morrison's works are like Mensa puzzles, only for the truly gifted to solve, but that doesn't mean the non-gifted can't give it a go themselves, nor appreciate its complexity.