Marvel Comics

An X-Men Event I Can Rally Around

It's taken me a long time to invest myself into an X-Men event. It's not that I don't care for the characters. Because I do. It's not that I haven't liked the writers who are involved with the events. Because, for the most part, I have. It's just that it so often feels like "Here comes the big scary bad guy who is bigger and scarier than the last bad guy from the last event! RUN!" and then there is a big fight and the X-Men prove, once again, that when you back a group of closely knit genetic freaks into a corner that they find a way to make even the biggest and scariest bad guy regret it ... and then next summer they do it again.

The thing about Schism, the big X-Men event for this year, is that it feels like they've finally understood that big scary bad guys are certainly big and are often scary ... but what makes an X-Men event exciting is when the stitches between the closely knit band of genetic freaks starts to fray because of interpersonal issues. For example the thing that made Inferno cool wasn't that Demons found a way to establish a beachhead on Earth and cause all kinds of chaos, it was that it was all spurned by a jilted Madelyne Pryor after she learned that Scott and Jean had reunited. 

When I learned that Jason Aaron was going to be writing Schism and that it would serve as the culmination of the last several years of storylines involving, basically, the forced unity of all of Earth's mutants in order to survive after having their numbers devestated by the M-Day event, I was thrilled. Aaron was the right kind of cat to pen a story that dealt with more than just a big scary bad guy. He clearly saw that there was the potential for a growing divide between two of the most prominent mutants in the world, Cyclops and Wolverine ... and for once it wasn't over a woman.

For years readers and critics have correlated the philosophy of Professor Xavier with that of Martin Luther King, Jr. and the philosophy of Magneto with that of Malcolm X. As time has gone on and writers have seen fit those two have gone from being the forefront of mutant conflict and have transitioned to being elder statesmen of a sort. Since that transition Scott Summers has become the leader of Mutant kind. Either standing against the actions of evil mutants against society, or against the actions of humans against the whole of mutant kind. 

Gone are the days of hoping for equal civil rights for Mutantkind, now they strive for survival. So also gone is the position of Civil Rights Leader, Scott Summers has been forced to become more of a Battlefield General/Political Tactician. Gone are the days when being a mutant meant being part of a growing population the world over. Gone are the days when convincing humankind that mutantkind could live beside it in peace. Once M-Day occurred humankind saw an opportunity, to finally rid itself of the now miniscule mutant population, because stomping out a culture when it is on the rise is difficult, but when it is on the decline it's very easy to make it a scapegoat. And it always seems that when someone wants to make a point about safety in America or elsewhere in the world that the Mutants are used as a catalyst for their agenda. 

The events of Schism have been no different, as we have seen the head of the newly revitalized Hellfire Club, Kade Kilgore, the son of a recently deceased defense magnate (recently deceased because Kade found him to be of no use), wants the world to understand the value of his company and to forward his own agenda by proving the uselessness of the currently available stock of Sentinels that were in various states of disrepair the world over. His position at the head of the table of the newly rejuvenated Hellfire Club is dependent upon his being able to prove to the world that the defense technology available from Kilgore Arms is better than the antiquated Sentinel Tech that Bolivar Trask built so many years ago.

Meanwhile what he has managed to do is drive a wedge into an ever weakening relationship between Wolverine and Cyclops. And that is what Schism is about. The growing divide between the philosophical standpoints and tactical approaches between two old friends who have never been good friends. About the splintering of a dwindling population between two ideologies. About proving that the world of mutantkind is no longer about believing in Charles Xavier or Magneto ... but that there is another axis to worry about beyond "acceptance by humankind". It's no longer about establish peaceful relations or go to war ... it's about survival ... and last I checked most people, nerds included, understand that splitting the party is probably not the best way to ensure survival ... but we'll see how it goes.

How on Earth did I Find Myself Reading Venom?

Seriously.

How?

I've never, ever, liked Venom. Not even when one of my favorite writers, Warren Ellis, included him in the pages of his criminally overlooked Thunderbolts series.

As a child my best friend's favorite comic was Amazing Spider-Man and when we were in 3rd grade in Mrs. Ponder's class I was completely taken with Jim Valentino's space faring operatic epic Guardians of the Galaxy he was wrapped up in this guy Todd McFarlane's new Spider-Man series. I have very distinct memories of our having conversations in JC Penny's while our mothers shopped about how he thought that Arnold Schwarzenegger should play the brutish villain Venom and that perhaps the star of Ferris Bueller's Day Off, Matthew Broderick, would play his favorite comic character ... Peter Parker.

I could have cared less. My mind was in the stars. The stars of the 31st Century to be specific. I was too busy wondering what was going to happen to Charlie-27 and Nikki were ever going to patch things over or if Major Vance Astro was going to survive having his next encounter with Starhawk or the next breach of his containment suit. Wondering if I was the only kid who thought that Martinex was cooler than Ice-Man, despite my concurrent fascination with the Simonson run on X-Factor.

I didn't have time for "symbiotes" or such nonsense. And as we all know what we like and don't like as a 3rd grader will inevitably shape what we like when we're nearly 30. Yet I find myself drawn to this new Venom series. Perhaps it's because I read Marc Guggenheim's Amazing Spider-Man #574 and was completely taken with the story of Flash Thompson as a soldier in Iraq (thank you Scott Blumenkamp for making me read that issue).

Perhaps it's that one of my other favorite writers currently, Rick Remender, is writing the book with one of his most imaginative collaborators, Tony Moore, doing the pencils.

Perhaps it was the Amazing Spider-Man #654.1 that came out a few weeks ago that seemed really cool and that set the tone for what might be, finally, a cool idea of how to use the Venom character.

Perhaps it's all of those things combined.

Whatever it was though I am glad that I did. 

Cause it was great.

Seriously.

 

 

An Injection of Youth into Marvel Comics

For a long, long, long time in the world of comics there have been team books. In 1941 Marvel even had a book that teamed together all of the side-kicks of the Golden Age and had them fight Nazis just like their adult counterparts. And as far back as the launch of X-Men there have been books about young super-powered individuals being brought together to assure that they would become the heroes of tomorrow. New Mutants, Legion of Superheroes, Teen Titans, Young Justice, Infinity Inc., Generation X, Gen13, Young X-Men, Young Avengers, Avengers Initiative ... the list goes on and on. But this week Marvel has two different books coming out that high-light the exploits of young heroes who have had a rough go of it and who are in need of being pointed in the right direction. 

First up is Young Allies from one of the best writers that comics has to offer when it comes to detailing the adventures of young characters super-powered or non: Sean McKeever and his recent partner in crime (they worked together on Nomad: Girl Without a World as well as the Nomad back up feature in Captain America) David Baldeόn. The two have clearly got a good sense for how the other likes to tell stories as they communicate the story they are presenting. The pages seem to have a natural flow to both the dialog and the visuals. The story they are telling is the formation of the team of Young Allies which happens to have also been the title of the team book that I mentioned before that began in 1941. The team, so far, seems to consist of a rag-tag group of characters that have had a certain level of popularity at times but have all (or mostly all) fallen by the wayside. Among them is Nomad (she used to be known as Bucky [the one created by Rob Liefeld during the Heroes Reborn days ... I know ... I thought it was going to be a terrible idea to use her as well ... but McKeever has proven that she can be an engaging and interesting character and so I trust him on this front]), Araña (a character that I was not sure warranted a return ... but again I trust McKeever), Gravity (a character that McKeever created with Mike Norton back when he first started working for Marvel back in 2005 and a character that I don't think was ever really given a fair day in court because he is a cool character), Firestar (yes, the one from Spider-Man's Amazing Friends), and a new character that McKeever has created for this series named: Toro (which is also the name of the sidekick of the original Human Torch from the 1940's, who appeared in the first Young Allies book). 

The book is charming and instantly has the feel of "THE GATHERING OF THE HEROES" but still manages to do so without feeling overly cliché. The dialog is appropriately aged and has a genuine feel. The villains in the book are "The Bastards of Evil", which at first sounded like the most spectacularly lame name in the history of comics, until they reveal that each of the characters are the bastard children of super-villains and then it carries a certain emotional weight even if the characters are mostly, if not entirely, unlikable considering their motivations, which I will not spoil here, by which I mean they are the kinds of characters that you love to hate, they are the kinds of characters that I hope become longtime foils of the Young Allies. There is an interesting dynamic between them as they fight in the streets of Manhattan. 

I highly recommend the book even if you haven't read Nomad: Girl Without a World, or any of the other books that introduced these characters. It's a solid read from beginning to end. McKeever's already got the kind of experience that is required to keep a book like this fresh and interesting (his run on Teen Titans was really great and is terribly under-read) and Baldeόn's artwork is consistently getting better and I think that he has the chance of becoming one of the artists about which the title of "Most Underrated" might start getting thrown around. 

The other book that Marvel is releasing this week is Avengers Academy which comes to us from writer Christos Gage and artist Mike McKone. Gage, fresh off his run on Avengers Initiative (the spiritual predecessor to this book) brings a head of steam and the right kind of momentum to this book. McKone is one of my all time favorite comic artists and has worked on some of my favorite team books in recent memory (his runs on Exiles, Fantastic Four, and Teen Titans were all incredible not to mention that he was the artist on the first book I ever special ordered "Vext" from DC Comics). These are two high caliber creators teaming together on one of the highest profile launches of a teenaged Avengers launch since Allan Heinberg's Young Avengers. 

The book lives up to the hype that has been built up around it as well. This is also one of those books where becoming a team isn't going to be second nature for any of these characters, it's got a "learning on the job" kind of feel as well. There is something about this book that makes me really excited about it's prospects. All of the characters are potential powerhouses in their own ways and it's clear that both the other characters and the creators understand this possibility and will be exploring this concept as we watch these characters learn about what it is to be a hero, because as has been proven many, many times before it takes more than super-powers to be a super hero.

The characters are all interesting and what I think is most interesting is the cast of characters who are going to be the "Teachers" of these young characters. Among them are Hank Pym, Justice, Speedball, Tigra, and Quicksilver. These are all characters with a history who have had problems in the past and have a dynamic concept to the process of teaching these rather powerful characters. The young characters again have a feeling of being genuine young characters, they don't seem like young figures delivering the dialog of adult characters like so often happens in books like this. Gage has more than proven his talent for writing the dynamic of teams and has a clear grasp on how to properly pen the characters he has created for the series. 

There is a whole lot going for both of these books and I think that it shows a positive indication for the Heroic Age when it comes to new team books as both these as well as Avengers and Secret Avengers have all been strong stories upon debut and leave nothing to indicate that they won't continue to be strong books. So perhaps the time has finally come where Marvel's team books are going to be performing on the same kind of level as many of their solo character books had been over the last few years. 

Get excited people!