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Hot Ink — Dark Reign: The List, Secret Six, Vampirella Second Coming, BPRD 1947

ComicsAlliance’s Chris Murphy reviews the biggest and best comic books coming out this week.

1. REHASH OLD ARGUMENT 2. FIGHT SCENE — Dark Reign: The List: Avengers

I don’t believe in the death penalty, except in comic books. In real life, people tend not to have superpowers that make it impossible to lock them away for good. In real life, prisons, as flawed as they may be, tend to not be easier to escape from than staircase sealed off by a child safety gate. And in real life, dare I say it, there’s the potential for reform, the potential for remorse, something I personally believe is worth holding on to. In comic books? Kill ‘em.

When you’ve got a supervillain who’s always going to escape from whatever kind of prison you put him in, who never changes, and who has been repeatedly been willing and happy to take innocent lives, and, when this is obviously a cycle that’s going to keep happening until the end of time, you have to put them down.

They say that one of the signs that you’re crazy is doing the same thing over and over again and expecting a different result. By the third or fourth time they escape from prison, rob a few kids of their prison guard father, and set off on a fresh-out-of-jail mayhem spree, believing that any prison aside from a box six feet under the ground is going to stop them is wishful thinking.This will be the one and only thing Batman and I are going to have to agree to disagree over. And yet I know it’s pointless, because I’m also fully aware that death isn’t a permanent way to keep a guy down in comic books like it is in the real world. As far as hindrances to villainy or heroism go, death’s only a marginally greater hindrance than prison time.

So pardon me if, whenever there’s a heated debate between heroes about killing an all-powerful villain, I’m quick to take one side and get a little exhausted of the “killing is wrong unconditionally no matter what” argument. In this particular case, I’m siding with Clint Barton. While Norman Osborn is composing a list of enemies that must be dealt with, Barton is composing a much shorter list that reads “To Do: 1. Kill Osborn.”

Now, let’s set aside the even higher than normal level of irony here, as Barton’s already made one trip back from death and Osborn was already comic-book dead once until it turned out he hadn’t been all along. Barton’s unsuccessful in convincing his friends of his viewpoint, despite the use of such advanced rhetorical techniques as comparing his opponent to Hitler (that’s right, in the first six pages Osborn is implicitly compared to Nixon and explicitly compared to Hitler, just so we’re clear on who the bad guy is). So after some quality “snuggle time,” he sets off to carry out the task over their objections. Being as this is the first issue in “Dark Reign: The List”‘s eight-issue series, you can probably guess how that goes for Clint.

I can’t say I came away impressed with the issue. The problem is not that it’s all been done before; the problem is it’s been done before better, and in recent memory, by both Marvel and DC. We’ve got superheroes versus the government, which we’ve already had in “Civil War,” except now there isn’t really much of an underlying argument over vigilantism versus responsibility and it’s clear who the good guys and bad guys are. And we have evil winning, like in “Final Crisis,” except there’s no tension because Grant Morrison isn’t there as the madman in the room who just might do anything and it’s pretty clear how this is all going to end up. And there’s a debate over whether killing a villain is justified, as we last saw when Wonder Woman offed Max Lord, but once somebody else actually pulls the trigger and follows through on that threat there’s not much to add to the discussion by coming along and not killing the villain.

Admittedly, this is the first issue of the mini-event and surprises could be around the corner. But I can only go by what I’ve seen so far, and my attention hasn’t really been grabbed and held by this one.

CRUEL, VIOLENT, MEAN-SPIRITED, BACKSTABBING, OBSCENE FUN — Secret Six #13

Sometimes it seems as if a writer favors a certain character to the point where that character begins to take on the author’s voice. They begin to speak in the manner of the author, favor the subjects the author favors, and become the clearest window readers have into the author’s mind. And if you’ve been reading “Secret Six” and following Gail Simone’s twitter feed, it would be understandable if you came to the conclusion that for Simone that character is Ragdoll.

Most characters in “Secret Six” , a group that are not so much anti-heroes as villains who sometimes choose to do good because they’re not picky, walk a thin line between grittiness and gleeful, whimsically violence. Ragdoll, however, is so far on one side of the line that he makes the ridiculous actions taken by the others seem reasonable by comparison.

Take this issue, for example. Normally it might seem outlandish when Scandal Savage offers her attackers thirty seconds to make their peace with their world before she kills them and they proceed to take her up on it. But it passes as normal since it happens a few pages after Ragdoll ignores a conversation on how to best kill former teammates because he’s too occupied with figuring out whether an unconscious Wonder Woman’s clothes would fit him. And note that this becomes a more than hypothetical exercise.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s every character working in their own twisted way that makes “Secret Six” the most unabashedly fun DC superhero series currently being published, but Ragdoll and Scandal particularly shine in this issue. I haven’t been as into the current story arc as I have previous ones, but this issue’s been the best, and has brought the book back to the level I’d come to expect from past arcs. It also is building to what has the potential to be an impressive showdown in the next issue.


I’M APPRECIATING HOW VAMPIRES BEING AROUND FOREVER IS SUPPOSED TO BE A CURSE — B.P.R.D. 1947 #3 / Vampirella Second Coming #1

Lately, the comics community has been quick to belittle the growing ranks of “Twilight” fandom. There’s been scoffing at the silly little story of a vampire stalking a girl that turns into a true love story for the ages. It’s been insinuated that by having a brooding, mysterious man endlessly described as the most handsome being to ever exist turn up and pledge actual eternal love to the heroine, the story is blatantly pandering to adolescent female fantasies.

I would merely state that, for an industry celebrating forty years of Vampirella and her blatant pandering to adolescent male fantasies, we might want to be a little more careful judging groups for their tastes in fictional vampires. I’m not particularly knowledgeable of either source material, but in reading “Vampirella: The Second Coming” #1 it’s immediately obvious that in addition to the regular powers associated with vampires, Vampirella also has the unique ability to wear this costume composed of toilet paper thick strips of red cloth and somehow have it remain completely skin tight and never shift into a position that will offend the censors.

So how’s the comic? Not entirely terrible. It tries to relaunch the character through a perspective that a
ttempts to portray its title character as a force for female empowerment, but comes off as an excuse to have several scenes where women talk about how the idea of Vampirella turns them on a little bit. It’s more original in some ways than it has to be, dipping into an occasional metafictional take on the heroine, but in the end nothing here makes me feel like this character isn’t a ridiculous ploy to sell comics based on pin-up art covers alone. Just like “Twilight,” this book is selling cheap, unrealistic thrills based on the fantasies of confused teenagers worried about the power their newly discovered emotions have over them.

Here’s some advice, kids: you’re going to meet people in life of the opposite gender (or, for some of you, the same gender) who are going to cause you to experience involuntary feelings of physical attraction. These people are not monsters. They do not have supernatural powers. There is no need for you to be afraid of what they seem to be able to make you do. They are normal people just like you, who experience much the same things you do, and if you’re particularly lucky you’ll meet someone with the same involuntary feelings for you that you have for them. Again, it is highly abnormal for this to require drinking of blood, eye-hypnosis, or gravity defying bikinis in any form whatsoever.

And some comics related advice: If you’re interested in a more sophisticated vampire comic, go pick up “B.P.R.D. 1947″ #3. While the foppish 19th century aristocratic clothing and vampire-on-vampire disciplinary slap-fights prevent this comic from fully counterbalancing the damage done to the monsters’ image by recent popular fiction, the series written by Mike Mignola and Joshua Dysart with art by Gabriel Ba and Fabio Moon is a step in the right direction.

The moody horror fairy tale features a vampire upset with the little matter of humanity’s seeming determination to destroy the Earth via consecutive world wars. But it’s most engaging on a visual level, especially the ghostly ruins and dark crypts seen in issue 3. It’s a good way to wash the taste of bad vampire fiction out of your mouth.


A QUICK FOLLOW UP – Unwritten #5

I’d previously commented that Mike Carey and Peter Gross’ Vertigo Series “Unwritten” had not been living up to the quality of its premiere issue or moving along its secret conspiracy story line. “Unwritten” #5 released this week, and I’m happy to say that it seems to be headed in the right direction. The bad news is that it’s a stand-alone story focusing on Rudyard Kipling and it remains to be seen whether this continues when the book returns to its central character, but it’s worth giving issue 5 a look.

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