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Hot Ink Reviews – Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine #1, i Zombie #1, Brightest Day #1

ComicsAlliance reviews the biggest, best, and most interesting comics that hit the shelves this week. SPOILERS FOLLOW.

WHAT, WAS DEADPOOL BUSY? – Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine 1

You would figure that Wolverine and Spider-Man would be able to get along. They have so much in common. They’re both fundamentally loner outcasts who at the same time have managed to work with just about every hero team in the Marvel Universe at some point in time. They both use a sense of humor as a fallback in tight spots, although Wolverine admittedly prefers a drier, grimmer chuckle compared to Spidey’s light-hearted quips. They both tend to clash with authority figures, and they both find ways to keep pushing themselves no matter how tough things get. And yet this would seem to be yet another case where, the more two people are alike, the more they’re destined to be unable to stand one another.

Writer Jason Aaron and artist Adam Kubert’s “Astonishing Spider-Man & Wolverine” six issue series begins this week. While I did have minor concerns that this could have been nothing more than a throwaway series meant to capitalize on the popularity of two of Marvel’s highest profile and most omnipresent characters, those fears were quickly thrown aside as I was pleasantly surprised by the title’s first issue.

Aaron opens the book with Peter, alone and stranded in the distant, dinosaur-populated past, desperately trying to make sense of how he came to be condemned to his cruel fate. I will take this opportunity to state, for the record, that this book has left me with the opinion that Peter Parker needs to be more often depicted with a grizzled lumberjack beard.
It’s hard not to laugh at wilderness survivor Peter’s appearance as he speaks otherwise normal sarcastic Spider-dialogue, and at the same time it’s a wonderfully employed as a visual cue to indicate how desperate things are for him. Peter, after making a startling discovery, leaves his mountain top cave to go down into the valley and visit Wolverine. Logan, you see, has also been trapped in the past, but rather than isolate himself as Peter’s chosen to do, Logan’s become the leader to a tribe of under-sized ape men. Which means fighting their larger ape-enemies who wield spears and ride on triceratops, and then spending his free time teaching the natives how to properly brew beer.

This difference of opinion on being careful about causality in relation to time travel has, over their time stranded in the past, led to a rather serious disagreement between the two, one which led the ever-calm and understated Wolverine to threaten to make certain body parts of Spider-Man separate from the remaining parts. But Peter decides that threat doesn’t mean much anymore when he notices an asteroid heading on an impact path for Earth. Yes, that asteroid.

Aaron tells a fun story, jumping back and forth between the two heroes trapped in the past and flashbacks to the moment in the present right before they were sent back. He writes both characters well, and through peeks into their inner monologues he provides a number of good character moments and gives us a good look at their opinions of one another while still finding time to include a few entertaining fight scenes. Kubert’s art works well, particularly in portraying a wide range of emotions from Peter. I’m looking forward to more of this series and the pair’s travels through time. Not merely because issue 2 promises a fight against a robotic Devil Dinosaur. Although that’s certainly helping fuel my enthusiasm.

THE ZOMBIE COMICS RENAISSANCE CONTINUES – i Zombie 1

Michael Allred isn’t the first artist you’d think of asking for if you were putting together a zombie book. His iconic pop-art style tends more toward skin of the smooth variety instead of the rotting, sloughing off in bits and pieces sort. But writer Chris Roberson isn’t telling an ordinary zombie tale. “i Zombie,” Roberson and Allred’s new series for Vertigo, takes place in a uniquely haunted version of Eugene, Oregon. Gwen Dylan is a girl who’s been forced to make some changes to her life. She’s got a new home, a new job digging graves in an environmentally friendly graveyard, new eccentric friends, and health conditions have forced her to make some alterations to her diet. Gwen’s a zombie, you see.

Fortunately for her, in this modern age of image conscious creatures of the night, she’s a sexy zombie. No rancid skin and missing jaw for her. Only the minor annoyance of having to snack on a fresh brain every now and again to survive. With the added hassle of inheriting any memories of said brain, including a compulsion to bring closure to any unfinished business previous owner of that brain may have.

“i Zombie” gets off to a great start in its first issue, establishing the everyday world of secret monster life Gwen must deal with as well as introducing her friends and a few potential adversaries. There’s Ellie, Gwen’s best friend, who’s somewhat stuck in a ’60s fashion sense and mindset owing to the fact that that’s when she died. Ellie’s been a ghost ever since, although her haunting mainly now consists of harassing Gwen into making more of an effort on her social life. Being incorporeal means Ellie’s enjoyment must be vicarious to some degree, and she’s chosen Gwen to live through.

And there’s Scott, or, alternately Spot. Gwen and Ellie’s overly excitable, kind of clingy male friend. Who has an unfortunate affliction that causes him to change into a were-terrier (Scottish, I believe) during a full moon. Not the type of creature that’ll strike fear into your heart unless you’ve got a deep-seeded terror of getting your face licked. While Gwen, Ellie and Scott would prefer to make the most of their varying amounts of life, there are forces at work in Eugene that could be a problem. The ominously named Blood Sports Paintball is owned by a group of sexy vampire women. And then there’s the matter of a pair of monster hunters who’ve driven their black car with black tinted windows into town, armed and determined to severely reduce Eugene’s supernatural population.

This has all the pieces needed in a first issue to get a new series off to a great start. Multiple characters are introduced and within a scene the readers have a good sense of who they are and what they’re out to get. We know our protagonists, we start to get to like them, and we start to get a sense of the conflicts that may arise. Allred’s art instantly gives the series a unique appearance and is such a wonderful match for the overall tone of a world of people trying to be normal that can’t help but maintain a tinge of weirdness. And as “i Zombie”‘s first issue comes to a close and Gwen sets about solving the murder mystery of her latest dinner, the series launches a first arc I’m looking forward to see unfold.

SOMETIMES IT’S DARKEST BEFORE THE DAWN. OTHER TIMES IT KEEPS BEING DARK THE WHOLE TIME – Brightest Day 1

The origin of the current Green Lantern oath, which opens with the lines “In brightest day, in blackest night” is uncertain, due in part to poor record keeping on the matter of the input by creators during the early years of DC Comics. But there are some who point to its first appearance in a 1943 issue of “Showcase Comics” and credit it to science fiction writer Alfred Bester. Bester, who went on to write such works as “The Stars, My Destination” and “The Demolished Man” has suffered the misfortune of not being remembered as well as some of his peers, and you may only be familiar with him through the tendency of later writers to name characters after him or make references to some of his titles. I’m fond of what I have read by him, and so I’m glad that, if he indeed created the oath, it’s persisted and remained important to so many comics fans all these decades later.

There, that’s one good thing I’ve said about “Brightest Day.” The first of, perhaps, two positive statements. Buckle up folks, here we go.

“Brightest Day” is the latest crossover event from DC, picking up from the conclusion the enormous financial success of “Blackest Night.” Once more the rainbow corps of Lanterns is involved in a mystery involving matters of life and death, although in this case it involves a dozen DC Universe heroes and villains arbitrarily brought back to life at the end of the last event. And again we’re shown the DC editorial philosophy, last seen in “52″ and “Countdown,” of “if it works once, let’s just do the same kind of thing again because they seem to like that I guess.”

I didn’t like “Blackest Night,” but I tried to take a breather before returning to another Geoff Johns piloted crossover. I didn’t bring up “Blackest Night #0,” the intro issue featuring Dead-Aliveman Boston Brand’s involuntary tour of the significant characters of the series. At the time I wondered why it was necessary to number it “0″ instead of starting the series at “1″, since I figured that this might have been a good way to make sure everyone paid attention to the exposition there, thus allowing this issue to get right to the story. But I guess they felt two consecutive issues of exposition with minimal story was a better way of going about it.

Much like every issue of “Countdown,” the first “Brightest Day” is a series of episodes following the important characters of the event – Hal Jordan, Boston Brand, Aquaman, Firestorm, Hawkman and Hawkgirl, and J’onn J’onnz. Each gets a few pages devoted to their storylines, which presumably will be intertwining at some later point. For now there’s so little happening that it’s like reading a news ticker focusing on the DC Universe — “Three power-ring wearing flying people had a run-in with local police involving an object that fell to Earth and left a crater in the middle of the highway. They spoke briefly and came to no solution. Traffic will be diverted onto side roads until repairs can be completed. On to our next item . . .”

The story that did stand out for me in this issue is the one surrounding Aquaman and his wife, Mera. The two have had some marriage issues lately. She’s had recent problems with anger management. He was dead. They fought. You know, the usual stuff. But now they’re back together and reforming the bonds of their relationship in one of the ways most endorsed by prominent marriage counselors — murdering child-rapist pirates. Yes, that’s right, within less than ten pages “Brightest Day” manages to out-dark an entire series about zombies coming back to emotionally torture friends and loved ones by having Somali pirates kidnap children from a cruise ship in order to sell them into slavery.

Oh, and there’s a line about the Catholic Church snuck into a news report of the account that follows. It’s unclear exactly what it means. Possibly Johns is insinuating that the church had something to do with sponsoring the pirates who were kidnapping children to have sex with. But that would have to make the joke itself a Black Lantern, something long, long dead and yet still lingering around and popping up to hit emotional raw nerves because that’s all it does. And here I was hoping we were free of Black Lanterns.

What seems more likely, though, it that the Church is mentioned in regards to Aquaman’s recent claims of resurrection. As if, in the DC Universe, the Catholic Church is some kind of official judge that looks into the events surrounding people coming back from the dead, possibly because it infringes on some copyright they hold. So when Superman came back, did they have to send some sort of delegation of cardinals and bishops to verify whether or not it was a miracle and decide whether or not people should start wearing cold necklaces depicting Doomsday punching the Man of Steel really, really hard?

In any case, that thread’s quickly left behind and we’re on to the next story. And this doesn’t seem like an ideal format for the presentation of the event. Johns clearly likes each of these characters and finds them interesting, but he also assumes that his readers feel exactly the same way about them that he does and doesn’t invest any effort into making them interesting to readers who don’t have such a strong attachment. Each short sequence begs for more page time, and perhaps splitting each of them off into their own miniseries would have created better pacing. But since “Blackest Night” sold well as its own series, then “Brightest Day” will be constructed in the same way.

There could be another reason, of course. Johns and co-publisher Dan DiDio haven’t exactly excelled when it comes to providing an actual payoff on an event comic. It’s all starting to feel too much like a grift, a flim-flam, a hustle. Every month they put out a comic and ask you to buy it. “This one, this one’s the real deal. You’re gonna need to know this stuff for it to make sense when all the facts finally come out.” And then you ask, “But when’s that finally going to happen?” And then they lean in, hands deep in the pockets of a pinstriped overcoat, and tell you “Next month, kid. Sure, sure, next month it’ll all make sense. But only if you read this one.” And you do, and then next month comes along, and it’s more of the same. And you tell them this.

And they lean back in a comfortable, expensive chair, hands up defensively, and say, “Hey, whoa, whoa, sorry about that. But we forgot we had to put all this stuff into this issue in order for it all to be that much better when we do reveal what’s going on.” And they lean in and pats you on the shoulder, all friendly-like, and say, “But you’ll be glad you bought this one, because it’ll all be worth it when we get to the big finish. Next month. Or maybe the month after that.” And when the resolve finally does show up, it’s a hastily thrown together mish-mash that doesn’t use much of the set-up at all and is more of a tie-in to the promise of the next big payoff. It’s like the serialized action fiction version of the Spanish Prisoner con. Or perhaps a long-con variant of the J. Wellington Wimpy game.

Reading an event comic, particularly one that isn’t all that good, can quickly turn into a war of attrition. You’ve sacrificed your valuable time and money keeping track of what’s going on in the fictional universe you happen to be fond of. If you walk away now, it might seem like all of that was for nothing. But sometimes, when you’re fighting a war of attrition, the winning move is to realize that you’ve sacrificed enough and that there’s no sense in sacrificing more in the hopes that some day something will happen to make it feel like it was all worth while.

Hmm. I feel like I’m forgetting something. Oh, right. The zombie shark was pretty awesome. That’s two positive things.

WELL DONE, MR. MORRISON

“Batman and Robin” #12 was released this week, and the identity of Oberon Sexton was revealed at the end of another fine issue. I did not see that one coming. Someone get me the next issue. Right now.

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