Black Knight #1 (2015): Comic Review

Picture it– A Connecticut Yankee in King Arthur’s Weirdworld

Just when you thought it was safe to go back into Weirdworld …

It would be interesting to compare and contrast this issue with the recent Weirdworld series from Secret Wars. It’s not just that both take place in this (relatively) new location to the Marvel Universe, but they both feature a sword-and-sorcery vibe, with a sword-slinging hero out of his element who is full of world-weary frustration. So why can you be so taken with Weirdworld, while Black Knight leaves you cold?   

For one, this series isn’t content with allowing just one or two elements to round out its narrative. There’s already two strong elements — Dane Whitman, the Black Knight, is stuck in Weirdworld for one, and for two, well, it’s Weridworld. But that’s not enough for this book. More and more things start piling up. There’s tension in the Knight’s ranks, he’s ruler of New Avalon, there’s a major mysterious enemy in the Fangs of the Serpent, the ghost of his ancestor is haunting him, he’s probably-but-maybe-not already succumbed to the curse of the Ebony Blade, and, oh yeah, the Uncanny Avengers are showing up. With all of these things happening, it’s difficult to tell which is meant to catch readers up on exposition, which is meant to be developing into our story’s central conflict, and how any of it is meant to work together.

For example, the Black Knight and a team of scouts he employs find Yet Another Weirdness— a German U-Boat atop a giant cliff, with more mystery inside. But that’s only for a couple of pages, since everyone returns to New Avalon with nary a mention at all about the submarine. I can accept random world-building strangeness like fire-breathing trolls attacking the Knight, but that’s all in context of the flow of a fight scene meant to be the action that leads into our story. Setting up the discovery of a submarine feels like it’s meant to be a dramatic narrative moment, and it’s abandoned as quickly as it’s introduced.

There are some nice choices with the art, which handles some montage of flashback, fight scenes, landscapes of wonder, and moments of reflection. There’s a darkness and heavyness to the figures and landscapes, as if shapes are defined by shadow and not simply by outline. There are times when the faces, in particular, are a bit too roughtly hewn, maybe, like when Dane Whitman’s face slightly shifts off-model, even within the same page or two. It’s pretty impressive, though, in range and with the sheer number of elements that are demanded. Another thing that’s so simple but I appreciate so much? The fact that everyone actually uses their right hand when using his weapons. That looks like I’m prejudiced against lefties, but really I’m just saying that the simple detail of right-handedness is usually guaranteed to be overlooked by artists.

The colors are well-rendered, of course, although perhaps a bit too dark to help the eye navigate at times. For example, even on the first splash page with the Black Knight and some Serpent guy in the middle of the battle, there is a sameness to the values across the page, and a subtle difference to the main characters, whereas a more dramatic spotlight could help highlight the central action. In terms sequential art, though, it’s great. Care is taken to illustrate panel-by-panel, and various scene shifts and flashbacks flow together thanks to the color design.

I do think that the Black Knight makes for a great character in this kind of story. He’s a man of science and technology (he made his own lightsaber at one point) and of specatuclarly bad decisions about his love life. Neither of these aspects of his character is touched upon, though, and instead the introduction we’re given is about how he’s just a normal guy thrust into a life of legacy, Avenger’s membership, and New Avalon. Oh yeah, and the curse of the Blade, of course. (“Of curse?”)

So, it guess it’s all just another “more is more” kind of storytelling, with too many elements competing for narrative attention, even though they are all necessary to build this new world. The result is that the stakes are not clearly defined, and the relative importance of things are confused. I like the Weirdworld setting, but I don’t feel properly introduced to it, and the setting itself isn’t allowed to come the fore with so many other things to consider. As a character study for the Black Knight, it’s fairly strong, and perhaps we’ll get to see some opportunities for more aspects to be explored. Otherwise, as of now, it’s just a pretty typical, but nicely drawn, lost-in-a-strange-world kind of story.

Black Knight #1: 
Writer: Frank Tieri; Ariist: Luca Pizzari; Color Artist: Antonio Fabela; Letterer: VC’s Joe Sabino 

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All-New All-Different Avengers #1 (2015): Comic Review

Some assembly still required


Wait, there *wasn’t* an Avengers team for a while? That’s… hard to believe, especially with the Avengers property remaining the cornerstone of Marvel Comics publishing, but that’s the status quo our story seems to be starting with, so let’s see where it goes.

Or, actually, the real start was one of their heroes shouting “You’re a JERK!” at another one. Wow. Such an auspicious beginning. But that was just the teaser, as it were. The remainder of the main is about how the team will be forming from “nothing.” Not even an Avengers Tower, which is being dismantled after some supposed money problems from don’t-worry-he’s-still-rich Tony Stark. He’s just not RICH-rich, you see. Nevertheless, it’s the scene of a casual encounter between him, Captain America, and Spider-Man Jr. versus the giant alien Warbringer.

Before that can be resolved, the issue is broken into a second half that features a completely separate casual encoutner between Ms. Marvel and Nova. The resultant shift between the two parts is a bit disappointing, with two different reading experiences instead of one. I can understand an artist shift may necessitate a distinct split betweent the A story and the B story; maybe it was impossible to allow one part to be a subplot for a main story that spreads across all 21 pages. But when it’s an already-fragmented narrative that features characters who are not even on a team at this point, it’s hard to read this as an “Avengers” story, let alone one that’s meant to be a replacement for the Avengers to the lay Marvel universe citizen. Instead, it’s got the feel of an anthology. A done-in-one set-up, or even something a bit more en media res than a single page of name-calling, may have felt more substantial.   

Still, a key selling point is the scripting and the clear voices for each character. The world-weariness of Captain America, the awkwardness of Teen Spidey and the stumbling Nova are all quite distinct, and in the latter cases even endearing and charming. The sequential panelling is well-paced, too, creating a nice timing between elements of dialouge and thought-bubbles (remember those!?) or other interchange of dialogue. The appearance of Warbringer is similarly neatly timed, in an example of a step-by-step sequence works nicely. (In others’ hands it might end up looking more like cinematic storyboarding and not comicbookery. And yes, I do believe those should be distinct artforms.)

Of course, Waid and Kubert are master storytellers, although there are a couple of things that are of mixed success. Some are minor, like the dialogue of a crowd messing with the flow when reading the main characters’ interactions. Others are a bit more serious, like not understanding the full import of the man who apparently owns the former Avengers Tower now. There’s some strange display of power and some shifting camera angles that leave a lot to interpretation rather than being clear. It’s one thing to be mysterious and another to be too obtuse to realize you’re trying to be mysterious.

The art of Mahmud Asrar in the second half has some staging problems as well, but this time due to the size-changing nature of Ms. Marvel’s powers. It creates some awkward sequences where Ms. Marvel is the focal point, making everyone else appear like they’ve shrunk, and the lack of backgrounds remove all context, leaving the reader nothing to reference. The strength, though, is certainly in the expressive emoting from our characters, a clear weakness in Kubert’s offering in the first half.

What’s interesting is how branding really does affect the the impression of the contents. Calling it All-New All-Different Avengers means you are entering the comic with a set of expectations, an anticipation of a certain kind of flavour. Imagine, for example, if this comicbook was titled Young Avengers instead. Wouldn’t the expectation change, and actually enhance the reading? What we got now makes me wonder why Spider-Man Jr., Ms. Marvel and Nova are getting in the way of reading about Captain America and Iron Man. I have no problems with Cap and I-Man getting in the way of reading about the three youth, but that’s just me. I’m sure Waid is aware of this, but we’re talking about significant age gaps that will necessitate a particular kind of interaction. There’s a reason why people tend to read teams of all teens OR of all grown-ups. Perhaps having a blend of the two is the real All-Different experiment that’s going to play out here.      

It’s a very serviceable story, but it’s shooting itself in the foot with certain choices, most notable of which is to divide the book in half as if it’s an anthology of stories before the team is even fully formed. The art has some hits or misses, and the main villain Warbringer is less significant than a mystery man, but there’s not enough time to develop either beyond vagueness and/or cliché. We have yet to see the team truly interact beyond just Captain America and Iron Man, so it’s difficult to see who the breakout star or the point-of-view character is meant to be. Because the voices are so strong and the interactions are poised to be intriguing, I’ll continue to give it a shot, but things will have to feel more cohesive and more meaningful to be worthy of the “Avengers” title.

All-New All-Different Avengers #1: 
Part 1: Writer: Mark Waid; Artist: Adam Kubert; Color Artist: Sonia Oback; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit
Part 2: Writer: Mark Waid; Artist: Mahmud Asrar; Color Artist: Dave McCaig; Letterer: VC’s Cory Petit 

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The Vision #1 (2015): Comics Review

Up Next, Desperate Androids

I made an impulsive decision. Such actions are a product of the mercurial brain processing inherent to   my human nature. It led me to purchase The Vision #1, and the comicbook highly appealed to my aesthetic as well as philosophical sensibilities, thereby creating one of the most highly pleasurable reading experiences of Marvel’s recently relaunched series and subsequently engendering my social nature to desire others to replicate that experience.

In other words, I really liked this comic and highly recommend it.

Even as I browsed Comixology, I wondered if it would be a tough sell. The Vision seemed a character better fitted for the Avengers of the 70s and 80s. He formed a core part of that team precisely because of his ties to the Avengers’ history and collection of characters, but he never fit in any other context whenever someone tried to do something with him in the 90s or 00s. Not only that, but there only seemed so much that could be done with “robot stories.” We get it. We try to understand humans deal with life by seeing how a non-human character lives. It’s like a metaphor or some junk.

To use my own metaphor, these typical robot-as-humanity stories are like any standard steak dinner. But there’s a difference between a standard steak dinner, and a expertly prepared and presented gourmet dining experience, and The Vision #1 is one of the best steak dinners I’ve ever had in a long time.

I had to abandon my fanboy nature to scoff at what I saw as a ham-fisted attempt to force Vision into this new status quo— the character professed to delete his emotions but also created his own sythezoid family, placing them all into suburbia. And yes, there are no big action set pieces here (well, except for that small but dramatic one) as the focus here is on how the robots/synthezoids attempt to not only make a life for themselves but also to understand what life really means.

There are so many great little touches here. The wife, Virginia, coming to terms with nuance of language when meeting neighbors, the interaction between the twins, the way the Visions have to throw out their housewarming cookies. What seemed to be a throwaway element of scene-setting, the water vase of Zenn-La, becomes a recurring motif and an important metaphor in its own right, earning the ominous final panel’s narration.

The writing is strong, with intriguing ways that foreshadowing is weaved into the narrative and the way characters are allowed to emote through their acting. The narrator seems a character in its own right, too, being casual in tone but hinting at deeper things, surely appropriate to the theme of the book.

I’ve never been so weirded out by the Vision as I’ve had in this comic. Mostly, I would have to take the other characters’ reactions in the comic for granted. I mean, I guess the Vision was supposed to be creepy because the Wasp commented on how creepy his voice sounded. When the Vision was already drawn in the same heroic manner as the other crazy four-color people around him, it didn’t seem so out of place. Here, though, the Vision and his family are quite creepy indeed. They certainly sound cold and hollow, and not just from differently-colored dialogue balloons. Their designs and layout also help reinforce their weirdness.

The Visions are first seen behind the front door, starkly incongruous in their suburban clothing and black background. The twins go to their first day of school while flying high above the scene. Their lack of pupils and facial expression is key. The juxtaposition is a bit lost as the art style gives many other characters a thick line and a stiffness that is also enjoyed by the robots, but perhaps that’s intentional. The linework overall is certainly organic more freehand; I doubt any straightedges were used. The colors, too, are soft and muted, with the washes not fully blended at times, so the colors are bold and there’s a rawness and reality to the texture. There are even subtle ways the colors/inks appear to bleed off the panels, like they’ve been hand-painted.   

Mostly, the panels and layouts are well chosen, although the perspective/placing feels too flat at times. For example, the cover would make more sense if the Visions are making portions of their bodies invisible. But they are probably meant to be phasing through the wall, meaning that they would have to be leaning forward on top of one another. The sense of three-dimensionality is all off. Similarly with the big surprise at the end of the issue, when the villain attacks. There’s a scythe coming through the wall to strike a character that doesn’t make three-dimensional sense.        

I’m very excited about this series. The foreshadowing and cliffhanger both leave me in anticipation, but I’m also hoping that much of the Vision’s history isn’t forgotten. Perhaps not, as we see the Grim Reaper isn’t ignored, and Virginia Vision is appropriately reactive that her husband is keeping a gift from his ex-wife in the living room. I also had to laugh that the Vision is upset he’s not given a staff position in the White House, since he’s still the guy who nearly took over the world at one point. Did he happen to leave that off his résumé?

It may not be attempt to reinvent the sci-fi tropes that explore humanity by telling stories of robots, but rather it’s one of the best examples of such a story type. This new setting and the new characters around him were necessary to bring the character of the Vision into the kind of story that just perfect for him. The art as well as the narrative touches work together to create a creepy kind of Vision, and one that promises some intriguing philosophical touches and pointed emotions. Very rich story potential here, in an unexpected way that yet makes perfect sense.   

The Vision #1: 
Writer: Tom King; Artist: Gabriel Hernandez Walta; Color Artist: Jordie Bellaire; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles  

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Extraordinary X-Men #1 (2015): Comics Review

This just in: People hate mutants. Still.

Well, those stories did promise that “nothing would ever be the same!”, didn’t they? Apparently those weren’t glib statements. Delivering on such promises, the last few publishing events by Marvel Comics have left their X-Men in quite an altered state. The problem is, though, that the status quo has been so altered that they’ve all become the kinds of stories I don’t really want to read.

The issue centers around humanity’s fear and hatred for mutants. I hope this won’t be a spoiler. Except this time that fear and hatred is *ALSO* because of something that Cyclops did. We know this because characters tell each other it’s about something Cyclops did. Am I the reader supposed to know what he did? And yes, this repetition is intentional as it’s about par for discourse in the comicbook. To add another aspect, it’s ALSO-also because of the Inhuman’s Terrigen Mists that blanketed the globe in a different crossover event. It has given mutants a kind of disease dubbed M-Pox and ALSO-also-also threatens mutants with genocide by sterility. The story seems to forgo complex motivations in favor of increased quantities of motivation. Why have a simple premise when you can have four of them?

The solution to all of this is the same— mutants should retreat to a new place called X-Haven. Storm leads this community and the other key characters are… also there? It’s not clear what distinguishes, say, Iceman from being there and any other mutant that does some cameoing in the background, except for some expository dialogue. Magik at least has some active duty in saving and/or recruiting mutants around the world, including her brother, Colossus, who is convinced to return in order for… reasons? “You are fighter,” Magik tells him. “It’s time to fight, Piotr!” However, who, exactly, the X-Men are to fight is never clear. They are to be warriors for…? It’s not appropriate to live as a farmer by yourself because…?

They in turn attempt to recruit their friend Nightcrawler, or otherwise go to “get” him, except they actually don’t. It’s just a narrative segue to Nightcrawler, spouting scripture while ripping heads off of a giant bull-like villain. Or not. The art seems to show just the head teleported but the villain is whole and hearty on the next page. There’s no context given for this scene, although the villain team he’s facing mentions something about test subjects. All the characters’ powers and visuals are intriguing, but complete absent of basic set-up.

There’s some more standing around and talking for the other heroes, too, like Jean Grey (should she be Marvel Girl or some other code name?) and Old Man Logan (ditto the code name question for this iteration of Wolverine here. Or is “Old Man” his actual code name? That would definitely strike fear in the hearts of evil-doers. “Beware the ravages of age! It’s… Old Man!”)

I’ve often had a love-hate relationship with Humberto Ramos’ artwork, and it all comes down to the match of his hyper-kinetic style to the scene. For his work on Amazing Spider-Man, it was lovely and a complete match. For a somber and decidedly fatalistic tone as this X-Men series seems to be setting up, this is instead a complete mismatch. By far, the majority of the issue features extended pages of dialogue between characters instead of action scenes. And even such action scenes, normally a strength of Ramos’, here display such a variety of angles/layouts that it becomes confusing to follow the action.

There are a couple of double page spreads here that are really gorgeous here, particularly in their posing and in the colors. Magik’s defense of a little girl gives us a pretty iconic image, speaking a thousand words for this new status quo.

The new costume designs, also, are hit or miss. Magik’s is quite nice, continuing to be sexy and provocative, reminiscent of something from Final Fantasy. Storm’s also. The choice of white marks a departure from her typical black and perhaps sets herself up as more of a saviour/figure of leadership. I do miss Storm’s cape, however, and so the costume loses a bit of a regal touch that might be needed. Also? Both feature boob-to-hip bare bellies. Nightcrawler’s is disappointing. It’s needlessly complicated and includes scale armor for some reason inconsistent with his acrobatic roots, but perhaps is indicating something more war-like in his new characterization. Also? He has claws on his boots.

As someone who loved Nightcrawler’s free-wheeling and unbridled optimism, it’s disappointing that yet again the writers seem to think he’s better suited for dark and gritty attitudes. In fact, for the X-Men to be typically concerned with being capitol-H Heroes from their very inception, it’s weird that writers seem to always want to segregate and shunt them away in their own compounds away from the world. Perhaps having a team of heroes in bright costumes fighting back would-be world conquerors is a feature of stories thirty years ago.

Meta-Quote of the Book—
Iceman: “Well, we don’t always get what we want, Jeannie.”

As a first issue, it does what it needs to do, which is exposit, exposit, and exposit. Various characters are spotlighted, but mostly in the context of showing the same aspect of this new world over and over again. We get it. Cyclops did something. Mutants have it bad. And everyone feels sad about it. Beyond that, there’s no real conversation about *why* we should empathize, nor about *why* our characters feel that way about it. Thankfully, the art remains edgy and kinetic, which helps in the largely static conversations people have, but seems a mismatch for the tone of doom and gloom. All in all, a pretty average effort that presents a world that fails to really connect on a personal level.

Extraordinary X-Men #1: 
Writer: Jeff Lemire; Penciller: Humberto Ramos; Inker: Victor Olazaba; Color Artist: Edgar Delgado; Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna  

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New Avengers #1 (2015): Comics Review

You would think Parisian crystal would be more coveted…

Apparently, “more” is more for this issue. We have a new status quo, a new base of operations, two mysterious villains, an away team plus a home team plus a S.H.I.E.L.D. inspection team. Not to mention that the team in the field has a special jet, an array of powers among them, and several gadgets for even *more* powers for each. They face a threat that takes over 90% of the population of France and is both scientific and spiritual in nature, and one of their foes on the last page cliffhanger is made up of a crystal, a gorilla, a giant spider and a scorpion.

You could dial this thing down several notches and still be overwhelmed. It’s so In-Your-Face that your eyeballs and mouth will blow back with the force of wind tunnel. But do I say that as a bad thing or a good thing?

The energy to the book also comes from the expressive art from Gerardo Sandoval, which could definitely be described as capital-b Bold. The design has a block, wedgey aesthetic that relies on solid masses of shape rendered by heavy black areas, so characters appear bulky but lithe. The colorist picks up on this, shading characters and scenes with similarly blocky areas of solid colors. Often, this reduces a character’s expression, unless it’s Squirrel Girl, who appears as big-eyed as any cliché anime girl. Also, the art really over-emphasizes hands, making them exaggerated and out of proportion.      Such complexity and energy makes some panels hard to register at a glance, but nevertheless the flow is clear overall and there’s no problem with continuity of storytelling.

Instead, it’s the sheer amount of set-up that’s overwhelming. That gives a nice energy, and certainly amps up the high “weirdness factor.” It’s at the sacrifice of some smaller moments and there’s no chance to catch a breath— all flow and no ebb. I’m not sure I can criticize that too much as it’s clearly full of necessary exposition and all used to set up our tone/flavor to the series. In the past, I have criticized Ewing’s Mighty Avengers title for having a huge cast and yet only giving a few players any focus. Here we have the opposite, for sure. I’m hoping for a balance between such extremes as the series continues.

I’m intrigued by allowing characters like Songbird coming into focus. I’ve always enjoyed the new Power Man and White Tiger. I want to see the new A.I.M. status quo and how a cocky Sunspot can manage things that frankly should be over his head. I’m concerned that Squirrel Girl will be nothing more than device for some kind of humor, and that Hawkeye won’t return to the competent but flawed hero he was as leader of the West Coast Avengers or Thunderbolts.

I’m also wondering if things aren’t been pushed into “strangeness” a little bit too quickly. So far I’m associating Al Ewing, and even these choice of characters (with the exception of Squirrel Girl), as pretty serious, maybe even “street-level,” types of stories that, at best, have dealt with a pretty typical superheroic milieu. Here, I’m picking up associations of Keith Giffen’s run on Doom Patrol, whose base was Oolong Island, a haven of former mad scientists. For such a quirky team, that seemed to work more naturally. Time will tell if such an extreme will work for New Avengers, or if it will get stuck in between classic tropes and quirky ones and fall flat somewhere in between.   

Kind of makes you appreciate the new Captain America series where the central framing device is simply surviving a flight in coach.       

So it’s a comic that wants to come out of the gate running, and it does so… at 100 miles per hour. There’s no denying the energy and momentum of the storytelling, made more dynamic by bold artwork and crowded panels. To make it happen, the comic relies more on the set-up with few opportunities for reflective moments or deep characterization, but even at least with the surface-level stuff, the comic gives a bit of time for everyone, even the supporting characters. And, hey, if you can’t take a bold approach when taking a team into a bold new direction, then you would have missed the opportunity. I’m certainly on board to see how this goes.

New Avengers #1: 
Writer: Al Ewing; Artist: Gerardo Sandoval; Color Artist: Dono Sanchez Almara; Letterer: VC’s Joe Caramagna 

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Uncanny Avengers #1 (2015): Comics Reivew

Putting the “WHY?!” back in “Unity”

Have you ever made a homebrew line-up of a superhero team? Everybody does. My personal history of fandom includes everything from scrawling various team-ups in my school notebook to playground debates, fan websites and fan art, role-playing game sessions, message boards posts, and, well, countless others ways. It’s a hallmark of being a fan. So something like Uncanny Avengers is both so obvious and so ingenious. Take a little bit from the Avengers and a little bit from the X-Men and mash ‘em up to see what happens? Brilliant! Fun!

So why isn’t this comicbook either of those things?

Remender’s run on this title’s first volume took advantage of the set up for some intriguing premises and interactions, not to mention great choices for villains. It even all led up to a company crossover event, AXIS. I have to admit, though, that there was still a big disconnect between the *theory* of the title and the actual practice. Now Gerry Duggan has a chance, together with Ryan Stegman. And it still can’t quite seem to get off the ground.

This issue serves well as an introductory story. The team has a minor fight for a kind of “cold open” then splits up and has some exposition with each other to help round out our status quo, until a new villain appears and the team assembles so the villain can pose dramatically on the last page.        

All of that is well and good, except there’s a new complication to the whole set-up of the Uncanny Avengers. It now has to deal with a third factor of the Marvel universe reality— the way the Inhumans are rising into prominence (and that’s both on a narrative level and as a publishing strategy.) On one hand, there’s my personal reaction to this, so for purposes of full disclosure I have to say that I never have nor do I foresee a time when I will enjoy Inhuman stories. Ever since reading in the late 80s, no Inhuman has ever made it into any of my homebrew fan-made line-ups.

But personal reaction aside, it’s an element of confict seems to be forcing its way into something that already had inherent conflict. Instead of Avengers Vs. X-Men as the struggle implicitly behind the stories, character choices, and villains of Uncanny Avengers, now there’s … what? A complete left turn into a different territory. The previous tension is jettisoned, left unresolved. Not to mention the fact that it fractures the focus of the simple premise in the first place. None of the Avengers nor X-Men have any longstanding conflict with Inhumans, so there’s something artificial and tacked-on about the conflict that’s being presented here.

The team should be Avengers and X-Men, but Rogue seems to be the only represtentative of the latter. No, I’m not counting Deadpool as an X-Men; he’s not even a mutant. Steve Rogers (does he have a codename anymore?) is the only kind-of Avenger. I’m not sure Spider-Man or Doctor Voodoo have really been entrenched enough to be considered in that league. Which leaves Psynapse— the Inhuman that now has to shoulder all of the narrative tension that’s been forced on the book. Both the character and the aformentioned tension are simply presented as givens. There’s no real introduction to either, nor are we allowed a point-of-view character to ease the readers into it all. The exposition that’s so necessary for a beginning issue is given by dialogue between Steve Rogers and Rogue, two characters who should know all of it already?

More about Deadpool, whose justification is that not only is he “better” now— you know, morally— but that he can finance the team because of his lucrative business born of his popularity. I have no problem with Deadpool being popular with fans of comicbooks, but to have him so wholly embraced by the public at large within the comicbook just doesn’t seem right. Even if Deadpool were popular, I would hope it would be in the same sense that Donald Trump is popular… a loud and vocal fringe minority that all good and decent people tolerate, at best, as a joke. Maybe I’m just too optimistic and have too much faith in humanity, even ficitional ones.

And thus, I appreciate the whole exchange with Spider-Man, who leaves the team rather than work with someone like Deadpool. And why I think Steve Rogers seems entirely out of character and in the wrong voice to defend him, at least in such a public way/extent. Which is a shame, since I think Rogue seems way more competant and strong (in terms of character) than before. I would love to see this Rogue continue to grow in this surprisingly new way, but I’m not sure I’m going to be able to stick around that long.

Whew! All of this and I haven’t even been able to comment on the art! While I appreciate the energy and boldness of the art, it’s just way too distorted to handle the tone and flavor of this series. In a Deadpool-only book, or heck, even in a Spider-Man solo, this might be fine. The exaggeration and kinetic frenzy would fit well. In a comicbook that’s already off balance, however, it only adds to the tension, making it off-putting.          

As much as I loved the opportunity afforded by the premise of an Uncanny Avengers in ideal, this comic falls far short of that. It doesn’t feel either Uncanny nor Avengery, from the choice of characters, their voice and interaction, and even in the artistic aesthetic. For an introductory issue, there’s a pretty basic set-up here, but even still it misses opportunities to present new characters and the status quo in an engaging way to really draw me in as a reader.

Uncanny Avengers #1: 
Writer: Gerry Duggan; Artist: Ryan Stegman; Color Artist: Richard Isanove; Letterer: VC’s Clayton Cowles 

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Con Report: 2015 Shanghai Comic Con


The man on the mic does his best to work the crowd: “Something something something, something something Avengers something.” Then riotous applause and rapturous “Aahs.” This is what it is like sometimes when you visit a comic convention in Shanghai. If I knew better Chinese, I’d try for a more direct translation; as it is I can only report “something something,” just a snapshot of one of my experiences during my brief time visiting the 2015 Shanghai Comic Con.

Billed as the “first ever official Shanghai Comic Con,” SHCC was brought to you by the folks of ReedPOP (New York Comic Con, Emerald City Comic Con) and who seem to be branching out for international venues, including Vienna and upcoming shows in Paris and Hyderabad and Delhi. There was no way I was going to miss this, despite a very busy weekend with some other commitments. As a regular attender to San Diego’s Comic Con and a Marvel junkie (I prefer the more specific term Jarvis-Head) it was just a given.

Part of the excitement comes from not knowing exactly what to expect. Superheroes are just as big of business in China as anywhere, and both Marvel and DC movies are met with equal aplomb. While not officially released through state media, most tech savvy young people are up to date on the latest episodes of The Flash, and this was also the same weekend as Avengers 2: Age of Ultron enjoyed its China release. Fevers were high, and this was exotic new territory. Anything could happen! (Even this really boring promo poster!)

And yet I was still running late on Saturday morning. I finally managed to get my act together and traverse the town to arrive by taxi at 11:30ish. Knowing the floor opened at 11am, and that presale tickets were long ago sold out, I was fearing for the worst, flashing back to San Diego, of course. Seeing the number of cars backed up along the entrance made me want to hop out of the taxi a block early, but no, it was just a red light up ahead. I got dropped off right in front of the gated queue!

But this wasn’t right. The only signs (bilingual, thankfully) indicated it was for presale/Internet sales. I asked the white guy hanging around in front but he had no clue either, and was waiting for his friend anyway. Okay, then, better try my bilingual skills on the attendant in front of the barricades.

He escorted me through the queue to a small tent where I bought my tickets directly and exited straight into the turnstile. I jumped all those suckers paying for presale! What followed was an X-ray and metal detector that’s a shade more intense than your average rock concert but typical for what you’d find at every subway entrance here, and I was inside a very spacious, and new, convention center in the western part of the city.

I had time to walk the vendor floor, which took up the entire first level. (Well, maybe 90%. There’s not *that* many vendors.) The emphasis here was on merchandise and hero-related products. Some entertainment options were there, such as a film school with live movie-makeup demos and Chinese TV branding, but most were toys and figures and apparel. There was one very popular booth for a League of Legends-style multi-player, and an X-Box One/Kinect demo with gleeful players flinging their arms in order to be Fruit Ninjas.

I wanted to be on time to see some of the guests, one of the firsts being David Finch, and made my way up to the third level for the conference rooms. I estimate over 300 people came to see Mr. Finch, making it standing room only. Via an interpreter of course, Finch talked about his own work and asked for fledging artists in the audience, giving some advice and encouragement. Something about initiative and self-discipline. I wonder how certain aspects of his talk meshed with the clash of cultures, but it wasn’t merely locals; there were significant numbers of expats in the audience. During the Q&A, the audience came up with only a few softball questions, like if he uses reference material, who’s his favorite writers, and so on, but there were a few pretty good ones, too, often with surprising results. Asked how does it feel to both write and draw your story, Finch said he prefers a close relationship with a writer rather than do both, and he got applause after the answer was interpreted. What did that mean, exactly? At one point, a questioner took the mic and went for so long the audience started booing, hissing until he wrapped it up. I’d like to have seen that happen at some previous panels I’ve attended, I assure you.

The real weirdness was from being in a situation I was so familiar with from before, attending a convention panel, and yet to have it so completely re-contexted, having it be in Shanghai. Certain things I take for granted, like suffering through weird questions, waiting for the presentation to begin etc., came crashing into other things I take for granted, like theater etiquette culture-clash. Surreal.

Continuing to wander the levels, I noticed a few more bugs that surprised me for a big event like this. There were technically only two food stalls, plus a coffee stall and a juice stall, and only two banks of restrooms on each level. On one end of the hall, the escalators was out of commission, and on the other side, one bank was out of commission at least twice. In/out privileges were regulated, and the exit was at the rear of the hall, separate from the entrance entirely.

The second level had more space, this one for meet and greets/artist alleys. The main stage separated the seating area (about 500 seats, VIP only) from the rest of the crowd, even though the seats were never filled close to 50%, even with the headliners. I caught the interview with Robin Lord Taylor (Penguin/Oswald from the Gotham TV series) which was almost entirely softball questions, but both Taylor and the crowd were enjoying themselves enormously. Anytime the crowd recognized a name, even “Flash” or “Avengers,” they would holler in delight.

Overall, though, there was so much space on this level it was almost creepy. Echoes that made it difficult to hear the microphone, one line stretching for an hour to visit one table while others have no one. The official meet-and-greets with autographs demanded a special queue, and official price. Taking a photo with a celebrity could cost you over $125 US, and autographs started around $50.

The real stars, though, were the cosplayers. Whole flows of traffic would be disrupted once someone agreed to pause for pictures, and it would not be strange to see more than a dozen photographers becoming paparazzi for several minutes or more, or as long as the cosplayer would put up with it. Multiply that excitement exponentially whenever two related characters happened to cross paths.

I’ve also lived in Japan, and as expert as that place is with cosplay, I saw so many here that could give the best of Tokyo a run for their money. Part of it might be the lack of precedent— I doubt many people would let a Green Arrow in, one that has an actual bow and real arrows, but there was some real attention to detail, including a girl dressed as Captain America in padded armor like the movies and a large shield that was near perfect, and a Winter Soldier who could have stepped out of the movie reel. There were even characters I wouldn’t have expected, like a Lady Deadpool and a female Loki.

Unfortunately, I couldn’t spend the whole day there, and had to end up leaving long before I could see the Gail Simone panel, which was at the top of my list.

Ah, well. You never know when I’ll end up in New York or San Diego again. Or maybe people will want to return to Shanghai. Judging from the response last weekend, we all will be waiting with open arms, and ready cameras.