BEST OF WEEK: THE MULTIVERSITY: MASTERMEN #1 — Wow. If you’re going to bang out a Nazi Justice League comic, I guess opening with Hitler taking a shit while reading a comic book with Superman punching him out on the cover is totally the way to go. And I mean, the deal with those alternate Ratzis peppering baby Kal-El with machine-gun fire is totally evil business. They knew what was going to happen when we first see it happen, meaning they had already done it while Hitler was on the pot. That is some next-level type material. Those Nazis were so evil!
Lee’s interiors are overall a bit rawer than what we’ve grown accustomed to. They look a little rushed in places, but really, as much as I’ve seen some folks just tearing him up for it, I almost prefer it. Instead of his usual hyper-cross-hatched anatomical perfection, these pages are a bit more stylized and have slightly more, I don’t know, vitality to them? It’s the sequential equivalent of realizing that Ivan Drago is just a man, after all. And that’s a reassuring thing. Even though of course the “seventeen years later” flash-forward double-splash is as technically horrifying as ever, and Lee can’t resist reprising his iconic standing-with-left-knee bent shot of the big guy on the next page. But that scratchier style suits the image of Uncle Sam slinking away from the Fall of Washington, sliding a contraband Superman comic into his coat while Nazis empty mugs of beer onto the decapitated head of the Lincoln Memorial. That shot kind of says it all even before you get to the swastikas on the Washington Monument in the next panel.
Now, Overgirl died in FINAL CRISIS, right? Or, I mean, in the backstory to the Overman who showed up in SUPERMAN BEYOND 3-D? I think I have that right, but my eyes are starting to bleed, lining all of this up. Total comprehension of Morrison Multiverse leads to absolute aneurysm. But holy shit, that Human Bomb guy who drops in to wreck Overgirl’s memorial, that’s Lee doing like a straight Liefeld homage. Worlds will live and worlds will die! And I love that the Aquaman analogue here is just Underwaterman, that’s got a really funny undertone of the literalness of the German language tucked in there. Casting the Freedom Fighters as persecuted minorities who survived Nazi purges is a strong choice. Morrison also sidesteps the tricky issue of making our hero complicit in the Holocaust with a three-panel flashback revealing that he was apparently off-planet for three years of the genocide. I understand that there’s only so much you can work in to a forty-page book, but that’s quite a little hop to make. Hey kids, it’s okay, our guy didn’t do any of that oven or shower stuff!
Overman bringing up the annual performance of The Ring Cycle to his presumed best friend Jurgen Olsen is an Easter egg that lends this installment of THE MULTIVERSITY a frankly massive amount of subtext that I didn’t dredge up all by myself with just Brunhilde’s name to go on. Okay. So, Jurgen the Olsen analogue was the traitor, yes? But he died with Brunhilde and everyone else when the Eagle’s Nest crashed into the concert hall? And he was narrating from beyond the grave? Or. What if Overman himself is the mole? I mean, he really doesn’t do anything for most of the issue except express regret over the Holocaust. In order to be truly heroic, he would have to take action against that, right that injustice somehow. Now, check out that panel last panel of the interview between Jurgen and the big guy. Overman says, and I quote, “MR. OLSEN, WE HAVE ONE OF THE TERRORISTS IN CUSTODY, AND I HAVE NO DOUBT THE OTHERS WILL JOIN HIM SHORTLY. THIS YEAR’S PERFORMANCE OF THE RING CYCLE WILL GO AHEAD AS IT HAS EVERY YEAR SINCE 1876. NOTHING HAS CHANGED.” Nothing has changed? As in, “All systems are still go, proceed”? If we entertain the notion that Overman is himself the mole and in cahoots with Uncle Sam, it’s no jump at all to consider that those lines are instructions addressed directly to the American terrorists, confirming the time and location for the strike. Of course, he still tries to stop it in the end. But he fails. Due to internal conflict? I’m still not sure. It seems like this installment might be second only to PAX AMERICANA as one to reward intense engagement and scrutiny with a great deal of the narrative/opera buried in subtext and Wagnerian references.
Even with the mighty A-list art team of Lee/Williams/Sinclair on the clock, this issue takes a bit of a dip after last month’s surprising escalation of the GUIDEBOOK following PAX AMERICANA. It has a ton of baggage to overcome due to its content and mostly does the job, but you can’t help feeling just a little bit fucked up and dirty finishing up the ballad of the Nazi Superman and how he was laid low by the terrorist Uncle Sam and/or the crushing weight of his own guilt.
BATMAN AND ROBIN #39 — That ACTION COMICS #1 homage is glorious. The further adventures of SuperDamian continue, and they are a beautiful thing to behold. You can understand his father’s concern, though. That line about the Karman Line being the “difference between being an earthling or an astronaut” is chilling enough without seeing the way he’s gritting his teeth in poor Penguin’s face. The double-page title spread is gorgeous, Bruce still doing his damnedest to regulate with the “Down. Now.” The following two-page fishing scene is a terrific piece of characterization even before that fantastic splash page to bring it all home. You’ve got to love Damian finally making it up on the Justice League’s satellite headquarters. The interaction with Superman is priceless. Does Shazam not have the secret-word transformation thing happening anymore? I thought that Damian was trying to trick him into saying his name and changing back to Billy, but then I turned the page and he was still “The Big Red Cheese.” I do love the panel with, “Yeah, so grateful he punched me in the jaw in front of everybody,” with Damian’s single raised eyebrow really selling the whole deal. Already can’t wait to see how it goes down next issue. This right here is twenty pages of perfection right up until the last word when the letterer forgets the apostrophe in “let’s,” but we’ll sure let that one slide.
BATGIRL #39 — Now, that Chiang variant cover is twisted and evil. Cameron Stewart continues to anchor this title, writing with Brendan Fletcher and providing breakdowns for Babs Tarr and Maris Wicks to work their magic on. This book really has some of the best-looking and most distinctive interiors on the rack today. I love that panel on Page Four with her hunched over up on the basketball goal. It’s a perfect microcosm of what this book does, embodying the Batman mythos while carving out its own unique place within them. And then on the next page, there’s terrific foreshadowing to the cliffhanger, that line of dialogue that Barbara walks in on about Riot Black getting rebooted and seeming like a totally different person. Hell, they even embolden “reboot.” Totally missed it the first time through, but it’s very catchable once you’ve seen how the issue ends. And I won’t spoil that last page, but that is certainly a hell of a way to get a bump on your SECRET ORIGINS sales. They’ve got my dollars, at least.
BATMAN ETERNAL #46 — Those Jae Lee covers are certainly distinctive! I usually hate it when anyone calls our hero “Bats,” but for some reason, it sounds totally appropriate coming out of Julia Pennyworth’s mouth. It must be her wonderful English accent. I love the page where Batman has visions of his potential successors. Good call, Tim Seeley and those four other writers, on nailing what makes that #666 Damian Batman the greatest to wear the cowl besides the original. “Is Batman eternal?” At last, we’re getting to it! I’m sorry to say that everyone on ARROW but the Asian couple mispronouncing Ra’s al-Ghul’s name is starting to infect me. Not cool. And Lord Death Man! Always a pleasure. It seems like we’ve had our last round of misdirection and will actually be gearing up to confront the Big Bad of this thing just any week now. Perhaps.
FUTURES END #42 — Oh good, I wasn’t ready for Ray Palmer to be toast, even five years from now. So, it appears that this version of Brainiac will have a great deal to do with dat old dang Convergence rearing its ugly head up from over yonder. I believe that we are going to see that cover of FLASH #123 and the JSA sitting around their table several times in the months to come. Some kind of happy resolution on that front. But I’m a little unclear on what Terry “did” to cause the deal with Brother Eye at the end. Possibly just fail in his mission, I guess? This issue was a bit of a bump up from what we’ve been getting lately, not so much water-treading.
FABLES #149 — All right, well yeah, I certainly had hopes, but Willingham was just fucking with us pretty hard, coasting for a few months and most of this issue, even, before hitting the gas right there in the final four pages. So, at long last, we’ve got our final bit of exposition flashed back, the full reason why it’s got to be Snow vs. Rose for all the power has been revealed and there’s nothing left but the making it to that final THE END. Which experience with this title suggests won’t be very final in any way, shape, or form. I like how Buckingham’s shot of Rose and Bigby making out in the forest on Page Thirteen is so evocative, Nimit Malavia pretty much exactly repaints that for the cover. Really going to miss this title. I wonder if I have time to power the whole thing through in the next month. Probably not if I’m going to rewatch all the MAD MEN as well, and that’s no choice at all.
BITCH PLANET #3 — This one is all right. A little boilerplate. I definitely feel like I know the character but didn’t find a reason to particularly care about her, which seems like kind of a waste of an issue, considering it’s a –centric devoted to her. Robert Wilson IV does fine work guesting on interiors. I found the backmatter more compelling than the issue itself, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Overall, this one isn’t that offensive but doesn’t really pull its weight for me in The Pull, pun honest-to-God not intended but left in for the sake of editorial integrity. Going to see if we can get something started next month when we return to the present, but this one is looming close to getting cut.
MPH #5 — A strong resolution to a mini-series that managed to remain compelling despite featuring characters that I never really managed to dial in to on any measureable level. I am a sucker for the superspeed, and that 11-page fight that took place in between the TICK and TOCK was a serious technical feat. Kudos to Duncan Fegredo for executing Millar’s inspired choreography. The twist at the end kind of borrows from the RED SON twist that Morrison gave Millar back when, but I didn’t mind. Overall, an entertaining read, though I would probably only roll in for the inevitable cinematic adaptation if Matthew Vaughan sees fit to stack it into his crowded slate.
SAVAGE DRAGON #202 — The sexual hijinx continue! And probably conclude for the most part, at least all the three-ways and the porn tape and that one four-way. College kids be crazy. Larsen escalates the deal substantially but then appears to most likely bring the arc to a close with a net-yield of would-be nemesis now waiting in the wings. This series continues to showcase strong narrative work by one-man-band Erik Larsen (aided and abetted by Chris Eliopolous on letters, but it’s Larsen’s show) and great fun all around.
SILVER SURFER #009 — The Galactus arc hits the turn here in its second act as our hero does his best to stop his former master from chowing down on the six billion souls on Newhaven, which is of course a pretty dicey endeavor considering the planet-devourer can take away the Power Cosmic as easily as he granted it to his first herald so long ago. Slott’s scripting remains pitch-perfect, and the Allreds continue to turn in beautiful pages. Norrin surfing the moon is a fantastic concept but Allred nails the imagery and staging to perfection.
UNCANNY X-MEN #031 — Well, huh. I can’t figure out what this cover has to do with anything at all, but other than that, this one right here is thunder. Bachalo is back going great guns with Antoino Fabela assisting him on color and, once again, no less than six inkers. I keep not being able to figure out how one guy can get so ahead of six. Maybe it would be one thing if he was doing loose loose work, but if that’s the case, these guys have done tremendous work tightening up the situation and making it look uniform. Massive resolution here as Bendis puts several genies back in the bottle, resurrecting a gang of beloved characters who of course had to come back but doing so in a way that didn’t feel like a cheat through the monumental circumstances that bring it about. Okay, and I’ve got to hit the SPOILER TAG here, but doesn’t this deal pretty much spell out how the whole run is going to end? Granted, I don’t recall the exact specifics of time travel rules that got laid out here when Beast tried to send the kids back early on, but what happens this issue proves that time is mutable and, at least via Eva Bell, events can be altered with no apparent consequence. So, can’t she just herd up all those teen X-Men and scoot them on back to #8 of the original run to fight Unus? No problem once we retrieve Teen Cyclops from making Star-Lord jealous by gallivanting through outer space with his not-dead daddy? It seems like kind of a simple fix to write in here near the very end, but I guess we’ll see how it all plays out. Bendis continues to do tremendous work with Eva Bell here. Rather than spread the love around the rest of the ensemble before he shuts it down, it looks like she’s just going to be the breakout star of his new roster, full stop. I was a fan of the backtalk she was giving Xavier last month and absolutely love the way that she dresses down Scott at the end of this issue. Terrific work, all around. Really going to miss this run when it’s over. This one and the guys on BATMAN AND ROBIN come really really close to the subtextual Nazis-vs-American-terrorist action that Morrison and the boys have going on.