BEST OF WEEK: ACTION COMICS #18 — Well, that went right by. After it got off-track from First Week these past couple of issues, I didn’t realize that this finale was coming out this week until the day of, and so it was that I read #s 1-9 from 4:00-5:00 on Wednesday afternoon with a quick break to pick up my child and eat dinner and teach a couple of music lessons and then right back to #s 10-12, 0, 13-17 in another single-sitting blast before cracking open this final issue of the run. It is impossible to overstate the debilitating effect that this had upon me, slamming through the entire thing in such a short amount of time. Though I read each issue at least twice the week that it came out, a unified pass back through the entire run with an awareness of all that is yet to come with the single exception of this issue gave me a far greater appreciation for so many nuances and little callbacks and -forwards, as well as cooking my brain down to a texture that seemed perfect, susceptible and receptive to the final facet of hyper-dimensional madness that had yet to reveal itself. Best example, even when everything starts blurring together in #17, I completely forgot that the scene of Glenmorgan asking The Little Man who turns out to be Vyndkvtx to toast him originally took place on the very first page of #1. That is a high level of long-range planning, my friends. Messed me up pretty good.
Reading all of those pages was a perfect primer to dial right into our beloved protagonist. I was not fresh and rested with a month off in-between the last page of the previous issue and this one but instead reeling under the weight of the sheer totality of all that had come before, every issue from the first day of September 2011 to now, hyper-compressed into a supermassive reading experience. Everything seemed imbued with more resonance and meaning, with all of these hidden connections and references just barely hidden from view streaming back in every direction. Ferlin’s “Mother, how could you?” Didn’t Christopher Reeve ask his Jor-El the same thing during a moment of crisis? And the rebooted Captain Comet tells Drekken to “evolve or die,” quoting Lemire’s first ANIMAL MAN arc, which in turn explicitly referenced Morrison’s incursion onto that continuity twenty-odd years ago. The mind reels at the self-reflexive hyper-madness.
The ending is as heartfelt and massive in scope and gloriously batshit insane as the grandest Morrison finales (ANIMAL MAN #26, DOOM PATROL #63, JLA #41, THE INVISIBLES vol. 3 #1, NEW X-MEN #154, FLEX MENTALLO #4 well all of FLEX MENTALLO, really, and even ALL-STAR SUPERMAN #12), returning to a well-worn trope we’ve seen in several of these previous final issues: our hero can’t succeed without the entire population temporarily banding together into an elevated super-consciousness in order to provide enough energy to help him overcome his conflict. Wonderful to see the Morrisons and the rest of creative show up on-panel to lend a hand.
And then it all comes full-circle two pages later when Jimmy tells Superman that it’s impossible to lift Super-Doomsday and Morales recapitulates the image that I was thinking was the cover to #1 but actually even pre-dated that, the first press image that we got for this project and I think even the entire New 52 reboot, the Man of Steel in his jeans and boots and tiny little cape lifting a rock over his head in a display of nothing more or less than brute strength. It's an incredible moment when it returns over a year and a half later as an "impossible" exertion of ultimate effort to save the world.
The inversion there at the end with Mxyzptlk, I had been partially looking for it these past couple of months, wondering if things were going to go this way for the last cliffhanger or two. Any story in which the trickster imp is portrayed sympathetically and doesn’t appear to be the bad guy should be immediately suspect, and that’s certainly the way it looked like it was going to go on that first page of the twist there, that look on Mxyzptlk’s face. But then the not-so-happily-ever-after page? Of course, my noggin was completely cooked by this point, but are we supposed to interpret this as a timeloop? Mxyzptlk and Nyxlygsptlnz become ever after until she dies giving birth to it looks like three children? Mxy keeps the daughter but “can’t bear” the boys. What does this mean, does he cast them out? Are these children actually himself and Nyxlygsptlnz and Vyndkvtx, caught in a perpetual loop of auto-creation and conflict with linear causality that’s not a concern because all of this is taking place in the fifth dimension? It’s testament to how insane this whole thing is that that seems like the most logical reading. Really glad about using the wish to bring Noah Random back, I have to say, his death was certainly a shock and tremendous elevation of stakes for a cliffhanger a few months back but felt like a tonal betrayal of these mythos. The backup was also, as usual, excellent. I was quite curious what kind of a story Fisch/Sprouse/Bellaire were going to choose to tell when faced with the unfortunate task of providing a coda for a run of this sweeping magnitude. Of course the answer is to set it in the future starring a bunch of kids we’ve never met and highlight the immortality of the idea, the ideal of Superman. The best in all of us, choosing to do good not because we have to but because it’s the right thing to do. Hal-la, Kal-El!
WONDER WOMAN #18 — Goran Sudzuka and regular fill-in guy Tony Akins pitch in to get the final issue of this second arc in on time as Orion saves Diana, War saves Zola, and Orion accuses the ensemble of sexism, which is as funny of a way for this to go out as seems possible. Azzarello’s writing this as a Greek soap opera flirting with situational comedy elements, I just realized. Which of course makes Orion the most Special Guest Star of all, ever. I mean, you can almost hear the laugh track after that last line. Really good times.
BATWOMAN #18 — Trevor McCarthy does another good job with the most thankless fill-in gig in the industry. I mean, I can’t even imagine the self-imposed pressure. The layouts are well within the vein of what we’ve come to expect from Mr. Williams, but McCarthy maintains his own style throughout. Guy Major even helps out on colors in a passable riff on what Dave Stewart’s been doing. Narratively, this issue’s got much more meat on it than the individual issues of the previous arc, a nice dynamic with Kate and Bette fighting Mr. Freeze with their own handlers counterpoint yapping away in their earpieces and of course the big guy showing up to ratchet it all up there at the end. I suspect I had to have read CHASE to appreciate the import of the Party Crasher’s arrival on the final page, guess they’ll tell me what I need to know next issue.
CONSTANTINE #1 — All right, I had to check this out because of Lemire’s involvement. Didn’t realize he was co-writing it, but I guess he is spreading himself just a bit thin. This is solid but unremarkable. The first couple pages read like correct Constantine characterization, he’s still a right bastard and strikes the iconic lighting-the-cigarette pose at the bottom of the second page just like he should. I’m not sure the art style Renato Guedes chose is a good fit. It could work just fine in another context but seems odd here, as does the palette, which is much too bright. On the other hand, this is the first non-Vertigo issue of this character’s solo title, so I understand why they didn’t try to coax Dave McKean to come in on interiors. The verdict: this is okay but not compelling enough to pick up in singles, particularly in light of the fact that I was ignoring Milligan’s beloved final run on HELLBLAZER. I can see myself picking up this trade at Half Price Books in a year, though, no problem.
FABLES #127 — More good fun from Willingham and the Fabletown regulars. Nothing really unique to say about this issue. It lives up to all that has come before and I look forward to seeing what happens next month.
CHEW #32 — So much to love about this book. Layman’s inventiveness shows no signs of flagging as we head into the back half of this book and meet a torta-esperado. Or his body, at least. This one’s got another killer montage as Colby finally puts it together about Caesar and Savoy. Of course, the Poyo cameo is once again the greatest thing to be found within these pages. Wonderful to see Tony tell off his boss, particularly the lettering. Almost my favorite thing, though, are the letter-column shots of Layman and Guillory kicking it in Paris.
SAGA #11 — BKV delivers on yet another first-page gotcha. They are having the sex! Tricky reversal on last month’s cliffhanger, but the universe has a way of course-correcting that sort of thing. The cover should have tipped me off. Gorgeous Staples art, as ever.
CONAN THE BARBARIAN #14 — Lots of pining and walking through the sewer and fightin’. Mirko Colak’s lines continue to be a good fit for this arc, though of course it doesn’t hurt to have Dave Stewart’s colors make it all go down better. In terms of plot, this arc feels like it’s spinning its wheels a little bit, overall. Not much has actually happened in two issues of a three-issue story. And a weird decision to open this issue with a flash-forward showing them all back on The Tigress weeks later, lowering the stakes of the main narrative to almost nothing for no perceptible gain, at least as far as singles are concerned. Really having trouble working that one out.
DAREDEVIL #024 — Another quality issue from this team. Unfortunate, in its way, that this comes out the same week as FABLES. I have about run out of unique positive criticism.
ALL-NEW X-MEN #009 — I remain completely wild for this book. As much as I loved Morrison’s run, it felt like Grant Morrison doing the X-Men. Which is certainly not a bad thing, it was a mad brilliant ride and I was thrilled by every minute of it. Same deal with Whedon & Cassaday tearing it up on their twenty-five issues of ASTONISHING. One of the best runs of the characters I’ve ever read, but it still felt like Whedon & Cassaday Present: The Astonishing X-Men! In this book, Bendis sublimates his voice completely, every repeated call-back dialogue, pause-a-beat-for-rhythm tic that we’ve come to know and that he really codified on his Avengers run after a successful string of solo books, here Bendis buries himself in the characters, is nothing but the channel to what they’re saying and doing. And it feels like coming home. Immonen and Von Grawbadger return with Gracia’s lush tones transitioning us back from Marquez’s good-looking pages and it is a magnificent thing to behold. The facial expression/body language acting is as top-drawer as the panel layouts and composition. And really, very little happened in this issue to push the overall narrative forward, we burned almost half the issue in a Danger Room sequence that was obviously a Danger Room sequence, but the whole thing is such a great ride because it never loses sight of the most important aspect of a successful X-Men book: the character interaction. How they bounce off one another. Kitty Pryde as Headmistress is the most logical and rewarding character promotion since they let Dick Grayson have the cowl for about five minutes there a little while back. And here we are at the other end of the cliffhanger from UNCANNY. Cannot wait to see what happens next.
AVENGERS #008 — If you had told me a year ago that I wouldn’t really be missing Hickman’s FF that badly at all because he was slamming out these two brilliant titles, one of whom featured an 18-member squad making first contact with a new Nightmask and Star Brand, that would have about cooked my hard drive. Though this one is a pleasure to read, not that much happens. Relatively speaking. The Hulk gets punched into orbit and then Captain Marvel throws him right back at the guy who tossed him with hyper-pinpoint accuracy, Thor has a decent round of battle-lust, Tony manages to stay sober for another issue, we get a little mythos exposition on what’s going on here and yeah, it looks like pretty much the Ellis model, and then the two new guys take back to Mars. So, this is two issues from Weaver/Ponsor in three weeks’ time. I sure would like to read the end of that second volume of S.H.I.E.L.D. one day.
NEW AVENGERS #004 — And Cap is just straight dumped from the cast. No stomach for the moral compromises inherent in running a global-scale superhero secret society for the man out of time. Of course, there’s way too much going on to miss him. I feel like I could read an entire issue of Reed, Tony, and T’Challa just talking all smart with one another on the far side of the sun and dropping a lot of bleeding-edge science all over the place. But there’s no time for all that, we get a second incident in as many issues and it’s off to a parallel world in which a giant iron Magneto replaces Lady Liberty on Ellis Island and, for bonus fun, Galactus is about to devour the planet. Tony’s reaction is perfect. The sustained levels of high quality in these two books are getting kind of ridiculous.