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Jason Schachat is destined to bend

Jason Schachat's Occasional Breakdown

You’d like to think Astonishing X-Men #18 would wrap everything up in a neat little package, wouldn’t ya? After last issue’s lovely opening summary statement of “YeahbuhWhat?!”, you really did think it was time for The Watcher to come in and force a continuity reset or something.

But no, this is the chapter of the story where we deal with the madness Joss Whedon has wrought. Why did Cyclops shoot Emma Frost, and how is he going to defeat Cassandra Nova? Short answer: he’s lost his freaking mind. How will Beast regain his? Well, being a super genius, he just happened to leave a memory aid lying around for just such an emergency. What about Logan? Beer.

‘Nuff said.

However, the reappearance of Danger and Ord sadly remind us the end is indeed near. The team still has to deal with the bit of Cassandra Nova that burrowed into Emma’s mind, but you can tell this run is coming to a close soon. With all the plot threads of the last couple years coming together, the pendulum for Astonishing X-Men swings lower and lower.

And, damn, what a ride it’s been.

From fixing mistakes of the past (Colossus) to bravely reaffirming Grant Morrison’s New X-Men legacy (Cassandra) to actually being the only people to question the absurd re-characterizations this franchise makes (White Queen), this creative team has made every issue worth the price and every moment worth savoring, one or two puns aside.

You don’t need me to tell you to buy Astonishing X-Men. This is a story that’s already earned a place in the same hallowed halls as Dark Phoenix: no X-fan will go without reading it for long.

Peter models himself after Tobey Maguire.

Civil War #5 comes about three issues and five months since my last attempt to look at the series, but let’s not quibble about delays. Has the book turned off old school fans? Does it still have the high quality production that makes casual readers and new fans flock to big budget titles? Is Spidey in-character again?

All things considered, it looks like a solid “Yes” to all of the above.

In turn, we now have to ask if the trip has been worth it. Do the “permanent” rifts created between heroes serve a greater purpose? Will these events resonate through continuity in years to come? Has the great debate of “Whose side are you on?” led to any epiphanies?

Honestly, I give comic fans enough credit that they could’ve seen these developments coming from a ways off. Is it at all surprising that Spidey turns on Tony? Are we stunned that S.H.I.E.L.D. immediately unleashes their amnestied villains on him the moment he resists?

Millar has some great beats (the death of Goliath last issue, the appearance of “Skull-face guy” here), but the flow is choppy and the characters far too shallow. After all we’ve seen these heroes go through over the years, it’s hard to believe any but the coldest would support the needless murder of one of their own. Can we really imagine Reed Richards and She-Hulk (being of sound mind) are among them?

At this stage in the game, Civil War is running out of chances to salvage itself and the Marvel Universe. The shape of things to come is looking less like a bold new world and more like a prologue to World War Hulk. Knowing Millar, there’s a big twist around the corner, but it could be drowned out by the same directionless action that confused Ultimates.

Still, at least they can’t do another “it never really happened” thing like House of M without chasing off a legion of fans. For better or worse, these events are set down in the big book O’ History. Maybe THAT will provoke some real discussion and change in the Marvel Universe.

While this issue attempts to add another layer to the conflict, it really goes to show this bird had too much fat on it and needed to be trimmed down. As Civil War issues go, it’s gorgeous and a lot more meaningful than most, but could just be too little too late.

If you were ready to call Widescreen Comics dead, you’d better read Squadron Supreme #7. This is how you build up to a major battle. This is how you define a villain. This is how you fill 25 pages with fisticuffs and leave us pounding the table in frustration that we don’t get another 25 for a month.

If you’ve kept up with recent issues, you already know that Redstone sucker-punched Hyperion because the Chinese wanted to scare the Americans out of their imperialist activities. We all knew a showdown was coming. I don’t think anyone considered how well Redstone would prey upon Hyperion’s greatest weakness: his compassion.

Redstone snaps necks left and right, forcing Hyperion to wrestle him around. Just when it seems like he’s restrained, he boils a swimming pool full of people with his heat vision. Hyperion tries to fly him into the upper atmosphere, and Redstone reveals that he planted a nuke back on the ground that needs to get a signal every five minutes to keep it from wiping Los Angeles off the map.

Now THAT is a g**damn villain.

I remember John Milius once discussing Conan the Barbarian. How the key to casting was making sure Conan was going against guys even bigger than him. That’s what J. Michael Straczynski and company pull off here. Redstone was a super-powered psycho before, but now we see the true monster. Wholly without remorse or empathy, he nonetheless knows just how to bring Hyperion to his knees.

Of course, while JMS gets credit for thinking up such a twisted bastard, Gary Frank is the one who makes the grand and horrifying vision come to life. His splash pages are less complicated than Bryan Hitch’s schedule-busters, but the power of the compositions sends a charge through you.

Sure, The Ultimates ended up toppling Middle Eastern nations before Squadron Supreme, but they never felt the punishment for their deeds like this. Squadron Supreme is still a turbulent story of heroes, anti-heroes, and outright demons in hero’s clothing, but there is a heart to it. One that the team’s first real adversary just pulped in his fist.

The New Forever Miraculous People Pals.

To me, Ultimate Fantastic Four #36 represents the point where I can finally brush away any confusion and say without reservation that they’re completely ripping-off Jack Kirby’s New Gods. The first issues of “God of War” had a definite Fourth World flavor to them, but Fantastic Four was the wellspring of Marvel’s Cosmic comics. It would hardly be fitting to call them copycats without giving the creative team a chance to plead their case.

But now that Thanos has been redefined as a Darkseid clone with Pyx in place of Apokolips and his own Highfather called Darien on a New Genesis named Halcyon... oy, it almost hurts.

That said, the story still works as a cosmic tale, but I think that owes far more to Pasqual Ferry’s art and Justin Ponson’s colors than Mike Carey’s script. The early issues were filled with enough technobabble to keep me from rushing to judgement of any kind, but it’s now clear that we’re looking at the same driving force that made the Adam Strange relaunch work so well.

The plot essentially goes no further than reminding us the FF are stuck on Apokoli– er, Pyx now, and Thanos intends to turn Reed to his side. There are minor distractions like Dreamcatcher’s flitting about and the forlorn hope of keeping Tesseract alive, but what keeps us reading the issue is the amazing artwork. Ferry’s restraint in leaving so many lines for the colorist’s use makes for simply breathtaking images.

So we have to ask ourselves if the story is really going anywhere, or if we’re just caught in another storyline that’ll introduce the Ultimate versions of known character and then leave them out to rot. Unlike Ultimate Spider-Man and Ultimate X-Men, Ultimate Fantastic Four hasn’t really built much upon prior storylines. True, the former books have had the benefit of longer running creative teams, but it’s gotten to the point where readers must judge the stories on their immediate merits.

If Namor never shows up again, who cares if his arc was a nice intro.? If Annihilus never threatens to break into our dimension, did we really need to spend all that time simply learning that he existed?

With that in mind, this Thanos story is both interesting as a re-creation and ripoff and disappointing as an overly simple story cluttered up with tech talk and obscure references. Still a decent read, but not as promising as Mark Millar’s zombies or Warren Ellis’ Dr. Doom. But as long as Ferry keeps drawing it, I’ll keep recommending it.

The most honest thing I can say about White Tiger #1 is it’s not terribly disappointing because I had no hope for it anyways. This relaunch of the character crawled off of Bendis’ run on Daredevil and finally got a book just as we’ve forgotten she was supposed to get one.

Things immediately start off on the wrong foot when they decide to take their Puerto Rican F.B.I. agent and make her into the local Puerto Rican neighborhood defender. She whomps on some thugs spouting the stereotypical “Mami” this and “Papi” that, then learns about some new crime organization moving out onto the streets.

Of course, this book takes place before the events of Civil War, but there are little references to the conflict sprinkled everywhere, making us wonder why our heroine is bumping into the red-and-blue Spidey, Iron Fist posing as Daredevil, and a not at all hush-hush Black Widow when the newspapers read “House Debates Registration Act”, “No More Masks for Costumes!”, and “Superhuman Civil War?”.

Hell, with all that going on, why do they spend so much time convincing her to wear a costume? Isn’t that the last thing she should be doing?

Running at about 30 pages, this story should be loaded with action or mystery or SOMETHING. Instead, we get the usual retread. She got her powers in another book, so they need to summarize it again for new readers. There’s a legacy, old allies, old villains, etc.

So the story ends up feeling like a trip to a senior center. Things are nice and tidy, people sit around and reminisce, and those of us just arriving want to smile politely and head right back out the door.

White Tiger wasn’t that great of a superhero the first time around, and this new version is lifeless and dull. She doesn’t do anything, doesn’t want anything, and, frankly, we aren’t really bothered by the probability that she’ll die in a super-powered brawl. We never knew her in the first place.

Unlike Starman or Flash, there just isn’t enough legacy for us to care about someone new taking the mantle. Unlike Sandman, the character has nothing unique to make us want to follow her. In the end, The White Tiger ends up being another poor sap on the Marvel Z-list who’ll serve as potential cannon fodder in the next crossover. The series has 5 issues left to prove me wrong, but I’m betting against this kitty.

Jason Schachat

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