November 23rd, 2008
Not done these in a while. Where to start?
Every time I even consider doing a review column, it’s there – it apparates, like unto an apparition. Or rather… a Ghost (Rider - apologias. Dios mio). Since the last installation of my biennial comic reviewing, Ghost Rider has changed artists from the not-final-article Rolando Boschi to evil-Ryan-Sook Tan Eng Huat (a change, on balance, I’m personally very happy about; Huat’s terrific, even if his flaming skulls look a little… odd) and basically gone full-on Prismatic which is – I suppose it’s gratifying? Once you see every other superbook do the Anatomy Lesson and plunge into legacied crossreferentialism, once the pattern no longer seems nascent; it’s a bit like seeing the magician’s glove. There’s a – I think – Japanese and Chinese pair, Molek and Bai Gu Jing, at the end of this month’s ish. It’s the ‘International Club of Heroes’ prismodel. I quite dig how offhandedly the ‘other guys just like you!‘ bit was handled last(?) month – Johnny Blaze finds himself in Tibet, whuoop, there’s a Tibetan Ghost Rider. That guy is totally dead; not a production. Move on, fight your thematic nemesis and also brother who killed him. Have some brotherly talk, some rivalry, almost mundane, counterpointing your explosive Manichaean duel for the soul of Heaven itself! Even the archivist, the new Caretaker gets the nouveau spin – where once the articles of Ghost Riderdom lay in a (fucking pretty weird) museum, tended by her father, now they live on, transmuted, in her head. You wonder if they’re doing it, if the culture of property writerdom is doing this shit subconsciously or otherwise sometimes. You wonder if it’d be better or worse either way.
Such a monolithically stupid property to give the storied treatment to, Ghost Rider. But then, in public and pop culture cognisance, probably a stone winner vs. Green Lantern or whatever. Aquaman. Which is why Marvel will always win these duopoly face-offs, if anyone cares, because their opposition’s third-tier is characters like Booster Gold. No-one knows, no-one will ever, ever care. Ghost Rider is – I’m always worried that I’m prone to justify, to vaunt these things, but contextually – it’s an enjoyable comic, it’s pretty much what I want and suddenly seems at the forefront of the new Metal revolution in the superbooks (‘metal’ is everyone’s codifier about now: Thor is metal obviously, Final Crisis is metal, I dunno couple other things.) I don’t really know what the significance is, having listened to metal almost exclusively from 1991-95 and since wended a path almost entirely away. Is there anything good now? I find it very hard to deal with, as middle-age barrels terrifyingly onto the horizon – should Mastodon be whacked on the headphones whilst reading Final Crisis? Is there a marked improvement as a result?
I remember around that time, the early nineties: no-one ever seems to want to confirm this for sure, but I’m sure I remember – it may only have been misperceived through the dark glass of the onset of puberty – a time when basically Ghost Rider, the Punisher and Lobo were like the three biggest characters in comics. No? Maybe? Metal is stupid, symbolically-confused (as an exemplar, in said time-frame, I designed for art class a Faith No More album cover that comprised various elements of their other covers, Pushead and general morbidity – it was a half-human, half-flaming skull with one eye, the skull eye, the socket covered by an Israeli flag. I have no idea what this means) and evolutionarily dead-ended. But also at best terrific and exhilarating, perhaps even occasionally redemptive.
Oh God, yeah: that’s the other thing, more reviewers – critics, whatevs rather than the author in this case have been ascribing the growing contempo-Metalll(!!) revoluSHUN to, is Fantastic Four. Occasionally with quantifiers like ‘speed’ or ‘thrash’. And then saying how inappropriate it is. For the Fantastic Four, which it probably is, maybe – or would be if I acceded to such descriptors. It has however, as yet, not featured Doctor Doom wearing dead lover’s skin-armour, which is some Slayer or Celtic Frost worthy shit. Mark Waid, eh? Problems!! I haven’t read Unthinkable so would haste not to criticise beyond “Really?! Wow.” – I hate that, outside of comics, when people always have to weigh the fuck in on something they haven’t even seen or heard. I’m willing to bet, unverifiably, that the vast majority of complainants, each of whom deserves a thorough facepunching, in the recent, neverending Ross/Brand/Sachs nontroversy haven’t and so will be pursuing zero tolerance the next time someone in this darkened corner of our culture starts with the concern trolling. Which is to say, leaving disapproving comments on blogs or something equally radical. Not much of which has to do with this month’s, quarter’s, copy of Fantastic Four magazine! (I like the redesign, fwiw.)
Because, frankly, I’m not overpleased to talk about it – I have honestly, and it may be a shared Scottish, Calvinistic culture thing with Millar, found his FF hitherto now relatively sedate and gentle, compared to either his own, concurrent (1985 excepted) and earlier works or indeed that of Mark ‘Silence of the Lambs‘ Waid on this legendary title, which – of all major Marvel properties – I’ve never been very much enamoured of. Okay, there’s a charred corpse with Doc Doom looming over it at the end of this issue but the victim was really old. The prior seven issues have been really pretty decent, pushing modest, uncontroversial agendas like environmentalism in the faintly retarded Mark Millar fashion, plenty beautifully described action – Millar’s absolute, possibly solitary remaining real, strong point – not violence, no, not anymore than your Kirbys or Byrnes, just The Thing getting punted through buildings and The Torch through vehicles. Bloodless. Attractive living spaces, reappropriated plots: just a pleasant enjoyable Marvel comic, really. But then this installment rather sucks the air out of the unambitious vista by just. being. so. predictable. And self-affirming; no, not ‘self’ – company, corporate. The character stable. The sole genuinely surprising element in this comic is a twist that begs only to be sworn at.
It’s a consistent irritant with Millar that he seems to feel the need to sell readers the thing they’ve already bought, to tell them what a good time they’re having, how cool this all is – look, I really like the Marvel Universe, okay? It’s – I also don’t care for amateur psychologising on writers, but – it seems a marker of a fairly crippling lack of self-assurance. Professionally, anyway; affix the burgeoning infantilism Millar displays regularly and there’s an unfortunate bundle of neuroses… Look, just go and read Tom Crippen’s Portrait of the Writer as a Young Marvel Fan. It’s phenomenal writing… God, it’s really depressing.
As is Punisher War Journal, ultimately. I think this is the last issue? I shan’t be checking for more. There were moments, certainly, in the title’s run – the funeral of the Stilt-Man, the Cory Walker illustrated first part of the (son of) Kraven saga, the pain of the Gibbon… the Rhino was a fairly welcome comic foil, but beyond that, you’re really talking a book that batted .16 (I know Matt Fraction is a baseball fan and have created this analogy specifically to hurt him). I think that isn’t good batting, but baseball is like quicker cricket and basically the most mystifying – in its popularity – of popular sports therefore. This book was in fact insufficiently metal over the piece, despite at one point having a sword-shooting gun, I feel.
The problem – well, it’s maybe illustrated by the highpoints, which were all around interesting, clever and often amusing takes on the (primarily) Spidey supervillains – was there never really was a handle on the lead. My dark secret is, I don’t even know why, after buying every Ennis MK Punisher book, I dropped the MAX series after one arc and then later, upon realising the sheer heinousness of this error picked up in trades – it was basically an impossible task to change the res on the character, even though it was attempted with specificity, pulling the white gloves back on, the supersuit. Ennis made the character work by putting him in scenarios where his m.o. did indeed seem like the sanest thing available – Fraction’s position was, I think, paraphrasing, that Frank Castle was ‘like a cancer, ruining everything he touched’; a not-startling insight and making for a tonally, complete with six artists drawing 25 issues and three event tie-ins, messy, incomplete entity.
But, lo! Not all is lost for superbooks most frustrating and yet also mercurial talent, Matt Fraction because he has taken apparently – without warning! – the reins to Uncanny X-Men into his sole possession. I think? I would have liked to be told. What about the fans, Joe? It is almost as if they, the corporation, do not care beyond receiving cash-money. Anyway, it looks as though Rich Johnston did not lie when he said this would happen – there was the impression both Fraction and Brubaker would be cocredited, and Fraction would take charge of the Greg Land issues and Bru the Terry Dodson ones. Perhaps it was the other way round and when #507 rolls around with a Brubaker credit, I’ll look very silly indeed if anyone even remembers me writing what I write now. These are the things we need to know! This is basically a terrific issue – I’ll go so far as to say, without having read every intervening single on this series, without even a modicum of compunction, that it’s the best issue of Uncanny X-Men in over twenty years. Faint praise indeed! Just a dense, staggeringly well-paced comic – some cool new guy a bit like Fantomex appears, Colossus is sad, Emma is looking at Scott’s sexdrive in his head again, some new devices, bit naughty, people still hate mutants, all 200 of them, ‘zat the fucking Soul-Skinner??!! None of which feels cramped, all of which is allowed to breathe – I’m still not overkeen on the art duo, who are absolutely what X-fans (ironically, given the content and theme of the comics, the most shallow of comic franchise fans) want, but both have given a fair to actually-good impression of themselves. Why is the inside of Scott Summers’ head like a 1920s art deco hotel?! Staffed by busty X-women? It is because he is cool and refined externally, but the ravening awful beast of his sexdrive lies just under the surface. I am like him in all ways.