Comic Conversations Episode 55

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of March 25th, 2015. Including but not limited to:

Comic Book News of: All-New All-Different Avengers, X-Men getting their own universe, No Reboot following Secret Wars, Inhumans getting Johnny Storm, All the business Secret Wars is doing already, Lazarus getting picked up for a tv show,a death in the Ninja Turtles family, and we push Dazza’s new articles.

Lighting Round Reviews of: The Empty, Guardians of the Galaxy, Nova, Starlord, Powers, Jem and the Holograms, and Manhattan Projects.

Reviews of: Inhuman 13, Suiciders 2, Multiversity Ultra Comics 1, Walking Dead 139, Ghost Rider 12, Daredevil 14, Darth Vader 3, Guardians 3000 6, New Avengers 32, Uncanny X-Men 32, Quantum and Woody Must Die 3, and Valiant 4.

Our picks for book of the week and we preview next week’s books: Marvel’s Lighting Round Review of Uncanny Avengers. As well as Avengers: Ultron Forever, War Stories, Convergence, Black Cross, Spider-Man, Avengers, The Last Padawan, Punisher, Spider-Gwen, and Uncanny Inhumans.

All this and as always, so much more on a BRAND. NEW. COMIC CONVERSATIONS. IT’S AWESOME~!

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How I Learned to Stop Worrying and Read Ultimatum Again

FjhgvfdOne of the most intense reading experiences I ever experienced was while finishing off Hannibal by Thomas Harris. I was in bed, it was well past midnight, but I couldn’t go to sleep until I finished the book, even though I had another hundred pages to go and had work the next day. It’s not that I was so gripped by the story and had to know how it all ended. Instead what kept me up awake until 3am is the book had taken a direction so dark and disturbing I just had to have it over and done with. I couldn’t bear to go to sleep knowing I had it waiting for me when I woke up.

When I finished the book I was massively unsettled (the movie version totally bottled it when it came to the ending), and had a dark feeling of utter dejection.

I’ve felt the same way about quite a few books, but only twice that I can remember when it came to reading comics.

Garth Ennis’s deeply disturbing first series of Crossed similarly kept me up into the early hours, as I tried to finish it and get it out of my system. It’s the only time a guy behind the counter of a comic shop warned me about a book and I probably should have listened, (imagine Walking Dead but even more depressing and where the zombies rape you as well as eating you).

The other comic that got me into a dark mood was surprisingly a Marvel Comic, the insanely grisly Ultimatum.

For those that don’t know, the Ultimate line of comics was a brand new Marvel Universe launched in 2000 which would take the familiar characters of the regular Marvel Universe and give them brand new origins and persona to fit in with the 21st century. At the same time it was hoped it would attract new readers who may be put off by close to half a century of continuity (and lets face it convoluted continuity).

While some may have dreading a remake of the turgid Heroes Reborn, the Ultimate line proved to be a massive hit. There were revamped and fresh takes on the X-men, Spiderman and Fantastic Four, introducing them as youths in the new world of social media and reality TV, which I personally found much to enjoy in each (although the X-men series seemed to be trying to burn through as many classic X-storylines as they could). And there was a brand new take on the Avengers mythology, renaming the team as the Ultimates, which for me was one of the best things Marvel has ever produced. With a cinematic scope in both story and art, it’s certainly one the best drawn, Bryan Hitch’s artwork is an absolute joy. Superheroes have never looked better. Ultimates is a stunning read (there is a memorable line that divides opinion to do with the letter A and France which even Marvel was to admit as a misstep in later issues), which introduced many concepts that the Marvel movie line was to adopt.

It was followed by Ultimates 2 that was even better than it’s predecessor, introducing the issue of American interventionism into Marvel comics.

Sadly Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch had moved on by the time Ultimates 3 came out and under Jeph Loeb the book was a massive dip in quality in both story and artwork. The sophistication and challenging tone of the previous volumes which set it apart from the regular Marvel Universe were replaced by a substandard cartoon like superhero fare.

It seemed then that the Ultimate Universe was losing it’s way when Ultimatum was announced, a crossover that was heavily rumoured to be the final chapter in the comic line. Certainly it was apocalyptic, reading it was almost like the Twilight of the Gods story that concluded the Norse Gods saga.

Driven insane by the murder of his daughter the Scarlet Witch, Magneto finally unleashes his full might against mankind, disrupting the Earth’s magnetic polls to cause worldwide destruction. In the opening moments a tidal wave hits New York with Dazzler, Beast and Nightcrawler amongst the millions killed. What follows is the most relentlessly grim story ever to feature mainstream superheroes. As Volcanic eruptions, ice age type storms wrack the populations, Magneto sends out a wave of Jamie Maddox clones as suicide bombers to deal with the Earth’s super powered population. It’s a bloodbath, the body count rises in increasingly brutal fashion.

The deaths are sickeningly violent, especially when the heroes fightback against Magneto. Angel is savagely torn apart by Sabretooth. Professor X has his neck broken by Magneto’s bare hands. Wolverine is practicality blown apart when Magneto turns both Cyclops optic blast and Iron Man’s pulser rays against him. Then in duplicating a scene from the regular universe the coup de grace is delivered when the adamantium is ripped from his skeleton, but here his entire body is disintegrated in the process.

It’s not just the villains that dole out the viciousness. A defeated Magneto is summarily executed on his knees by Cyclops, decapitated by his optic blast. The Thing crushes Doctor Doom’s skull when it’s revealed that he was behind the murder of the Scarlet Witch all along to instigate the war.

But there is one death that really stands out and the scene that has almost become iconic for all the wrong reasons when the Wasp is discovered dead in the hands of the Blob who is in the process of devouring her. It’s a truly sickening image her entrails leaking from her body and smeared all over the Blob’s face, dripping from his mouth. It’s a real what the fuck moment and the point I started to think that the comic was going too far (and there was still a long way to go), that I was reading something more akin to a Saw movie than a Marvel comic. Blob gets his comeuppance soon enough when his head is bitten off by an enraged Hank Pym who in turn is later killed when an army of suicide bomber Maddox clones detonate themselves.

The term “This is seriously fucked up!” is often overused these days, but not in this case because “THIS IS SERIOUSLY FUCKED UP!”
The whole saga is one complete bloodbath. There are no redeeming uplifting moments. No noble sacrifices or poignant scenes of good to come out of any of this like you’ll find in a work such as Death Of Phoenix. Heroes and villains alike are just casualties, dispatched one after the other in horrible fashion. Make no mistake, this is a massively depressing comic, it’s almost exhaustingly so.

If the violence and death doesn’t leave you drained and dispirited, then the aftermath will finish you off. Not even the survivors come out unscathed. The Fantastic Four go their separate ways, Sue and Reed’s relationship shattered beyond repair while Ben Grimm’s soul seems destroyed after what he did to Doom (an act incidentally that Reed pretty much manipulates him into carrying out in even more bleakness).

Mutant hysteria grows stronger than ever. In a step up from registration, laws are debated to force all mutants to be taken into custody. Cyclops is shot in the head while making a speech in Washington DC.

Even Magneto suffers heartache when he discovers that Mutants are actually the result of government experiments and not as he always believed the next step in genetic evolution. He drops a broken man, his whole war for Homo Superiority built on a fraud.

Ultimatum is one big downer. Just a horribly, unsettling story that made me feel dirty for having read it, to the extent that I wish I never picked it up. I disliked it so much I couldn’t add it to the bookcase that magnificently displays my collection of graphic. Instead I relegated it to the bottom of my wardrobe where I keep the other comics I’d rather forget such as the horrible Dark Knight Strikes Again and those God awful Punisher, Ghost Rider and Wolverine team ups.

I wasn’t alone, unsurprisingly the comic was critically derided and it routinely shows up on any worst comics list.

However, something unexpected happened when I revisited the series for the sake of his article.

I kinda found some begrudging respect for Ultimatum. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not saying it’s good, but if you are going to wipe out a whole bunch of major characters, then this is probably the best way to do it. You can argue that it goes too far, I agree, but for a story like this where billions are killed the tone should be grim.

The regular Marvel Universe always pulls back when it comes to death. We can seen whole cities devastated, countries left in ruins, but the cost in lives always seems ambiguous, skirted around. In Ultimatum having Dazzler, Beast and Nightcrawler counted amongst the millions of deaths, purely because they chose the wrong time to have a night out, gives the massacre more impact (later we learn Daredevil was also amongst the dead). The heroes aren’t standing apart from the threat of disaster, they’re as susceptible as everyone else. They are in the midst of it, struggling to survive the early attacks and scrambling to find each other in the ruins and make sense of it all. There are some fine scenes early on that mirror other tragedies we know too well in the real world.

As shocking as the many deaths are in Ultimatum, we at least take them seriously. Unlike when heroes disappear into a ball of light, or grow so big they cross over into another astral plane, these deaths are final. We know that when the light goes out of Angel’s eyes he won’t be coming back. While in the regular Universe we now know it’s a case of how and when they’ll be coming back and not if. Marvel even jokes about it, Wolverine once quipped “Jean would be rolling in her grave, or she would if she stayed in it for more than five minutes,” and Xavier once remarked that the pearly gates of heaven for mutants were revolving doors.

At least in Ultimatum we buy into when the X-men and Ultimates mourn their fallen friends.

Let’s be honest, compare the death of Wolverine here with his much touted “death” in the marvel universe.
Which is really the more fitting one?

In Ultimatum Wolverine goes out fighting, even in his devastated, ruined beyond recognition body he still takes the fight to Magneto and skewers him with his claws, scrapping until the bitter end. What happens in the regular universe?

He dies covered in goo! He looks like he’s just come from one of those kids TV shows where the guests get plunged into a big vat of slime. When it hardens the final image is of him practically becoming a garden ornament. This is not a dignified way for the wolverine to go out. All it needs is a dog to wander along and cock it’s leg up against him for the indignity to be complete.

Ultimatum is essentially a story of superheroes at war. War should be dirty and ugly. Unlike a story like Siege (and one day I need to do an article on all my problems with how that story turned out) which was promoted on promising a massive, epic battle and then ultimately sanitised the action. Ultimatum succeeded in at least causing a powerful reaction in it’s reader, even if it was a deeply uncomfortable one.

There’s no way I can agree with the common held opinion that Ultimatum is one of the worst comics of all time. Unsettling, nasty and for some maybe extremely hard to like or really enjoy. But for me the worst sin a comic, or any story for that matter, can commit is to be bland and forgettable. That is something Ultimatum is definitely not.

But by God it is depressing.

Dazza

Comic Conversations Episode 54

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of March 18, 2015. Including but not limited to: Comic Book News of the Batgirl cover controversy, The supposed 33 titles that are being cancelled because of Secret Wars, and fettman goes into detail about all FORTY-ONE regions of Secret Wars’ Battle World.

Marvel’s All-New Captain America Lighting Round Review. Reviews of: Secret Identities 2, Spider-Man 16.1, Hulk 13, Loki 12, Magneto 16, Moon Knight 13, Princess Leia 2, Punisher 16, Silk 2, Squirrel Girl 3, Divinity 2, and Ivar Timewalker 3.

Our picks for book of the week and we preview next week’s books: Possible Lighting Round Reviews of Jem and the Holograms and Empty. Suiciders, Multiversity, Walking Dead, Ghost Rider, Daredevil, Darth Vader, Guardians 3000, Guardians of the Galaxy, Inhuman, Starlord, New Avengers, Powers, Uncanny X-Men, Quantum and Woody, and Valiant

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Looking back at….Preacher

869699When you’re a comic fan there’s no better feeling than when you fall in love with a series to the extent that you’re waiting for every issue to arrive in your local comic shop. The release dates become etched in your mind, your trip into town becomes almost a pilgrimage, there’s a slight tingle of joy when you see that new issue with its glorious new cover there on the shelf waiting for you.

For six years there was such a comic in my life. It became a ritual for me, one Thursday a month I’d buy the latest issue on release day either before work or on my lunch break depending on my shift. I would never open the comic while at work, to sully the pleasure of reading it by doing so in the dire confines of the staff room would be blasphemy. Only at home, in pleasant, calm surroundings would it seem appropriate to savour my favourite comic. Somewhere in the final year of it’s run I even adopted the tradition of drinking a bottle of Budweiser as I read it.

When I closed the page on the final issue I felt that intake of satisfaction that people who make it all the way through War and Peace speak of.

The comic to which I was devoted so much, was my favourite comic of all time, Garth Ennis’s Preacher.

I’m going to be honest here. This piece is going to be nothing less than a gushing love letter to Preacher. I have total 100% unashamed bias for the most bone breakingly violent, jaw droppingly sexy, pants droppingly funny and cocaine buzz inducingly awesome comic ever. There will be no attempt at critical analysis, except in expressing how Goddamn awesome every single page in this comic was and remains so today with every revisit I make.

If you are a fan of comics and you have never taken the time to give Preacher a try, then first up you should go Fuck yourself. Seriously. You should.

Which incidentally is what Sheriff Root actually does to himself in issue 7. Yes, this really does happens. In the 66 issues of Preacher (and several spinoff specials) a lot of crazy stuff happens.

Now I will give you a pass if you have strong religious beliefs and find Preacher offensive to your faith. But otherwise if you have even a passive interest in comics, you should be reading this.

The plot I’ll sum up quickly. Troubled small town Preacher Jesse Custer finds himself with supernatural powers (namely the ability to wield the power of God and make others do his will) when he’s bonded with Genesis, a powerful child like entity born after an affair between a demon and an Angel. Jesse discovers that God has abandoned the kingdom of Heaven, so begins his quest to bring the wayward deity to answer to his people, aided in his journey across America by a whisky drinking, Irish Vampire (Cassidy) and his gun toting ex girlfriend (Tulip).

If that premise sounds over the top and bizarre, then wait until you meet the many colourful characters that cross our trio’s path. Angels, serial killers, redneck killers, redneck cops, supercops, sex detectives, castrated mafia goons, inbreed hillbillys, cannibals, a hedonist who has sex with everything including an armadillo. These are just some of the unforgettable cast you’ll meet in the first third of the story alone.

At its’ heart, Preacher is a wild roadtrip through the American landscape. The search for God storyline becoming a vehicle for Jesse and co’s freakish adventures as they encounter the delightfully oddball cast. Many of them are only around for an issue or two, but Ennis grafts compelling backgrounds for each of them that they are only too willing to share.

One of the monthly delights of Preacher was listening to these wacky narratives. My favourite was the rage filled monologue of one eccentric explaining why he spends his life spelling out the message “Fuck You” in the desert in letters big enough to be seen from space is one of the most hilarious speech bubbles I’ve ever read. (If this scene does not make it into the TV series I will be extremely disappointed. In fact series creator Seth Rogan would be perfect to cameo as the failed astronaut).

Jesse Custer is one of the coolest characters to appear in a comic. With all the attitude of a young Clint Eastwood, he’ never shy of handing out a well deserved asskicking to scumbags and assholes unlucky enough to get in his way. He also has a romantic sense of honour and loyalty to his friends, always striving to do right by people. He’s the embodiment of the classic western hero. Despite this, he’s not adverse to stealing the odd car or using his word of God to inflict cruel punishments on those who have wronged him and his (like forcing a guy to count three million grains of sand).

Jesse also comes with one of the darkest and heartbreaking origin stories you will ever read. Be warned, it’s a killer.

Facing him are a cavalcade of villains that are the envy of any comic.

There’s Jesse’s evil, bigoted grandmother, one of the most vile, sickening creatures ever drawn. Every word from her mouth drips with loathsome cruelty. I don’t think I’ve ever hated a character so much as her. Her henchmen, the deliciously bad ass Jodie and animal raping T.J were so memorable they starred in their own one off special.

Then there’s the Saint of Killers, an indestructible gun slinger from the wild west who never misses and racks up a slaughter driven body count with every one of his murder spree appearance.

When it comes to Old Odin of small town Salvation I can’t even begin to explain what he’s into.

And then there is Starr! The main villain of the story, Starr seeks to use Jesse and his powers to further the agenda of the mysterious Grail, a shadowy organisation that has been behind a global conspiracy since the crucifixion. Not only does Starr bring the danger, he also brings a string of rich one liners. Starr is hilarious, stealing any scenes he is in with his dry, biting sarcasm which grows as his conflict with Jesse slowly costs him his mind and body (literally). Whoever gets to play him in the TV series has a great role to get their teeth into.

Aside from the craziness of the stories and characters, what makes Preacher so special and downright easy to get into is that Garth Ennis has a talent for slick dialogue. Anyone who exhibits a talent for dialogue seems to earn the tag “Tarantino like”, but In terms of creating realistic but engaging conversations Ennis surpasses the film maker. There’s real joy to be had from Jesse’s heart to hearts with Cassidy and Tulip, pages of natural flowing talk fly by. Many enjoyable scenes can be found at a bar or passing the time on the road, simply through chatting and hanging out.

One of my favourite issues was simply involved with Jesse driving down the highway, chatting with a variety of hitchhikers and arguing by himself with the radio talkshows.

Garth Ennis has a reputation for violence, and there are lashings of that in Preacher with some astonishing fist fights and gunbattles. But to base Preacher’s appeal solely on this is doing it a massive disservice.

There is a real heart to Preacher. The themes of friendship and loyalty are always strong, Jesse often seems desperate to replace the family stolen from him as a child. You experience the joys he has of being on the road with his lover and best friend, and really feel for him when the trio falls apart.

It’s the relationship between Jesse and Tulip that we have one of the most genuine romance stories in comic history. It’s a heartwarming story, that never falters into the sentimental, their love for each other is real and edgy.

In these articles it’s become a cliché where I write how a comic started so brilliantly and then lost it’s way. Thankfully this is not the case with Preacher. The quality never faltered throughout it’s run. An issue never goes by where you are not laughing at some cutting piece of dialogue or gross out humour. Or wanting to cheer at some truly awesome feel good moment. Or being touched by something deeply moving (Amy may only appear in a handful of issues, but her final scene where she bids goodbye to Jesse and Tulip her private revelation is heartbreakingly poignant.)

I miss Preacher, I miss those characters, but I’m forever thankful it didn’t outstay it’s welcome.

Preacher had a story to tell, and once that story was over it rightfully ended, the comic walked off into the sunset, still as vibrant and awesome as it was in the first issue.

Yes, Preacher is being made into a TV series and if done right could rival the likes of the Walking Dead or Game of Thrones. Personally I’m worried Seth Rogan may concentrate on the shock and gross out moments. Yet as I fan I’m going to remain optimistic.

There are so many great moments that could be replicated perfectly to the screen.

Tulip’s heartbreaking plea to be allowed to kiss Jesse goodbye before Jody……oh I can’t reveal that, I don’t want to spoil things.

Or the moment that Jesse looks into Christina’s eyes and realizes…oh that would be an even bigger spoiler.

How about Jesse yelling at the Klan guy “where the Fuck’s your chin?”

Or the Saint of Killer’s reaction to being hit by a nuclear missile.

Or Starr’s statement “you can’t fuck your sister and expect much good to come of it!” (The context of that entire scene is hilarious).

There are so many amazingly drop dead cool moments in Preacher, that I don’t want to spoil because I can’t really do them justice here and out of context of the characters that I really would love for people to get to know by themselves.

A few years ago I worked with a young lady who was curious about comics and asked me for a recommendation. I obviously went with Preacher and over the course of a few months lent her my prized collection of bagged issues. After a shaky start where I had to almost teach her how to read a comic (it’s hard for us who grew up reading comics to appreciate how tricky a genre it can be read), she absolutely loved the series and devoured them, spin offs and all.

After she had finished the series she asked me for more, and I thought I’d created a new comic freak. However none of the comics she borrowed from me grabbed her anywhere close to how Preacher did and she drifted away from the genre.

It’s probably not surprising, as I think Preacher is very accessible to new readers. It’s a very down to Earth story, even the concepts of heaven and hell, angels and demons are presented in uncomplicated terms, avoiding the complex ideas that a comic like Hellblazer is based around.

Which is why I urge to people to give Preacher a try or recommend it to others. Yes, some people will be offended, but as an introduction to adult comics I don’t think it can be beat.

I really think, it’s a comic that non comic fans could love. It’s an amazing ride, that never lets up on any level.

I mean, what other story of any medium could make you feel affection for a character called arseface?

ARSEFACE!

Til next time.

Dazza

Comic Conversations Episode 53

Image and video hosting by TinyPicfettman, luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of March 11, 2015, including but not limited to Comic Book News of:

DC’s creative direction going forward, Comic Inker, Norman Lee presumed dead, Top 10 selling comics of February 2015, Jack pitches his idea for a Captain America story, Marvel plugs his appearance on the AYPWrestling.com, Dazza’s Latest Article, and we talk Our Buddy, Karl’s love of Injustice at F4WOnline.com.

Our Lighting Round Reviews of: Spawn Resurrection, East of West, Ultimate Spider-Man, Fantastic Four, All-New X-Men, and Spider-Man and X-Men.

Regular Reviews of: War Stories 6, Astro City 21, Ragnarok 4, Thor 6, Walking Dead 138, Spider-Gwen 2, Spider-Man 16, Spider-Man 2099 10, Ant-Man 3, Howard the Duck 1, Ms.Marvel 13, Silver Surfer 10, Star Wars 3, New Avengers 31, Superior Iron Man 6, and Ninjak 1.

We pick our Books of the Week and preview Next Week’s Comics: Secret Identities, Spider-Man, Hulk, Loki, Magneto, Moon Knight, Princess Leia, Punisher, Silk, Squirrel Girl, Divinity, and Ivar Timewalker.

All this and as always so much more on a BRAND. NEW. COMIC. CONVERSATIONS. IT’S AWESOME.

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Looking Back at The Onslaught Saga

backgroundI’d just like to point out that the opinions I express in this and other articles are purely my own and they are just that, opinions. They’re not intended to be treated in anyway as me stating what I consider absolute truths. I’m not an expert, I’m just a long term fan of comics expressing his own tastes and opinions from when I originally read these stories and in revisiting them today.

This just saves me having to write “in my opinion” a lot.

Comic fans have always loved speculating. Even before the rise of the internet, lively discussions took place on letter pages and in fanzines, as readers delighted in finding clues as to where storylines may be heading or on the origins of their favourite characters. No comics gave fans more to speculate and theories over than those found in the X-Men universe. While big events like Civil War and Siege just throw you straight into the story, X-Men sagas would build up over time through subplots and mysteries that could sometimes take years to payoff. While the main stories of the X-Men played out, a few pages here and there would detail a villain’s growing threat building for a major story down the line.

In the mid 90’s the enigmatic villain on the horizon was Onslaught. Throughout the library of X-Men titles there were references to this mysterious figure who was seemingly recruiting an army of mutant powerhouses such as Post and Holocaust while augmenting the powers of others such as the Blob. As his powerbase grew so did the fan anticipation for when Onslaught and his forces were going to make their move.

But it wasn’t just Onslaught that was driving X-Men stories at the time. An anti-mutant zealot Graydon Creed was running for President, while in the Government itself a new agent Bastion was winning support for a direct initiative to combat mutants. The world of Days of Future’s Past seemed closer than ever.

Meanwhile fans imaginations were gripped by another long standing mystery. When the team gained a new member in Bishop, a mutant who had come from 80 years in the future he brought with him disturbing news of the X-Men’s own future. In his own time Bishop had discovered a damaged recording made by Jean Grey, recounting how the X-Men had been killed in their own mansion when betrayed by one of their own (the crucial details were missing, obscured by static). The tape ended with Jean’s death at the hands of the mysterious attacker, and with this tantalizing glimpse fans were going wild with speculation as to who the X-traitor could be. It would remain the simmering, hot topic for the next five years. (My own theory was that in a time travel twist, Bishop himself would ultimately prove to be the traitor he was trying to stop).

It would be in Onslaught, Marvel’s big summer event of 1996 that we were told the identity of the X-Traitor would finally be revealed. While more Earth shattering changes were promised that would effect the entire Marvel Universe. On the one hand the events of Onslaught would force a backlash against the X-Men which would drive them from their own mansion as fugitives. While it was teased that Onslaught would see the end of the Avengers and Fantastic Four and to reinforce this the cancellation of the titles Avengers, FF, Captain America and Iron Man was announced.

In truth it wasn’t that much of a surprise when Charles Xavier was revealed to be both the X-Traitor and Onslaught as Marvel had telegraphed it heavily in the run up to the special one-off that kicked off the main story. For the last few years there had been hints of a darker behaviour from the X-Men’s founder. During Graydon Creed’s run for president, Charles contacts an old ally asking if there is a place for his students to hide if need be. Disturbed, his friend asks what Charles is planning to do to stop Creed, to which a grim Xavier fails to answer. More revelations suggested that Charles may have had a hand in manipulating the romance between Cyclops and Jean Grey. And in the most awkward of moments Jean discovers that Charles had been in love with her since her student days…ok everyone stick your palms out, wave your hands and in a high pitched voice yell “CREEPY!”

The biggest example of this darker Xavier is back in the excellent Fatal attractions crossover event in 1993. After witnessing the shocking moment of Magneto ripping the adamantium out of Wolverine, Xavier responds by wiping Magneto’s mind clean. It’s an act that is truly stunning and flies in all of the Professor’s morals and philosophy up to that point.

It’s from Xavier’s psychic assault on Magneto that Onslaught originates. We learn that during the attack, there was a melding of the two enemies dark sides creating the entity Onslaught who is later able to possess Xavier.

It works I guess, but it feels a cop out that we’re not dealing with a true rogue Xavier gone insane. A lot of potential storyline wise was lost here.

Onslaught began well enough with the payoff of the X-Traitor plot when Bishop saves the X-Men from the fates he set out to prevent. From there Onslaught begins his attack on humankind, gaining control over an army of sentinels for an assault on New York and kidnapping Franklin Richards who’s powers he intends to use to create a mutant dominated world. The saga spreads to most of the Marvel comics for the next few months in what sadly after all the fine buildup, turned into a disappointing crossover.

Reading it from week to week (I bought nearly all the issues related to the saga), the story limps along, with the heroes not accomplishing a great deal (we barely see fragments of what should be an epic battle for New York against Onslaught’s sentinels and mutant allies) while Onslaught himself stands in his fortress arguing with his Xavier side and trying to manipulate Franklin. The issues all feel like filler, not adding a great deal to the larger story, effectively stalling until the conclusion in the Onslaught:Marvel Universe one shot.

Onslaught just doesn’t provide a very interesting villain. It’s hard to invest in his motivations for a mutant dominated world, as unlike Magneto or Apocalypse (or Xavier even) he doesn’t have a lifelong backstory of experiences that fuels his goal. Onslaught is like an alien creation, an embodiment of evil purpose and without any humanity he just becomes a big powerful guy wanting to destroy the world. X-Men villains were often the most interesting and complex and Onslaught just doesn’t cut it.

So we get to the epic conclusion of Onslaught and we have a pretty decent battle going on. That is until we get one of the most convoluted, dumbest endings to a saga ever!

Here’s how it breaks down. In the big final battle Onslaught is separated from Xavier (Thor pretty much tears him from Onslaught’s armour) and has his body destroyed by a rampaging Hulk.

But wait! Onslaught has evolved into a psychic entity now.

“I am thought itself, I am perception, perception is reality..and reality rejects you!” Onslaught babbles, now looking and acting like something from an original Star Trek episode. You know one of those ones Rodenberry would write, where they meet a God entity who is actually emotionally a child.

“We’ve left ourselves no way to attack him, since we no can no longer touch him!” Shrieks Reed Richards.

But not to worry because Thor of all people has it figured out. “Tis a vessel you need to hold him” he presumes, and states that he’ll contain Onslaught’s energy and give the heroes something tangible to attack and with no evidence to back up his theory jumps into the psychic energy.

It starts to work, but it’s not enough. They need more bodies to contain the energy. So rather than grabbing a bunch of villains to throw into the energy or some other group of low lifes no one will miss (like people who spend all day posting on Pro wrestling message boards), the heroes sacrifice themselves and one by one these silly buggers dive into the energy field like lemmings.

But not everyone!

Reed stops the X-Men from diving in as he surmises that Mutant DNA will actually add to Onslaught’s power not weaken him….however Scarlet Witch is ok to go in because her Hex powers will protect her..meanwhile everyone else with wacky super powered DNA is fine to go in, even Inhumans…..I MEAN WHAT EXPOSITION HEAVY BULLSHIT IS THIS?????

Here’s a storytelling tip. If you’re making a film where you kill a shark by throwing an oxygen tank into his mouth and blowing it up, then you’d do a quick scene earlier to introduce us to said oxygen tank and establish that it is volatile and can be made to explode.

Likewise if you are going to invent some psychic-babble, sow some seeds early establishing the rules of your psychic-babble so it doesn’t seem like you’re just making some shit up at the conclusion to a story where you’re trying to come up with a reason why certain characters are leaving your regular continuity for a while.

Here’s the deal behind Onslaught. Marvel at the time was in crisis, a massive money losing company in turmoil. One of their experiments at the time was to outsource some of their titles to other companies. So Fantastic Four, Avengers, Iron Man and Captain America were handed over to Rob Liefield and Jim Lee to reboot in a brand new independent continuity called Heroes Reborn.

A bit like Ultimates….if Ultimates had been shit.

In fairness, while critical reaction was mixed the new series did well in terms of sales. They also drew attention to the Avengers side of Marvel which had been under the shadow of the X-men and Spider-Man at the time (Marvel may have been trying to raise the profile of some of the characters they were trying to sell the rights to for Hollywood).

The Onslaught storyline was used to create and explain the split in Marvel rosters, as when the X-Men destroy Onslaught (and seemingly the heroes with it) Franklin apparently creates a universe for them to appear in…or something, I don’t know the whole concept is never really explained all that well.

Marvel’s business dealings having such an overt impact on the storylines leaves a bad taste when reading the conclusion to Onslaught. It’s so heavy handed and obvious, even down to Hulk and Banner splitting during the battle and Banner sacrificing himself with the heroes to clumsily explain why Hulk appears in both the regular Marvel universe and Heroes reborn one.

It’s also hard to take the “deaths” seriously when done in such a metaphysical, abstract manner, as it’s so obviously designed to allow their return a year later. That said there are some touching final moments as some of the heroes make their sacrifices and the sense of loss is well expressed afterwards.

So what of the Marvel Universe the heroes left behind? Well, not a lot changed really. Despite seemingly having more creative freedom to play around with the mutant universe, the nightmare backlash that we were promised the X-Men would bear in retaliation for all the devastation Onslaught wrought, as well as the death of the heroes (it’s said the watching world assumed the X-Men turned on the heroes) never really materialized. The X-Men remained comfortably in the mansion. Xavier was back to normal, though taken into custody. When Bastion’s Operation: Zero Tolerance finally kicked in it was a rather drab affair that never really went anywhere, despite a promising build up.

And the heroes were back within a year too.

Despite what I’ve written here I’m not saying that Onslaught is a story to avoid. The two one off specials that bookend the main series are enjoyable, with some memorable moments (revisiting Jean Grey making her final recording is a nice touch). But from someone who followed the series at the time, with such a wonderful build, it feels like such a waste of potential. Seriously, very little happens in the issues between the two specials. The least we could have had was a well structured battle for New York.

Maybe such an epic storyline where we lost so many heroes should have been a bit darker. Well Marvel went that way for a “Twilight of the Gods” style saga one time, and went for many way too far.

But that’s a review for another time.

Till next time

Dazza

Comic Conversations Episode 52

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fettman, luro, and marvell2k to talk all things comics for the week of March 4th, 2015. Including but not limited to to: Our Lighting Round Reviews of Imperium 2 and God Hates Astronauts 6.

Our Regular Weekly Reviews of: Rat Queens 9, Saga 26, Descender 1, All-New Hawkeye 1, Black Cross 1, Nameless 2, Angela 4, Hulk 12, Avengers 42, Princess Leia 1, Avengers World 18, X-Men 25,and Miracle Man 16.

As well as our picks for Book of the Week, and we preview next week’s books: Possible Lighting Round Reviews of: East of West, Ultimate Spider-Man, and Spider-Man and X-Men.

And Regular Reviews of: War Stories, Astro City, Ragnarok,Thor, Spawn, Spider-Man, Ant-Man, Howard the Duck, Ms.Marvel, New Avengers, Silver Surfer, Spider-Gwen, Spider-Man 2099, Star Wars, Superior Iron Man, and Ninjak.

All this and as always, so much more on a BRAND. NEW. COMIC. CONVERSATIONS. It’s Awesome~!

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Looking back at Strikeforce Morituri

Strikeforce Morituri

I think I’m going to come up with a generic statement to copy and paste for future articles. Something like, “It started off as an exciting series, the issues in the first year were great. But then there was a change in writer and it kinda lost it’s way.” This seems to be a recurring theme as I revisit my comic boxes and rediscover forgotten gems.

Anyway, here I go again.

Back in the mid 80’s Marvel had a pretty healthy output of non superhero titles (there was even a separate line of comics called Epic which were all creator owned series). Well away from reality 616, we had a diverse range of fantasy, comedy, history and lots of Sci Fi. It afforded creators the chance to come up with some truly memorable series and one of them became a real favourite of mine, Strikeforce Morituri.

Created by Peter Gillis and Brent Anderson in 1986, Strikeforce Morituri is set in the distant future where Earth is at war with a savage, Alien race know as the Horde. Outmatched in terms of technology, mankind develops a process that can create in certain humans superpowers and Strikeforce Morituri is created to lead the fight back. As much a morale boaster for the population as a combat team, the members become media celebrities and are given costumes and superhero codenames in line with the nature of their diverse powers.

But it all comes with a price. The process will kill it’s recipient within a year, suffering a horrible death by disintegration.

It’s a grim premise, but a unique and refreshing one. Death is almost a laughable concept in comics, where even the most minor of characters never truly disappears forever. Even when the killing of a major character is done exceptionally well, we know it’s only a matter of time before they return. Here, when we meet the members of the second Strikeforce team (the first team, the legendary Black Watch has already died at the start of the series) we know they ultimately are doomed to die. If there is any doubt in the concept then it’s brought home very early on, as it’s only takes till issue 4 before we lose our first member Snapdragon.

In the early issues we follow the story through Harold Everson, who we meet as a worker on the aftermaths of Horde attacks. His task of digging bodies from the rubble is displayed in a harrowing opening to the series (the effects of the war on civilians remains powerful throughout). Harold volunteers for the Morituri process and it’s through him that we witness the training and forming of the team, as he develops his powers and becomes the energy diverting Viking. Through extracts of the book he is writing on his experiences he become the comic’s narrator, and we assume that he is going to be the lead character and focus of the book.

However we lose Viking in issue 6 when it only takes half a page of panels for the Morituri effect to take hold and kill him. It’s a shocking moment that comes without any warning, and lacks any of the heroic sendoff we are so used to when a central character dies. It reaffirms the randomness of death and that any lead character can die at any moment.

As antagonists go the Horde are amongst the most brutal, evil races ever seen in a Marvel comic. They are thugs, their spacecraft and weapons stolen from other races, much of it they don’t have the intellect to understand properly. Their barbarism is highlighted in their attire, wearing clothes and jewelry stolen from human bodies, decorated with the skulls and bones of their victims. We even see some Horde members wearing stolen popular culture merchandise such as Micky Mouse ears (it’s established that Hollywood movies are popular bounty for the Horde). One Horde has Captain America badges pinned to his skin.

Like pirates they live by pillaging the Earth in raids that also see them kidnapping and enslaving humans in scenes of outright cruelty. Their tactics are not to conquer but to terrorize mankind, any show of defiance brings retaliation in the form of random nuclear strikes (San Diego is destroyed after the Black Watch kill a Horde leader) or acts of slaughter.

One of the most horrifying moments in the comic occurs when in revenge for a Horde defeat, they commit what is known as a highdive, where captured humans are ejected out of horde ships just outside of Earth’s atmosphere. The Strikeforce watch helplessly from the ground as streaks of light fill the night sky as the bodies burn up against the atmosphere. It’s a chilling scene.

Under Gillis and Anderson Strikeforce Morituri was a great read. Even with a steady turnover of team members the characters remain memorable, mostly though their motivations to ultimately give up their lives. The powers they develop were always creative. And with each battle fought the ante was raised in the horrors committed by the Horde to terrorise the fearful population (in one issue human slaves are genetically altered to resemble Horde and used as suicide bombers). Even in victory the Morituri team were often left standing in devastated cities.

Their final issue on the book was issue 20, and there is a fitting farewell as in moving scenes the last remaining member from the start Lorna passes away. Lorna is who I remember the most. A self admitted wallflower, her time with the team gives her the chance to experience the life she never had. She falls in love (ironically with an actor from the tv show based on the team’s exploits) and gives birth to a daughter. It’s tragic that she dies as her life has turned around, but uplifting in that her volunteering for Morituri has given her one year of a fulfilling life. While there is no formal farewell in the book for Gillis and Anderson, the final panel shows the names of the fallen Morituri in a symbolic end to the team’s run on the book.

Well you know how this goes now. For me, under the new team the comic lost it’s way. The artwork dipped greatly, and the comic suffered without Anderson’s atmospheric scenes, particular missing his frightening interpretation of the Horde. New writer James Hudnall rushed an ending to the war when a new Alien race arrived, dispatching the Horde and promptly disappeared. From there the story switched to a plot to overthrow Earth’s government using assassins with the Morituri process. Even the Morituri death sentence was thrown out as a plot device, as a cure was discovered. In any case the series only lasted until issue 31.

Strikeforce Morituri came about in the same time period as Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns, and although it is nowhere near as successful or ground breaking as those two series, it deserves to be remembered in a period of wonderful experimentation through even within the mainstream companies. Aside from it’s regular line enjoying some of it’s most creative highs, it was also producing such diverse work as Nam, Groo, Elfquest, Alien Legion. Even the New Universe which is looked back on with disdain as a failure introduced an exciting concept in the beginning and was a bold attempt to introduce a new line.

This was an exciting time to be a comic fan.

Strikeforce Morturi has been collected into three graphic novels only recently and as I often say is definitely worth checking out. There has also been talk of a film adaptation, although that may have to wait until legal issues are resolved as to who actually has ownership of the comics.

Next time, I’m planning on covering an epic Marvel saga that I will forever remember as having one of the dumbest and convoluted endings to a major storyline ever. After all, I’ve been positive for all my articles so far, I need to rant a little.

Till Next Time

Dazza

Comic Conversations Episode 51

Image and video hosting by TinyPic fettman, (a sick) luro, and marvell2k talk all things comics for the week of February 25th, 2015. Including but not limited to:

Our Lighting Round Reviews of All-New X-Men 38 and Uncanny Avengers 2.

As well as our Regular Weekly Reviews of: Quantum and Woody Must Die 2, Spider-Man 15, Spider-Gwen 1, Spider-Man 2099 9, Suiciders 1, Superior Iron Man 5, Thor Annual 1, Daredevil 13, Men of Wrath 5, Darth Vader 2, Inhuman 12, and New Avengers 30.

The picks for book of the week and we preview Next Week’s possible lighting round books of: GI Joe, Guardians Team-Up, Rocket Raccoon, and Imperium.

And Next Week’s Regular Reviews of: Saga, Black Cross, Descender, God Hates Astronauts, Nameless, Rat Queens, Hawkeye, Angela, Avengers, Avengers World, Hulk, Miracle Man, Princess Leia, and X-Men.

All this and so much more on a brand new Comic Conversations!!!

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