Age of Ultron #7
The last issue of Marvel’s newest blockbuster event left me excited for where the story might go next. Wolverine had murdered Hank Pym, preventing him from ever creating Ultron and unleashing the hell on earth that took the lives of Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. Unfortunately, Age of Ultron #7 returns to the snail-like pace of the first four issues, giving us nothing but a light dabbling of what this new alternate reality holds. This problem could have been easily solved if Brian Bendis didn’t take NINE PAGES to get Wolverine and Sue Storm back to present day New York, where the real meat of the story goes down. Nothing of any real import happens in those first nine pages, with Sue and Logan’s dialogue covering familiar ground about the moral implications of murdering Ant-Man (I’m sorry, I refuse to call him Giant-Man. That’s stupid).
Once we get back to New York however we’re introduced to The Defenders, this alt-reality’s version of the Avengers, including wacky takes on Marvel characters such as “Colonel America” and a green Hulk that can talk. For whatever reason, the fact that Ultron was never created in this new timeline means that the Skrull’s Secret Invasion never quite ended (Sue notes that the Kree/Skrull war now appears to have gone down on Earth soil), and the Defenders naturally assume Sue and Wolverine and Skrulls in disguise. There’s a big fight, the Defenders argue about whether Sue and Wolverine are who they say they are, yadda, yadda, yadda. This is one instance where I would have preferred 32 pages of straight talking around a coffee table over a protracted Wolverine vs. Wolverine battle. I WANT INFORMATION. I want to know ALL THE SPECIFICS about this universe, and with only three issues left I don’t need the details to come in tiny morsels. Everything leads to a big twist in the final splash page that pretty much falls flat. IRON MAN IS A DICTATOR. Yaaaawwwwwnnnnnn. Please, Bendis does realize this isn’t new or surprising, even to someone such as myself with a very limited understanding of the Marvel U, right? I mean, if you’ve read Civil War then this doesn’t come as a surprise at all. Of course Iron Man would go fascist if faced with a never-ending Skrull conflict, this is a character trait that’s been established before. Tony Stark thinks he’s the smartest man on the planet so it makes sense that he would take matters into his own hands. Again, instead of dragging this story out til it’s paper thin, Bendis could have hit you with this reveal on, I dunno, PAGE 5 and spent the rest of the issue explaining why Stark now runs the planet.
I also have to agree with IGN that it’s getting harder and harder to really care about what happens in Age of Ultron when we all know the slate is going to wiped clean after issue #10 anyway. Unless Marvel is frakkin’ crazy and decides to reboot their entire universe just months after launching the NOW! initiative, nothing we’re reading here will have any real consequence. I swear, if Bendis ends this by having Storm and Wolverine go back in time AGAIN to stop themselves from killing Hank Pym, the only Marvel comic I’ll ever read again will be Mark Waid’s Daredevil.
Animal Man #20
“Tights, Part Two” starts with a devastated Buddy Baker watching his starring role in the indie film Tights and ends with him learning he’s been nominated for an Oscar for said role. It’s also quite possibly one of the best issues of my favorite comic book, a masterpiece in both storytelling and art.
Animal Man #6 was our first glimpse of Tights, a part of Buddy Baker’s life that we’d known about since the first issue. Issue #6 came during the overly long “Road Trip to find Alec Holland” arc where the Baker family didn’t do much but sit around in an RV arguing. “Tights” was a welcome break from that story and a very meta way of delving into Buddy’s head. Obviously Tights is meant to reflect Buddy’s own life- if I recall correctly it’s actually loosely based on it- but I didn’t realize just how much it would parallel Buddy’s trials and tribulations til Cliff died.
“Rotworld” turned out to be a pretty disappointing crossover. It was fun to see Animal Man and Swamp Thing working together and I loved all the zombie versions of the DCU’s most famous heroes. But just like with “Age of Ultron,” you always knew it would end with Buddy and Alec Holland undoing all of the horror Anton Arcane had unleashed. Cliff’s death, while trite, did add some dramatic weight to that arc and I found the funeral issue that followed to be very tragic and sad.
Even though Animal Man #20, entitled “Tights, Part Two,” is comprised almost entirely of a movie within a comic book and is thus fictional, it still elicited more of an emotional response from me than Cliff’s funeral. Since you know Buddy’s drunkenly watching his own movie on hotel pay per view, now separated from his wife, it makes it even more heartbreaking to see how Tights predicted his rise and fall. Like Buddy, the character he portrays, Chaz, gave up a life of vigilantism to pursue a career in showbiz. The Red Thunder became a sensation with Chaz hitting up everything from the talk show circuit to a reality dating show. None of this was for his own personal gain however; all Chaz really wanted was to regain his ex-wife’s love and his son’s respect and admiration. And that’s what makes this issue so Shakespeareanly tragic- Buddy tried to do what Chaz did and give up his role as Animal Man for a life of acting. But the Red wouldn’t let him go, and in the end Cliff paid the ultimate price. Unlike Chaz, Buddy was a real superhero with real powers, but he put his duty before his family and it cost him dearly. Chaz didn’t gain the love of his family until after faking his own death- similarly, Buddy didn’t appreciate Cliff as a son until he was already gone.
I cannot wait to see where this story goes. Along with Scott Snyder, Jeff Lemire is my favorite DC writer and while he’s occasionally hit or miss (especially with Justice League Dark), Animal Man has been a knockout since issue #1. At first I didn’t like that Buddy’s family life was falling apart because I appreciated that he was the only DC superhero that was happily married with children, and not some dark, brooding loner like Batman. But now that Lemire has tied Buddy’s inner turmoil back to the turmoil of the fictional character he portrays, I’m completely fine with the angle this story is taking. Like I said, a masterpiece.
Andy Diggle ends his creator owned tale of corporate conspiracy this week and I couldn’t care less. Snapshot was one of those stories that was much cooler when everything was shrouded in mystery than when the secrets were revealed. The core premise of Snapshot: an unwitting comic book store clerk finds a smart phone containing pictures of a murder, was awesome, but the how and why turned out to be pretty ho hum. In the end, Jake Dobson is nothing but a tool of a massive conglomeration of powerful corporate entities that control our every waking moment from behind the curtain, and he neither manages to overthrow said organization nor gleam any greater meaning from his experience. The ending is intentionally downbeat and there’s nothing wrong with that, but I found the whole EVIL CORPORATIONS BLAAAAHHHH!!!! angle to be a trite and tired trope. We all know corporations are bad and we all know they in one way or another, control us. That doesn’t mean they have work farms and cut people’s pinkies off and wantonly assassinate thousands of innocent people to hide… what exactly? That they’re in control? Hell, they don’t need to suppress that. The world’s population knows and no one gives a shit.
So yeah, the evil corporation allegory fell flat for me. On top of that, I never grew to like either of the main characters and neither do anything to make me care about them this issue. They’re both pawns and they’re fine with that. When Jake meets the “Bad Guy” I kept thinking, “why doesn’t he just leap across the table and bash that guy’s fucking head in? Why doesn’t he go on a murder spree and take down as many of these assholes as he can? He probably won’t overthrow their big money cabal, but at least he’ll do something other than nothing. There’s also weird details and plot holes that bugged me, most notably- why torture Keller? Like, what was the point of that? And why were they videotaping it? And why did they make Jake kill him? I guess it was to blackmail Jake so he’d keep his mouth shut, but it’s already established that this organization is so powerful that no manner of Mikail Blomkvist-esque reporting could ever indict them in any of their criminal activities, so why even bother? Even if Jake talks it won’t make a difference.
And that’s where the story starts to crumble and that’s why I’m giving it such a low score. If the organization is as powerful as the Bad Guy claims, then there was no reason for them to hire Keller to kill people in the first place. Those people could have talked and it wouldn’t have mattered, and as I’ve learned from The Wire racking up a body count is the easiest way to get caught by the authorities. Ultimately, Snapshot, despite Jock’s great art, was a story that didn’t really need to be told.
Swamp Thing #20
Right off the bat, I gotta say I’m really glad Swamp Thing didn’t take a turn for the suck once Scott Snyder left. Charles Soule is a competent replacement, and while Kano’s art isn’t quite as beautiful as Yanick Paquette’s, it matches the tone of Swampy quite well and is certainly better than the shitshow that was Andrew Belanger’s work for the finale to Rotworld. God, that was gross.
Other reviewers seemed to like this issue more than me, and while I didn’t dislike it, it was just too much of a throwaway side story to really blow me away. Basically, Alec Holland, now 100% Swamp Thing, is grappling with how to be a hero and how to maintain his humanity despite being a walking, talking plant. Naturally, he turns to Superman and heads to Metropolis to get advice. There Scarecrow doses him with some of his infamous fear toxin which causes Swampy to become catatonic and unleash gargantuan vines all over the city. Superman saves the day and gives Holland some advice, and that’s about the gist of it. So a little inconsequential, but the issue had a lot of great character development in it, with Holland fantasizing about what a normal life with Abby could have been like. And even though it was kinda random, I liked the part where a firefighter basically told Superman that superheroes cause more damage than they fix, which has always been something that’s bugged me about the genre.
Soule’s first two issues felt like him trying to get his mind inside the character, almost like a test run if you will. He’s no Snyder, but Swamp Thing is in good hands under his reins. I think the character actually did need a bit of a breather as the first eighteen issues of Swamp Thing was basically one, long continuous story. As “Rotworld” was kinda anticlimactic, it’s nice to take a step back and tell a story that’s more low-key. With the introduction of some weird, mysterious new character, I’m sure Soule will set up a new arc next month, and I’m nothing but hopeful about where it will go.