Consultation with the Furies.

*Too bad there’s only two Furies coming up. I could have been the coolest blogger in town.

Astonishing X-Men #6


Here we’ve got semi-classic Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. He doesn’t do anything terribly dashing or heroic in this issue like he might have back in the day, and he’s got that vaguely sinister edge that marks each Marvel Fury these days (at least to some extent). But as secretive as he is, he still dresses in uniform and leads his forces into battle for what he thinks is right, like a gruff father to Marvel Heroes, spitting out education and plot details alike.

I mentioned a while ago that I was hoping that Whedon would not try to cram any sort of definitive ending into this nominal final issue of the book’s first arc, and I was half-relieved on that front. A few mysteries were made a bit clearer, although the entire mutant cure subplot is ‘delayed’ pretty abruptly, and for seemingly little reason other than to get the X-Men back to the mansion and have some sort of illusion of closure, even though absolutely nothing is resolved (only clarified). It’s not nearly as clumsy as it could have been, though.

No, what really bugged me about this issue is that halfway through Whedon’s initial run on the book he seems intent on nothing more than pressing farther and farther into utterly familiar territory. Is it already time to prevent another mutant-created apocalyptic future? And hey, from what I’ve heard (I never got around to finishing the damned thing, remember) most of Grant Morrison’s beloved run on "New X-Men" revolved around engaging with classic X-Plots and re-energizing them, or commenting on them. But I’m not seeing any evidence that Whedon is going to engage with anything aside from presenting it in an attractive fashion. I really don’t know if we’re going to get any interesting 'takes' on venerable X-Men material, I think we’re going to simply get venerable X-Men material, albeit handled with more care than usual. Because in its heart, there’s nothing this first arc has done that hasn’t been done before with a lot more inspiration, though I’ll always concede that it’s done in good fun, attractively.

Ah! And jokes! Mr. Whedon’s delightful jibes at X-Cliches! As much as I hate to indulge in armchair psychoanalysis, I’m just going to have to renew my prior claim that Whedon is dropping all sorts of meta-gags into the story because he’s at least aware of how well-trod this particular path is and possibly uncertain about the power of his particular spin on the material. So coat it with meta-humor! Fury expresses surprise at Colossus’ return to life! Much like fandom! Colossus makes a remark about the new costumes! Oh my! New character Agent Brand talks about how the 'mutant destroys the future' plot has been done before (well golly Joss, that excuses everything!) and in the very next panel makes a crack about Jean Grey possibly returning to life! Uh oh - that character has returned to life several times in the past! Ha ha! What antics!

So as you may have inferred, I’m getting annoyed. And it’s not that I don’t enjoy traditional superhero stories, it’s just that I don’t think traditional superhero stories need to draw quite so much nervous attention to their being traditional, as if constantly demonstrating how 'aware' the story is of its style will somehow alter that style automatically. Maybe I’m asking too much of the book. As I’ve said so many times before, it’s a Nice superhero book. All the old standards, performed with energy, even if the orchestral arrangements are a little cluttered this time. Maybe that’s what everyone really wants (sales and the current trends in superhero storytelling suggest this, sure). Maybe, like someone remarks in the letters page in the back, this is what “New X-Men” should have been. Not a study of the past, but an well-spoken admiration for past canonizations.

The Punisher MAX #13

Ok! It’s safe to come back! At least for one issue!

Finally free of the slog that last arc devolved into, Ennis gives us a high-action start to another arc, hopefully with less padding. Frank hunts a child pornographer/Russian mobster who’s recently been released from prison under mysterious circumstances. And in a twist that seems almost transgressive given the ruthless length of the prior arc, he more or less wraps things up before the issue’s close. Ah! But Frank has wandered into the middle of a much bigger situation, as Nick Fury contacts him with a very tempting offer, and a secret mission, one that might be tied to innumerable powerful interests across a score of nations.

The Nick Fury we get here is allegedly very close to the title character of Ennis’ “Fury MAX” miniseries, so perhaps we can call him the Ennisverse Fury. Or perhaps there’s really little difference anymore, at least when the former Sergeant is making a guest appearance. Like the Furies I remember from “The Sandman” this particular Fury changes body and attitude from comic to comic and world to world, but his purpose remains the same. Doling out cryptic information, the keeper of a chamber of government secrets. Sure this Fury is not in charge of S.H.I.E.L.D. anymore. Sure he’s prone to lines like “I’m going to have one more drink than I’m going to try and fuck every hooker in New York, before some cocksucker bans that too.” Sure he’s old and grizzled and ‘dressed’ to resemble an alternate view of Frank himself. But the idea of Fury remains the same in today’s comics. Does Ultimate Fury act much differently, while looking quite separate (yet strangely familiar)? Does the Fury of “Secret War” act any more on the level? Or does the same Fury transcend the many divisions of the current Marvel Multiverse, both formal and unspoken, offering uncertainty and discomfort but multidimensional constancy for differing (if often similar) interpretations of Classic Heroes, who‘ve got to maintain a book and at least need to appear to be different from their other selves. But Nick can just sit back and make riddles.

Dougie Braithwaite and Bill Reinhold tackle the art here. Good harsh stuff, about on par with the rest of this series’ visuals, dark and chiseled and glowering efficiently. I hope this storyline doesn’t get away from itself.

Joe R. Lansdale’s By Bizarre Hands #5 (of 6)

A subtle, devastating critique of a culture of instituted prejudice, shimmering with quiet rage but possessing a surgeon’s touch in cutting through hypocrisy. Wit soaked with tears. A trumpet call to the past, leading the struggle into the future.

That concludes my review for all of my readers on Bizzaro World, where I am the most popular comics website of all.

For all of us here on Earth though, I think this issue can be best encapsulated by the very first page: an excruciating close-up of a dead dog, its entrails spilling out all over the road, while two teens in the background fling racial slurs like they’ve just learned them, all while discussing their evening plans. Yes, Leonard and Farto have nothing to do. They’ve heard about this new “Night of the Living Dead” picture opening at the local drive-in, but they’ve also heard that there’s a (*gasp*) Negro playing the lead role. The nerve! So the boys try and whip up some other form of amusement, but rejecting the works of George Romero can only offend the gods of Lansdale’s world. Mixing joyrides, drunkenness, illicit pornography, local football rivalries, animal rights, organized crime, and racism of every stripe, the night does not go very well at all for our precocious heroes.

It’s good that the stories selected for adaptation to comics in this Avatar series have begun to reflect Lansdale’s wit a little more; I’m finding that his work is a lot more effective when spiked with cruel, nihilistic mirth. This is probably my favorite issue yet, an obvious but amusing display of tasteless entertainment, with bad things happening to bad (and sometimes good) people. Andres Guinaldo’s art continues to teeter right on the verge of over-detailed under-shaded incoherency, but it seems just dashed-off enough to match the spirit of the script. Not exactly a potential Harvey winner, but a swell time.