***** = Loved It
**** = Really Liked It
*** = Liked It
** = Didn’t Like It
* = Hated It
From Gotham Central to Daredevil, Catwoman to Captain America, Ed Brubaker has to be one of my favorite superhero writers. I’ve been following Deodato from Thunderbolts through Dark Avengers. The team includes Steve Rogers, Beast and the Eric O’Grady Ant-Man. So, when the post-Siege books were rolling out, this is the one that interested me the most. After giving it a whole arc, I’m done with the book. This is the introduction to a new, black-ops Avengers team and you spend it on Mars, chasing the Serpent Crown? REALLY?
Four dollar books really have to be great month in, month out. Deodato is bringing it, but Bru isn’t. This was the best issue of the arc, but even the mystery of whatever this Nick Fury-looking guy is up to is not enough to justify sticking with the book. There’s not enough here. Brubaker shows his love for Steve Rogers, and him putting the Nova helmet on is a cool idea (a great cover, though only my second favorite “putting someone else’s helmet on” cover. That’d be Son of M #5). But this book didn’t have Valkyrie’s best appearance of the week (Avengers Academy) or the most unexpected hero (Thunderbolt’s Man-Thing). I’ll keep my eye on the reviews, but I’m not impressed.
This is another book that has just not impressed me enough. I’m going to finish out the current arc, “The Five Lights,” but now that this book is four dollars a month, it needs to be better. I understand that I’m talking about one dollar a month, 12 dollars a year, but it’s forced me to justify these purchases.
Whilce Portacio’s art has too many scratchy lines, but after the Dodsons, I’m going to complain about almost anything. Fraction does well by most of the characters (other than Emma’s “Rad Bromance” comment last month). I just don’t care about their problems. Second Coming had huge stakes, scary villains and real threats (right Kurt?). These two issues have been new mutants realizing their powers, which I’ve seen before. This one has Emma flirting with Tony Stark and Namor, which I’ve seen before. The most interesting scene was between Wolverine and Cyclops, but it’s only two pages. Now that Hope is back in the present, what is the mission of this book? Its characters have plenty of personality, but Uncanny X-Men has none.
I’ve got a weakness for teen teams and for villains. Teen books are pretty common and between this book and Young Allies, I am finding plenty to fill the space in my budget opened by the above books. But villain books are tough. They have to reach some of their goals, but they can’t really win, because that would mean killing the hero. Or the writer has to come up with an even more despicable antagonist. Secret Six is my favorite DC book, which succeeds by creating terrible, terrible people for the Six to clash with.
Avengers Academy does a little bit of both. Finesse and Hazmat are trying to undermine their teachers, but the real bad guy of the piece is Norman Osborn, who tortured these kids while he was in power. The kids, whether you consider them the heroes or villains of the piece have understandable motivations, which lets us align with them. We align, we care, I enjoy.
I haven’t seen Mike McKone’s work since the Teen Titans relaunch, but it’s great. Beside defining five new characters (Reptil having appeared elsewhere), he’s drawn a kick ass Iron Fist, a perfectly arrogant Quicksilver, and a scary Hannibal Lector-masked Crossbones. Sweet.
This issue offers another side of the events seen in this week’s Avengers Academy (as well as next month’s issue). It’s an interesting way to do a crossover as no full scenes are shared and the students don’t have any lines in Thunderbolts. If you only read Thunderbolts, you have no idea what caused the blackout or why it was done. That being said, it doesn’t really matter.
A lot happens in this issue, which had to wrap up last month’s search for some Terrigen crystals as well as show what the ‘Bolts were up to during the events seen in AA.
This issue was also featured the week’s best sequence, a five-page, three-row battle: John Walker shows what a one-legged man can do in an ass-kicking contest, Songbird fends off the Raft’s female populace (with the assist of Troll [Who?]), and Luke Cage shows the Purple Man why he’s the Power Man. Special recognition to colorist Frank Martin for keeping the whole sequence easy to follow as it went from page to page.
I’ve only been exposed to Kev Walker’s work through the Annihilation: Nova miniseries. I wasn’t sure how well it would follow Thunderbolts recent artists, which have included Mike Deodato and Roberto De La Torre. I have to admit, his over the top style goes toe-to-toe with this issue’s over the top action. His Juggernaut looks massive. Moonstone is smug, no words necessary. And the change of expression on Purple Man’s face when he realizes he can’t stop Luke is priceless.
Since the dawning of the Heroic Age, this is one of Marvel’s best.
I also want to point readers to David Brother’s discussion of aforementioned battle, specifically Luke Cage’s part, over at 4th Letter!. Brothers is one of my favorite bloggers. His stuff is always worth reading.
Brian K. Vaughan opens this final issue of Ex Machina with a theory about comic books, specifically ongoing superhero books: “Month after month, they just keep going. So no matter what terrible things happen, you know there’s always another chance for wrong to get righted.” As much as Hundred is letting us know that these “happy endings are bullshit,” that IS one of the reasons I enjoy comics.
Regardless, this tragic ending is not what I expected. People are going to go on and on about how we’ve know that Ex Machina is a tragedy since page two, but I’m not sure this was the way to go. Kremlin’s exit makes sense, but it’s a note BKV’s been playing for him since that first storyline. Doesn’t he get to evolve?
Vaughan also uses this final issue to turn the ever loyal Bradbury gay (at least for Mitchell Hundred [at least when drunk]). The mayor’s sexuality was never directly addressed, but his relationship with Bradbury has always been strictly homosocial. If you recall, the last issue of Y:The Last man ending up pairing Hero and Beth together. Beth, who had never shown signs of this before (I can’t remember for Hero). What is BKV saying here?
As for the actual tragic aspects, they’re there. At the end, Mitchell has what he wanted, but his flaws have led him to lose everyone in his life. When Hundred asks “What did I do? … What did I do to you?”, he’s not just talking about Kremlin. He’s talking about this whole Great Machine experience and how it’s driven his life. This last year’s worth of issues really took the book outside of its wheelhouse. I’ve got to admit, I liked the ex-superhero turned mayor book better than the ex-superhero turned mayor fights inter-dimensional aliens book.
Ex Machina is a great book that everyone should read, but I’ve got to place it below Y. Perhaps in a few months I reread from the beginning and do a review of the series as a whole.