Alternate Universe Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Vol 2 & Revolver

Sometimes I grab a series of trades the purposefully have a connection while other times I just grab whatever looks interesting out of my boxes. In the case of this week’s post, I did the latter, but realized that I had a nice connection in that both the second Exiles book and Matt Kindt’s Revolver feature characters dealing with the differences in the realities they experience! Want to know more? Hit the jump! Continue reading Alternate Universe Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Vol 2 & Revolver

Trade Post: Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)

exiles ultimate collection vol 1 Exiles Ultimate Collection Book 1 (Marvel)
Written by Judd Winick, drawn by Mike McKone & Jim Calafiore
Collects Exiles #1-19

Sometimes a book comes along and just fits so perfectly in your wheelhouse that you wonder why you haven’t already mainlined the whole thing already. Exiles is that book for me. I’ve always been intrigued by the idea of the X-Men, but didn’t feel up to the challenge of diving into that incredibly dense continuity. I also love alternate world stories, so when Judd Winick — a writer I love — came along and combined the two in Exiles, I was on board. Well, not really because I didn’t read the book as it started coming out because I was graduating high school and heading into college at that point, but I was intrigued and kept it on my trade-watch radar.¬†At this year’s New York Comic Con I scored the first, second, third and fifth volumes of the Exiles Ultimate Collection books for $5 each which was huge for me. I’m pretty excited about getting my hands on the two I’m missing, though maybe not the very last one which is all Chris Claremont. Still, I’ll have fun with the volumes I have (I hope) and see if I want to keep reading the rest.

The idea here is that a group of X-Men have been plucked from their alternate dimensions to work for an entity called the Time Broker who sends them on missions in other dimensions to help get the time stream back on track. If they fail, their own realities will suffer great changes that threaten their own lives. The great thing about this book is that it’s so completely in and of itself while also playing off of many of the themes and ideas presented in the main X-books as well as the Marvel Universe as a whole. Since Winick is working with a team of characters who “don’t matter” in the grand scheme of things at Marvel, he can do a lot more with them than you might expect. These first 19 issues are packed with character deaths, pregnancies, jokes, budding relationships, ridiculously difficult decisions, honest conversations and heaping helpings of ass kickery and explosions.

While building his own team, Winick also does a great job of building an interesting world within a world that explores all kinds of other worlds. There’s clearly a system at play with the Time Broker, but as the series progresses, we learn that the Exiles aren’t the only team of displaced heroes popping around dimensions. It’s one of the intriguing overarching elements that makes me want to keep reading all six volumes of the Ultimate Collection except for maybe that Claremont stuff.

One of my favorite aspects of this book is that Winick didn’t work in the typical six issue arc format. If a story needed one issue, he gave it one issue. If it needed three, it got three. This not only keeps the book moving at a good clip — something that’s much appreciated when reading nearly 20 issues of a comic in one collection — but also gives artists Mike McKone and Jim Calafiore the opportunity to do their own things with their own stories before trading off with one another. While McKone’s style is a lot smoother than Calafiore’s more angular one, they both excel at balancing the action scenes with the comedy gags Winick throws in via Morph, so they still feel like they’re working on the same coherent series.

This kind of book does something that not many Corporate Comics can: play with all the pieces of an existing universe and really have fun with it. By going the alternate universe route Winick was able to build his own team, while also creating a myriad of worlds worth their own miniseries’ in many cases. Since those worlds and these characters weren’t connected the main Marvel U, the stakes were much higher. Is Morph going to die in this issue? Are they going to actually save the world from Galactus? These are questions that not only get raised, but worried about because Winick didn’t have to play it safe. You feel pretty safe assuming those bad things won’t happen in a regular universe book, but pretty much anything can happen here.

The Box: Hawkeye High Hard Shaft #1, X-O Manowar #18 & Meridian #22

Like the last batch of random comics out of The Box, this one was 2/3rds great. I started off with the hilariously named and sure-to-get-some-interesting-Google-search-results Hawkeye: The High, Hard Shaft #1 (2003) by Fabian Nicieza and Stefano Raffaele, which I hadn’t heard about, but really enjoyed. There’s a type of superhero comic book story that I really like where we see some of our favorite heroes doing their thing out of costume and in the normal world. Ed Brubaker did some fun things along these lines in Daredevil and Nicieza does the same in this issue.

The comic finds Hawkeye traveling around on his bike and running into trouble with some locals. Well, he kind of inserts himself into trouble because he’s a rougeish hero, but you get the idea. Anyway, the comic has a kind of super-powered Road House feel to it as the guy who runs the town also has a few superpowered dudes on the payroll. The issue ends with Clint stocking up with gear at a sporting goods store seemingly ready to take care of things. Seeing as how I love Road House and those movies where the hero walks into a town run by a jerk and helps save the day.

The art didn’t really do it for me as it’s a little undefined and muddy. I get that they’re going for a noir-type feel, but I contend that that is a much more difficult thing to pull off in comics than artists or editors do. It’s not bad art, mind you, though there were a few times I wasn’t sure who I was reading about (the downside of reading out-of-costume superhero comics, I guess). At the end of the day, I really did enjoy this comic. I did a little looking around just now and it doens’t seem like these issues have been collected, so I guess I’ll have to look around for issues if I want to see how it ends (I bet he wins, but it turns out to be just a bit hollow).

Unfortunately, Valiant’s X-O Manowar #18 (1993) by Jorge Gonzalez and Jim Calafiore was the book in this lot that didn’t really do it for me. The long and the short of it is that I had zero idea what was going on in this book and it doesn’t help that it’s the third part in a multipart story. I’m sure it’s important if you’re already a fan of the series, but if you’re a new person like I was, you’ll be mostly lost which is the problem I’ve had with every Valiant comic I’ve come across in The Box so far except last week’s Turok, but that was a first issue.

I do want to talk about the art a bit. I’m a big, big fan of Jim Calafiore’s artwork. He first came to my attention on Peter David’s Aquaman and had a really big effect on me as a comic reader. He was one of the first guys whose style I really noticed and liked. He has a kind of blocky angularity that still looks sleek that really appeals to me. However, in this book, that doesn’t really come through. I’m not sure if he just hadn’t developed his signature look by this point or if he was instructed to stick within the house style of Valiant at the time (which seems to be very basic, “realistic” depictions of people colored in a way that makes everything look a bit light). There were a few panels and faces here and there that I saw him peeking through, but otherwise, it wasn’t the Caliafiore I know and love. By the way, he’s a super nice guy in real life too.

The last comic I read for this week’s installment might have turned out to be the most surprising one in the batch. Crossgen’s Meridian #22 by Barbara Kesel and Andy Smith really surprised me by showing me a world that I really wanted to get invested in. The idea behind this book is that a world has flying pirates and that one girl–who has the Crossgen sigil–leads a group of good guys against marauders and other bad guys. I know there’s more to it than that, but that’s what I remember without going back and reading the entire thing. It actually reminded me a lot of Avatar: The Last Airbender where I was equally as interested in the characters as I was in the world.

This issue itself lets me in on some of the main character’s powers and explains some of her relationships. It’s a great taste of what’s going on. It also has a few ties to the larger Crossgen Universe which I obviously didn’t understand but it wasn’t overly distracting.

I liked the book so much, actually, that I ordered a few used copies of the first two trades from Amazon. I haven’t gotten into them just yet, but I look forward to when I’m done with a few other things I’m reading at the moment. That purchase makes Meridian officially the best reading experience of The Box as far as turning me on to something interesting that I otherwise wouldn’t have read. Thanks again to my pal Jesse for sending it to me!

Countdown’s Not SO Bad

DC’s been losing my interest more and more with their weekly comics over the past few years. 52 combined most of my favorite writers with some really interesting characters (thanks to those writers) into a comic that rocked my world week in and week out. Then Countdown came along and I was with it for about half of the series before giving up. And I’ve only read one issue of Trinity. I’m super excited about Wednesday Comics though.

I think my biggest problem with Countdown was how much they tried to tie the rest of the DCU into the book. Plus there were just too many stories being spread thinner than maybe they should have. Did the Green Arrow/Black Canary Wedding REALLY need to tie-in? How do Superboy Prime and Kyle Rayner fit in here as compared to Sinestro Corps? What the heck was the point of Salvation Run?

Well, to try and answer some of those questions for myself and to give the book a fair shot, I decided to read the stack of Countdown trades I’ve acquired. I’ve got the four trades making up the regular series (52 total issues) and then a number of the tie-in books (pretty much everything with Countdown in the title). I wanted to start off with just the main book and see how well it reads on its own.

I’ll be honest, it read a lot better than I thought it would. I definitely liked Adam Beechen’s issues the best and there was some pretty good art by guys like Scott Kollins, Jim Calafiore, Jamal Igle and Freddie Williams III. Overall, aside from the continuity head-scratchers that people still reference (how did all this tie into Final Crisis exactly?), the story suffers from being too long and seemingly directionless for the first half of its issues. You’ve got characters like Holly the former Catwoman, a tainted Mary Marvel, Jimmy Olsen, Pied Piper and Trickster and of course Donna Troy, Jason Todd, the Ryan Choi Atom, Kyle Rayner and Bob the Monitor taking a tour of the microverse and then the multiverse. For the most part in the first half of the story, head writer Paul Dini and his crew of Sean McKeever, Tony Bedard, Adam Beechen and Jimmy Palmiotti and Justin Gray do a good job of advancing these various stories (some more successfully than others), but they don’t really tie-in for a while (there’s also a lot of carry-over problems that lead to pacing issues and small things like the fact that at the end of one issue, Piper and Trickster are falling out of a plane with no bag and in the next, they have Trickster’s bag of tricks).

I know a lot of people didn’t like Mary Marvel’s transformation from goody goody superheroine into badass, evil chick, but reading the whole storyarc in a few days, I actually liked the progression. However, I did not like the turn they gave her towards the end of the book, but what are you gonna do? I also liked the Earth they showed us that Ray Palmer has been hiding out, though the twist right after that felt a little rushed.

Speaking of the main characters, I never really got a sense of Jason Todd’s character. I think it’s because he kept bouncing between hero and killer and he had been handled so differently by different writers over time, plus I know how (pun intended) Bat-shit crazy he’s gotten lately. And, on a final quick character note, as a big fan of Kyle Rayner (he was the GL that got me into that world), I found it annoying that they kept referring to him as someone who shouldn’t exist. I get Jason “Wall Punch” Todd and Donna “Been Dead and Back a Bunch” Troy, but what’d Kyle do? It’s never explained, he just shows up and is lumped in the the so-called Challengers (a name never actually established in this book, just stamped on at some point). I wonder if they’ll ever reference these Challengers as watchers of the Monitors again, but I kind of doubt it.

I’ve got a few more complaints that I’ve got to get off my chest. Where the heck did Superboy Prime and Monarch explode to? This may have been addressed since, but I can’t remember the events chronologically. I was bummed to see Monarch’s awesome army of multiverse evildoers getting taken out so quickly. I was hoping they’d be a bigger part of the story. Also, what the heck is the purpose of the Monitors? We’re never told anything more than they watch over their multiverse. Anything else? They seem to be pretty powerful at times, but not at others, what’s the deal? Another thing that bugged me was how they just took old Elseworlds stories and made many of those the 52 worlds. Sure, 52 is a pretty big number of worlds, but do you really want to give a whole UNIVERSE to “Batman is a vampire?” Seems like a waste. Related to that, why were we given two full issues showing how one of the Earth’s becomes the Jack Kirby-created Kamandi/OMAC world? I actually really, really liked those issues, but what was the point? Especially when they haven’t been referenced since (like the rest of the multiverse, sadly).

And finally, I was disappointed in the presentation of the trades. I get that people were over Countdown as soon as the last issue hit, but there could have been an intro or two or even a kind of director’s commentary. Worst of all, though, is that there weren’t any kind of recaps about what happened outside of the Countdown series. We’re not told anything real about Superboy Prime’s previous dealings or what happened at Green Arrow and Black Canary’s wedding. I’m totally fine with small paragraphs catching people up, they would have been a nice addition, especially when the book was so tied to continuity at the time.

Overall, it kind of feels like the creators either chose the most random characters they could find or were handed them and then asked to create a story. It’s not until Keith Giffen gets brought on as story coordinator about halfway through that the stories start coming together and making sense. So, while it feels like a clean-up job, the book definitely takes on new life in the last two trades. There were even genuine moments where I was worried for the characters and pumped my fist when cool stuff happened (especially Red Robin and a Batman jumping into the fray).

If I thought it would make any sense I would suggest just getting the last two trades, but the second volume actually has Giffen’s recap issue that kind of sets everything into motion. In the end, you don’t really need to know what happened in Countdown to understand the DCU right now (and not reading it will probably keep you away from some questions, especially continuity ones) but I enjoyed it more than I thought I would and got through the four volumes reading them on and off over the past five days which says something. If I really disliked it, I wouldn’t have been able to finish the books.

So, I won’t suggest that you’ve missed out on something big or that you should even spend the cover price of $19.99 per volume on these bad boys, but if you find them in a cheap trade bin at a con or on Amazon, it might be worth your time to check them out. For me, it definitely helped that I was a few months back from all the craziness of the DCU at the time and agonizing over where the various stories fit in (I AM a continuity nerd after all). Now on to some of the supplemental stuff like the Search for Ray Palmer one-shots, Countdown to Mystery and Adventure, Death of the News Gods and beyond.