One of the world’s greatest villains puts more pressure on the world’s greatest heroes to let him into their ranks, the grand finale of Marvel’s latest crossover event finally arrives, and an indie title brings surreal humor to the Crab Nebula! Check out the latest comic book reviews from this week’s GeekNation Pull List!
From DC: Justice League #33 by Geoff Johns (Script) and Doug Mahnke (Art)
When you talk about Superman with people on the street, the subject of his movies may come up, which will often lead to a common reaction: Lex Luthor is lame. The reasoning for such a disparaging vision of Superman’s greatest enemy is usually based on the fact that audiences have seen him more than they probably should in the movies. Out of the six major theatrically released Superman films that have been released between 1978 and 2013, Luthor has been the primary antagonist in four of them, and the vision of the character used in those four movies has been somewhat goofy. Gene Hackman’s portrayal in the films alongside Christopher Reeve definitely shaped Luthor on film on up through Kevin Spacey’s 2006 portrayal in Superman Returns, and as a comic book fan this makes me a little sad. The reason for that sadness is that, much like how the 1960s campy iteration of Batman drowned out the true Dark Knight for decades, the real Lex Luthor is brilliant, sadistic, and worthy of being an enemy to the world’s most powerful being.
That last part is vitally important: in the DC Universe and even superhero fiction at-large, Superman is power incarnate, often clashing with evil gods, monstrous behemoths, and supreme magical forces, but the coveted spot of his arch enemy is reserved for a lowly human being, who happens to be brilliant, resourceful, opportunistic, xenophobic, and incredibly manipulative. Lex Luthor, as he has been portrayed at least since the mid-1980s and in writer/artist John Byrne’s massive Superman relaunch, is easily one of the most fascinating characters in superhero comics. The Joker is the most revered DC Comics villain because of his charisma and unpredictability, but in a lot of ways Luthor is a more effective villain because he has all of those things, just in a different flavor: a more reserved, patient flavor. So, when Geoff Johns ended Forever Evil by hinting that Luthor may be joining the ranks of DC’s premiere superhero team, part of me felt like that would be blasphemic. No, he doesn’t murder people every day in the streets, but Luthor is evil: a potentially more frightening evil largely because it’s so patient.
Over the last couple of months, Johns’ story in Justice League has been laying the groundwork for Luthor to join the team by showing a fascinating physical and ideological clash with Batman, as well as the mastermind laying the groundwork for other contingency plans to combat dangerous forces in the wake of the Crime Syndicate’s attack in Forever Evil. All of that groundwork comes to a head in this issue, with a final page that’s not particularly surprising, but it still feels very important. With Batman at one of his most vulnerable points since the team first came together, he does what he can to convince his partners that keeping Luthor close will help them better protect the world from him, while also helping them monitor exactly what he’s up to. All of this is beautifully rendered by Doug Mahnke, who has solidified himself as one of DC’s absolute best event artists over the last few years.
Justice League continues to be a great book for fans of the wider DC Universe, and with Lex Luthor serving as a primary focus, my hopes remain high that it will stay that way for the foreseeable future. 8.5/10
Honorable Mentions from DC This Week: Future’s End: Action Comics #1, Tiny Titans: Return to the Treehouse #4
From Marvel: Original Sin #8 by Jason Aaron (Script) and Mike Deodato (Art)
The end of a big crossover event from one of the big two comic publishers is always a time for reflection, at least for this reader. A lot of people talk about “event fatigue,” in the sense that they feel comic book publishers employ massive stories that bleed into their other titles a little too often. A lot of fans feel pressured into buying titles that they normally wouldn’t in order to get “the whole story,” when in truth, many of the tie-in issues that bear the title of the big event story have little to no bearing on the overall narrative. My personal approach to comic book events, and what I often tried to relay to my customers when I worked in a comic book store, was only to read the tie-ins for characters that you actually care about. If you already like Spider-Man and are genuinely interested to see how the events of Original Sin may affect him, you probably don’t need to feel too badly about picking up that tie-in issue of The Amazing Spider-Man. Not really interested in the Secret Avengers team lineup? Then why even pick up their event tie-in?
Really, though, beyond the debate about event fatigue, the true meat of any discussion about comic book events is in the main story itself. Over the past several months, the GeekNation Pull List has reviewed every issue of Marvel’s Original Sin and has been very positive about it, because as an event it has dared to go in some very interesting, and at times uncomfortable places for the Marvel heroes. That automatically puts a lot of pressure on the finale to fully deliver on the promise of the previous seven issues, and for the most part, it succeeds. What Aaron does an effective job of in the finale is truly bringing all of the events of the previous issues to a head in a way that feels like it will be satisfying as we head into the final pages. While the closing moments to the series are mostly satisfying, they contain a little too much emphasis on exposition that could have been laid in previous issues. Pushing some of the biggest revelatory moments toward the very end of the story with little to no build-up toward how they specifically play out felt a bit rushed, which could have been avoided if the possibility for the major eventuality had been planted in a previous issue (or issues).
That being said, Original Sin leaves the Marvel Universe in a very interesting place, especially considering its place on the cusp of big change. Captain America and Thor are about to be replaced in new ongoing titles, the Watcher and Nick Fury are out of the picture, and the new protector of Earth “on the wall” is about to fully start his duties. It feels like Original Sin will have a long aftermath, since in some cases it fundamentally changes how the heroes view each other, and what could happen with some major characters going forward. Mike Deodato deserves a great deal of credit for making all eight issues of this series very compelling, and he is the reason why this series should receive quite a positive reception when its collected edition is released in a couple of months.
I found myself enjoying Original Sin a lot, and it’s probably the Marvel event that I’ve enjoyed the most since 2006’s Civil War. In a lot of ways, though, it feels like it’s in a greater Marvel tradition than even that event, and with a satisfying finale, I look forward to revisiting this series again in the future. 8/10
Honorable Mentions from Marvel This Week: Death of Wolverine #1, Rocket Raccoon #3
From Image: God Hates Astronauts #1 by Ryan Browne (Story/Art)
One of the most difficult ways to deliver pure humor is likely in the comic book medium. It all depends on the voices and inflections that the reader gives to the static words on the page, and in some ways, there can be a failure of communication dependent on the humor itself. For my personal tastes, surreal humor is very much my thing. From the early days of the Marx Brothers and their clever play-on-words craziness on up through movies like Walk Hard and TV shows like Aqua Teen Hunger Force, I really enjoy off-the-wall insanity that surreal humor can provide. When I first opened up God Hates Astronauts #1, it was love at first sight. NASA led by a superhero with a flaming cow’s head and an army of bears? I’m already onboard. Space crabs from the Crab Nebula with a tiger for a king who’s always eating a cheeseburger? Why not? This title is bleeding irreverent surrealism from every page, and the seemingly random construction of disparate elements all combine into a purely fun reading experience.
To try and explain the premise of the series would actually do a disservice to what it’s going for, since the strength of the reading experience is helped by going in cold. Suffice it to say that God Hates Astronauts presents its own universe where space travel is apparently the norm, as are relations between planetary governments. The story is populated by a cast of colorful and original characters with a seemingly greater interest in sex than many other things, and the reaction to that interest can range from “gross” to “hilarious…and gross.” All of the dialogue in the issue is a mixture of Silver Age-like embellishment along with modern cynicism, and the combination of the two often hits the comedic nail right on the head. The timing of the dialogue as far as cadence and pacing also lends to the comedic timing of the overall issue, and it all combines into a genuinely hilarious book for anyone that enjoys surreal humor.
In addition to his dialogue, Browne’s artwork has a varying style between characters and situations that is actually pretty impressive. He bounces around between a couple of different artistic styles to suit the needs of the characters at different points in the story, going from superhero archetype on one page to EC-inspired shadowed horror on another. The layouts are all clean, and with a concept as far out as this one, Browne never manages to lose the reader on what the clear succession of events are. In that regard, it’s kind of a treat in comic book storytelling, but of course, the true star is the special brand of humor. It permeates this thing from cover to cover, and the art only lends itself to the strength of the humor making for an all-around fun and hilarious new title.
God Hates Astronauts probably isn’t for everyone, and it’s definitely only for adults. If you like the sound of what’s been described, though, then do yourself a favor and pick it up. It’s so crazy that it demands to be the GeekNation Pull List’s Pick of the Week, and you’re crazier than a chicken-loving farmer if you don’t give it a try. 9/10
Honorable Mentions from Independents This Week: Ex-Con #1, RoboCop #3
That does it this week on the Pull List! Be sure to come back next week for a fresh batch of comic book reviews, and don’t forget to leave your own thoughts or suggestions in the comments below!
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