Monthly Archives: June 2013

Ultimate Comics: Divided We Fall, United We Stand

The latest Ultimate crossover event was pretty exciting to read, but will I think be hard to review. Every story affected the others, but every story distinctly belonged to its own group and had its own thematic resonance, none of which the other stories were involved in. Which is to say, it was truly a crossover instead of just a big event affecting everyone. I’m not sure the Ultimate universe has done that before, not really.

Also, man, I feel like there are a lot of spoilers down there. I’m trying not to, but it’s basically impossible to say anything useful without a few, especially for events in recent books. Also, this turned more into my thoughts on the state of the universe in general than on the story told in particular, which I guess was inevitable considering the subject matter? Either way, if you’re leery of spoilers, catch up to issue 18 of each line first (or this book, obvs), is the best I can recommend.

I’ll take them in order, mostly because that is the order of scope reduction, and the title is nothing if not sweeping and grandiose. Divided We Fall, United We Stand is both an accurate description of the situation in the United States and a spoiler for how things will turn out (although, in keeping with the darkness that has fallen over the Ultimate universe since Magneto’s Ultimatum, I have not expected things to turn out as happy as all that in quite some time). And the Ultimates’ section of the story, which is mostly focused on the until-recently absent Captain America, is about the big battles in the wake of the country’s collapse. Because, see, the Sentinels have taken over the Southwest on a mutant extermination spree, and several other states have splintered off as they realized that the government was ineffective and also had been nuked. In addition to being big and sweeping, it is also (like Captain America, really) fairly unsubtle, so I will leave him to his explosions and big shocking events and move on to the mutants.

So, Kitty Pryde, right? It’s weird, because she and maybe Rogue are big important characters to me in the Ultimate universe, and yet (as of December, 1978) I still have yet to meet them in mainstream continuity. Therefore, uniquely in this experiment, their new incarnations will impact how I see the originals instead of the other way around. And I’ve got to say, I am a really big fan of Kitty Pryde right now. I can’t say for certain, but I expect this to be an unpopular decision from the other direction. I think it’s mainly that, for all that mutants have been at the core of everything that’s happened in the last few years (well, except the oddness with Reed Richards), almost nobody in the mutant storyline has been the least bit sympathetic. Karen Grant is an enigma, Quicksilver is a puppet, Wolverine Mark 2 hasn’t done anything meaningful yet, and Storm has not evidenced the least bit of agency. So a natural born leader who wants to go out and make a difference, and better still, seems capable of it? Yeah, that’s what this plot has needed for a good long while. The only downside is that her story should have been spread out over a couple more issues instead of being shoehorned into the deadline set by the main plotline over in the Ultimates.

Side note that fits here as well as anywhere: one of the absolutely strangest things about the Ultimate universe is how insignificant the Fantastic Four are. Even back when they were an existing concern, they were bit players outside of the Galactus story, and now that they’ve disbanded, it’s like people don’t even know who they are. When I compare that to mainstream Marvel, and especially the year plus break-up of the team that occurred across 1978 and how each individual was still really popular in the public eye regardless? It’s almost confusing, and certainly indicates how divergent the Ultimate story has become.

And, lastly, Spider-Man. I’m glad to see that Aunt May is still one of the best characters in Ultimate Marveldom, I’m glad to see Mary Jane at all, I want to see more of Jessica Drew now that they seem on the verge of making her interesting again in a way she hasn’t been since she stopped interacting with Peter. None of that really has to do with Miles Morales, of course, but that’s because they were all at the fringes of his story, which I don’t want to get into all that much. I guess the short version of it is this: just like the X-Men, a little more time should have been spent here, because this is the first new take on the death of Ben Parker and the power/responsibility shtick in fifty years, and Bendis did a pretty good job; but I think if he’d had a little more time to spread his wings and a little less necessity to shoehorn that into this crossover, he would have done an amazing job instead.

Okay. That was a lot of words.


Ultimate Comics Spider-Man – Volume 3

I’m about to read a large crossover event in the current greatly-reduced-in-size Ultimate Universe, and it turns out that 3/4 of the current Spider-Man book (cleverly titled “Volume 3“) is also in the crossover book. Why they released a crossover book for the X-Men and Ultimates but then still let Spider-Man be published separately was a mystery to me, and now that I’ve read the opening section that isn’t in said crossover book, the solution to that mystery seems to be “publishing mistake”.

Because, seriously, the two issues I am reviewing are solely about wrapping up the Prowler and Scorpion plotlines from Volume 2. Not only did they belong there thematically, but they also made for one hell of a cliffhanger! It’s hard to review this any better, because it’s so short that I can only get into spoiler territory, so let me just say this: you know how I was intrigued by the “dark uncle” mirror that Miles is facing? I cannot really imagine a more impactful moral resolution to that mirror than the one I was presented with, and I am once again really looking forward to what comes next.

Oh, also, the thing where every time I read one of these books, I’m caught up in missing Peter Parker too much to appreciate Miles’ story for what it is? I guess that has ended! Either it was the year off or Spider-Men bringing the two characters face to face or me reading three different Peter Parker books in 1978 continuity, but whatever it is, I’m settled. So that’s nice!


Is this a good idea that I should be pursuing more consistently? Or a terrible idea that should never again see the light of day?It is known that I was already going to read any Stephen King book, and approximately on publication day. But a Stephen King book that is also about carnies? It’s like a match made in my heaven.

Joyland is a mish-mash of a coming-of-age story, a ghost story, and a hard-boiled mystery (hence the Hard Case Crime imprint), and of course I think that works; I’ve always thought King was the best fiction writer around, even though he mostly gets pigeonholed in horror[1] and people fail to think of him in a more general sense. Anyway, to rate it on each of its parts: the mystery was perhaps the weakest aspect, though I’m not a big mystery fan so I’m not sure that’s fair of me to judge. Perhaps the mystery is solvable, but it was not by me, and anyway, perhaps that should not really be a criterion? The ghost story was just the amount of spooky that you can get out of real life, or at least just the amount I’ve ever managed to eke out of real life, which is to say, not nearly enough. But strangely, this is not a criticism. Or at least, I criticize real life for this more than I criticize the book.

As for the coming of age, that is both mine and King’s bread and butter, and while I can’t say this is the best he’s ever handled it, it’s probably the best he’s handled it with college-aged characters. (Which, okay, the only comparison is Hearts in Atlantis, which was really good as well, but I don’t recall it being this poignant, introspective, or personal in scope.)

Also, if you care about such things, you could easily read it over the course of a single rainy afternoon.

[1] Which, to be clear, this book was not.

The Boys: Good for the Soul

Each volume of The Boys (okay, out of three, so what do I know?) has gotten better by, er, leaps and bounds. Good for the Soul was exactly that, for Hughie who is finding a little peace in the midst of his overturned life as a member of the Boys, the group of folks who watch the watchmen; for Annie, who is finding some small sliver of the same peace even as her eye-opening stint with the world’s premiere supergroup, the Seven, is leaving her more and more jaded; and especially for me, who is relieved to find that Ennis was not a one trick pony and can still plot with gradual subtlety instead of just gay hamster jokes. (Man, the first book in this series really didn’t sit well with me, did it?)

Also: cool backstory sequence! But mainly I’m excited to watch the endgame I can already see coming, when it’s Romeo and Juliet against both the Montagues and the Capulets; and just like Shakespeare’s tale, neither side has exactly covered itself in glory, which makes it all the more pleasant that Hughie and Annie are actually good people in the eye (for now) of this still-brewing storm, and not just flint-and-tinder angsty teenaged plot-devices.

Hack/Slash: Torture Prone

I have three problems with the Hack/Slash series. The first is that the last few books have seen a lot of effort to get away from episodic mayhem in which chronically under-dressed teen hunter-of-killers Cassie Hack smashes and outwits her way through one supernatural slasher rampage[1] after another, in favor of there being a secret society that causes these guys to live again in the first place. I cannot tell if this is unsatisfying to me because I don’t like the way it’s written or because I don’t want them to tie in an overarching plot and take away the possibility that the adventures continue forever. Either way, I’ve not so much been a fan.

The second problem is that I’m just not that attached to all the secondary characters. Give me Cassie and her misshapen companion Vlad, and I’m perfectly happy. Page after page of teen detectives and unhappy Indianan couples and romantically dissatisfied strippers and… well, okay, the skinless, speaking dog from another dimension is pretty cool, I’ll grant them that one. My point was, every page of those characters is a page that doesn’t have Cassie in it, and I’m pretty enh on the whole concept of her not being the focus. The good news is, Torture Prone is perhaps taking me in the direction I want to go, here.

The third problem is that if you take away the significant cheesecake quotient and consider that I don’t much care for the plot I’m being presented with, there’s almost no reason for me to be reading these. Cheesecake quotient, by itself in a vacuum, really isn’t something I can justify. I mean, I don’t have to justify it, so there’s that, but if this is a thought that I’m thinking, you know something has gone wrong. Upshot: I’m really hoping I was right about the second problem being on the path to resolution, because there are still four or five books before the apparent end of the series.

[1] Jason Vorhees. Chucky the Doll. Freddy Krueger. You know the drill.


Remember back when Mysterio finally showed up in the Ultimate universe, and Spider-Man (still Peter Parker at the time) did… well, something to defeat him? As you can see, I don’t precisely remember either. Whatever it actually was, Ultimate Mysterio ended up in regular Marvel continuity, just long enough to toss regular, 30-something Peter Parker into the Ultimate universe, where he confronts all kinds of unexpected new realities, such as his own death and its attendant fame, not to mention newcomer Miles Morales.

Then other things happen, but really the premise is enough. I think what I got out of this book, and not only because quite a few of the characters in the book got it too, was catharsis. I have, quite a number of times, complained about what was done in this series a few years ago. Maybe what I’ve really needed to swallow those complaints is a sense of closure. Maybe I’m just finally ready to move on and accept the world as it is. Whatever the case, this was a good bookend on Ultimate Peter Parker’s life, and I’m glad the story got told.

Also, though: it’s time to stop squandering Mary Jane. She should ought to be part of the story again, somehow, if only so that the last time I ever see her (and this is true at least twice over!) isn’t steeped in insurmountable misery, forever. Girl deserves better.

This Book Is Full of Spiders: Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It

The thing about John Dies at the End is that, despite the highly visible spoiler, it still left some room for a review. Who is this John fellow anyway, for example, and what kinds of emotions will I experience when he dies? The problem with David Wong’s finally-arrived sequel, This Book Is Full of Spiders with its helpful sticker warning of Seriously, Dude, Don’t Touch It, is that pretty well sums the book up. It is very much full of spiders, that book. Invisible spiders, on the bright(?) side, unless you are like David and his friend John Cheese and have been dosed with an alien drug called Soy Sauce on the street, which gives you all kinds of time-and-space-spanning knowledge and also allows you to see all the invisible things in the world that your brain usually protects you from, like (in this case) giant far-too-large spiders that intend to crawl into your brain and take over control of your actions and decisions, possibly while leaving you unaware of this fact.

The good news is, that’s pretty much the only problem with David Wong’s new book. Just like JDatE, it is funny and terrifying and occasionally entirely sweet, only this time it was plotted as a novel instead of a long, rambling series of internet stories that got turned into a novel at the last second, which means it works a lot better structurally, with all manner of foreshadowing and sinking “oh hell, that really just / is about to happen/ed” feelings, and he even got to toss in another mention of the Monkeysphere.

Shorter version of this review: man, I’m happy I read this book, and man I’m sad that there probably won’t be another one anytime soon[1], considering the five year gap between these two. Also, I’m glad I finally reviewed it, because I’m caught up again and, not that reading tons of old comics isn’t gratifying in itself, but it will be nice to be reading actual books again also. Truth.

[1] I wonder if there will be a movie, though? That wouldn’t suck.

Star Trek Into Darkness

MV5BMTk2NzczOTgxNF5BMl5BanBnXkFtZTcwODQ5ODczOQ@@._V1__SX1537_SY723_I saw J.J. Abram’s Star Trek sequel on approximately opening night, which raises the entirely valid question of “why haven’t you reviewed it, that was weeks or months ago, and in the meantime it has been universally[1] panned by the internets, and also you could have saved me some trouble over here, so why are you wasting my time now?” Well, the long answer is that there was something that didn’t quite gel for me and I knew I would see it again because of having parents that I see movies with, but then scheduling failures made that never actually happen until yesterday, what with my active camping life and all. The short and far more relevant answer is because I (apparently) was waiting for all of that panning to occur, so that I could write a review in defense of Star Trek Into Darkness[2]. To that end: the remainder of the review contains spoilers. Since I really am pretty sure everyone has already seen it, and also since my cuts survive nowhere except here on the site anyway, I opt not to care so much.

See, what everyone seems to have disliked so much (aside from the standard summer blockbuster lazy shortcuts) is “why are you going back to the Khan well just because this is your second movie?” and “how are we supposed to believe the emotional connection between Kirk and Spock when you haven’t established it yet?” Which are entirely valid questions, but I think Abrams was coming in from the opposite direction. He doesn’t have three years of TV episodes and a decade of fans clamoring and fictioning and relationshipping and all of that to build from, he only has his previous movie, which got Kirk and Spock from visible dislike to something nearing respect.

The first thing that it’s important to remember, then, is that this is not a remake of the Wrath of Khan, certain climactic engine room sequences aside. It’s a remake of Space Seed, with the perfectly fair excuse that Khan and his ilk were found by someone else because Starfleet was crippled by that one Romulan mining ship last time, and isn’t spread out and exploring everywhere yet. So, yes, you can call Abrams cheap for picking a Star Trek villain so iconic they made a movie about him later, BUT, like I said, he doesn’t have the room to explore all these growing relationships comfortably, and I will not fault him for taking a shortcut on the bad guy so the audience understands the stakes immediately. (I also will not blame anyone else for faulting him that, though; it could have been done other ways, I reckon.)

Anyway, my second and much more relevant point is this. The scene I watched at the end of the engine room sequence was not an emotional payoff about friendship and loss that didn’t work on multiple levels, because it wasn’t a payoff scene at all. That was the moment in which Kirk and Spock became the friends we are meant to suppose they were always destined to become. Even knowing the Khan scream and the tribble were around the corner, both actors sold the sense of losing something they had just found, and it was more moving the second time around when it clicked into place than my first time had been.

Which, alas, brings me to the way the movie really did fail. Yes, there’s no fifteen years of accumulated backstory to rely upon, and yes, I was not seven years old when I was watching this particular film. All the same, Kirk’s “death” was terribly cheap. Why is McCoy randomly injecting dead tribbles with super-blood in the first place? Lamest, most random science ever. And as much as I respect the method of finding and exposing that moment of friendship on the screen, a sacrifice is still a sacrifice. I don’t want to watch a contrived third movie in which they race to find a cure for Kirk-on-ice, even more remaketastic than this one was, I admit that. And after just having praised the way the scene started, it’s pretty lame of me to turn around and fault the same scene from the other direction. I can’t say what I would have done differently, but man was it a clumsy band-aid on the problem. The moreso when I compare myself walking out of the theater at age seven, crying because how could Mr. Spock really be dead, and now today’s seven year-old has magic tribble blood?[3]

Upshot: it’s still not as good as it should have been, but I think it’s a lot better than I’m seeing it be given credit for. Upshot of the upshot: I really wish this cast would be put on television instead of making another movie in another few years or being put back on the shelf forever. Because the parts that work, they work really well, and the parts that don’t work are mostly Hollywood’s fault.

[1] Galactically?
[2] It really makes me twitch that IMDB expects that preposition to be capitalized even in the absence of a colon. I will not be defending the title part of the movie, thusly.
[3] I’m well aware that’s not what happened, but I’ve also talked to seven-year-olds lately, and it’s not nearly wrong enough for them to be well aware it’s not what happened.