Wednesday, August 28, 2013

The Wednesday Review: Sex and Crossovers

In the last couple of weeks there have been some more than a few discussions about the role of depictions of sexual violence in comics. Joseph Hughes on Comics Alliance had a good rundown of the controversy revolving around Mark Millar's use of rape in his Kick-Ass comics, and Millar's dismissive opinion of that use. Warren Ellis has made a good argument elsewhere that violence in fiction is a necessary outlet and artistically valid. I've long been bothered by fictionalized rape in comics, but don't blink when someone gets decapitated (like in the new Lazarus 3) or blown up or whatever horrifying sci-fi violence cooked up by creators the world over. But Laura Hudson is right: rape and other forms of violence are simply not equivalent. But. And there's always a but: The discussion has been focused on sexual violence against women, as it should be, but what about sexual violence against men?
Sex 6
Well, depictions of men being raped almost never happens, outside of (usually) jokes about prison rape. So I was mildly startled by the brutal rape of a male character is Joe Casey and Piotr Kowalski's Sex #6. I've written about Casey & Kowalski's Sex previously in the Wednesday Review; I dig this title more with every single issue. A delicately paced corporate future-shock post-superhero character crime drama with the occasional sex scene, everything that has been drawing me further into this compelling and unique comic is on full display in this issue. But there is also a sequence where the big bad of the series has a male computer wiz - described as a "bitch" on the recap page - beaten and raped for information. If this same scene involved the torture and rape of a woman, everyone and their non-comic reading cousin would be calling for Casey's head and coming at comic shops with pitchforks. But because the rape is of a man, will anyone even care? And, hell, do I ultimately care? Sex has been so good, while this scene took me out, everything else just drew me back in. Rest assured, the sex in Sex is not of a violent type, and the consensual sex scene in the comic is pretty hot and not remotely gratuitous. But the rape scene in Sex is pretty damn uncomfortable and I can't tell if Casey is trying to play it up for laughs, and if he was, then that may be the nail in the coffin for this book - which is a damn shame because it has been excellent up to this point. The jury's still out I guess. I just wish it didn't have to be.

FF 11, Young Avengers 9
Switching gears, please/thanks, are two absolutely wonderful superhero comics from Marvel. I've gushed about FF by Matt Fraction and Mike Allred before, and - just as Fraction's leaving the book to get his Inhumanity on - the team produces yet another one-shot mini Marvel masterpiece in issue 11. Packed with the series' wonderful humor, compassion, logic and flair, the Replacement Four go off to find the Fantastic Four, but get shanghaied by the Impossible Man looking for help with his son. Elsewhere, the robots continue to steal scenes and Maximus the Mad runs into Julius Ceasar. Oh, and Mike & Laura Allred owned This Week in Superhero Comics. I''m being light on details, because this is a book to be enjoyed, not told about, so go out and enjoy it while the getting is good. In the same league is Kieron Gillen and Jamie McKelvie's Young Avengers 9, brimming with inventive energy, character moments fraught with high drama, stunning art, and plot out the wazoo. Featuring endings and beginnings and twists to spare, this is a good point to jump on if you haven't yet. Or better yet, pick up the first trade paperback out today and see what all the fuss is about. 

Unwritten 52, New Avengers 9, Wolverine and the X-Men 35
There are three key kinds of crossovers in American mainstream comics: the first where two titles from different universes cross over into each others stories; another is where a bunch of different titles in a shared universe tie-in with a common storyline (nowadays usually called an Event); and the third is where a one sequential story is told across multiple titles. The current storyline in Mike Carey and Peter Gross's usually superb Vertigo ongoing Unwritten 52 is an example of the first, with Tom Taylor (well, a Tom Taylor) and crew popping up in Bill Willingham's Fables. As Unwritten is very much a long-form closed story and not an open-ended superwhatever comic, this crossover isn't the type seen most often with this format where different protagonists just get mashed together for a few issues - we can be assured that the events that transpire are part of a long-held plan. But "The Unwritten Fables" still feels unnecessary, despite the fact that this will be the last arc of The Unwritten before a hiatus and perfunctory renumbering this winter. The Unwritten are bouncing around the Fables-verse when Mr. Dark was still the main villain (so, like, a year and a half ago) and the long sequences focusing on the Fables and their dealings with Mr. Dark, despite the thrill of Gross's interpretation of Mark Buckingham's Fables, just seem tired and irrelevant. I used to anticipate new issues of The Unwritten, now I can't wait for this story to be over so we can get on with business as usual.

Then there is the Event, oh, the Event, the accursed, money-grabbing corporate Event. Right now in the Marvel Universe, its Jonathan Hickman's Infinity, but in Hickman I trust and he doesn't let me down in New Avengers 9. A superb, riveting superhero comic playing an integral part in his cosmic epic, it manages to also provide the next chapter in his long-running Illuminati-heavy arc while pumping out a ton of action from Wakanda to Westchester, really spectacularly illustrated by Mike Deodato within Hickan's impeccable production design. And I don't usually like his art, but Deodato and colorist Frank Martin are a lot more detailed, a lot more accessible and a lot less muddy here. I've long preferred the New amongst Hikman's two Avengers titles, and this continues to hold up.  I wish I could say the same about other books in the crossover, or, more properly the dreaded "Tie-In": Avengers Assemble and Captain Marvel just cover the same tracks as Hickman's Avengers 18. But some amount of filler is to be expected in Events, and to be avoided. Stick to Hickman throughout Infinity and you won't be disappointed.

The third type of crossover will be happening soon in all the key Marvel X-books (which tend to be the books that usually do this kind of crossover). Starting next month is Children of the Atom, where its revealed that Astro Boy has fathered every mutant in the Marvel Universe. Or not, I don't know what its about. I just know that it will be disrupting Wolverine and the X-Men, which concluded one hell of a story in issue 35 today. Jason Aaron and Nick Bradshaw are firing on all cylinders together, and Aaron's lighter, poppier, high-fun superhero style is always a delight to read from the increasingly chameleonic creator. I know Aaron will handle this crossover with the same skill he has others, I'd just rather see him continue to do his own thing.

Lets close with a Dark Horse three-pack: Itty Bitty Hellboy 1, the Aw Yeah-ification of Mike Mignola's Hellboy/BPRD-verse by all-ages impresarios Baltazar and Franco was sadly disappointing. I really enjoyed their Tiny Titans comics, and am genuinely looking forward to their upcoming Kickstarter-backed creator owned book, but their Hellboy outing just falls flat. ... What's with Brian Wood and nuclear weapons in New York City? DMZ pretty much jumped the shark when the nuke showed up there. In Wood's Massive 15, the pissed off guy with the stolen nuclear submarine faces off with what's left of the U.S. Army while people on the Kapital reminisce about melodrama, and it all just breaks down into a sequence about as riveting as Itty Bitty Hellboy. And then the nukes got launched, but were stopped by Clarke's star child like in 2001 (the novel). No, but, seriously, the Earth just gobbled them up, according to the news channel that is somehow still broadcasting post-Crash. Massive continues to alternate between intriguing and patently ridiculous. ... But Matt Kindt's MIND MGMT 14 was pretty damned good as usual, so there's that.

Happy Wednesday, everyone!

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