Jun 30, 2016

Is Rorschach Gay? And Other Watchmen Observations

I'm rereading Alan Moore and Dave Gibbons' Watchmen for a larger piece I'm working on, and I had some random thoughts while reading it that I thought I'd share with you here.

Naturally, spoilers for this 30-year-old story abound, so if you haven't read it, then, you know, don't read this yet.

No Thought Balloons Makes You Speculate on Certain Things

For example, Ozymandias is totally thinking of removing the grappling hook and killing Rorschach here, isn't he?

Intentional Misreading

I've never noticed this before, and it seems to be the kind of thing that's completely unintentional and reading too much into it, and it may be the Absolute Edition drawing my eye into different places or my overall ADD, but that shot of Rorschach's face in the top right panel of the left page just drew me to that shot of Hollis on the top left panel of the right page, so I ended up reading these two pages as one long page (entire top row first, then the second row, then the third).

And what ends up happening there is Rorschach goes "Hurm" and then Hollis goes "Watch the language." It's interesting and actually reads better that way. Whether or not it was intentional doesn't matter.

The Mysteries Are Really Very Obvious

Question for you guys who went into Watchmen cold. I knew who Rorschach was and who the "villain" was gonna be before I read the book the first time (Wizard spoiled it). But did you guys who didn't know that going in figure it out before they did the big reveals? I ask because rereading it now, it seems pretty obvious who they are with all the stuff Moore and Gibbons do, but I never had that experience of trying to figure it out, so I don't know how obvious it is if you go in cold.

Rorschach's seems like they're giving it away as early as here. This is the end of the first scene with Walter Kovacs.

And this is the start of the next page, the first scene with Rorschach.

If the last panel of the first scene and the first panel of the second were right beside each other, wouldn't the reader automatically think (not even think it's something to "figure out") that it's obvious?

And this is my favorite bit of foreshadowing involving Ozymandias.

Rorschach Would Have Been So Different

Here's an early concept sketch.

Rorschach is weird in it.

Rorschach is a Really Bad Detective

I mean, really, he mentions that it's a shame Moloch is dead because he'd be a great suspect.  This entire scene is literally nine panels of him blabbing on and on about Egyptian gods while Dan stumbles onto the solution. Much of what he says to Dan in the Owlship too, it's just false bravado. "We should be questioning people in the underworld." "Give me the littlest finger on a man's hand and I'll produce information." No, Walter, we saw you do all that earlier in the series, and you produced nothing. You are really bad at your job.

Is Rorschach Gay?

Here's a scene where Dan Dreiberg, Nite Owl, is unbearably awkward due to his attraction to Laurie Juspeczyk, Silk Spectre.

And a few issues later, here's Rorschach and Nite Owl.

I always thought this was just Rorschach being unbearably awkward in general, but so little in this book is unintentional and so much of it is reflective, so it got me thinking. And if it is intended to hint at his homosexuality, the face his mask makes is adorable.


I Don't Think A Lot of This Would Work If It Came Out Today

This whole comic really does look different given modern sensibilities. There's really no way this storyline flies if it came out today.

The general awareness of rape — even attempted rape — its effects on its victims, its psychological and physiological impact on not just the victims, but also the vortex and community around the victims, is so much higher now and changes the complexion of the story. Given that, the idea that Sally eventually forgave Eddie, that they would eventually have a child, and that Laurie, even if she is that child, would posthumously forgive Eddie, is a less plausible idea in 2016 than it was in 1986 (even though it has been known to happen). And Rorschach, whose mother was a sex worker and whose one real act of forgiveness/compromise in the book is to not reprimand his landlady, who is implied to be a sex worker, certainly would not, given the heightened awareness of rape and sexual assault, overlook Eddie's history of it and classify it simply as "a moral lapse," which he does in the first issue. (Moore has admitted that his intent was to portray Rorschach as a terrible and demented human being, and there are so many things throughout the book that leads to that point. But he's also the only one among all of them with as much moral integrity as he does, misguided though those morals are, whereas everyone else in the book is pretty wishy washy, detached, and all that, that Rorschach ends up looking like the most admirable person in the book, in terms of his integrity alone.)

In a way, that actually cements the need for the comic to stay rooted in the 1980s; the social climate makes it so complicated, and different, in the 2010s. The Eddie/Sally pairing is to make it so that Laurie's parentage is as unlikely and as improbable and as unreasonable a pairing as feasible in the story. A 2010s story involving such a device would most likely not use rape. (What would they use? I don't know.)

Jun 27, 2016

Jubilee: The Real Trinity

Jubilee: A Detailed Introduction to an X-Men Legend
Part 3 – The Real Trinity
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

Inspired by an awful ‘90s cartoon, and spurred on by my love of the absurd, I’ve decided to cover the burgeoning comics career of a multimedia superstar, Jubilee of the Uncanny X-Men. Jubilee was fortunate enough to be filling the role of the mutant teen sidekick in the comics when the cartoon was developed, and therefore made the roster of the show, rocketing her to international fame and acclaim as a foundational member of the X-Men in the eyes of the masses. All of that is completely true, and I will acknowledge no arguments otherwise.

Previously, Jubilee was an orphan living on her own. Wolverine, for some reason, is the most desirable mentor a teenage mutant girl can have. Psylocke went from a shy Caucasian telepath, to an Asian ninja assassin. Other things happened, but they’re weird and unsettling.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Marc Silvestri; Inker: Dan Green; Editor: Bob Harras

An average fictional rogue military unit going by the name the Harriers has their eyes on Wolverine. Wolverine, Psylocke, and Jubilee have made their way to Madripoor, where Jubilee is currently having a bit of a problem with the food (and with trusting Psylocke).

Wolverine and Psylocke are having a telepathic conversation about how she continues to share his phantom visions of Carol Danvers and Nick Fury, when Wolverine is suddenly snatched backwards through the wall by one of the Harriers.

Jubilee takes a grenade to the chest, giving the Harriers a chance to escape with Wolverine while Psylocke attends to their young teammate.

Fortunately, the grenade wasn’t lethal, and Jubilee wakes up much later no worse for wear, except for her continued intense dislike and mistrust of Psylocke. Psylocke was able to find out where Wolverine is being held, but all indications are that it’s a trap.

(Early videos and pictures indicated that Olivia Munn will be a pretty great Psylocke. Both her and Jubilee in X-Men: Apocalypse should have me more excited about it based on those facts alone, but it’s still being made by Fox. Anyway, as far as the costume conservatives go, Munn doesn’t appear to have any reservations about putting on the purple bikini.)

As they prepare to enact their plan to spring Wolverine, Jubilee expresses her disapproval of Psylocke reading her mind without permission (a perfectly valid complaint).

Jubilee walks into the warehouse hideout, under the guise of a pizza delivery girl, while Psylocke sneaks in through the roof and down into the rafters. Jubilee catches them off-guard and unleashes a tornado of her firecrackers, throwing the Harriers off balance and freeing Wolverine from his cage.

The precocious Jubilee distracts the hardened soldiers below, while Psylocke joins the fight from above. Unfortunately, the two are horribly outnumbered and are eventually subdued, until Wolverine joins the fray.

But, turns out Wolverine and Malone (leader of the Harriers) are good buddies, and this was all some big training exercise. Both of them wanted to test the battle savvy of their new teams.

Then the story ends.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Mike Collins; Inker: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Harras

(Seeing as how I was inspired by the unorthodox lineup of the ‘90s X-Men animated series, let’s take a quick detour into Gambit land.)

Storm (regressed to a teenage body by the nefarious egg-shaped Nanny) is on the run from the Shadow King inside a river-front mansion on the outskirts of Cairo, Illinois.

After falling from the upper floors of the house into a pool, she’s pulled from the water by a mysterious savior. Turns out, her savior is Gambit, introduced here for the first time. He’s a thief, who just so happened to be planning to rob the owner of the mansion of his valuable paintings at the same time this dramatic showdown was occurring.

(Interesting to see that his trademark throwing cards were not in-place yet. Also, not to get too cruel, but has there even been a less dynamic artist than Mike Collins that introduced such a well-known character? Silvestri and Jim Lee were regulars on the book at this point, and yet somehow Collins got the job for introducing a long-standing X-Men regular.)

Gambit, faced with a decision to either steal the paintings, or help his fellow thief, decides to help Ororo. Eventually they are able to escape.

(Considering Storm was Gambit’s introduction to the X-Men team, they really don’t seem to reference it a whole lot as time went on. They don’t seem to have much of a relationship at all, it seems.)

And yet another partnership is born.

(It’s also interesting to consider that by this point in the comics, Wolverine has become a mentor and a leader. So Gambit was probably picked for the cartoon to play the wildcard role, along with the resident pint-sized psychopath. Wolverine had become much too respectable in those days.)

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Jim Lee; Inker: Scott Williams; Editor: Bob Harras

This is one of the most famous covers in Marvel comics history, which makes the mediocrity of the story inside that much more glaring.

A flashback to Madripoor in 1941, sees Logan team up with a green Captain America to save the life of Natasha as a child. In present day, Black Widow is fighting some Hand ninjas when she’s joined by Wolverine, Jubilee, and Psylocke.

(Jim Lee draws a pretty outstanding Widow, I have to admit. Even in that awful costume she used to wear.)

Jubilee correctly notices that every old friend of Wolverine seems to be a devastatingly gorgeous woman.

Turns out, Widow is in Madripoor on the trail of the Strucker twins, which is what ties it into the flashback tale with Baron Strucker.

(I never noticed this bit of “acting” by Jubilee before, suddenly feeling very self-conscious amongst the very “gifted” women in the room.)

The four heroes enact a plan to sneak aboard the Strucker’s yacht. (Jubilee makes a pretty astute observation on the nature of men, something I myself have often noticed, even as a male myself.)

Turns out the yacht was a diversion, and Wolverine and friends are left looking like chumps.

(Such a mundane end for an issue that has become such a key back issue for collectors, based solely on the cover. There isn’t a better example of the style over substance ‘90s than that.)

As famous as they are for their work on the X-Men, I’m not entirely sure that Claremont and Jim Lee worked all that well together as a team. The 3-parter with Psylocke was pretty good, but those last two stories have had some truly anti-climatic endings. I can’t say the infamous new X-Men series they both launched later on in the ‘90s is known for its fan-pleasing storytelling either. Unsurprisingly, there were reports that Claremont and Jim Lee didn’t get along too well, with Lee allegedly being the catalyst for Claremont being removed from the X-Men after 17(?) straight years of being arguably the primary reason for the X-books becoming the dominant franchise of superhero comics. Right before Lee left Marvel to help form Image, to boot.

Next up for Jubilee is the X-tinction Agenda multi-series crossover, but I’m not entirely sure I can cover something so horrendous without getting paid.

I’ll flip through and see if I can stomach it.

Either way, next week more Jubilee!

Jun 24, 2016

Roundtable: The Last Comic That Surprised You

Name the last comic that legitimately took you by surprise, whether it had an out-of-nowhere cliffhanger or because you just didn't expect it to be as good as it turned out to be.

Back Issue Ben: Captain America #1 is the easy answer. I knew something big had happened, but I was able to avoid the specifics until I had a chance to read it. The Rebirth issue of Detective Comics was a nice surprise. Batman treating Batwoman like a respected colleague (hell, him treating anyone well is a nice surprise) and her revealing she always knew who he was. That and the team they're putting together, all made for a pleasant surprise.

Migs Acabado: I had to go with The Wicked + The Divine. When I started reading the first volume, I found it very confusing and then as the story progressed, it became more interesting and exciting. The biggest surprise for me is during the end of the second volume. I never thought that was gonna happen. You can't do that to your main character! You just released two volumes. It is too soon!

Jeff White: Daredevil #5 (vol 2). The death of Karen Page really caught me off guard. They didn't even tease in the solicits that there would be a major death (which is a bit surprising in itself) The Marvel Knights team had everyone checking this book out at the time and threw a shocker in it right before the end.

LaMar Forte: It may not be the last one, but it's the first one I can think of: Old Man Logan was a lot better than I expected it to be. I'm not the biggest fan of Wolverine, but I'm not averse to him and especially so when he has both a great supporting cast and interesting things to get into. That fight with "Bullseye" was perfectly paced and probably the extreme case of what Wolverine is capable of as a force of nature, and the art and story pacing totally sells it. End to end burner-no lies told, B.

Duy: I'm on Book 10 of Vagabond at this point, and one of the reasons I'm reading it, other than it being captivating and pretty, is that it's so economical and is paced so fast. With work taking time away from reading comics, I'd like to go to things that read fast, and Vagabond does that. One of the ways it goes fast is due to all the silent sequences. Mostly, these are fight scenes. In the most recent installment I read, two childhood friends and would-be lovers are reunited after basically being apart for the whole series thus far. The reunion is silent, and it lasts for several pages, and it's pretty freaking powerful, and if I had tear ducts, I might have cried.

Benj Bartolome: The Fade Out was great for me, a surprise because I don't even remember which Criminal book I read long ago (in short, unremarkable to me).  Also found three Dylan Dog digests in a sale bin, and I wish I could find more. It's got a solid mix of straight-faced wit and weird fantastic sexy. I'm not surprised though, that the movie adaptation with Brandon Routh was said to be awful. I imagine that kind of tone would be difficult to emulate, especially when the source is from a different culture. Like Judge Dredd is supposedly a difficult grasp for not Euro people (talking out of my ass).

Matt: I expected Darkwing Duck to be so terrible. It wasn't. It hit the right notes of the TV show, but also added nice touches and allusions to comics. I would go back to reading some more of the Boom! series if I get around to it.

Travis Hedge Coke: Three-way tie: Constantine, for having a new issue at all, and one with a shocking twist that made a lot of sense. The Last Crusade, because it's the only time Catwoman's been more than a brutalized victim in a Frank Miller comic other than Year One, and she's the voice of reason! And, lastly, I'm still shocked, delighted, and a little dizzy over Patsy Walker: AKA Hellcat referencing Nancy Brown after Marvel's kept her out of everything Patsy for the last fifty years.

Edrick Tan: Sleeper. I was lucky enough to find the first six issues for super cheap, otherwise i wouldn't have considered this title. It got my attention because of the glowing reviews from various comic sites/magazines, and the premise sounded interesting enough. Still, I did not expect at all that i would love it as much as I do. It was probably my first "superhero-crime" comic book and it just totally blew me away. Made me a Brubaker fan ever since. It's probably still my favorite Brubaker-Phillips book. TAO is one of the most formidable villains in comics and among my favorite Alan Moore creations.

Jun 20, 2016

Jubilee: The Girl Wonder

Jubilee: A Detailed Introduction to an X-Men Legend
Part 2 – The Girl Wonder
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

For a generation of fans raised on the ‘90s cartoon, Jubilee is one of the core members of the X-Men. Despite not having any emotional attachment to that awful cartoon, Jubilee is just corny enough to be one of my favorite X characters. Unlike Gambit, who always has and always will suck (except when played by the man, the myth, the legend, Tim Riggins). Spurred on by my ongoing obsession with covering in obscene detail the most absurd of comic book characters, I set my sights upon the young firecracker. The following transcribed police reports, detail exactly what happened after that choice was made.

Last week, Jubilee, a teenage mutant orphan living in the Hollywood mall, followed a group of the X-Women through a portal, back to their secret hiding base in the Australian outback. Jubilee secretly hid among them for several weeks, until the X-Men, spurred by recent crushing defeats (and a psychic push from Psylocke) all decided to start over by walking through the magical Siege Perilous. With the rest of the team gone, Wolverine was left alone to face a band of killers named the Reavers. Wolverine was captured and tortured, but eventually was able to free himself despite grievous wounds, and turned to a overwhelmed Jubilee for help.

If you understood even half of that, then you are clearly an X-Men fan.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Guest Penciler: Rick Leonardi; Guest Inker: Kent Williams; Editor: Bob Harras

Donald Pierce is livid after finding Wolverine missing. He commands his band of Reavers to scour the grounds and find him. Jubilee, in the middle of scrounging up some more supplies, watches on as they futilely search. (It’s obvious that Leonardi was influenced by Aliens in these scenes; Claremont even makes a reference to the movie in the dialogue of the Reavers. Either that, or Claremont asked for it in the script. Regardless, it is by far the best movie of that series. James Cameron may have gone on to make Avatar, something which he can never be forgiven for, but we’ll always have Aliens.)

Her internal fear masked by her flighty exterior, Jubilee returns to the badly wounded Wolverine, sleeping in her makeshift secret bedroom.

Wolverine is still hallucinating, this time seeing images of former confidants Carol Danvers and Nick Fury. Confused and disoriented, he pops his claws at the young stranger, and the shocked Jubilee responds with some fireworks to his belly, sending him back to sleepy-town.

The Reavers are having fun tearing apart the little town, especially Wolverine’s private quarters. Lady Deathstrike, still believing herself to be a samurai of honor, takes offense to a Reaver daring to hold the honor sword of the Clan Yashida, and takes it from him. Later, Jubilee is angry when she finds Wolverine outside, mediating with the mysterious Gateway, neither of them paying any attention to her complaints, even as they get increasingly louder. Jubilee gets lost in the stars for a moment, when they’re both pulled out of whatever vision they were sharing, because the Reavers are bearing down on them. (Pointless visions, a staple of the Claremont playbook.)

Wolverine holds them off the best he can with some stealth ambush tactics, taking out almost all of the Reavers, but eventually Pierce and his robo-mutts track him down. Pierce has Wolverine cornered, face-to-face, probably thinking he has the advantage against his injured nemesis. But he doesn’t know about Wolverine’s new sidekick, and Jubilee catches Pierce off guard with a devastating blast of fireworks, burying him under a wall of machinery. With all of the Reavers momentarily defeated, Wolverine and Jubilee have time to escape.

In 1989, I don’t know if you were going to find a better rotation of artists on one book than Silvestri, Jim Lee, and Leonardi. Leonardi was just a guest spot, but still. I wonder with Jim Shooter having created Boom Boom, a young teenage mutant girl with explosive light-based powers, if Claremont was sticking it to his former boss by not using her and creating Jubilee. I’m going with yes.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Artists: Marc Silvestri and Steve Leialoha; Editor: Bob Harras

This is, I believe, the introduction of young Storm. Her seeming death during the conflict with Nanny was one of the catalysts for the X-Men walking through the Siege Perilous, and now she has mysteriously returned as a young girl. I also distinctly remember purchasing this cover fresh off the new comics rack in 1989.

As Donald Pierce puts his damaged Reavers back together, Lady Deathstrike actually has Wolverine and Jubilee in her rifle sights. Again, believing herself to be a samurai warrior of nobility, she is not going to strike down her enemy in such a disrespectful manner, leaving their inevitable clash for another day.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Jim Lee; Inker: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Harras

In the previous issue, Psylocke was found and brainwashed by the Hand, becoming a psychic ninja assassin. She is also mysteriously now an Asian woman. Whether this was a result of traveling through the Siege Perilous, or by the work of the Hand, is unclear. It might be clear, but there’s no way I’m reading allll of that dialogue. So much dialogue. Regardless, she is now a smoking hot Asian ninja assassin in a bikini with purple hair, and a British accent. Some might say she was turned into an unrealistic male sexual fantasy, and to them I say, “what’s your point?” All kidding aside, this version of Psylocke was a major part of the book when I became a regular monthly reader of the X-Men, and I’ll always like the character because of that. I’m pretty sure I didn’t know that she ever looked any different for a long time. Did I also like the pinups of her in the Marvel Swimsuit Magazine that came out not too long after this? Of course I did. Okay, I’ve said enough, let’s get back to Jubilee.

Jubilee and Wolverine (in his identity of Patch) arrive in Hong Kong. (Jubilee is now clad in what will become her familiar attire; a yellow trenchcoat, red shirt, and green shorts. It’s very clearly a homage to Robin, the Boy Wonder, or maybe even Carrie Kelly. If there’s one thing Jim Lee has always been known for, it’s subtlety.) Wolverine is still in really bad shape, his healing factor not working nearly as effectively as it used to. He continues to hallucinate seeing Carol and Fury, to the point that he openly talks to them, and looks at Jubilee like she’s the crazy one when she points out there’s no one else with them.

Young Storm is surviving on the streets of Cairo, Illinois, which wasn’t too far from my hometown growing up. My local comic shop was very excited about this fact. It’s probably the first time I saw recent issues marked up past cover price for some arbitrary reason. Something fans that lived through the ‘90s know occurred with much more regularity in the years to follow. Later on, I remember an issue of Wolverine that allegedly confirmed that Sabretooth was his father being marked up to $5 on its date of release. Was this turn of events eventually discounted? Of course it was. Was I glad I spent the $5 to get a comic revealing something that eventually wasn’t true? Of course I wasn’t. Is this just one of the many reasons I don’t collect comics for value anymore? Absolutely.

Wolverine meets up with an old contact named Rose. They quickly pawn Jubilee off on Rose’s granddaughter, Ruth, and the two youngsters leave to do some shopping. Rose warns Wolverine that the Mandarin is consolidating control over the local underworld, and that he doesn’t want to get caught in the middle of it. Wolverine assures her that as soon as he gets what he needs, they’re out of there.

Psylocke is under thrall to the Mandarin, making his appearance in the X-Men as part of the Acts of Vengeance company crossover. Which I now realize is probably the first crossover I experienced as it was happening. That could be why I have such irrational affection for it.

Jubilee and Ruth are out on the town, doing some shopping, when Jubilee is hit on by some local boys. She turns him down, and gets insulted for not being true to her heritage. Ruth pulls Jubilee away before she does something stupid like revealing her powers. As they laugh it off a few blocks away, they’re snatched from behind by a mysterious kidnapper.

Wolverine is out on the docks alone at night, wondering what happened to Jubilee and Ruth. He’s quickly surrounded by Hand ninjas, but meets them head-on (in his black outfit, one of my least favorite as a child) despite his injuries.They’re all distracted by a Jubilee light show, and Wolverine is unnerved to discover that she is under the control of someone named Lady Mandarin. Her and Wolverine tussle, with him trying to figure out why this Lady Mandarin seems so familiar as they do.

He slices off her helmet, and is stunned to learn that his opponent is really his former teammate Psylocke. (I’m not really clear on the whole history of Psylocke’s body switch, but does she still look like her former self, or is this an error for story convenience? I know walking through the Siege Perilous could have given her a new but familiar body, but I thought it was revealed later that she stole someone else’s body. If only there were a quick and easy way to research this. Some kind of world wide database of information.) Psylocke seizes the opportunity given by her shocking reveal, and stabs Wolverine in the brain with her psychic knife. (Not yet the focused totality of her psychic powers, at least not via monologue.)

With Wolverine incapacitated, Psylocke gloats over having discovered his big secret, that the mysterious Patch is actually sworn enemy of the Hand, the Wolverine.

I always found it Superman-level ridiculous that nobody realized that the short hairy man with claws in his hands, was really the infamous Wolverine. If eyeglasses work, why not a patch. But I digress.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Jim Lee; Inker: Josef Rubinstein; Editor: Bob Harras

Since between you, me, and the wall we all know that Wolverine’s going to break the Mandarin’s control over Psylocke, the only question is how he’s going to do it. Is it going to be the power of love? I bet it’s going to be the power of love. Platonic love — it is still Wolverine.

The Hand is using their brainwashing techniques on Wolverine, using Psylocke’s telepathic abilities. So far, the results have been less than successful.

Jubilee isn’t very happy about what’s going on, and makes a play to escape. She does pretty well up until the point where she runs directly into the Mandarin.

Later, the Mandarin has had Jubilee dressed up to better reflect her Chinese heritage, but no amount of clothes or makeup is going to kill her upstart spirit.

In Wolverine’s head, the psychic warfare with Psylocke continues. She pulls out her psychic knife (only the “ultimate focus of my psychic powers” at this point) and hits Wolverine with hit again. But this time something goes very wrong for Psylocke. Psylocke now shares Wolverine’s mental apparitions of Carol Danvers and Nick Fury. While she fights with Logan’s invisible friends, Wolverine breaks himself out of the liquid tank, claws drawn.

Moments later, the Mandarin and Jubilee are interrupted by Psylocke, carrying the unconscious body of Wolverine, who appears to have been slain.

Jubilee freaks out, and lets loose with all her mutant power, blowing a hole in the room all around them.

Obviously, it was all a trick, and Psylocke is back on the side for good. Using the opportunity of Jubilee’s distraction, she attacks the Mandarin.

But the Mandarin is too much for her, and he has them both at the mercy of his ten deadly rings of power.

But he forgot about Wolverine, who sneaks up behind him and uses the ole’ two out of three claws popped trick. (With a reference to the Tim Burton Batman movie to boot.)

After negotiating a ceasefire, the three X-Men are on a slow boat out of town. (Wolverine and Psylocke take the last page and a half to explain how her using her psychic dagger on him shared his psychosis with her, and that broke the Hand’s brainwashing and returned her to her normal …blah blah blah. It’s all a little ridiculous, but who am I to say how telepathy works in real life. Because it’s not real you see, it’s all fake. Still, that’s a bit of a stretch.)

The three strike off on their own, with only themselves to rely on.

It’s weird to say, but Jim Lee’s art on this book, which was pretty early in his career, is still looks pretty good to me. I like it a lot more than his current work. I still think he peaked on Batman: Hush, but you can’t really beat him on the X-Men. At least not with the healthy gloss of nostalgia I have painted over it.

Wolverine, Psylocke, and Jubilee was one of my all-time favorite little teams within the team, and it was always a highlight when they showed up in the series during this time period. As I’ve mentioned before, Claremont had the X-Men separated and spread out all across the world, which was one of the most frustrating things to read on a monthly basis for 11 year old Back Issue Ben. It’s probably why I have attachment issues to this day.

Next week, more Jubilation!

Jun 18, 2016

Roundtable: The One Creator With the Best Chance to Get Your Money

Name the one creator who's most likely to get your money, all other things being equal, regardless of collaborator, character, concept, genre, publisher, or whatever other external circumstances.

via Back Issue Ben, circa 2011

Christopher Cornejo: It would definitely be Ed Brubaker that I always end up checking out simply because the kind of stuff he does more or less is up my alley. I mean I even checked out Fatale and Incognito, which in their own ways are some sort of hybrid of other genre meshed into what he normally does in noir/crime stories. I didn't like the actual output on paper but I definitely felt the effort he put into it is very commendable, I actually bought the Incognito deluxe edition just for kicks.

Travis Hedge Coke: Ann Nocenti. I almost always have a great time with her comics, and the few times I haven't, there was enough beautifully fantastic in the comic, I'm happy I read it anyway. One of the first Vertigo writers, one of the best Daredevil writers, and provider of the best sociopolitical fever dreams in comics. (Runners up: Moto Hagio, Kenichi Sonoda, Darko Macan, and Colleen Coover.)

J.d. Shofner: When I pass a rack of comics or a shelf of graphic novels and trades, Grant Morrison's name on something always gets a closer look.

Duy: I have the entire five-issue run of Sirens, even though George Perez's ability is visibly fading and he himself has admitted, in a Facebook post that kinda broke my heart, how hard it is for him now. He's my favorite artist and I've always loved pretty much whatever he's drawn or at least the effort involved, and I'm with him till the end of the line.

LaMar Forte: Since Duy said George Perez, and I would only say Ivan Reis with the caveat of Oclair Albert inking him, I'm going to say The God Alan Davis. That guy could draw a 14 issue miniseries of a knitting bee in a jook joint, and I'd cop it fresh off the lot without looking at it, okay? Let me tell y'all something right quick...I like creators that not only make pretty pages, but build universes and sell you on what you're seeing. And for pencillers that takes draftsmanship and layout skills, both of which Mr. Davis has in abundance. You have to have those so the writer isn't doing the heavy lifting in such a visual medium, are you following me?

Edrick Tan: Gary Frank. Whether it's his earlier more cartoony style or his recent more "realistic" renditions, Frank just turns every single book he draws into a solid read. Regardless of the writer, characters, storylines, publisher, I have most of his books and love them all. 100% batting average.

Back Issue Ben: For any comic, I've always believed I need at least 2 out of 3 of the following to be appealing; creators, character, or story idea. There's not really any creator I'd get regardless without at least one of the other 2. Warren Ellis probably comes the closest for writers. David Aja or Sara Pichelli right now for artists. Probably somebody like Stan Sakai since he's so excellent on Usagi Yojimbo. Wait, scratch all that. It's Walt Simonson.

Matt: Despite not being a fan of his endings, Brian K. Vaughan. His story ideas are good and often well-executed. I've enjoyed Ex Machina, Y, Pride of Baghdad, the first few issues of Saga I've read. The ideas grab me and the world is developed and fleshed. The stories go somewhere and spend time making you care about characters.

Antonio Nelson Ruiz: Aja. Aja aja aja aja aja aja. Aja aja, aja. Aja aja aja aja. Aja aja aja aja aja aja aja.

Migs Acabado: Brian Michael Bendis. Regardless what character he writes. Whether it is a crime comic or a superhero comic, he makes it very accessible to the reader. I love how he writes the characters' dialogue. I have to admit I don't like his artwork and the art of some of his collaborators but his script makes the story more alive, and I find most of his works relatable.

Peter Turingan: Gotta be the late great Darwyn Cooke for me. I think I own every comic he's made except for the Before Watchmen books (and yet I might still buy those someday, maybe). Don't know if any active artist today will get that same treatment from me. Jamie McKelvie, Moon and Ba and maybe Steve Epting also get automatic looks from me but qualifiers apply (genre, price, etc).

Matthew Laaksonen: For me it was definitely Darwyn Cooke. Out of current guys, Mike Allred. Everything he works on is cool and different. His work is gorgeous.

Jeff White: Warren Ellis, very rarely does he disappoint with whatever he's writing

Jun 13, 2016

Jubilee: Living the Tiffany Dream

Jubilee: A Detailed Introduction to an X-Men Legend
Part 1 – Living the Tiffany Dream
Back Issue Ben
Ben Smith

The ‘90s X-Men cartoon is one of the watershed moments for comic books in the larger pop culture landscape. As much as those of us that read comics might not like it, cartoons and movies reach a far larger audience than the books ever can, or will. Because of this, there were an untold amount of fans that were introduced to the world of the X-Men through that horrible, horrible cartoon. (It’s not that bad, but even at the time, I knew the voice acting was atrocious, especially compared to Batman the Animated Series which was happening at the exact same time.)

One of the hallmarks of Chris Claremont’s legendary run on the X-Men, was how often he would alter and change the characters that starred in the comics. That’s what makes the lineup of the team in the animated series such an unusual snapshot in time. Gambit and Jubilee haven’t really stood the test of time in terms of irreplaceable X-Men team members in the comics, but because of the cartoon, they remain two of the most well-known and beloved in larger media. For a generation of fans, Jubilee is a core member of the X-Men.

As near as I can tell, Storm and Wolverine were the pillars of his X-Men, maintaining a presence for the majority of his run. The rest of the team was much more fluid throughout his tenure. He created an archetypical character role in the form of Kitty Pryde, the young teenager first learning her powers, that also serves as the entry point of view for young new readers (and first girlfriend for many, apparently). Once Kitty matured and evolved, that role was left vacant, until the introduction of Jubilation Lee.

In 1989, the X-Men were presumed dead and hiding out in Australia. Kitty Pryde and Nightcrawler had moved on to join Excalibur. Colossus was, well, nobody cares where he was. Cyclops was, I believe, off with the other original X-Men in the new book X-Factor.

So, let’s take a look at one of the key introductions and moments in the history of the X-Men. Nay, in all of comics. Nay, in the history of mankind as we know it.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Marc Silvestri; Inker: Dan Green; Editor: Bob Harras

The scene begins, with typical Claremontian prose, in the Hollywood mall, where a young teenage resident of the mall is showing off her mutant powers. She can create “articulate, quasi-animate, transitory plasmoids,” or “fireworks” as one of her admirers describes them.

However, one particularly dedicated mall security guard has made it his mission to catch this young troublemaker. “She’s breakin’ the rules, Billy.” (Now that’s a level of dedication to one’s job that I will possibly never have.) He and two of his compatriots move in on the small girl, but she gives them a face full of fireworks and then acrobatically tumbles away.

A few fellow teenagers try to help give her some time to get away, but eventually she finds herself surrounded by at least ten guards (how staffed is this mall?). Instead of surrendering, she goes sliding off the balcony, grabbing onto a ceiling decoration, and flipping safely to the ground. (She comments that she was an “aces gymnast” at Beverly Hills Prep.)

The chief guard is livid over this latest escape, prompting one of the other guards to bring to his attention an ad for a mutant-hunting organization called the M-Squad.

Meanwhile, in the Australian outback hideout of the X-Men, the ladies of the team are… mad about something. I don’t know, I’m not reading it. Whatever the problem, they decide to solve it by doing some shopping together as a group. (Oh, apparently Colossus is here with them. For some reason my mind had mentally blocked him as being a part of the book during this time period. And that reason is that he’s terrible.)

The X-Ladies arrive at the mall at the same time as the M-Squad. Jubilee notices the fantastical arrival of the mutant women, and makes note of how beautiful they all are (a life of persecution, indeed).

The women move from store to store, trying on and buying new outfits, all with Jubilee secretly following close behind. The X-Ladies next stop is apparently a male strip joint, right in the middle of the mall (is this a real thing that existed?). As the women enjoy their entertainment, the M-Squad have finally tracked down Jubilee, who wasn’t allowed inside the club because of her age. They activate their mutant containment grid gizmo, which immediately malfunctions.

The containment grid has Jubilee restrained in energy streamers, and the M-Squad retreat, unable to shut off their device. The X-Women step in to help, finally freeing Jubilee from the energy bonds, and destroying the machine. (Jubilee at one point comments “I’m gonna be dead, same as mom’n’dad!”)

Having outed themselves by the use of their powers, and unable to find Jubilee after she slipped away in the resulting confusion, the women prepare to return home through another portal. Jubilee watches as they step through. She takes a look around, sees mall security talking to the M-Squad, and decides that anywhere is safer than there right now, and follows them into the portal.

As I’ve said before, Spider-Man and the X-Men were the two dominant franchises of my childhood comics fandom. The ‘90s cartoon came out when I was 12-13 years old, right in that zone where I was “too old” to watch cartoons anymore, or too young to be nostalgic about childhood. Before that, I had been wishing for my entire young life for a new cartoon based on comics, so if it had come out only a few years earlier, I would have loved it dearly. As it was, I was old enough to notice how bad the animation and acting was compared to its contemporary, Batman the Animated Series. We will not mention anything of the Spider-Man cartoon. It is an abomination.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Marc Silvestri; Inker: Dan Green; Editor: Bob Harras

Jubilee has apparently been hiding out in secret, since following the women of the X-Men through their portal back to their Australian outback hiding place.

Bored, and with the X-Men off somewhere else, she decides to explore a little bit.

Eventually she is spooked when she looks out the window and gets a glimpse of Gateway, off sitting alone on a spooky hill. Not sure if she can trust any of them, she runs off back to her hiding spot.

Writer: Chris Claremont; Penciler: Jim Lee; Inker: Dan Green; Editor: Bob Harras

(This comic is famous for being the first issue penciled by Jim Lee, who rocketed to superstardom as an artist on the X-Men.)

One of the weirder X-Men antagonists, the egg-shaped Nanny, has come to Australia to capture the team. Nanny comes across Jubilee as she’s in the middle of raiding the pantry, and gets a face-full of fireworks as a result.

(Before this, Jubilee has seemed much more like the average scared young teenager, but this is the first hint I’ve gotten of the non-stop, annoying, energetic personality that would be the hallmark of the character.)

Writer: Chris Claremont; Artists: Marc Silvestri and Dan Green; Editor: Bob Harras

(This is one of my favorite X-Men covers off all-time. For a non-religious person, I do have a strange fascination with characters being crucified.)

Wolverine is alone, having fallen prey to the Reavers, and chained to a giant X in the middle of the Australian heat. (The Reavers are all villains that we learn were previously mutilated by Wolverine and his adamantium claws, which is a pretty clever conceit.) We learn through flashbacks that the X-Men finally decided to take Roma up on her offer, passing through the Siege Perilous with the promise of new lives. (Not explaining that one.)

(It was right around this time when I started getting new X-Men comics as they came out. The X-Men are scattered all across the world, in new identities and sometimes even in new bodies. It seemed like it took ages for them to all be reunited again. It was the most simultaneously frustrating and compelling storytelling I had ever experienced to that point in my life.)

Meanwhile, Jubilee is evading detection by the Reavers, and wondering where all the X-Men have gone. In the punishing heat, Wolverine hallucinates being visited by a chorus line of his most deadly enemies. When the sun sets, Donald Pierce decides to replace the chains restraining Wolverine with nails, as a horrified Jubilee looks on. Unable to get the reaction out of Wolverine that he wants, Pierce and the Reavers retire indoors, to avoid an upcoming storm. Spurred on by visions of important women throughout his long life, Wolverine digs deep inside, fights through the pain, and pulls himself off the giant X.

He falls to the ground, looks over at the stunned Jubilee, and says, “you gonna give a fella a hand, or what?”

That’s a compelling place to end it this week. Jubilee so far has been introduced as a brash young orphan living in a mall, and then after following the X-Men to their secret location in the Australian outback, an unknown stowaway. Next, she gets what every teenage girl needs, a grumpy 100-year old former assassin as a mentor.

Jubilee is set to appear in the upcoming movie, X-Men: Apocalypse. Which means she is destined to be one of the most well-known X-Men for yet another generation of fans. I can’t describe to you how weird that is.

Next week, the dynamic duo!

Jun 9, 2016

Cube Roundtable: Heroes Reborn or Kingdom Come?

It's been 20 years since Heroes Reborn and Kingdom Come. Which event in retrospect made more of an impact in comics history?

Duy: It's so weird to say this, because I distinctly remember fans saying Kingdom Come would be revered on the same level as Watchmen and Dark Knight Returns after some time had passed, but I really think Heroes Reborn was more impactful. Aside from I'm sure getting Jim Lee to where he is today, I think it also paved the way for Marvel Knights (a similar business model but with more expendable characters) and get Joe Quesada to where he is today. The titles that Marvel put out during Heroes Reborn (Thunderbolts being the main example) and the subsequent titles they put under the Marvel Knights banner got Marvel to really start trusting in their characters and elevating them (from C-list to B-list, from A-list to B-list) so they wouldn't rely on Spider-Man and the X-Men anymore, something that was pretty evident at the time. It's hard for me to imagine Marvel Comics, and even, to some extent, DC Comics now without Heroes Reborn. I can't really think off the top of my head any overall movements influenced by Kingdom Come.

Matt: I've only read Kingdom Come. As a stand alone, I enjoyed it and the art, but it's definitely of a time and place and style. That said, Kingdom Come has had no lasting impact on how anything goes on in DC. That's not a downside.

Back Issue Ben: I'm not a fan, but Kingdom Come is unquestionably the better story. As far as lasting impact, beyond Magog and KC Superman being used in later stories, not much. It was very much a meta comment on the extreme '90s comics of the time. Heroes Reborn was an attempt and a precursor to making the Avengers family of titles prominent again. It was a precursor to the Ultimate universe, and that perceived need to start over with a fresh and current take. Many of the elements of Heroes Reborn were later used in the Marvel Cinematic Universe as well. Most importantly, it was a precursor to the downfall of Rob Liefeld as a superstar comics writer and artist.

JD Shofner: Kingdom Come helped form my lasting love of comics. I went from hardly reading any DC comics to researching every character on the covers to find who they were referencing or were homages too. It introduced me to the DCU. So, of course, i am very biased. I think its themes can easily extend beyond its time and place. A harsher America post-terrorist attack, an older generation trying cope with a generation of latchkey kids they created. I believe there are many ideas in Kingdom Come being expressed beyond merely "90s comics suck".

Travis Hedge Coke: Most of the effects of Heroes Reborn on characters and story in comics and movies, seem to be parallel evolutions, instead of copying over (Tony and Bruce as friends, more articulated Iron Man armor, giving Sue more authority, the Human Torch and his action figures, Mandarin as a white guy using orientalism to make his terrorism scarier), while Kingdom Come really redirected Wonder Woman for a lot of people, as Warrior Woman. But, in terms of industry and practices, Kingdom Come's biggest achievement is being a mid-90s watershed for hate and feelings of betrayal re the early-90s (yes, kids, Kingdom Come is an entirely 90s comic), while Heroes Reborn's successes and failures were easily an influence on Marvel Knights, Marvel's next bid to revive themselves, that picked the company up big time, resulting in Quesada's time as EiC of the whole shebang and the Marvel U we have today. A willingness to modify character's dress and behavior to fit the era in which the comics were being made, while it could be decried as "Image-izing," was a huge and necessary leap, more parallel to Batman Year One or Vertigo than to Kingdom Come.

LaMar Forte: It could be argued that the concept of Heroes Reborn had a more far-reaching and lasting influence on the way stories are told today, as well as how business is done. But one could also argue that said influence was of a more pernicious variety. Substituting contemporary stylism for properly executed storytelling only works as long as the sheen is evenly applied, but once it starts to chip on the edges you're going to have to redo the whole thing. Kingdom Come being a response to this type of perspective, which I'd say blends art and commerce a little too much for my tastes, could serve as sound proof of the point because a) Kingdom Come didn't have as much pre or post impact, but it probably wasn't designed to as much as it was to challenge a current model while "doing it right" and b) the remnants of it are still there in DC's narrative, but not much so anybody else's. However, if I were to pick one of these to show someone not into comics the potential and uniqueness of the medium, Kingdom Come is definitely more capable of pulling cargo.

Jun 4, 2016

Cube Roundtable: DC Rebirth or Hydra Captain America?

What got you more excited for future comics: DC Rebirth #1 or Captain America #1, which ends with a "Cap is Hydra" plot twist?

Matt: Hydra Cap. I am exhausted by DC's reboots. Hydra Cap at least seems like it has the potential for an interesting story or twist or alternate universe. DC's refusal to embrace the absurdity of the comics multiverse makes following what's going on harder and harder. That said, if Booster Gold is truly back, I reserve the right to completely change my mind.

Back Issue Ben: We've seen DC make this "promise" before, that things will be better now. It doesn't change that the same people are still running the show, the same editors are in place, and the creative teams on the Rebirth books aren't exactly knocking my socks off. I have no idea where this Cap story is going to go, and the prospect of an evil Cap being the most dangerous person in the room, only nobody else knows it, is intriguing.

Antonio Nelson Ruiz: DC just seems to be pandering to whatever it thinks the comic community wants. Here's a married Superman with a kid! We can be mature! Here's an Asian Superman! We can be diverse! Maybe that's what they're supposed to do, what they got away from doing. I dunno. Some of it looks interesting, but DC has been drowning for so many years now that I just don't have any faith in them to actually entertain me. Hydra Cap can go a lot of different ways, but I see a lot of fun conflict ahead. Steve versus the Avengers, Steve versus the Thunderbolts and Bucky, and all of it showing just how badass he could be were he villainous. It feels risky, even a little wrong, and just makes me want to tighten my arms around Marvel as they take me for a ride on their bike.

LaMar Forte: Let me say, off the rip, that the most exciting aspect of either is that Geoffrey wrote the biggest F-U to a company's status quo since Grant Morrison's Action Comics run (or going back a little further, George Perez's last panel of Earth 2 Superman's death in Infinite Crisis). When he dipped out to take care of the cinematic universe's issues, he basically left behind a document that actually forces the writers and execs to think about what they're doing, beyond using just gimmicks to sell books. And the fly thing about it is that he used Dr. Manhattan, a guy that's basically lost his humanity and heart, as a metaphor for what's wrong with comic storytelling, while presenting us with the real Wally West as his spiritual and in metaphysical counter. It says a lot that he could basically have done whatever he wanted, but he chose to do it this way. I have no clue where these people are going with either Skeeze Rogers or Rebirth, but I like the way Geoffrey styled on them on his way out the door; what he did was the equivalent of leaving the club and taking the bartender's tip jar on the way out.

Travis Hedge Coke: Hydra Cap has me more interested, but mostly because it is just business as usual and I trust the writer more to give me what I like. Unless Johns promises he won't use the word "hope" more than two more times in Rebirth, I think I'll just take my check and go now, instead of waiting around for the other courses.

Duy: Rebirth, basically for two reasons. (1) I'm a DC fan, and they ARE going back to some things I want. Is that commercially better? No, but that's not the question. And (2) I'm not even done with Brubaker Cap yet. I'll get to Hydra Cap eventually, I'm sure, but my Cap-space in my brain is setting it aside for now. And probably for a long while.