- Astonishing X-Men #22
Haha I could spend a few hours explaining why this isn't the 22nd issue of this book, but actually it's really a continuation of New X-Men, though there is of course still a title called New X-Men, and blah blah blah. Let's jump to the interesting things: It's clever and snappy because it's written by Joss Whedon, it's really pretty because it's drawn by John Cassaday, and it's a complete failure, and has been since the end of the glorious first six issues. It seems to come out about three times a year, it's using 'decompressed' storytelling, it's not going anywhere. It's still a brilliant idea: the first issue confirmed that yes, of course this writer would be excellent on this story, and the sparks are great from time to time, but every time I pick up an issue, I wonder who some of the people on the page are. There was a good idea in the first issue, which was used in the third X-Men film. That was 22 issues ago.
- Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season Eight #6
On the other hand, you can't really criticise Joss's commitment to the medium of comics, he has after all announced via the title that this, by no means the first Buffy comic, is the real and true successor to the TV series - this one counts. Traditionally they've suffered the usual fate of licensed materials, fitting little character stories in between big bits of canon that cannot be touched or even bear light shone on unfamiliar aspects. Stick a stock photograph of one of the stars on the front, and print money.
(The zenith of this in more ways than one is the five part series that expanded, in a different time period each issue, on the eleven quid that Spike claimed Dracula owed him that one time. Not badly written or drawn, but basically the dictionary definition of inessential)
But Joss Whedon says this is 4 Real! And he's been backing it up - four kickass issues, reintroducing old characters one-or-two at a time, and one great quiet piece about a never-seen-before, never-see-again character. But now, with all the other things he has to do, the reins must be passed on for a while.
And there's few better choices than Brian K Vaughan, an up and coming writer with both a good head for creating new characters (fan-favourite Runaways, which Whedon incidentally recently replaced him on) and a safe pair of hands for old characters. Who in this case are Faith, still the tortured bad-girl gone only so far good, and Giles, whose distance from the new legion of Slayers has served to bring to the fore what was always there in the background: that he's perfectly capable of being a stone cold killer.
- Doktor Sleepless #2
Warren Ellis is a great writer, if you've only ever read one work of his (and if so, probably let it be Transmetropolitan, though Planetary with art by the aforementioned John Cassaday is great too). But he has his themes (the future, body horror, the future, the world being in the hands of bastards for good or ill, the future), and he hammers away at them day in day out. Sometimes he comes up with a compelling central character or two, and pitches it well enough that the big publishers will give it a go, and sometimes it turns into a six-issue miniseries, probably for Avatar, home of all the big names' small works. There's a lot of 'once you've seen one', but word on his latest, Doktor Sleepless, was quite good. The first issue laid its quite interesting cards out well (a man has returned from the dead to bring the love of the future into a civilisation that doesn't appreciate the technology around it) and a great quote. This issue is mostly more moving plot lines around, and not so hot. What isn't helping is that there's a gimmick to the series: there's to be a wiki where all of the futuristic terms in the series are going to be defined, and it'll be a place where fans can start filling in details as they see fit (presumably the core characters and concepts will be locked away). The reason this isn't helping is that this is the second issue of the series, and the damn site isn't working yet.
- She Hulk #21
This is not the first She-Hulk #21, now. There's been a few, ever since Stan Lee first got the idea that, right, you know how when the Hulk transforms he bursts out of his clothes... One of the other innovations on the Hulk template is that because Jessica Walters got her powers in a blood transfusion (being Bruce Banner's cousin), it doesn't turn her mindless - she's every bit as smart as in her civilian form, and since her civilian form is a lawyer, that's pretty smart.
But it didn't last, as... well basically as it's a female-led superhero comic, and those fvckers don't sell. In fact, the only one that's made it to five years that I can think of is Buffy**. And so it eventually disappeared. It's been reborn one or twice, including its time as one of comics' first metafictional titles, with Walters frequently arguing with the writer, John Byrne. But now it's Dan Slott's baby. He's a strange character, because of his approach to the problem of comics' history.
Let me explain the problem: there's too much of it. Way way way way too much. The characters generally have to stay the same age, but the things that tie the characters to the background stay steady. DC deals with this by having regular convulsions that fold spindle and mutilate spacetime in an effort to explain how characters that were fighting in World War II can still be kicking ass today. And in fairness their comics have more jagged shards of time embedded in them than you'd think: they've always been fond of generational conflict, and mantles have been handed down more than once (also, taken back more than once). To the point that the latest rumour down the track - that Bruce Wayne will die next year and ol' Dick Grayson (or one of the other Robins) will take over - only sounds mostly ridiculous.
Marvel's response to this has a gentle simplicity: they don't care. They threw in a bit of guff to explain how Captain America got frozen in ice for a few decades before waking up more recently, but as a matter of policy each of their heroes has been doing more or less the same thing for (real) decades while apparently days pass in the real world. They tend to settle on a core version of a character and hold there for a loooong time, occasional diversions aside. Franklin Richards, son of Reed Richards and Sue Storm of the Fantastic Four, has famously had 30-odd Christmases and about 6 birthdays. Things generally revert back to their popular conceptions (and Marvel are good at getting their ideas into the popular consciousness, irrespective of whether the actual delivery methods are any good at all), and are available for the next writer if they have a cool idea that they want to try for a while.
Except except, some of the things that different writers try don't always match up in ways that actively screw up characters, or maybe one of the writers grew up with one of the brief aberrations as the first and most brilliant thing that they saw about a character, and something has to be done! Well, okay, maybe it doesn't, but it probably will. That's where Dan Slott comes in. He actively loves living in a world with all this history to pick and choose from, and being a generous soul, he tend to fix problems in unobvious and beautiful (and funny!) ways, that others might use later.
So for example he doesn't want the book to turn into a meta fest, but the character has some history in that regard. Similarly, he wants to be able to draw on the backstory of the character/the entire Marvel universe, but he doesn't want the casual reader to feel ignorant or annoyed about obscure facts. So he's taken on the old idea that all of the comics we see in our world also exist in the Marvel universe, where they're printed as official promotional material after the fact, like the NKOTB magazine (no longer being published, you'll be glad to know). Now this happened for a very good reason: someone thought it was a cool and funny idea. Most writers don't pay a lot of attention to it, but then most writers don't pay a lot of attention to 90% of Marvel history, or they'd be unable to tell any story at all. Dan Slott's idea was to establish that these comics are published under the seal of the Comics Code Authority, a federal body, and as such they are legally admissible evidence in a court of law! Cue a team of nerdy 'archivists' in the bowels of the law firm Jennifer Walters works in, acting as pimply Statlers and Waldorfs to the main action, and pointing out, a few issues in advance, the dangling wires of lost or broken ideas that Slott, in the natural course of the plot, is going to connect, so that if someone wants to come along and use them later, they're at least in functioning order.
He's not just an enormous continuity geek, though - he's very funny and has a knack for approaching characters in interesting ways. He established in his first issue (not the one 21 issues ago, the one 12 issues before that - I told you they didn't last long) that although She-Hulk is as intelligent as Jennifer Walters, Jennifer acts smarter - because if you don't have to think your way through a problem, hitting things will always seem the easier option. Anyway, he ties up a lot of loose ends himself this episode, as it's his (and my) last, as well as leaving another enormous get-out-of-continuity card for anyone else who passes by.
- Y the Last Man #58
And this is Bryan K Vaughan again. This is his big breakthrough title, being composed of one enormous idea and lots of small ones. The big one's in the title: one day every male in the world, apart from Yorick Brown and his monkey Ampersand, dies messily. After a respectable amount of freaking out, his adventures as he heads towards Australia to find his fiancee Beth are the body of the next 60 issues. The general mood of this doomed world is actually quite similar to Children of Men, though each of the different countries handle it differently. Which is where the little ideas come in - you get the impression that BKV would be an entertaining dinner guest, as he seems to thrive on little fascinating pieces of information, and has collected the ones marked 'gender inequality' in preparation for thisbook. The most striking being the shift in fortunes between Israel (only country in the world with a female draft) and the rest of the Arab nations (...not so much).
It's not a one-hander though, from quite early on Yorick's been the center of a group dedicated to getting him through his journey. Not because he's a natural leader, quite the opposite: for a lot of the book he's an immature evasive idiot, albeit a half-decent escape artist, and while his companions fear what would happen if his existence were to become public knowledge, he's too headstrong and impulsive to take precautions in that manner. The support cast has been built up slowly, and some have come and gone, though this final story arc has seen them all come together, while making it clear that not everyone's going to make it out alive.
* one clear example of the maelstrom of keeping-it-real and reaching-for-new-audiences that is the modern comics marketplace is what we call the bloody things. So I should make clear that just because there's a synonym in common, when I says comic book, I don't actually mean those things that have started turning up in bookstores over the last decade, a graphic novel. I'm just being a little classier than saying "bought five comics".
** Also of course Wonder Woman, though this is partly because of a clause in her creator's contract with DC specifying that if she didn't star in four issues a year, the rights would revert to his estate.