It's a bird! It's a plane!

It's Santa Claus! Merry Christmas to you and yours, from chezkevin.

from X-Men: Day of the Atom

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Captain America Omnibus: Winter Soldier and more

I had the good fortune of finding the Captain America omnibus in the library last month and read it over the course of a week and a hot weekend. I'd read snippets here and there, namely, Winter Soldier vol. 1 and Death of a Dream, but neither of them affected me as a story. The storylines hinted at something bigger, but never told me more, and so left me unsatisfied every time I finished reading. With the omnibus, collecting both those stories and much more, including the Winter Soldier storyarc, I got an idea of the bigger picture, and changed my mind. Here are the details. I'm going to do a rundown of each particular storyarc as the table of contents breaks it down.

Captain America Omnibus Vol. 1
by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, Mike Perkins et al.

issues 1-7: "Out of Time" and "The Lonesome Death of Jack Monroe"

see here. The Red Skull is assassinated here, which is the umbrella plot point for Brubaker's mega-arc that doesn't conclude with even this omnibus. This first arc is mainly important for establishing tone: Brubaker's Captain America is one that reads like a spy thriller, with political conspiracies and flashbacks to the war.

issues 8-14: "Winter Soldier"

This is the story that clinched it for me. In the seven issues we dig deeper into what happened after that rocket exploded, catapulted Captain America into the arctic and supposedly killed his sidekick, Bucky. I don't think it's a spoiler to say that Bucky didn't die, and there are some juicy details behind how Bucky spent his life up to the present. As the "Winter Soldier," he was behind some of America's worst assassinations, dropping in and out of cryostasis when his Soviet masters deemed it necessary. Cap gets word about it, and the build-up to their first confrontation in the final issue is so powerful. It's my favorite issue, and to me, it's the reason the omnibus exists.

This storyarc gives us what makes Bucky so special, why he's an important character and why he means so much to Cap. It makes me believe in their characters and their relationship. The most powerful moment to me comes in one of Cap's flashbacks:

Doesn't that just kick you, right there? How much does it hurt to know more people under the dirt than above it? That's what makes Captain America human to me. That's what attaches me to him as a character.

The next Captain America movie is based on this, and I highly recommend it.

issues 15-17: "Red is the Darkest Color" &"Collision Courses"

These stories give us an idea of the Red Skull's sick history, via his daughter Synthea. After the Skull is assassinated, Crossbones kidnaps her from S.H.I.E.L.D. protection, removes  the S.H.I.E.L.D. programming and then goes on a crime spree with her. . . there's a lot of background to it, but it's pretty slick how the team writes it and draws it. A great sidestory.

Captain America 75th Anniversary Special

So this one-shot just nails it out of the park. It's a home run, and the ball's in the stratosphere. I really regret not picking this up the week it came out.

The special is one giant, vintage-colored flashback about one of Cap and Bucky's (and Nick Fury and the Howling Commando's) encounter in Germany, with the Red Skull's ridiculous radioactive robot "The Sleeper." It tells us, real-time, a lot of story elements that are crucial in the regular Cap title and tells it beautifully. Just look at this page from Javier Pulido.

It's so beautiful. Just dig the way those panels lead your eyes downwards, like a pinball falling from one slope to another. Look at that shield leading your eye into that final panel.

One more page:
Pulido is a master.

He makes the special one of the highlights, of many, of the omnibus.

issues 18-21: "Twenty-First Century Blitz" and issues 22-24: "The Drums of War"

In the first storyline, Cap and Sharon investigate one of the seedy corporations that was responsible for the Skull's assassination, and cross paths with Bucky along the way. It's a fun buddy romp as Cap teams up with British heroes Firestar and Captain Britain. We encounter the Red Skull's sleeper here.

In the second storyline, Sharon struggles with working for S.H.I.E.L.D., an organization responsible for enforcing the Superhuman Registration Act (SHRA, see: Civil War) and her love for Steve Rogers, Captain America, a man fighting against the SHRA.

Compliments to the colorist Frank D'Armata who, regardless of the penciller, kept the tone of the book consistent. You'll have a difficult time distinguishing Mike Perkins art from Steve Epting art, and that's a good thing. That's how you know they're doing their job.

Winter Soldier: Winter Kills

This is a Bucky-centric, Lee Weeks-drawn "Christmas special," so to speak, in that Bucky has to deal with his first Christmas after getting his memories back. . . it's an award-winning comic book for the pathos it shows, and it's a sterling example of Brubaker's mastery of memory and emotions.

issue 25: "The Death of the Dream, part one"

Cap is assassinated here. I like Ed's commentary on it, provided in the back, on how he wanted it to read like an "American tragedy." It surely does.

issue 10: "House of M"

This House of M tie-in has nothing to do with Brubaker's mega-arc, but is included for continuity's sake. Like Winter Kills, it's drawn by Lee Weeks and it uses that evocation of the past that Brubaker is so good at. It's framed by a Steve Rogers, now old and wrinkly, reflecting on the accomplishments he made in his life: arresting Hitler and walking on the moon, amidst the mutant domination that's taken over the world. Although it has a final page that only House of M readers would understand, it's a powerful issue overall.

Oh, and Baron Zemo:

To sum up, do I recommend this omnibus? My answer is, a tentative yes. If you're interested, even a little, I suggest looking for some volumes in your library or online. Brubaker accomplishes so much in these 25 issues. It's a powerful, emotional and fun tale to ride if you're willing, and it's a great introduction to Captain America.

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Trades for 12-16: Snikting all day

Have you seen this? Comics' own stuffed bull, Bully, has done a semi-regular segment on "How many X-Men books are out this week?" The number is probably not as bad as it was in the 90s (not having read any comics from that time, I assume it was a general cesspool of pouches and muscles), but it's still pretty bad. Seven x-titles in one week? Talk about excessive. It's astonishing that the market can support such a large number. It's uncanny. It's giant-size.

Speaking of Canadians, we've got two Wolverine books on the chopping block today. Neither of them are very substantial, but they are things that I read, and things that I would rather talk about than twiddle my thumbs.

Wolverine: Old Man Logan
by Mark Millar and Steve McNiven

The Civil War team takes on a dystopian Marvel Universe in this nine-issue collection, starring an aged Wolverine. Millar does a great job creating a Wild West world that still adopts Marvel traits, such as Venom-possessed T-Rexes and Moloids that collapse entire cities. He nails Wolverine as a Clint Eastwood cowboy type, and he gives him a new status quo as a hermit who tells people to call him "Logan" and hasn't popped his claws in fifty years. When he doesn't have enough money to feed his family and pay rent to his landlords, the Hulk clan, he has to go an an adventure with a blind, grey-haired Hawkeye to get the money.

Each issue reads pretty well, with a set obstacle for the Logan/Hawkeye duo and an exciting cliffhanger. It must have been a delight to read this serially. The problem is, each issue reads more like a newspaper serial than a comic -- without enough details to really merit the 22 pages. The creative team took nine issues to tell the story, and they could have done a lot more with it than they did. Millar created a whole world successfully, but, I finished the thing in one sitting in 40 minutes. That can't possibly be worth the retail price of $29.99. For a paperback.

That said, it's a quality read with brilliant art from the art team. Morry Hollowell colors McNiven so beautifully. But the bottom line is, every other form of entertainment is cheaper than this, and comics really need to do better.

I did not get these from the library, as I usually do, or with the next comic book. I did a swap with a friend of mine. And, that last page in the story is so Lone Wolf and Cub.

Wolverine: Noir
by Stuart Moore and C.P. Smith

It's really a strength in these comic book characters that we can adapt them to different genres. Batman gets adapted to gothic horror. Wolverine gets adapted to steampunk wild west. In this one Wolverine becomes a hard-boiled detective in the noir setting of The Bowery. As in, "I don't know much about Hell. But I know a lot about the Bowery."

Man, that line kills me. I'm a sucker for good hard-boiled narration like that, and Noir has plenty of it. Unfortunately, that seems to be its only strength. A lot of the prose refers to Wolverine as an "animal," as in he has to avoid his "baser instincts" and such. There's really little evidence that Wolverine has this struggle, save for one flashback in the fourth issue. In the rest of the story, it's this annoying non-factor that the writer tries to build up as a significant theme, and fails. Throughout the whole thing, I had a hard time sympathizing with Wolverine and, by the end of it, I was ambivalent, as opposed to struck by his tragedy, as the writer would intend. Chalk it up to long-time-comic-book-reader-ism.

The worst culprit in this collection isn't the writing. It's the drawing. There's a lot of shortcuts that the team takes, and it really shows.

Why would the building be more detailed than Wolverine's figure, right in front of us? It looks like he was drawn on with a marker. The finishing team did a terrible job on this one. The art overall is a shame, because you have these tight panels that show someone's face, and it works. It really works. You can see the hairs on Wolverine's face and his expression. And then you have visual disasters like above.

And by the way, this thing costs $14.99. That's how much Marvel is asking for this, a digest-sized, 4-issue story. I'm pretty aghast at these current Marvel paperback prices (paperback!). When I started buying comics in 2008, it used to be that hardcovers collecting at least 12 issues were $29.99, with a few extras, like an introduction and some sketch art. Floppies were $2.25. Now they'll make anything hardcover: even four-issue storylines, and charge $24.99, or they'll make the paperbacks collecting 9 issues $29.99. Floppies are as low as $2.99, and many are $3.99. What happened comics?

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Trades for 12-8: Hulkamania 2012

I don't have internet in my apartment anymore, so I walked 1.2 miles with my 6.4 lb laptop in order to post this. If you wanted to quantify it, you know, not that anyone's keeping track or anything, that is how much I care about this hobby.

And we're back, fans, to Comicsmania XXIX! It's an absolute debacle here in the Blogspot arena as chezkevin takes on a no-holds-barred, four-color free-for-all! Who will win? Who will lose? Who will return the comics back to the library??

Astonishing X-Men: Xenogenesis
by Warren Ellis and Kaare Andrews
collects the five-issue miniseries and the 1st issue director's cut

There was a lot of fanfare when Warren Ellis took over the title that Joss Whedon and John Cassady built. I didn't read too much in to the hype, and I don't regret it. Xenogenesis tells a passable story that takes too many issues to resolve and presents not many ideas worth the five-issue volume.

Warren Ellis delivers in a way you'd expect, spinning a story of pseudoscience: an outbreak of mutant-esque births in an African village draws the attention of the X-Men, who rush to investigate in their own snarky way:

The real draw of the collection is. . . the drawings. Man, if you've seen Kaare's work on the The Incredible Hulk covers, you would be just as excited as I was to see Kaare's designs. Since the X-Men are visiting Mbanawi in peace, they don some basic "help relief volunteer" costumes, complete with X-cap. Kaare chooses to draw storm with a relentless mohawk, and everybody on the team has a different design. It's refreshing to look at. Armor's armor now expresses itself too, via emoticon:

Sick. He goes a bit wild with Emma Frost's design though. Click over to J. Caleb's EDILW for coverage on the depiction of her ta-tas. All in all, you'd have to be a pretty rabid fan to pay $25 retail for this hardcover, when its material is so sparse. I'm gonna take down this comic with a RING OUT.

Superman: The Coming of Atlas
by James Robinson and Renato Guedes
collecting Superman #'s 677-680, backed up by Jack Kirby's story "Atlas the Great"

Yo, it used to mean something to collect a story in a hardcover. This collection feels as heavy as a rice cake, and offers not nearly the same amount of nutrition. Atlas comes up all in Metropolis's grill to fight Superman, and eventually loses to his dog, Krypto. Very little else happens in these four issues. There's a hint that there was some conspiracy to the fight, but that's not touched on at all except in a handful of pages. In the introduction, James Robinson said that his intent was to make Atlas the "Namor" of the Superman-iverse. He failed. There are contextless flashbacks that fail to flesh out his character, and he comes off as nothing more than a really angry dude who likes to pick on Superman and his super-pals. Kirby's backup did a far better job.

And then, for some reason, after Superman beats up Atlas, there's a whole page spent on him yelling at Metropolis to accept his dog.

It's. So. Silly. I'm sure the story sounded good in Robinson's head, but it just didn't work when it got to the page. This lightweight comic collection loses early with a TAP OUT BY LEG LOCK.

Marvel Visionaries: Peter David - The Incredible Hulk vol. 5
by Peter David, Jeff Purves, Dale Keown, Sam Keith and Angel Medina
collecting Incredible Hulk #364-372 and Annual #16

I'd heard about Peter David's run on Incredible, but I never expected it to be this fucking good. David continues his story of the Gray Hulk, a powerful entity without the Hulk's ability to get stronger and madder, but with enough smarts to talk and wisecrack. It's tied to the time of day, so Banner knows that he'll lose control every time the sun is gone. This makes for some great stories, as the Gray Hulk takes on the Abomination, a biological poison, Mr. Hyde and more.

It wouldn't be Incredible without huge fights, and David nails that to a "t." The fights are exciting, engaging and awesome. Issue 368 stands out particularly well, in which Mr. Hyde philosophizes over the Gray Hulk and over the monster that's inside Banner. While he's punching his face outside a running train as the sun sets. Whattascene.

There are some great themes here as Banner goes across the country, looking for his wife Betty Banner and running into the military and alien invasions. That Gray Hulk can talk really gives us some insight into how the Hulk might feel, and that makes the story that much stronger when we can compare it against Banner's feelings. I'm really surprised at how powerful these stories are, and that's what makes this volume a TKO.

BONUS SCENE: he's unstoppable! He's ineffable!

 He's striated! He's THE ROCK!

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