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Ed Brubaker

Avengers vs X-Men

I love both the Avengers and the X-Men- but who will come out on top in this epic battle?!

I have been meaning to read this collected edition since last year when I read Uncanny X-Men: Revolution that followed this event book. I kept picking up this series but putting it back down when other graphic novels caught my eye. But when I recently read Mr. and Mrs. X, and I had forgotten that a certain character was dead because of this storyline, I knew I needed to finally make the commitment to finish it.

This story follows House of M, when Scarlet Witch utters “No more mutants!”, thus no mutants have been born in years. When the first mutant child, Hope, is born who has the ability to psychically manipulate and mimic the powers of other mutants, current mutants divide as what to do. When it is discovered that Phoenix, the powerful being that killed Jean Grey, is headed to Earth to possibly consume Hope, the heroes are torn as what to do. What it comes down to is Cyclops, the leader of the X-Men, feels that Hope is strong enough to control the Pheonix and will use its power to reignite mutantdom vs Captain America, the Avengers leader, who feels that Hope will become a threat and destroy humanity, thus she needs to be taken down.

So begins the battles- many many of them, as this graphic novel collects twelve chapters to tell the story. When you have such a large cast not everyone can properly get featured and this book follows suit. Some heroes receive small cameos, with one bit of dialogue and then they are just part of the large fighting scenes. But I was pleasantly surprised that Iron Fist had such a large role, plus Nova got a nice part too.

As I don’t wish to spoil the narrative too much, I will limit my summary. When Pheonix arrives, five mutants- Cyclops, Emma Frost, Namor, Colossus, and Magik- take Hope’s place and all get considerable new powers that they use for improving the world. But we all know that’s not the end of the story. The Pheonix wants Hope and it is she and Scarlet Witch that finally subdue the Pheonix’s dark powers, but not before there is a lot of death and destruction.

There are powerful moments found within the story and some insightful and sometimes snappy dialogue, but it can be a slog to find them. Just as I found Captain Marvel unsufferable in Civil War II, so I found Cyclops. He has some extremely valid points, as mutants really have been persecuted, but I was really hating on him, plus…he’s the one who ends up getting briefly consumed by the Pheonix and doing something terrible.

Overall, the art was strong despite many different artists. While there are some style shifts in the different chapters, there is enough visual consistency when the various stories were pulled together in this collected edition. Although Hope sometimes varies between looking like a teen (which she was) and an older typical female hero hottie. I always enjoyed the crowd or battle scenes as its fun to see how the artists choose to portray everyone in mid-action.

In the large collected edition, there are also some tie-ins:

A vs X: This volume showcases personal battles amidst the war and has a whole slew of authors and artists detail how two connected heroes (or villains) duke it out. There is – Iron Man vs Magneto, Things vs Namor, Captain America vs Gambit, Spider-Man vs Colossus, Black Widow vs Magik, Daredevil vs Psylocke, Thor vs Emma Frost, Hawkeye vs Angel, Black Panther vs Storm, Hope vs Scarlet Witch, Cyclops vs Captain America, AvX: Science Battle, Captain America vs Havok, Red Hulk vs Domino, Toad vs Jarvis, Spider-Woman vs (several) X-Women, Iron Fist vs and Iceman and Squirrel Girl vs Pixie.

This is a motley grouping of short stories (some are only a page long), as some of the fights tie in with the preceding narrative, while others are just for laughs. The only one that I found truly memorable was the poignant Storm vs Black Panther battle because there is no winner as their marriage sadly crumbles because of their differences.

A-Babies vs X-Babies:  Skottie Young is well known for his variant covers of Marvel heroes, so this one-off is funny and good for a single read. On the corner of Fury Dr and Xavier Way is the peaceful neighborhood of Marvelous Meadows. Being tucked into bed is little Steve (Captain America) who is surrounded by his army themed stuffed bears. Wait- Bucky Bear is missing! Peering out the window he sees his neighbor Scott (Cyclops) taunting him with his beloved bear. Steve calls out “Avengers Assemble!” and quickly his team of baby friends has joined him. Scott calls for back up but laments he has no catchy phrase to get them there. Instead, he yells that there is an ice cream truck nearby, and the X-Men babies show up. A battle ensues for the bear between the two teams. There is a cuteness overload as baby representations of all famous Avengers & X-Men duke it out.

Putting this entire book down several times should have been my clue that it wasn’t for me. While I am typically a sucker for these crossover event books, I have reached a fatigue level with the fighting among team members trope. While I found Civil War fresh, this and Civil War II were anything but.

-Nancy

Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman

I found this one on accident while looking for another Catwoman title – but once I saw the late Darwyn Cooke was one of the creators behind this title, how could I pass it up? =P

After faking her own death, Selina Kyle (and, by extension, Catwoman) has gone into hiding. But cash runs out quick, and she needs some more if she’s to go back home to Gotham. She calls in a few favors and rounds up some old friends to pull off one last, big, heist. As in “stealing from the mob” big. As in “train robbery” big. A load of unmarked mob money transported to Canada via train sounds just perfect. As Selina and gang pull their plan together, someone is on her trail. Someone knows Selina Kyle isn’t dead, and private eye Slam Bradley is hired to find out why. When their party is sold out to the very mob they’re stealing from, forget the cash; will Selina be able to get out alive?

I’ve tried reading noir crime graphic novels, most recently Criminal by Ed Brubaker (who, coincidentally, co-wrote this one) and Sean Phillips, and I just can’t seem to get into them. I’m not a big mystery reader, nor do I like a lot of violence in my reading, though I do enjoy psychological and interpersonal dilemmas. This one though? Hit the sweet spot.

Cooke and Brubaker created a stunning work with this one. The art is intense, line-heavy, and by turns bright neon and Gotham dark. It reads just like an old heist or detective movie. The imagery evokes the old Hollywood aesthetic: dangerous glamour glimpsed through a screen of cigarette smoke. It set the atmosphere perfectly.

The writing is excellent. We bounce between a few characters, some of whom giving conflicting information, so you never quite know who to believe. We hit the ground running and don’t stop until the last explosive has been detonated. Not only was there action, there were tense moments between characters that alluded to conflict in the past. There was just enough given for the reader to fill in the blanks themselves. I’m sure some is explained in previous runs, but it was fun to imagine =P

Having never read a Catwoman story before, I think I set the bar pretty high for myself with this one. It was exactly as I had pictured the perfect Catwoman story: a high-stakes heist, a little romance, a lot of drama and atmosphere. As for the big bad Bat? He was only mentioned a few times in passing, and seen twice. Readers who want to know what Selina Kyle gets up to without Batman around are sure to love it, as well as crime readers and those yearning for a bit of old Hollywood.

– Kathleen

Cooke, Darwyn, and Ed Brubaker. Catwoman (Vol. 1): Trail of the Catwoman. 2011.

Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward

I recently read My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, and was impressed by it. It is a spin-off of this series, Criminal, by the same creative team: Ed Brubaker and Sean Phillips. This is the first volume of that series, which I was eager to get started.

Leo is a criminal who plans a score from the first second down to the last wisp of exhaust from the getaway car. He’s the best at what he does, but he doesn’t do it anymore. Not after the Salt Bay job, where his best friend was killed and his father went to prison. Leo won’t end up in prison. He knows it’s exactly where he belongs, but what is life without freedom? When he is approached by an old colleague about a diamond heist, it’s five years after the Salt Bay job, and Leo is clean, but struggling. He’s caring for Ivan, a father figure with Alzheimer’s, and money is tight. Reluctantly, he agrees. When inevitably things go south, just as Leo planned, will he make it out alive and free?

I’m a little torn on this one. The story is compelling. We get a glimpse of what Leo is truly scared of at the end, which makes me want to read more. The whole read is an adrenaline rush. You wonder how could these characters possibly be more screwed up, how they could possibly get out of the trouble they’ve gotten into.

However, it was a bit too graphic for me. It seems I like psychological thrillers, like My Heroes have Always Been Junkies, more than this hard-boiled stuff. There is strong language, which I don’t mind, but the violence and drug use was too much. It is well-suited to the story, as we are reading about, well, criminals, but after a certain point it just turns me off to it. I’m not the right reader for this story, but I can see the appeal for others with stronger stomachs than I!

The art was well-rendered and appropriate for the story. It reminded me of The Wolf Among Us, the Telltale video game based on the Fables series, with the stark lighting and strong shadows on characters’ faces (leaving the reader to guess at their intentions; man I just LOVE THAT), but without the neon ’80s color palette. No, this story is situated in the real world, and the art reflects that with a murky palette instead.

I’m unsure if I’ll continue this series, but I can see why it’s considered an excellent example of a crime graphic novel series. The main character is mysterious, compelling, and while I haven’t read much crime, he seems like he’s a different sort of main character in a crime series. The writing is tight, tense, and fast-paced. The art ties it all together with dramatic lighting and a subdued palette. Kudos to Brubaker and Phillips!

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. Criminal (Vol. 1): Coward. 2015.

My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies

Ellie idolizes old singers and movie stars: Billie Holiday, Judy Garland, John Lennon, Elliott Smith, and more. One thing they all have in common? They were all drug addicts. Ever since she found a mixtape her mother made for her father (both drug addicts themselves), containing songs written and performed by drug addicts, Ellie has been obsessed with the old stars and their struggles with heroin, amphetamines, cocaine, you name it. So you could say it’s no surprise Ellie winds up in a rehab facility. What is surprising is she meets a boy. Skip is trying desperately to not throw this last chance away, whereas Ellie has no plans for getting sober. Once they realize their attraction for each other, will they recover together, or spiral back into old habits?

This one isn’t what you expect it to be. You go in expecting one thing, but by the end, it’s quite another. Brubaker and Phillips pull no punches here. The writing is excellent, big plot twist aside. We alternate between the present day and flashbacks to Ellie’s childhood, which give us more context. Each of Ellie’s flashbacks relate to the next slice of the modern day story in subtle ways that you only truly pick up on with a second read through. Sometimes flashbacks are too obviously related to the main story, but the fact that they aren’t here shows a deft hand. I was highly impressed.

The art uses color more than solid drawing to convey the overall mood and individual emotions.  Don’t get me wrong: the drawing is great, but color was the focus here. The modern day sequences are rendered in saturated pastels. While the characters for the most part are solidly colored in, the backgrounds are splashed with hardly-mixed color, suggesting chaos and uncertainty, even if the palette is cheerful. The flashbacks are in greyscale, but the splotches remain, again conveying the turbulence of Ellie’s childhood. The art suggests something is going on long before it happens, which is arguably more important than foreshadowing in the writing of a graphic novel.

I was pleasantly surprised to see that this isn’t the first collaboration by Brubaker and Phillips. This is a novella from their series called Criminal. Excuse me while I go check it out 😉 I was, again, very impressed with this graphic novel, and the way the writing and the art worked together to the conclusion you didn’t expect. I anticipate more good stuff from these guys.

– Kathleen

Brubaker, Ed, and Sean Phillips. My Heroes Have Always Been Junkies. 2018.

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