Category Archives: Comics

The Umbrella Academy

Sometimes, stories are interesting just for their weirdness.  Not to say that is the only thing I liked about Umbrella Academy, but it is definitely the main thing that attracted me to it. 

The story is about a group of kids, born at the same moment to women who weren’t pregnant.  Of the 40+ kids born, only 7 are known to survive, collected by an eminant scientist and raised as his own.  It turns out, these kids are special, with very special powers.  We don’t learn too much about the kids or the motivations of their “father”.  However, ten years later, when the Eiffel Tower is attacking Paris, the kids come to save the city, using their powers to defeat “Robot Zombie Gustav Eiffel”, one of many odd and interesting characters (though we learn next to nothing about him).  The main story, however, takes place yet another 20 years later when the kids are reunited after a death in the family.

One interesting aspect of the story is that the different characters are never really described.  There are hints as to their history and personalities, but there is no exposition on who they are, what their powers are, or what events lead to the current situation, for the most part (there are hints here and there, but they are more dropped than expoused upon).  We learn about the characters from their interactions and from their actions, which is an interesting approach.  We are just dropped into the middle of their lives.  This is very different from the main stream books where every issue we have to have a synopsis of what happened over the last 100 issues.  Here, you learn as you go, watching the heroes in real time.  One character barely uses her powers at all (it is only in a supplementary story where it was clear what her powers are), and another is mysteriously absent in the final arc of the story.  We know something bad happened to him, but what exactly, we never learn.

I won’t go into the details of the plot, but it is definitely odd.  And involves the desctruction of the world, naturally (as most good comic stories do).  But, really, the most interesting thing about the story is not the story itself, but the characters and the world they live in, which is only hinted at.  We know, for example, there are Martian Apes, but we don’t know more.  We know there are aliens, but we don’t know more.  We know that there were 40+ kids born on that fateful day, but we only know about these 7.  Are there others? 

For those wanting a self-contained (6-issue), well-told story, I recommend this.  The art fits the story telling nicely, being somewhat cartoony, but that is appropriate in that a realistic style would not capture the utter strangeness of this world. 

Fables 10: The Good Prince

Anymore, I only read a few comics series religiously. I was reading Whedon’s Astonishing X-Men series, but he has moved on and I’m not sure I’ll continue (though Ellis is a tremendous writer). I’ve followed the Ultimates series, which is pretty darn good. But the two series I keep closest tabs on is Powers by Bendis and Fables by Willingham.

Fables is by far my favorite series right now.  The premise is pretty simple: what if all of the characters from all of our fables existed in the real world?  And what if they were real people, in the sense that they have to live like we do in the real world?  And what if they were in the middle of a big war for control of the various worlds in which they live?  (In the Fables universe, each group of fables — the European fables, the Arabian fables, etc — inhabit distinct worlds that are, nevertheless, connected.)  Characters such as Snow White, the Big Bad Wolf, Little Boy Blue, Red Riding Hood, Hansel and Grettle, Gepetto and Pinochio, inhabit this fictional universe, interacting with one another and fighting for their survival.

I just picked up Fables #10, The Good Prince, which is the most recent collection of the Fables comic book.  This collection focuses on Flycatcher, otherwise known as Prince Ambrose.  He is one of the harder characters to identify, but I believe he is the frog that was turned into a prince upon being kissed by a princess.  His life is a tragic one, and for most of the series up to now, he has been a janitor working in the Fables’ government office in the United States.  However, he comes to the forefront in this tale and does his part in the war against the Adversary, that mysterious entity that has waged war on all Fables (we now know who the Adversary is, but for those of you who haven’t read this series but may, I refrain from spoiling it for you).

The art in this collection is a little hit-and-miss for me, but it does an adequate job of conveying the story.  But, really, the story is why I am here.  The story, as with most of the Fables collections, is outstanding.  An epic tale of redemption and perseverence, Flycatcher makes amends for his past failings.  I won’t say any more, but I would highly recommend this series to anyone who has an interest in fairy tales and just damn good story telling.

For more on Fables, including spoilers, check out this Wikipedia article.

The Death of Captain America

Just over a year ago, in March 2007, I posted about the death of Captain America, about how there was so much negative reaction at a story that many people hadn’t read yet, that I thought as long as the story was good, that is all that matters.  Though, I also hadn’t read it at the time.

Well, I finally got the trade paperback “The Death of the Dream,” which collects the issues of Captain America in which he is killed and the issues just following.  The first issue is about the assassination of Cap, while the rest follow the supporting cast and their reaction to Cap’s death.  The cast includes Sharon Carter, Cap’s girlfriend; Tony Stark (aka Iron Man); Bucky (Cap’s WWII sidekick); and the Falcon, one of Cap’s most trusted partners.  It also follows Cap’s long time nemesis, the Red Skull, and his plans for destroying America.

As I said, I hadn’t read the comic when I first posted.  I just said that, as long as the story is good, that should be what matters.  And, Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting do indeed deliver on a good story.  The Red Skull and his crew have infiltrated America’s most powerful spy organization, S.H.I.E.L.D., to such a degree that the S.H.I.E.L.D. director, Tony Stark, has no idea who to trust.  And the Red Skull’s daughter, Sin, leads a team of terrorists/assassins that are shocking in their brutality.  All of this goes on while the main characters cope with Cap’s death and how to go on with their lives.  Their rage distracts them from the Skull’s plans, as they look in other places for meaning and vengence.  And when they do start to confront the Skull, they do so recklessly, with the expected bad results.

I’ve not been a huge Captain America fan, though I have followed a few arcs in the past.  Cap is best, to me, when he is a street level hero, fighting as a soldier, against the hidden forces that try to undermine the society around him, rather than a cosmic hero fighting bigger-than-life supervillains.  And that is precisely the level of characterization we get here.

This trade paperback collects a set of issues in the middle of Brubaker and Epting’s run, after they’ve reintroduced Bucky to the Marvel Universe and just as they begin exploring life post-Cap.  I enjoyed this collection enough that I will definitely seek out the rest of their run (as fast as my pocketbook allows me to).

Truly Astonishing

I’ve been reading comics for quite a while now, since I was maybe 10 or so.  Pushing 30 years of off and on following the story lines.  My favorite, overall, has been the X-Men.  I started with them around issue 150, with the first Brood storyline.  It was when Claremont was writing and Cockrum was drawing.  I don’t know if it was the general tone of them being a group of outcasts — which, at the time, was somewhat novel — or what exactly, but the resonated with me.  The stories since then haven’t always been the best and I’ve stopped reading over periods of time, but I’ve at least checked the review sites and spoiler sites to keep abreast of the story lines (which is pretty damn hard these days, with as much saturation the X-Men have right now).

So, I was pretty excited to hear that Josh Whedon and John Cassaday were going to do an arc.  Whedon is best known for creating Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Cassaday has a reputation for very realistic and very amazing art.  They had a 25 issue run, including a special giant sized issue, and I just finished got and finished the last trade paperback collecting the final issues.  All I have to say is that it was a truly astonishing ride.

Warning, Spoilers May Follow

First, they brought back one of my personal favorite X-Men, Colossus.  I’ve always thought he had one of the coolest looks.  He was killed off trying to find a cure for his sister, I believe (though that was during one of the periods where I drifted away from the books).  So, he has been gone for a while.  I personally don’t mind that they brought him back.  Some people get upset at these things, but I think, as long as the story is good, that is all that matters.  I also, incidentally, like that Whedon and Cassaday came on for one very specific arc, told their story, and then finished.  While I like the continuity and history comics universes have, I also think there should be more freedom to tell stand alone stories that may or may not be part of continuity.  Just so long that the story is good.

Anyways, this story is good.  And they brought back Colossus.  And, they potentially killed one of my other favorite characters…

Warning, Very Big Spoiler Does Follow!

Kitty Pryde joined the team just shortly before I started reading X-Men those 30 years ago.  She was a young kid, having just discovered her powers.  Besides the ability to walk through walls, she was also a genius.  She personified in a character a lot of what the readers of the book were probably like.  While I’m not one of those fanboys who think she is the ideal woman or something, she was one of my favorite characters, and one that has probably grown and evolved the most during the last 30 years (it is really remarkable, in the end, how little some characters change).

At the end of this arc, Kitty saves the world, but is unable to save herself.  She is last seen hurtling through space in a gigantic bullet (yeah, that sounds weird, and maybe is weird, but that is what happens).  She is never actually seen as dead, but I can’t see how they will get around this one.  She is stuck in this bullet traveling at very fast speeds through space.  She has to eat (unless I missed some special aspect of her powers) and so will starve soon.  Even then, her body will be light-years from Earth.  I’m sure she will come back, they all do (even Bucky did!) but this one will be hard to do in a “believable” manner.

The story itself harkens a bit to that original Brood storyline in that the X-Men have to deal with a hostile alien race in deep space.  They often do that.  It is one of the cool aspects of the X-Men.  They are a very Earthy team, embodying a lot of the politics of the 60s in their concept (with civil rights, racism, etc), but they also have these star-spanning adventures that completely remove them from that political setting.  I’m not sure that this story is necessarily my favorite, or near the top, but it is very good.  And the art is just amazing.  The only thing I found a bit annoying was some of the dialog near the end, with all the “darlings” etc.  It just seemed a bit out of character.

Anyways, I’m going to have to go back and reread the entire arc in one sitting and catch some of the details I’m sure I missed, and put the whole thing together in one go (reading a 25 issue arc over pushing three years means you forget a lot).  Whedon and Cassaday do the franchise proud and tell an exciting and entertaining story.  That is all I can ask and hope for.

The Amazing Aventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Started reading: ~09/01/01
Finished reading: 10/26/01
Notes written: 10/26/01

The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay by Michael Chabon

Warning! Spoilers follow!

The story in The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay is about two cousins – Sammy Clay and Joe Kavalier – both of whom are Jewish. Sammy was born and raised in NY, Joe in Prague. The book starts off in World War II, and Joe has escaped from a Prague that is about to come under the control of Hitler. He is the only one of his family who escapes. The rest of his family is first interned and then each dies, first his father, then his brother (in an attempt to sail across the Atlantic to freedom) and his mother and grandfather as well. Joe escapes by travelling in a box with the Golem of Prague. He makes his way to NY, where he meets his cousin Sammy.

Sammy is a comic book fan and Joe is an artist, so they create a comic book character, the Escapist. They sell it to Sammy’s boss and it becomes hugely successful. During the time of working on the Escapist, Sammy meets Tracy Bacon, who plays the Escapist on the radio, and Joe meets Rosa Saks. They both fall in love. Sammy eventually develops a relationship with Tracy and they are later busted in a party of several homosexual couples, after which Sammy is forced to service an FBI agent in order to avoid being charged. At the same time, Rosa has become pregnant with Joe’s child. Joe learns that his brother, Tommy, has died on the boat that was supposed to bring him to America and he joins the navy to help fight the Germans, leaving Rosa alone and not telling anyone that he has gone. Sammy wants to avoid a life of being a homosexual, he doesn’t want the stigma. Rosa thinks of having an abortion, but they decide that the best thing is to get married and raise Joe’s child together. They name him Tommy, after Joe’s brother.

Meanwhile, Joe is in Antartica, where he has many travails (his entire company dies, except for one, he nearly goes mad, he finally finds a German base and he and the other man go to kill the lone German there. Joe gets there, after his companion has died, and he accidentally kills the German.) Eventually, Joe is found and he makes it back to NY, but doesn’t reveal himself to his family, not until Tommy sees him once and Joe recognizes him. Joe reveals himself to Tommy and they become friends. Eventually, Tommy gets Joe to reveal himself to the rest of the family, where his feelings for Rosa surface again.

The final main event of the story is Sammy’s testimony before a Senate committee dealing with the delinquent effects of comics on kids. Sammy’s past creations, often boy side-kicks to male heroes, is brought to light, and the inference that he has done so because of his own homosexuality is made. Sammy decides that he is now finally free of his secret, of his life of lies, and he goes to LA.

The book is very complex, with many levels and many investigations of Sammy, Rosa and Joe and their feelings and how they deal with their situations. I don’t think I’ve digested the book on all levels and I’m sure that I would have to reread it several times to get everything in there. There is much about the building of Golems, of superheroes, of escaping from reality. Joe escaped from war, from death, but lost his entire family in the process. Sammy escaped from a life of what he felt would be shame, but had to live a lie in order to do so. Joe then escaped from his second family, ran from them, because he couldn’t bear being with them. Joe both couldn’t give up hope that his first family might return, but couldn’t believe that they would.

The role of comics is central to the story, in that they symbolize the need for escape from reality that most of us have. Sammy’s life was not as bad as Joe’s during the war, but his life before was worse. He didn’t have a father that was there for him, he didn’t have a complete home. He didn’t have the opportunities to learn and to explore that Joe did: music, magic, escapism. He didn’t have the full family life that Joe did. Sammy was also lame, and he needed to escape from his life, more than Joe did. Joe needed to fight back, but Sammy needed to escape, needed to escape almost all aspects of his life, even later on, when he was an adult. He felt he had to escape his natural feelings, his homosexuality, because it was not viewed well by the public. He had to hide everything, and sacraficed his only chance for love to do so.

All of the characters are strong and well developed. I connected with all of them. The book had a little of everything, even a little bit of sex. The story felt like we were growing with these characters, learning with them, there with them as they experienced life. It felt like maybe I was learning something about life as they did. That I experienced things that I would never have experienced myself. Sammy’s homosexuality felt like a natural thing for him. You could tell that he was scared and nervous about exploring this side of himself. He never fully let himself experience it, never fully let himself love Tracy. And, he regretted it forever.

I think that this book will be the kind that I get more out of with each successive rereading. I feel that, right now, I haven’t gotten much more than just the plot and the things that Chabon directly tells us. There is a lot more levels, I think, that I’m not fully digesting, not fully realizing. Chabon does try to tell us directly the main points of his message, by having the characters realize certain things for themselves.

It is interesting that Sammy’s homosexuality is revealed because of his habit of teaming heroes with boy side kicks, but, as he points out, the heroes are playing more of a father role than a corrupting role, much as he is to Tommy. Tommy is his ward, just as Robin is to Batman and so forth. Sammy never felt more than as a father to Tommy, and it is interesting that the same kind of relationship in his comic book characters is what brings his homosexuality to light.

I will definitely have to reread this book and think about it more to try to get more understanding of the book. I really enjoyed this book and highly recommend it.