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(Friday Fiction) The Job Interview of Dr. Henry McCoy

Writing 150I’ve had superheroes on the brain for a while now, and there are a number of reasons for this. However, Beast of the X-Men is someone I just can’t get out of my head — also for a number of reasons. Ever since All-New Marvel Now!, when Brian Michael Bendis took over as the guiding hand of the X-Books, Hank has been in worse shape than usual. He pretty much broke the multiverse going back in time to get the original X-Men; he underwent another mutation that turned him into a cross between an ape and an elf; his future self was brainwashed by the son(?) of Charles Xavier into becoming one of the Brotherhood of Evil Mutants and subsequently died; he succumbed to the power of the Black Vortex, becoming an all-powerful nemesis; and finally he threw a hissy fit when the other X-Men confronted him about his hypocritical, out-of-character actions, leaving the Jean Grey School before Secret Wars hit.

I firmly believe that in better hands Hank can be a really fascinating and fun superhero. But to be honest, he hasn’t been written well in a long time and the current X-Universe being what it is, it’s unlikely he’ll be better served any time soon.

I keep thinking that it would be neat to allow the status quo of the X-Men to settle for one god-damned minute in order for characters to evolve and grow in ways other superheroes get to do in the Marvel universe. The period after the Schism — where Cyclops and Wolverine split mutantkind in two with their differing ideologies — is a great one to go back to for that. Here, we see the older generation stepping into roles of mentorship and command. New mutants dealing with their own evolution in the unending battle for acceptance are coming up, learning the lessons of the previous set and adapting them to their own time. It’s a rich setting, and one that suits Beast perfectly.

So here’s a conversation between Wolverine and Beast, who is signing up for a position at the Jean Grey School of Higher Learning.
Hank McCoy slipped between the trees with a feline grace that somehow enhanced the bulk that looked to be at odds with it. His boots — modified to fit his new digitigrade stance — whispered along the undergrowth of the forest, leaving only the lightest of tracks on a path he scented more than he saw.

It figured that Logan would want to meet him out here. A quick scan of the area told him there was a cabin somewhere in this wilderness, though most people would have a devil of a time finding it. He had to leave his car behind a couple miles ago, slinging a backpack over one broad and furry shoulder to walk the rest of the way.

It wasn’t a bad day for it. The sun shone through a thick canopy of leaves, small pockets of light reaching the ground ahead of him. A gentle breeze carried the scents of the forest to him; trees struggling to procreate in the springtime, birds and animals that remained out of sight but which were present just the same, the slight but noticeable trace of Wolverine leading him forward. It was even cool enough that he didn’t feel overheated as he moved. Since his latest mutation, his fur had gotten thicker, enough to shift the range of temperatures he was comfortable with. It had been a long adjustment, and he was only now becoming comfortable in his own body again.

Which is why he had no hesitation dropping to all fours (though he looked around, as if to check for anyone watching him) to speed up his pace; it was nice to take a stroll in nature, but he wanted to be prompt for his meeting. Logan might not care about punctuality, but he certainly did.

Hank had only recently taken to exploring the new, bestial attitudes that flitted across his ever-thinking brain. Since becoming a bouncing blue cast member of the musical Cats, he had difficulty accepting his new-found fondness for raw meat, or the powerful instinct to chase or pounce others. It disturbed him, not just because they were present, but because sometimes they were so strong. The Cassandra Nova business hit him where he lived there, and it was a long way back to being unafraid of himself. He had hoped getting back to what he did best — being the chief scientist for the X-Men — would complete the healing of that trauma and allow him a chance to feel like himself again at long last.

But first, he would have to convince Logan to take him on.

He loped between the trees quickly now, his paw-like hands churning up leaves and dirt as he galloped along. Wolverine’s scent became stronger now, along with the smell of coffee, alcohol, cigars and burning wood. He paused for a moment, then pivoted towards the northeast. Another few minutes, and dense wood gave way to a small clearing with a modest cabin squatting right in the center of it. He scanned the area with sharp and slitted eyes. The birds were at ease here, and he spotted a squirrel or two darting between the safety of two tree trunks. A lazy plume of smoke rose from the cabin’s stone chimney, and another one rose from the porch. Logan was there, wearing simple jeans, a flannel shirt and boots. He was chewing his cigar like it was his breakfast. The mutant stared right at him as he stood and stepped out of the trees.

“Hank,” he said, as if he had been waiting this whole time.

“Logan,” Beast said, clapping the dust off of his hands as he cleared the small distance between himself and the new headmaster of the Jean Grey School. “It’s so nice of you to invite me to your summer home.”

Wolverine shook Beast’s hand without smiling. Hank wasn’t offended; it was a weak joke. “I just figured you’d want to meet somewhere private. Those SWORD guys still after you?”

Beast waved him off. “Heavens, no. That was sorted a little while ago, thank the stars. Dr. Henry McCoy has a spotless record once more.”

Wolverine simply grunted, turning to sit on one of the chairs next to the cabin’s door. “Have a seat. Can I get you something? A beer?”

Hank glanced at the chair; it was solid wood, but a bit too narrow for his hips. He chose to lean against one of the porch posts instead. “No, thank you. It’s a bit early for me to indulge. I did bring you something, though.”

He slung his backpack off his shoulder and opened the zipper with a claw. “I know it’s customary to bring a token of esteem in these situations; most would have gone with a fruit basket of some sort, but I figured you’d appreciate this more.”

Wolverine eyed the bottle of whiskey, staring at the label once it was handed to him. “Single malt, huh? Not bad.” He wasted no time twisting the top off and taking a long swig.

Beast glanced at him, then looked out over the clearing. “Yes, a small batch distillery from Cork that I thought you’d like. I thought the apple notes were quite a nice distinction.”

His ear flicked as he heard the bottle upend once more, a full tumbler of the stuff disappearing down Wolverine’s throat in the span of a few seconds.

“Mmm, it’s all right.” Logan sat the bottle down on the porch, then exhaled. “Now that you’ve broken the ice, want to get this over with?”

Hank grinned. “Certainly. Though I have to admit I was surprised you wanted to interview me for the position. We’ve worked well together before, and we seem to be of the same mind on what we want for these children.”

“We are. But I need to know where your head’s at. You left the X-Men, Hank. You went out to space with your girlfriend and only reached out to me when you found out I was rebuilding the school.”

Hank furrowed a brow. Was Logan upset about his defection? Or something else? It was hard to get a read on him; his scent was mostly covered by burning tobacco and the stinging alcohol he had drained a half-bottle of in under a minute. “If you’re worried about my commitment, then you certainly don’t need to be. I believe I’ve proven myself to be quite dedicated to causes I believe in.”

“True. But you’ve also had a hell of a time of it in the past six months. This school is going to be a target for a lot of people…maybe some of our own’ll be gunning for us or our kids. You sure you’re ready for that?” Wolverine kept his voice even, calm, but there was something about that question…

“I’ve been fighting to protect the innocent for over a decade now, Logan. It’s my life’s work.” He turned towards the mutant, arms folded. “And you’ve provided me with the opportunity to continue it.”

“So why didn’t you open the school yourself? Why wait for someone else?”

Beast blinked. “I…didn’t think I could do it on my own.”

“Who said you would have been?” Wolverine stretched out, leaning back in his chair.

“Call it an educated guess. I am many things, Logan, but a leader of man and mutant I am not. I’ve never been comfortable convincing others that my choices are the ones that need to be followed. I don’t have the knack for it that you or Scott or Ororo do…”

“You think I want to be a leader, Hank?” This time, Wolverine smiled. “I’m stepping up to this because somebody’s got to. You’d think that one of Charles’ students would want to be the ones to take on his legacy…”

“But Scott is becoming increasingly militant, and Jean is no longer with us. Warren….good heavens, who knows what’s happened to Warren. And Bobby is…well, Bobby has his own issues.” Beast shook his head. “As much as it pains me to say it, none of us are capable of doing that at the moment. But you are. Let me help you.”

Wolverine stared at him for a long time. “Of course you’re going to help me.” He stood and stepped forward, offering Hank a hand. “Welcome to the Jean Grey School, Dr. McCoy. She’s going to need you.”

Beast beamed, showing the full measure of his fangs before he could help himself. “Thank you. Now, shall we talk about compensation?”

Wolverine grunted; it’s what passed for a laugh most of the time. “Free room and board, provided you design the school and lead the building of it.”

Beast blinked. “You mean the mansion isn’t rebuilt? How…far have you gotten in this process?”

Wolverine slumped back into his chair and picked up the bottle of whiskey. “So far, I’ve hired on a Vice-Principal to help rebuild Charles’ dream from the ground up. Not a bad start.”

Beast took a deep breath and grabbed the whiskey when it was handed to him. He took a swig himself, straight from the bottle. “Not a bad start at all, my friend.”

 
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Posted by on July 1, 2016 in Comic Books, Writing

 

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(Comics) A Wolf for the People: Sam Wilson’s First 100 Days as Captain America

Reading 150Sam Wilson has not had an easy time of it during his short stint with the shield. He’s basically operating on a shoestring budget out of the basement of a neighborhood church, with only two (testy) people on his staff and no resources. He’s on the “wrong” side of an ideological difference with his best friend and former mentor, Steve Rogers; that same difference has caused most of the public to turn against him. And, for four issues, he was transformed into a wolf/human hybrid against his will by a mad doctor.

Fortunately for us, Sam’s trouble is our delight. The first six issues of Sam Wilson: Captain America makes a bold statement about how he handles the responsibility of being a symbol; writer Nick Spencer positions Wilson as a superhero in an intensely divided country, so no matter what he does he’s going to piss off half the population. Still, Wilson takes a stand even though it’s unpopular, because he’s learned the only lesson worth knowing from Rogers. In order to be worthy of the costume, you have to live up to your morals unflinchingly.

What makes Sam so interesting as Cap is that his morality is so different from Steve’s. Their big rift comes from the fallout of learning that SHIELD has been working on a Cosmic Cube that has the power to reshape reality. The person who leaked this information, an Edward Snowden-type known only as The Whisperer, was nearly caught until Sam helped him — he believed that blowing the whistle on SHIELD’s activities is a public service that he shouldn’t be punished for. Rogers, on the other hand, thinks that though The Whisperer did the right thing, he should still be brought to trial for his actions. Wilson doesn’t believe it’s possible to trust due process in this case, but Rogers does. It’s the difference between Lawful Good and Neutral Good.

That rift deepens when Wilson takes on a militia appointing themselves as border patrol to stop the flow of illegal immigrants, and it’s there he discovers people are being taken and experimented on by Dr. Malus. On the run from SHIELD and Rogers, Wilson is captured and turned into Cap-Wolf, which is the real reason you folks should get these issues. Of course.

Wilson’s investigation takes him through the business world, where Serpent Solutions is making a power-play on behalf of other corporations. The commentary on the current state of corporate politics is a little more ham-fisted, but Sam’s resolution of the arc is surprising yet pragmatic; what I love about the way the story winds down is his realization that ideals don’t happen in a vacuum. Choices have far-reaching consequences, because at this point of American life everything is connected. You can’t advance your morality without stepping on a political landmine, and those politics are deeply influenced by gigantic corporate interests whose success and failure affect the livelihood of millions. If you shut down one thing, you begin a cascade that quickly spirals outside of your control.

Steve Rogers and Sam Wilson have different ways of reacting to the system. Rogers’ Captain America was wholly inspirational; he wanted to be the physical embodiment of the best principles America was founded upon. He believes that the system works, but only as long as the people within it strive for the ideals they serve to the best of their ability. Wilson’s Captain America isn’t so sure; he believes that the system is rigged and leaves out a lot of people who can’t defend themselves against it, and those are the people he wishes to serve.

The Whisperer is the embodiment of that difference in opinion. Since Steve believes in the system, he believes that he can convince people to do the right thing and justice will prevail. But Wilson understands that even if they win in the courtroom, other connected threads will act to preserve the status quo however it can. The system will protect its own, and Steve is inextricably tied to it. Sam has always been an outsider, so his morality doesn’t depend on that allegiance.

So who IS Captain America these days? What interest does he serve? As our understanding of the government shifts and our ideas about what it should and should not be doing changes, every once in a while we need to step back and check on that. I love that Nick Spencer is really diving into that through Sam’s turbulent first days on the job, and I’m really curious how Wilson’s journey continues. There is going to be a lot more fighting for him coming up — Avengers: Standoff is getting into full-swing, and there won’t even be time to take a breath before Civil War II lights up comic stores this summer. Somewhere in all of that, Steve Rogers will don the mantle of Captain America once more, giving us two versions of the hero serving two different visions of America.

Maybe, at this point, that’s the best we can hope for.

 

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The X-Men Are Dead, Long Live The X-Men (Comics)

Reading 150The end of the Marvel Universe came and went before Uncanny X-Men #600 hit the stands, and it’s anyone’s guess why the powers that be decided to wait as long as they did. Brian Michael Bendis, one of Marvel’s big gun writers, had wrapped up the final issue of his years-long X-Men run earlier in the summer only to have it delayed by several months. Nominally, it would have been a great post-Secret Wars story that serves as the capstone to Bendis’ arc with the mutants and a good prologue to usher in the new status-quo set eight months after…well, whatever happens at the end of Secret Wars.

But delays have kept the ending to that multiverse-reshuffling story off the shelves, so here we have the end of one era for the X-Men and the beginning of a new one; the same week Uncanny X-Men dropped, Jeff Lemire’s first issue of Extraordinary X-Men came out too.

The end of Bendis’ X-Men run was laden with all of the problems I’ve had with his treatment of the title all along. Maybe he’s spreading himself too thin here; maybe there are simply too many cooks in the kitchen when it comes to the mutants; maybe too many events and crossovers kept him from doing his best work. But jumping Jesus, All-New X-Men and Uncanny X-Men have been a hot mess for a long time.

Ever since the Battle of the Atom crossover (which saw three versions of X-Men from the past, present and future duking it out), it’s been really tough to get a bead on what Bendis has been going for with the titles. Cyclops, Wolverine, Beast and Storm have been acting and re-acting to each other without a clear sense of what drives those actions, and there’s been precious little in the way of character growth for anyone save for the folks that Bendis have brought on, like Eva Bell and Goldballs. Don’t get me wrong, they’re great characters — but you get the sense that Bendis doesn’t quite care about the rest of the gang.

Full disclosure: I’m a Beast fanboy, born and bred, and I’m willing to admit that most of my dissatisfaction with Bendis’ run comes down to his treatment of Hank McCoy. Under his writing, Beast mutated again, into some sort of oblong-headed, bat-eared, ape-mutant; brought the original five X-Men forward into the future; irrevocably broke the fabric of space and time by doing so, leading to the collapse of the multiverse; got a tongue-lashing from none other than the Watcher before he was murdered; and finally has to endure an “intervention” where pretty much every mutant who hasn’t stood with Cyclops calls him out. Through all of that, Hank has done little in response beyond look sad and then keep doing what he’s been doing.

So “The Trial of Hank McCoy” is…underwhelming for such a landmark issue. The gathered X-Men accuse Beast of breaking the laws of time and space, physics, nature; they want to “help” him, though they’re really vague about what he needs help with and what that help would mean; and Beast pretty much rants at them, calling down shame, saying “to hell with you!”, packing his bags and leaving in a huff. Before he leaves, he gets to see Cyclops — the entire reason he brought the original five into the present in the first place — hold a televised peaceful demonstration that…somehow proves him right?

It’s frustrating to see these characters you love twisted into shapes you don’t recognize by writers who don’t understand them. And I say this knowing full well that I’m just dude with a blog ranting about a fictional character in a universe that allows for Spider-Man, The Blob, The Punisher and Squirrel Girl to exist right alongside one another. I get how this sounds.

But there’s not a lot of cohesion to Bendis’ story with the X-Men. The only feeling you’re left with after reading #600 is “well…that happened.” There are interludes where young Bobby Drake confronts his older self about his sexuality, with Jean Grey there to provide the commentary, and the older Iceman’s reasons for remaining closeted all this time are actually pretty solid: because of who he was and who he ran with, he wanted just one part of his life to “feel normal”, even if that meant denying a basic part of himself. Those of us who exist in multiple minority spaces can sympathize with that — it can feel like you’re fighting against the current in every aspect of your life, and sometimes you’d give anything to know what it’d be like to not have to do that. I wish there had been more space devoted to this, but so far there’ve only been two whole scenes exploring the psyche of Bobby Drake. It’ll be interesting to see how this is handled elsewhere.

Ultimately, Uncanny X-Men #600 is a fitting capstone to Bendis’ run. The emotional beats are seldom earned, characters behave in confusing ways, and you’re never quite sure what to make of what’s happening. As a fan of Bendis’ work in the Ultimate Universe, I really wish he had done better here.

Jeff Lemire takes over from there in Extraordinary X-Men #1, and while a lot of the building blocks of the story are worn smooth by now there’s enough potential there that I’m curious to see what happens next.

Eight months after the end of Secret Wars and the restoration of the Marvel Universe, mutantkind are dealing with another extinction-level threat. The Terrigen Mists of the Inhumans are causing an illness in mutants and rendering them sterile; the rise of one race means the end of another. Against this backdrop, Cyclops’ stunt at the end of Uncanny #600 has caused humanity to lose their sense of respect (??) for mutants. Knowing they’re on the ropes and unlikely to fight back, mutants are being ostracized and eliminated to prevent the spread of “m-pox”.

Storm has taken leadership of the mutant nation now, and Iceman is her second-in-command. Right off the bat, it’s exciting to see Bobby step into a leadership position. Despite the fact that he’s apparently one of the most powerful mutants to ever exist, he hasn’t really lived up to his potential. It’s quite possible he’ll get to do so here.

The first issue is “the collection,” the part of the story where a catalyzing force realizes the need and taps heroes on the shoulder. Magik is put to use as the travel agent, locating mutants in trouble and bringing them to the Haven, a secret location where the X-Men are based. She goes for Colossus, of course, who is content to live out the rest of his days with a farm and a bottle of vodka. When she tells him he’s needed, he tells her he just wants a normal life — the same thing Jean Grey tells Storm and Iceman when they come to collect her.

Already, members of the team feel like they’re facing the same problem in different ways. Storm has doubts about her ability to lead mutantkind; Iceman has never really had any responsibility for anyone before; Colossus has never had a taste for the craziness of the X-Men; and Jean Grey doesn’t want the burden of being a symbol for Xavier’s dream. Almost none of them want to do what they’re being called to do — they’re doing it because they have to.

Nightcrawler and Old Man Logan round out the team — or will, once the former is rescued from a mysterious band of mercenaries collecting mutants as test subjects, and the latter once Storm and Bobby convince him to come along and figure out what his deal is. I get the feeling that the issue-ending reveal of the old Wolverine is supposed to be a big shock, and it probably would have been if Secret Wars had ended on time.

The art for both issues is pretty strong; Bendis has a number of collaborators for #600, and while it could have been distracting to have wildly different art-styles bouncing around between scenes it mostly works here. There’s enough continuity in the character models that you’re not left wondering who’s who, and there are some great dynamic panels that lend a sense of motion and emotion to the proceedings. (You can tell I don’t know how to talk about art here.)

But the artistic team of Ramos (pencils), Olazaba (inks) and Delgado (color) is pretty wonderful in Extraordinary. The character designs are crisp — cartoonish, but grounded — and the color palette does a great job at enhancing the mood of every scene. And not for nothing, but the new-look Colossus? Super hot. God. Damn.

The story for Extraordinary X-Men is likely to be unpopular. We’ve already covered the mutant race with their backs against the wall before, and the rumors that Marvel is effectively swapping out the Inhumans for the mutants seem to be 100% true. It’s kind of interesting that the editorial office is leaning in to the controversy by having the Terrigen Mists actually BE the reason for the extinction of the race.

But still, I’m hopeful for mutantkind. Even though they’re in possibly the worst situation they’ve ever been in story-wise, they’ve got good writers on their titles. It’ll be interesting to see how Lemire handles the relationships among Storm’s team. How will the adult Bobby react to the teen Jean Grey? Magik and Colossus haven’t seen eye-to-eye in quite some time; is all that bad blood really under the bridge? How is Storm going to get along with Logan? How does Logan deal with everyone else? I suppose we’ll see.

 
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Posted by on November 11, 2015 in Comic Books, Reviews

 

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The Month in Comics – October 2015

Reading 150I fell back into comics this month, and I fell a little hard. It was a perfect opportunity to check up on things, actually — the first wave of Marvel’s revamped universe was shipped under the All-New, All-Different Marvel banner. Even though the big summer event that allowed them to shuffle the deck hasn’t ended yet due to delays, it’s still a good time to check in and see all the stuff the House of Ideas is doing with their flagship franchises.

I talked a bit about the comics I was planning to buy here, and on what platform, and why. Once I got in to my local comic shop, though, I realized just how much I missed spending time there. Anna and the gang at Illusive Comics work really hard to make it a community shop for the geeks in Santa Clara, and they want it to be as safe and welcoming a space as possible. I’ve got to support that, so I dusted off my old pull box and will be steadily stocking up on title subscriptions there. This might mean a smaller reliance on Comixology, but that’s just fine with me. Amazon borked the service quite a bit when they bought it, and I’ve been reluctant to go back to it ever since.

Anyway, I picked up a few Marvel titles last month — Sam Wilson: Captain America, the next volume of Guardians of the Galaxy, Howling Commandos of SHIELD, and two Star Wars miniseries, Chewbacca and Shattered Empire. I’m holding back on Uncanny Inhumans, and will probably go digital there. I’ve also picked up a few non-Marvel titles: Archie (from Waid and Staples), Jughead (from Zdarsky) and Bad Moon Rising, because I’m a sucker for a cover with a really intriguing werewolf.

I’ve only read three or four issues out of my haul, so next month’s write-up will be a bit beefier. For now, though, a few thoughts on what I’ve seen so far.

THE NEW CAPTAIN AMERICA
Sam Wilson made headlines last month with the first issue of his new series, and reading it I can totally see why. Nick Spencer is taking Captain America closer to the streets here; Sam wants the shield to be more than just a symbol, but something that regular Americans see and care about. Steve Rogers was more aspirational in his role as Captain, staying above the political fray as much as possible and making sure every single action he took reflected his ideals. Not a bad tack to take, but I could see how it wouldn’t work for Sam.

Besides, Steve has worked for SHIELD and the US Government for how long? He knows what they’re capable of, and his decision to change the way it works from the inside is something he has a fairly good chance of doing. However, Sam’s experience as a black man dealing with institutions he and his community has been disenfranchised with for so long leads him to simply abandoning them and trying to affect change on his own. That makes sense, too — even though it makes it that much harder.

Sam’s first story takes him to Arizona, where the Sons of the Serpent are rounding up illegal immigrants for some unknown purpose. I’m impressed that neither he nor Nick Spencer, the writer, is taking baby steps with this; they both know the shit-storm that’ll come down as a result of these choices, and they do it anyway. It’s a bold statement, not just for the character and the writer, but for Marvel itself. I know we’ve said Cap has always been political; while that may be true, it’s very rare that he’s been this topical.

I dig the hardscrabble nature of Sam’s operation, and Misty Knight, his right-hand gal, is lifted straight from a 70s blaxploitation movie in the best possible way. There’s a hint of romance there, because of course there is, but with Captain America and the new Thor kissing somewhere down the line in the new Avengers comic who knows what’ll happen there. I hope that they don’t introduce relationship troubles before the team’s really had a chance to come together.

Still, the strength of this first issue and the boldness of its choices has earned this a spot on my pull list; now that I know Sam has made the choice to distance himself from SHIELD and the government, it makes me a lot more intrigued to see if the All-New, All-Different Avengers will take a similar stance that promotes the idea that superheroics are best left outside the shifting landscape of the political theatre.

GUARDIANS OF THE GALAXY
My engagement with Bendis took a major hit over the course of his X-Men tenure; the quippy, crackling dialogue that worked so well with Ultimate Spider-Man didn’t translate so well to what was happening with the mutant corner of the Universe, and the direction he’s taken them is something I have a few issues with. Using Beast as a catalyst for his run — by breaking the time-stream to bring the original five X-Men forward to the present — has seen Hank McCoy’s character pretty badly damaged over the past few years; we’ll see how all of that shakes out with his run-ending Uncanny X-Men #600.

But what does this have to do with the Guardians? Well, a lot of the problems that Bendis brought to the X-Men have popped up with the Guardians, too. The dialogue, while pretty snappy, doesn’t quite fit all of the characters, and the plotting is so loose that there’s not a good chance to really get a feel for the title or the team. I was hoping that this new volume would be a chance to introduce a new status quo for the Guardians that would see them somewhat more stable, but the first issue makes me a little nervous.

Peter Quill — Star-Lord — has taken over as leader of the Spartax Empire and left the group, which means Rocket is the de-facto leader. The Guardians spend the first issue stealing an unknown artifact from the Chitauri, and that serves as an introduction to the new team — Rocket, Groot, Drax and Venom are joined by The Thing and Kitty Pride, who’s taken on the mantle of Star-Lady. (But where’s Lockheed?)

In order to find out what the thing does, the Guardians visit an obviously unhappy Peter and it’s clear they’re not on the best of terms with each other for various reasons. But before they can do much in the way of expositing, the issue ends with the appearance of two people — one the ally, the other, a villain.

It’s all a bit…shallow. There isn’t any room for deeper character beats, and the plot points don’t even get a chance to sink in before we’re on to the next thing. It makes me wonder if Bendis simply can’t write team books all that well; while he’s really able to do amazing work with single character books, I’m really not digging his team stuff. Maybe it’d be better to pick up Iron Man and drop this title? I don’t know.

Next month will see The Ultimates, Extraordinary X-Men (Welcome to Marvel, Jeff Lemire!) and a whole host of other titles for ANAD Marvel, and I’m sure I’ll pick up a lot more titles than I mean to. See you then!

 
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Posted by on November 4, 2015 in Comic Books, Reviews

 

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My Writing Guide to November 2015

Self Improvement 150October was a pretty intense month. I went in for full training on changing my position at work, which means there are a LOT of holes in my technical knowledge that need to be filled. The shift also means that I’m down in the trenches with coworkers a bit more, and that means an opportunity to change the culture that I’d feel awful not taking. It’s important to me that any community I’m a part of feels more like a community because I’m a part of it — that may sound egotistical, but I like being a glue. I want to make people feel more connected, like someone has their back.

But that means paying attention to work in ways that I hadn’t before, which also means that it has to get a lot more of my time and energy. Because things happened so suddenly, I had to drop any other plans I had made in order to make sure I had the emotional space for it. Now that there are a few weeks of this under my belt, I think I’m able to take a beat or two to see where my head’s at and what I feel I can do.

I’ll still need to set aside a chunk of time to learn more about the technical aspects of my job, like getting to know Linux from the command line and how to work with PostGreSQL and maybe even learning more about SOAP API. But I’d also really like to use whatever remaining time I have for writing and reading — immersing myself in stories that matter to me and learning how to tell them better.

I won’t be able to join NaNoWriMo this year; there’s simply too much going on, and I’m too far behind on a few other things. Still, in the spirit of the month I’d like to set a few goals. They’ll be a bit more modest than what I may have originally planned, but I think they’re a good challenge for what I can handle right now.

WRITING
Ugh, I’m so far behind. On everything. But no worries! This month I’d like to focus on making writing a regular practice, so projects are geared towards that. In addition to making sure The Writing Desk is updated three times a week, I’d like to work on articles for other blogs like [adjective][species] and perhaps Claw & Quill. I’m not sure I’ll have anything ready to show this month — besides, at least with [a][s] they have a pretty solid line-up of posts to take us through the holiday season. Seriously you guys, I really think you’ll like what they have planned.

But there are things about the culture of the fandom I’d really like to write about — what we want out of an art/writing/music community portal, how the broader politics of other SFF fandoms influence our own, how the fandom treats mental illnesses, social maladjustments, and the expression of fetishes that aren’t seen as acceptable or respectable by the society at large. It’s interesting stuff to me and there are no easy answers for this, but it’s all top of mind and I think we should be talking about it, at least in a high-level way.

Here at The Writing Desk, I’ll try to tighten the focus to storytelling and the lessons I’m learning from it — which means more reviews of the stuff I’ve been reading, more thoughts on the lessons we can take from our stories to the broader world, and how our experiences in the broader world are baked into our stories. I’ll talk about the bricks of my Afro-Futurist philosophy as I discover places for them, and the ideas that are taking shape in my mind as I’m writing stories.

As for the stories themselves — well, I’ve got three short stories that I’d really like to finish before I really dive into anything new. “A Stable Love” is a commission that a friend of mine has been waiting on for years, and while I’ve been marching towards completion it’s well past time it was done. Another friend generously donated to my Clarion Write-A-Thon fundraiser, earning a commissioned story that I’ll begin as soon as “A Stable Love” is draft-complete. And then there’s a short story that I would love to submit for the People of Color Destroy Science Fiction anthology coming up next year. I have the idea and the outline for it in my head, and I’m really excited to get started on that.

I’ll also be working on a collaborative project with a few friends called “A Changing Perspective”. It’s a choose-your-own-adventure story spun off from an interactive over on writing.com; since that website has issues with advertising for their interactive space, I can’t ask friends to go read those chapters in good conscience. A group of four writers has made an informal pact to revisit the interactive through Twile, and cone we’ve got significant chunks of the story underway we’ll find a way to host it.

So for November, I’d like to finish “A Stable Love” and write 12 chapters for “A Changing Perspective”; update The Writing Desk three times a week; and have at least one complete article for both [adjective][species] and Claw and Quill. It’s an ambitious schedule, but I think I can do it if I keep my focus.

READING
I haven’t been reading nearly as much as I should. I’ll be honest — I’m a slow reader, and I often spend time I could spend reading doing something else, like playing mobile games. Making an effort to read more means spending more of my downtime devoted to it, and that’s something I’m very much in favor of.

This month, I’d like to finish two (I believe) short novels that I’ve been wanting to read for a very long time — Kindred by Octavia Butler and Giovanni’s Room by James Baldwin. The former is a great introduction to one of the biggest black voices in science-fiction, and has been served to me as an Outlander-type story of the slavery South. It sounds like it’ll be incredibly rough, but an illuminating read. The second is a good introduction to one of the best black intellectual voices from the Harlem Renaissance, and that alone has got me tremendously excited. Reading up on black literature — not just sci-fi/fantasy, but novels, essays, and poetry — is something that I want to feel better rooted to the tradition I’m coming out of. I’m hoping that it will help me better understand why my community is the way it is these days, and better imagine what my community will be like in the future, or how it would deal with magic, or how my personal experience fits in to an Afro-Futurist context.

I’ll also be reading through the slush pile for New Fables, though we generally only have poetry to deal with at this point; short stories and novels from friends, of course; and the comics that are coming through the pike as part of All-New, All-Different Marvel. Exciting times, and as usual there is no shortage of reading material.

ELSEWHERE
There is no shortage of demands for attention these days — it’s tough to distill your life down to the essential things that you want to be doing. One of the things I’ve been trying to remind myself is that everything I do is a choice; if I spend a lot of time doing something that doesn’t get me closer to being a writer or someone with good technical skills, that’s a choice I’ve made. If I goof off instead of do something equally enjoyable but possibly more enriching, that’s a choice I’ve made. At this point, it’s important to make good choices about how I spend my time. There are only so many hours in the day, and it’s in my best interests to make them count.

This is a bit of a tangent, but it’s a bit like shaping your diet so that you eat better. If you’re trying to make sure you only eat a certain number of Calories per day, then it becomes a lot more important to make sure those Calories are doing something for you — either helping you with your exercise routine, or making sure you’re full for longer, or helping out with your digestion. When your Calories become precious or finite, the impact of empty Calories — those in say, candy or a milkshake — becomes startlingly apparent. If I’m holding myself down to 2000 Calories in a day, I really can’t afford to spend 650 of them on an Oreo milkshake, no matter how much I want to. It’s either that, or dinner.

Bringing that awareness to my time is a lesson steadily, painfully being learned. There’s only so much free time that I have on a weekday; an hour before work, if I wake up on time, and maybe two or three afterwards. What am I doing with those four precious hours? Am I playing Marvel Puzzle Quest on my phone? Am I looking at Facebook without actually absorbing any of the information I see there? What else could I have done that would help me get closer to the life I’d like to be living?

This month I’ll try to make more responsible decisions about how I spend my time. Don’t get me wrong — I know that I’ll need to blow off some steam, or do something inconsequential sometimes to relieve some stress. I’d like those activities to be a mindful choice, though, not the easiest option available, or some sort of default.

To those of you participating in NaNoWriMo, good luck! This will be a crazy and exciting month for you. I hope it’s fulfilling as well. Let’s get to work.

 

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A Black Geek’s Guide to All-New, All-Different Marvel

Reading 150I fell in with comic books through Marvel, and I’ll never forget it. I was vaguely aware of comics growing up — how could you not know about Superman, Batman, or Spider-Man — but the first time I heard about a story that made me think “I have to read this” was the Age of Apocalypse saga, where Charles Xavier’s insane son goes back in time to kill Magneto but mistakenly kills Professor X instead. For four glorious months, the entire line of X-Men books were replaced by a post-apocalyptic hell where Apocalypse has taken over the world and a desperate band of humans and defecting mutants are trying to stop him. I had never heard of a storyline as ambitious as that, and I don’t think there’s been a crossover Marvel has pulled off that well before or since.

Ever since then, I’ve jumped in and out of the comic stream. I left for a while, came back for Grant Morrisson’s New X-Men run, then left for a while and came back for Bendis’ All-New X-Men run, and now I’m lapsed again. I wish I hadn’t — Hickman’s Avengers work is currently wrapping up on the Secret Wars crossover, which has basically destroyed Marvel’s entire multiverse and replaced it with a patchwork world where Dr. Doom is God. This is the end-game of Hickman’s work across Fantastic Four, FF, Avengers, New Avengers and Avengers World; he’s been leading to this for years. It’s that kind of long-form storytelling I really appreciate and applaud, and I wish I had been reading the story in real-time.

This month, Marvel is releasing the comics that come after Secret Wars; we catch up with the multiverse eight months after the end of Doom’s Battleworld and the restoration of the multiverse. However, this is a chance for the company to pull a line-wide reset on every single title, so there’ll be an enormous wave of brand-new comics hitting the shelves over the next few months. So which comics are worth getting in your local shops every Wednesday? Which are fine getting digital? And which ones do you probably want to wait for the trade paperbacks on?

Marvel is doing a lot of really different stuff with this launch, featuring a great array of diverse books featuring African-American, Native American, Asian-American and women superheroes front and center. Captain America is still black; Thor is still a woman; the Avengers will feature those two as well as Ms. Marvel (a Pakistani Muslim), Ultimate Spider-Man (half-black, half-Latino Miles Morales) and Kid Nova, Sam Alexander. Of the seven folks on the main roster, only the original Iron Man Tony Stark still has his spot.

Diversity is given a serious run here, and I think it’s important to show Marvel we dig what they’re doing. It’s not enough that we show up on message boards and at Comic-Cons asking for it; when they’re giving us what we want, we should show up at the comic book shops too. Personally, I’ll buy the paper version of any title I think needs the support most; the titles that will probably be fine but I still want to read will get bought digitally; and the stuff that I’m curious about but not sold on will have to wait for the trade paperback. I only have so much money, after all, and a geek’s got to eat.

So here’s my pull list for All-New, All-Different Marvel. What’s yours? Let me know in the comments!

PAPER COPY, EVERY WEDNESDAY
Black Panther
Written by Ta-Nehisi Coates; Art by Brian Stelfreeze

I’ve only recently been turned on to Ta-Nehisi Coates this year, and already he’s become one of my favorite voices in all of black geekdom. So when I heard he was getting the keys to Black Panther, there was simply no way I could miss that. The first twelve-issue story arc will feature a revolution in Wakanda, and T’Challa trying to figure out how to deal with it. I cannot wait for this. This is going to be amazing.

Howling Commandos of SHIELD
Written by Frank Barbiere; Art by Bren Schoonover

A motley crew of monsters — including a robot version of Dum Dum Duggan, Warwolf (a gun-toting werewolf), Man-Thing (a gigantic swamp creature) and Hit-Monkey (a…deranged monkey?) — take out supernatural threats while struggling with their own monstrous natures. This book is too insane not to take up; I really dig the theme of trying to do good while being fundamentally apart from a society that will never accept you. This is one of the more bizarre concepts Marvel is throwing at the wall, and while I don’t expect it to last very long I really want to support it while it’s there.

Moon Girl and Devil Dinosaur
Written by Amy Reeder and Brandon Montclaire; Art by Natacha Bustos

First of all, Devil Dinosaur in his own ongoing! Moon Girl is a pre-teen black girl named Lunella Lafayette who is also a dormant Inhuman; however, she doesn’t want superpowers. She wants to continue being the prodigy she is, so she’s looking for ways to prevent transformation. That desire to stay who you are, to hide the weirdness inside you, is a really compelling hook for me. Also, this is one of the few ongoing comics to be (co)written and drawn by women!

Totally Awesome Hulk
Written by Greg Pak; Art by Frank Cho

Amadeus Cho is the new Hulk! Gone is the brooding Bruce Banner; Cho wants to embrace being enormous and green. This comic hands the mantle of the Hulk to a Korean-American prodigy, featuring Greg Pak returning to the title he’s best known for, with Frank Cho pulling art duties; two Korean-Americans creating a superhero comic with a Korean-American protagonist! You can’t do better than that.

Red Wolf
Written by Nathan Edmonson; Art by Dalibor Talajic

This is the biggest question mark; this version of Red Wolf hails from one of the patchwork realities that made up Battleworld in Secret Wars, so Marvel won’t get into any issues with portraying a real Native American tribe, but…is that better? While they will have a Native American artist doing covers, it remains to be seen just how the character will be treated and what the book will look like. Still, just making the attempt is something, and I’m planning to see how it shakes out.
DIGITAL
Uncanny Inhumans
Written by Charles Soule; Art by Steve McNiven

The Inhumans are being set up as a mainstay of the Marvel Universe moving forward (whether we like it or not), and this will probably be the flagship title for them. I’ve heard nothing but great things about Charles Soule, and I’m curious about this little corner of the comic universe; with Agents of SHIELD setting up the Inhumans incredibly well in the cinematic universe, I’d like to read more about them. Mutant and original X-Man Beast is defecting to their crew, and where he goes I follow.

All-New X-Men
Written by Dennis Hopeless; Art by Mark Bagley

It is not a good time to be a mutant after Secret Wars. The Terrigen Mists, which have been released into the biosphere, have rendered them sick and sterile. The surviving mutants are warring with the Inhumans as they fight to keep their species alive. And the time-displaced original X-Men — Beast, Cyclops, Iceman and Angel — are still in this reality. Determined to lead by example, they’ve set out to be the superheroes they know they should be. I’m really curious about this take on the X-Men; it feels like a bit of a throwback but at the same time tackles the “nature vs. nurture” question in really interesting ways.

Spider-Man
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Sarah Pichelli

Miles Morales is probably one of the only people who’ve made it out of the Ultimate Universe, and that’s probably because he moves so many books; still, he’s a really compelling character and I cannot wait to see how he fits in with the main universe. Bendis made his bones on this title 20 years ago to usher in the Ultimate Universe, so he has an amazing handle on this character and where to take Morales next.

Ms. Marvel
Written by G. Willow Wilson; Art by Takeshi Miyazawa and Adrian Alphona

Kamala Khan has, in many ways, lead the charge of this all-new, all-different Marvel. Her introduction to the main universe was a surprise hit for the company, and she’s being placed in a position of prominence during this reconfiguration initiative. Not only is she one of the Avengers now, she’s also getting a brand-new volume of her massively successful solo comic; I cannot wait to see what G. Willow Wilson (one of the only Muslim writers working in comics that I know of) has in store for her after Secret Wars.

Guardians of the Galaxy
Written by Brian Michael Bendis; Art by Valerio Schitti

ROCKET RACCOON IS IN CHARGE! After Secret Wars, Star-Lord has left the Guardians to become the leader of the Spartax Empire, which means Rocket, Groot, Drax, and Venom have to find a way to make do on their own. They’re joined by an alternate-universe Kitty Pride as the new Star-Lord and the Thing finally fulfilling his potential as an astronaut. Bendis has actually been killing it on this title ever since he took it over, and I’m looking forward to seeing how the team comes together after all of these changes.
TRADE PAPERBACK
All-New, All-Different Avengers
Written by Mark Waid; Art by Mahmud Asrar and Andy Kubert

You have to hand it to Marvel; they aren’t kidding around with remaking their universe. This is a directive to shake things up from the top down: the Avengers are almost completely changed — Iron Man is the one guy who’s a member of the Big Three, joined by the new Captain America (Sam Wilson), the new Thor (Jane Foster), Vision, Ms. Marvel, Spider-Man (Miles Morales) and Nova (Sam Alexander). I’d be worried about the roster if it weren’t for Mark Waid, who excels at taking titles in great new directions that inject a sense of serious fun into them. This is the perfect team for his style.

Extraordinary X-Men
Written by Jeff Lemire; Art by Humberto Ramos

I’ve been a fan of Lemire ever since he broke onto the scene with the excellent, strange post-apocalyptic tale Sweet Tooth; the success of that book has propelled him onto DC’s main titles with a run on Green Arrow before Marvel’s snapped him up to shepherd the new flagship X-title. Storm is leading the mutant nation through another extinction crisis with Colossus, Magik, Nightcrawler, Forge, the present-day Iceman, the time-displaced Jean Grey and Old Man Logan. Marvel’s X-Men are always at their best when they’re put in the hands of great writers with distinct voices, so this is a great move.

Weirdworld
Written by Sam Humphries; Art by Mike del Mundo

I really should pick up the Secret Wars miniseries before picking up this title, but I find it so intriguing. Weirdworld is basically Marvel’s sword-and-sorcery universe, and they’re pulling it out of mothballs to give it a go. It’s so rare for one of the Big Two to go in this direction that I have to see what they do with it; I don’t think it’s going to last very long, but I want to throw my money at other projects I think are more important to support.

So that’s it: 13 titles that I plan on supporting once All-New, All-Different Marvel gets going, and there are plenty more that I would like to take a look at — the new Howard the Duck, The Unbeatable Squirrel Girl, Rocket Raccoon and Groot, The Ultimates (featuring Black Panther, Captain Marvel, Spectrum, Ms. America and Blue Marvel), Power Man and Iron Fist, just to name a few. Simply put, it’s a VERY good time to be a Marvel fan.

 
 

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