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Back to the Future

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I blame Frank Miller.

If it wasn’t for his landmark work on Batman: The Dark Knight Returns, we wouldn’t have so many tales of the dystopian futures of comic characters, like the “Old Man Logan” arc starting in this week’s Wolverine series.

Of course, Miller shouldn’t get all the blame for this. He simply tapped into a visceral want and desire in the comic audience, the same force that makes spoilers and gossip websites so popular. It is the desire to know what the future holds for these characters, but the inability to wait for it to happen naturally.

But Miller did make these peeks into the potential future grim and gritty. There’s no escaping that. This is why many of these stories, like Spider-Man: Reign and Marvel’s The End series’ are so dark, bleak and grey.

Speaking of The End, that series helps illustrate how this trend might be getting out of control. Back at the end of 2003, Marvel came out with Wolverine: The End, which purported to tell the final story of everyone’s favorite clawed Canuck. So, in essence, “Old Man Logan” is the second grim and gritty story set in Wolvie’s future in five years.

If that wasn’t bad enough, certain plot points in the arc—the hero being retired at the beginning of the story, his being aided by an archery based hero who is now handicapped—are being compared to the book that started this trend, The Dark Knight Returns.

So, what makes “Old Man Logan” if not special then at least unique? Two things: Mark Millar and Steve McNiven. Yes, the team that brought you the massively popular Civil War series reunites for this very arc.

Steve McNiven got his start as many of today’s hottest artists did, by working for the now-defunct CrossGen Comics. His first professional work was on the CrossGen title, Meridian.

When CrossGen folded in 2004, McNiven found his way to Marvel. He started slow at the company, working on the Marvel Knights 4 series, before moving on to higher profile projects such as New Avengers, Ultimate Secret, and the aforementioned Civil War.

McNiven’s artwork is some of my favorite in comics today. My test for an artist is if I get excited to see him draw a character he’s never drawn before because I really want to see what that artist will bring to that character. McNiven is that type of artist for me. He draws with a fine line, excels at storytelling, and can be glossy and gritty at the same time.

As for Mark Millar, people love him or hate him, usually at the same time. This is his second stint on this volume of Wolverine. His 13-issue run from 2004-2005 gave us the “Enemy of the State” storyline, a pot-boiler which asked, “What if Wolverine became really, really evil?”

His storytelling is bombastic, over-the-top, and summer blockbuster worthy. It might be considered an acquired taste, but if you climb on board, then you will be in for the ride of your life.

In addition to the excellent creators, this arc is set apart from the futuristic tales that came before it by the apparent fact that it will crossover with the other series Millar is writing for Marvel, Fantastic Four and Marvel: 1985. It will be interesting to see how Millar fits those oddly shaped puzzle pieces together to make a cohesive story.

So, yes, we are getting another tale of Wolvie’s bleak future four years after the last one ended. But that doesn’t mean “Old Man Logan” should be ignored. It will be a unique take on the concept by two popular creators. You might like it, you might not, but it should at least be interesting.

Also out this week:

Hellblazer #245:

When you think of comic characters that are also rock stars, few come to mind—The Amazing Joy Buzzards and maybe one or two others. (No, Dazzler does not count. She’s disco. Disco is about as far away from rock and roll as you can get). 

What you might not know is that John Constantine was a rock star, a punk rock star no less. He was the lead singer for a band called Mucous Membrane. The band was prominent enough to be the focus of a present day group of documentary film makers who have set out to investigate Mucous Membrane’s mysterious exit from the public eye. But since it’s John Constantine that is involved, the end of the band is probably a secret that is best left buried. 

Jason Aaron (W), Sean Murphy (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99.   Ongoing Series.

Kill All Parents #1:

What makes a bad kid bad? Is it a substandard education? Is it being raised in poverty? Is it negative reinforcement from their peers? Is it the society they live in? Or does it come down to the parents?

The authoritarian government in this series believes that it is the last one. And since these bad kids might grow up to be super-villains, this government has taken steps to nip the evilness in the bud. But their methods are so controversial that they have caught the dismissive eye of the superhero community. And those heroes are willing to do anything they can to stop them, even if it means becoming villains in the eyes of the government.

A wrong makes a right and vice versa in this thoughtful series.  

Mark Andrew Smith (W), Marcelo Dichiara (A), Image Comics, $3.99.  Ongoing Series.

Sparks #1:

Now is the best time to be a comic fan. It seems that there is a new movie every two weeks adapted from a comic book. Back when I was a kid, all I had was a chance at a new Superman movie every couple years, reruns of the Bill Bixby Incredible Hulk TV series afterschool, and The Greatest American Hero.

The Greatest American Hero was an action comedy about a high school teacher by the name of Ralph Hinkley who discovers an alien suit that gives the wearer superhuman powers. Unfortunately, Hinkley lost the instruction manual, and hilarity ensued as he figured out how to use it.

Ralph Hinkley was played by William Katt. This week, Katt becomes the latest Hollywood star to enter the world of comic books, not as a writer, but as a publisher. His Catastrophic Comics imprint gives us their first offering tomorrow, a superhero noir comic, Sparks.

Christopher Folino (W), Jim Ringuet (A), Catastrophic Comics., $2.99. Eight-Issue Miniseries.

Anita Blake, Vampire Hunter: Guilty Pleasures #12:

Marvel has been promoting themselves as the home of “best-selling authors” due to their relationship with writers such as Steven King and Orson Scott Card. That’s all well and good, but what they don’t mention is that some of these “best-selling authors” were inherited through their now-defunct relationship with the Dabel Brothers.

Laurell K. Hamilton, creator of Anita Blake, is one of these inherited authors. The miniseries adapting her “Guilty Pleasures” novel ends this week. But Anita Blake has appeared in a whole bunch of other books. A sure test to Marvel’s marketing ploy will be if they adapt more of her stories in comic book form or if she moves on the new Dabel Brothers imprint.

Laurell K. Hamilton & Jessica Ruffner (W), Ron Lim (A), Marvel Comics, $2.99. Final Issue.

Scalped #18:

When we last left the world of Scalped, the murder of Gina Bad Horse had just come to light. The main suspect is crime boss and casino owner Lincoln Red Crow. But Red Crow states he didn’t do it. To clear his name and to find the real killer, he’s asked retired tribal policeman Franklin Falls Down to come back on active duty and work on the case. Franklin is known for always getting his man, no matter how long—or what—it takes.

This issue is a stand alone story, a breather if you will before the next storyline starts, which gives us an inside peek into the workings of Franklin Falls Down. If you want to find out more about a character who will play a major role in the issues to come, and jump on one of the best comics on the market today, then this issue is for you.

Jason Aaron (W), Davide Furno (A), DC/Vertigo Comics, $2.99. Ongoing Series.

Grendel: Behold the Devil #8:

The secret era of Hunter Rose, the period of time so upsetting to Rose that he removed the passages concerning it from his diary, comes to an end.

Hunter Rose has feelings of being followed during his adventures as Grendel. His pursuer mirrored his every move, could not be thrown off the trail, and remained hidden from sight. That is, until some voodoo ritual revealed that Grendel’s stalker was a demon from hell. 

The demon gave Hunter a glimpse at his future. Grendel will grow from just being a secret identity into becoming a movement, a religion, a way of life even. This doesn’t sit well with Rose, who believes himself to be unique and individual. Now, he is going to insure that the Grendal legacy ends with him.

Matt Wagner (W/A), Dark Horse Comics, $3.50.  Final Issue.

Aspen Splash 2008 Swimsuit Spectacular:

When the Sports Illustrated Swimsuit Issue first arrived in 1964, it was an opening of a cultural Pandora’s Box. The sports weekly’s first foray into showing scantily clad models wearing bikinis—or less—was immensely popular and quickly became a yearly tradition. Feminists and religious leaders attacked the issue, but its popularity spawned a legion of imitators.

One of the goofiest co-opters of the swimsuit issue has to be the world of comics. Because, let’s face it, some of the costumes on the female comic characters feature less material than your typical, two-piece bikini. This is especially true of the costumes on the heroines of Aspen Comics. Heck, Fathom spends most of her time under water so whatever she wears could be considered a swimsuit. But, regardless, Aspen is coming out with a swimsuit special.   Enjoy what could be a showcase of the Aspen characters wearing more than they usually do.

None (W), Various (A), Aspen Comics, $2.99. One-Shot.

###

William Gatevackes is a professional writer living in Mamaroneck, NY with his wife Jennifer. He also writes periodic comic reviews for PopMatters, is a weekly contributor to Film Buff Online and writes title descriptions for Human Computing’s Comicbase collection management software. Links to his writing can be found at his website, www.williamgatevackes.com.

 

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