Monday, November 19, 2007

Take five

Here's something that piqued my interest: Wizard's top five comic books that they recommend us comic book fans MUST read!

The Wizard staff's must reads!

Posted November 16, 2007

by Ben Morse

To merely call Avengers: The Initiative the best comic book about teen superheroes currently on the market would be doing the title a disservice. By the same token, to only say Initiative is the top military action comic around or just the best showcase of cult favorite Marvel characters would be similarly underselling it. For my money, Initiative is all of those things and more.

Initiative writer Dan Slott says it best: “This book is a wide-open canvas. Anybody can show up, anything can happen and it expands the entirety of the Marvel Universe.”

The man isn’t lying about that “anything can happen” rap, as he proved in the book’s very first issue, with seeming main protagonist MVP getting a hole blown through his head.

The main thrust of Initiative remains a core group of young superhumans making their way through boot camp in hopes of becoming big-time registered heroes in the post-Civil War Marvel Universe. But with an ever-rotating cast of stalwarts like Yellowjacket and War Machine, plus new characters like take-no-prisoners drill sergeant Gauntlet and “reformed” Nazi scientist Baron Von Blitzschlag, this book boasts an endless parade of guest stars.

“You’re getting A-listers, B-listers, C-listers and new guys,” reinforces Slott. “The mainstream, the quirky and the new.”

Slott and artist Stefano Caselli have introduced a group of compelling and original new characters. High-flying wallflower Cloud 9’s reluctance to don spandex when all the other female heroes around her seem to have supermodel physiques is endearing, but also makes a lot of sense. The rest of the young recruits have similarly intriguing wrinkles, from teenage Lizard wannabe Kimodo’s fear of being seen in her human form because it makes her less unique to Hardball learning that his natural inclinations to use his new powers to meet girls or make money won’t necessarily pan out the way he hopes.

In the upcoming Avengers: The Initiative Annual #1, Slott will reveal the origins of four of the new characters.

“We’ve brought all these characters on camera and been pretty vague about where they come from,” elaborates the writer. “They’re not mutants, so they had to get their powers and abilities somehow.”

But as noted, Initiative goes way beyond just being the next Teen Titans or Runaways. Slott has proven incredibly versatile in his writing, with each subsequent issue exploring a different storytelling style from the previous. An introspective character piece on Yellowjacket’s insecurities as a hero gives way to a widescreen slugfest between the Initiative and the Hulk. A cool black-ops adventure with the mysterious Shadow Initiative precedes a classic

mystery yarn about a former New Warrior assaulting Gauntlet. There’s something for everybody.

“The next six months will involve heavy casualties, secrets coming out in the open, Skrulls, and quite possibly an incursion on foreign soil,” promises Slott. “Also, graduation day is coming soon and some of the recruits will be assigned to 50-State Initiative teams. In the Annual, we’ll get our first look at Pennsylvania’s team, then in our next arc you see the team from Kentucky.” While there may be some bunks opening up, mine won’t be one of them, because I’m set to serve an indefinite tour of duty with Avengers: The Initiative.

by Kevin Mahadeo

While I could talk all day about Justice Society of America, the real appeal boils down to this: powerful dialogue and masterful art blend together with a heavy dose of action and a splash of Golden Age fun to create a team-book cocktail unlike any other.

“I know we’re not the splashiest book around,” admits writer Geoff Johns, “but what other book can you do a firehouse pancake breakfast in? That’s the kind of stuff only the JSA can get away with.”

The Justice Society does it all. From engaging in fierce battles against Vandal Savage and the Fourth Reich to teaming up with the Justice League on an adventure spanning centuries to even helping to pay for the massive collateral damage left behind in the wake of a superpowered battle by hosting a father-son charity boxing event.

“What other team can you do that with and not have them feel out of place?” Johns asks.

However, the team’s true uniqueness lies in Johns’ uncanny ability to create completely human characters with deep, sometimes tragic, psychological motivations. He truly makes you care about every character—be it Power Girl’s struggle to find her true place in the world or Citizen Steel’s learning curve when he’s told not to enter a blazing building because his metal skin will burn the victims. Each character plucks a different emotional string, orchestrating a deeply touching and inspiring superhero melody.

Complementing Johns’ writing is the skillful pencil work of Dale Eaglesham. As a team, the two fit together tighter than Power Girl’s costume. Whether a simple panel of Cyclone nervously biting her lip or a beautiful two-page spread of the entire team racing alongside the fire department, Eaglesham’s artistic nuances add an unassailable quality to Johns’ deeply defined characters.

“Dale captures the complexity of human emotions and human characters,” Johns enthuses. “Like with the body language in Starman. He never just stands there. He kind of talks too close to Mr. Terrific in that first issue and he’s almost dancing through the halls. You get a great sense of who he is just by looking at him, and Dale tends to do that with everybody.”

As year two of Justice Society begins, the character-driven action gets kicked up a notch as the addition of the Kingdom Come Superman rockets the team in brand-new directions both physically and emotionally.

“Power Girl is extremely disappointed [he] isn’t her cousin [the Earth-2 Superman], because at first glance she thought he was,” reveals Johns. “You get her looking at this guy going, ‘Wait, I thought there were no other Earths,’ and Jay Garrick going to Wally West and saying ‘Where’s the cosmic treadmill? We need to check something out.’”

Issue #12 closes out year one by the book’s signature final-page tease on the coming year’s storylines. Johns hints at a new villain known as the “Heartbreak Slayer,” a long-awaited talk between the Kryptonians of Three Worlds, and an ever-expanding team roster.

In fact, I’m submitting my application today.

X-FACTOR (Marvel)
by Matt Powell

As the ultimate underdog, X-Factor has the it-factor to deserve the top spot of your monthly stack.A far cry from the traditional villain-tromping action of every adjective-touting X-Men title, X-Factor writer Peter David chose to stick with a noir-influenced Hitchcock-level suspense thriller, blending intimate character moments with jaw-dropping surprises.

“The initial vision for the series was that X-Factor had its own little territory staked out—Mutant Town—and they would be the defenders of this little haven of mutants,” explains David. Preceded by David’s 2005 Madrox miniseries, the writer created X-Factor Investigations, where Jamie Madrox (aka Multiple Man) joined up with former teammates Strong Guy and Wolfsbane to face issues plaguing the residents of Mutant Town—like the Decimation and recently the Superhuman Registration Act.

While the duty to one’s fellow mutants is the hook of the series, it’s the cast that steals the show. Team leader Madrox sends his mutant-power cloned duplicates of himself (called dupes) around the world to learn different things, from Zen Buddhism to espionage, so that he can reabsorb them to add to his investigative repertoire—such a simple idea that makes you smack your head in disbelief that you never thought of it before.

“It seemed like a logical extension of his character,” explains David. “Jamie is someone who can go in [every] direction at once, [and] has to constantly fight the idea that life has no meaning whatsoever.”

To complicate matters, the stretch of time away from the original Jaime, coupled with the various paths his dupes have followed, created a multiple-personality disorder within Jamie, especially when some dupes weren’t willing to return to the fold. This dilemma led to some interesting reveals when Jamie had to literally pull his wayward dupes together. We learn one dupe is a S.H.I.E.L.D. agent in issue #8, while another is discovered to be an Episcopalian priest, married with children in issue #16. These out-of-left-field shockers throttle you as series hallmarks.

Aside from Madrox, the rest of the cast gets plenty of screen time. Between Rictor’s suicide attempt in issue #1, Siryn’s gag-inducing torture scene in issue #5, and funnyman Guido’s reveal as a murderous sleeper agent for a rival investigations firm in issue #10, who needs villains to take them apart? Throw in young Layla Miller’s uncanny ability to “know stuff” that domino-effects the cast’s entire world and you can’t wait to see what each page will unfold.

Beginning with November’s issue #25, the team ties into “Messiah Complex” to lend a hand in the X-Men’s search for the missing mutant baby. In their search, Rictor investigates the mutant terrorist group the Purifiers, while Madrox and Layla chat with Forge about the grim future of mutantkind. With so much at stake for all mutants in “Messiah Complex,” David confirms some roster changes are in the team’s future. Makes sense, since X-Factor’s been about defending their species. With a crack team of street-tough investigators and a multiple one-man army, the best team to save mutantkind may be the one you never saw coming.

by Alex Kropinak

Whether you’re dealing with leading men like Tony Soprano or Sin City’s Marv, everyone loves the bad boy. And when it comes to that psychotic baddie Black Adam, I can’t get enough of him.

Black Adam may decide to rip you in half like a toothpick, but when you recall that his family was obliterated in front of his eyes, you can at least understand why he’s separating your spine.

In the six-issue series Black Adam, the character you love to hate is going to great lengths to resurrect his loving wife, Isis, whom he had lost at the end of 52. Writer Peter Tomasi describes it as “a character-driven, balls-to-the-wall, action-adventure story with a truly great epic villain at its center.”

“Black Adam’s a bad guy, no doubt about it,” Tomasi muses. “But he’s a bad guy who is the hero of his own story. You don’t turn off ‘GoodFellas’ or ‘Scarface’ or ‘Raging Bull’ because you feel these guys are A-holes. We’re drawn to them whether we like it or not.”

Similarly, we can’t help but root for Black Adam on his quest to find peace, despite the past atrocities he has committed. The reason is that we identify with the human struggle of mortal alter ego Teth Adam.

“Approaching it from a real-world perspective was the only way to make him relatable. We need to feel his pain, be it physical or emotional.”

And to accompany such a realistic take on the magical world of Black Adam and make it work, appropriate art is crucial. Luckily for Tomasi, he has artist Doug Mahnke on his side. It’s impossible not to notice the extreme detail in every panel, which sells the idea of realism to a cinematic degree.

“Mahnke is a god,” says Tomasi. “He’s a perfect superhero artist because he blends reality and the fantastic into a tonally complete tapestry that is uniquely his own.”

Now halfway through the series, Teth Adam has regained a limited ability to transform into Black Adam that, of course, has attracted the attention of some old friends.

“So far we’ve got Batman, Superman, Hawkman, Faust, the JSA, the JLA and some other surprises,” Tomasi says, touching upon this story’s context within the DC community. “One of my main goals was to make sure that this series felt like it was happening within the fabric of the DCU and not off in some cold, dark corner all by its lonesome.”

Tomasi also gives a taste of what’s to occur in the series after issue #3’s cliffhanger. “With Teth’s life hanging in the balance, he has to do something drastic that puts his mission at risk, while Adam’s old friend Atom Smasher makes a discovery that will have major reverberations.”

Certainly, this strong series feels like an integral chapter in the life of Black Adam, and with the unconventional addition of heart to a story about a murderous villain, it’s building to a fascinating character study as well. If you’re a sucker for a badass with a heart of gold, or in this case, a maniac with genuine intentions, hop on this wild ride that won’t stop until Black Adam himself commands it.

by Andy Serwin

I can sum up why I love Star Wars: Legacy faster than Han Solo can make the Kessel run:

It’s a Star Wars universe where a Skywalker’s hooked on drugs and sells Jedi for bounties, multiple badass Sith lords spread so much death and destruction they’d make Vader crap his armor and the Empire rules a galaxy so dirty and gritty that the Mos Eisley Cantina looks like the Four Seasons by comparison. In other words, Star Wars: Legacy is the rock ’n’ roll version of George Lucas’ bright and shiny vision—it’s dirtier, sexier and more fun than anything you’ve seen on the silver screen.

“With the original trilogy back in the ’70s, you needed that delineation between the good guys and the bad,” explains writer John Ostrander, who collaborates with artist Jan Duursema. “We’re trying to portray more shades of gray; everyone’s got their own agenda. Who are the real good guys? Who are the real bad guys?”

Set 100 years after “Return of the Jedi,” Legacy stars Cade Skywalker—“Han Solo with a lightsaber,” jokes Ostrander—a descendent of Luke who becomes a drug-abusing bounty hunter after the Sith slaughter his father. But don’t let a lack of medichlorians get you down; Legacy doesn’t require readers to be Jedi masters in Star Wars continuity to know what’s going on.

“If you know the continuity, great; if not, we tell you everything you need to know,” notes Ostrander. “Legacy is like the first time you encountered Star Wars. We cram in everything people loved about the original Star Wars without being tied down to it.”

No kidding: Alien planets and tech that blow your mind, the most colorful cast in comics—from the sultry siren Deliah Blue to imposing Sith such as Darths Krayt, Talon, Malady, Nihl and Wyyrlok to name a few—make Legacy a great comic experience no matter what normally floats your boat, whether it’s superheroes or sci-fi/fantasy. Plus, strip away all Star Wars elements, and the book creates a timely resonance that echoes what’s currently happening in both the U.S. and the Middle East.

“One of the big questions is, in the name of order and security, what are we willing to trade, what are we willing to give away?” poses Ostrander. “If this book is tapping into anything, it’s that. That’s part of the meaning behind Legacy, not only with Cade and the Sith, but what’s the legacy for the galaxy? Will it always be endless chaos?”

The Legacy universe only gets more chaotic as the current “Claws of the Dragon” storyline wraps up with December’s issue #19, which reveals more of Krayt’s origin and decides whether Cade will go over to the Dark Side. The first few issues of 2008 bring old players back into the fold while “the Sith get ugly!” teases Ostrander.

That all leads up to a storyline that sets up a major Star Wars event in 2008: Vector, a line-wide crossover of all the SW titles that Dark Horse describes as a Civil War-style event.

“I’m as proud of this as anything I’ve done in my career,” says Ostrander of his run on Legacy. “[Jan and I] feel what we’re doing in is as good as anything out there—good story, great characters, wonderful art. If you’re into comics, what more could you want?”

Hmm...I only read/purchase one of those titles, and I'm even thinking of dropping Avengers: Initiative from my buy list, since it doesn't really seem to be going anywhere and is more of a feeder title. Does that mean I'm going to hell? I don't think I'm missing much though by not getting any of the above titles. It all comes down to personal preference and taste, yo.

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