Aquaman #17 Review

Aquaman #17 Review

This Means War-Head

Dan Abnett (W), Scot Eaton (P), Wayne Faucher (I), Gabe Eltaeb (C)

Cover by Andrew Hennessy and Gabe Eltaeb

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: $2.99

          Things have been pretty complicated lately in the life of Arthur Curry, king of the underwater realm of Atlantis. In what honestly was the best Aquaman story I have ever read, Atlantis has been on the brink of all-out war with the United States. This was spurred onwards by the shadow organization known as N.E.M.O, who committed a number of false flag operations against the United States, disguising themselves as Atlantean military.

Leading N.E.M.O was none other than Black Manta, who killed the previous Fisher King of N.E.M.O. and assumed the mantle. Aquaman was narrowly able to track down the organization and present proof to the United States government that it was not Atlantis instigating conflict with America. This was not without casualties, as a number of the Atlantean royal council were killed by N.E.M.O as well as the U.S military.

In the aftermath, Arthur’s aquatelepathy has been misbehaving. This has been caused by a mysterious entity known as Warhead, a telepathic cyborg war machine who has been manipulating students and faculty at Beckman University to perform missions for him.

This issue opens up with a woman being forced to open fire upon Aquaman. He disarms her, and his telepathy begins to misfire once more. A drone begins shooting at him, and Warhead appears, gunning down the king of Atlantis.

We are taken two hours beforehand, when Aquaman arrived at the U.N headquarters located in Manhattan. He meets up with a security detail which insists on protecting him. His telepathy begins misbehaving. Inside, a mass of Aquaman fans have formed. They have fallen in love with the king for his exploits in halting war between Atlantis and the U.S.

Mera, Murk, and others of Aquaman’s retinue watch on from television in Amnesty Bay as Arthur begins his U.N address. As he starts, we see Warhead activating his own telepathy, and Aquaman sees a bleeding soldier in the crowd. The soldier disappears, and Arthur continues his address.

Afterwards, he sees the soldier outside and leaves the security detail behind. The detail begins to panic. Arthur finds the soldier outside Beckman college, and he sees a war zone all around him. It all disappears, and a man with a gun begins firing upon Aquaman while apologizing. He disarms the man, and the man points Arthur in the direction of the campus lab.

He’s attacked once more upon entering the lab area, and he disarms this assailant as well. This man tells Aquaman the name of Warhead, informs him of his telepathic abilities, and tells Arthur that his aquatelepathy makes him “receptive to contact but resistant to control” by Warhead.

From here, the woman from the beginning of the comic arrives, and we are in the “present.” The security detail surrounds Beckman, as Aquaman attacks Warhead. He pleads with the machine-man to stop through telepathy while attempting to apprehend him.

Warhead grabs Aquaman’s head, and Aquaman finds himself in a hellish war zone. An explosion flings him across the landscape, and he becomes convinced that what he is seeing is real as the comic concludes.

Dan Abnett is, hands down, one of the best writers working right now. His work on Aquaman and Titans is incredible, and he has few peers at either of the big two companies.

This story is interesting, and it seems to be leading in a very intriguing direction in regards to Warhead’s intent and origins. I’m genuinely not sure where this is going, and I am excited to find out.

I’m not sure what the point of the time skip was other than to accommodate the fact that Aquaman was at Beckman at the end of the last comic. It wasn’t confusing, but it didn’t really serve that grand a purpose either.

There is a bit of a lull in and around the section where Aquaman gives his address. The segments back in Amnesty Bay don’t really add anything, but they’re not particularly funny either. We’re also not made privy to much of Aquaman’s address, and I’m actually a little disappointed by that. I’m sure it would have been very interesting given the insane political atmosphere that surrounds Atlantis in DC Comics.

This story also has the unfortunate role of taking place after “Deluge.” That really was the best Aquaman story I’ve ever read, no hyperbole, surpassing even Geoff Johns’ impressive tenure with the king of Atlantis. It had political intrigue, Aquaman’s greatest villain Black Manta, and palpable tension that carried through from one issue to the next. It even served to provide interesting commentary about the War on Terror via the subplot with the Atlantean terror cell known as the Deluge. It also solidly characterized Arthur Curry and gave him a defined personality. This is something that even Geoff Johns struggled with back during his stint on Aquaman.

All this being said, this puts “Warhead” in the unfortunate position of not having grabbed me like “Deluge” did. It may yet get to that level of brilliance, but it hasn’t arrived yet. This by no means makes this a bad comic, but it does give “Warhead” the same uphill battle that Charles Soule faced when taking over Daredevil after Mark Waid left the title. You’re left wondering, “Can this be as good?” The difference of course is that this still has the same brilliant writer, and, like Charles Soule has since done on Daredevil, I’m sure Mr. Abnett will wow me yet again.

The art is quite good on this book. Eaton, Faucher, and Eltaeb have given life to a striking and action-packed story. I dig the design of Warhead. He’s reminiscent of 90’s comics without dipping into the ridiculous hypermasculine excess of the 1990’s in comic books. The name, Warhead, is pretty reminiscent too, though I will say I’m not a fan of the moniker.

As I said, Dan Abnett is rocking this comic book as well as the comics world at large. This a great book, and I have full faith in him maintaining the high quality I have come to expect of him.

Final Score: 8/10

Doctor Strange #17 Review

Doctor Strange #17 Review

A Cup o’ Swampy Joe

Jason Aaron (W), Frazer Irving (A)

Cover by Kevin Nowlan

Publisher: Marvel Comics

Price: $3.99

          So let’s travel back to the weird and wacky world of the Sorcerer Supreme himself, Doctor Stephen Strange.

With Earth’s magic having been almost completely drained away by the interdimensional science-zealots known as the Empirikul, Doctor Strange is currently in a very weak state. This blood in the water has attracted other beings who have managed to avoid being weakened by the Empirikul’s warpath. Nightmare, Satanna, Baron Mordo, the Orb, Mr. Misery (a being made of curses caused by Doctor Strange’s spells), and Dormammu himself have all taken the opportunity to try to kill Stephen Strange. All failed, if only barely.

However, Mr. Misery and Wong made a pact during Dormammu’s assault. To the surprise of everyone, Strange was able to access what magic he had left to beat Dormammu by banishing him to the realm of Shuma Gorath, whom Dormammu had attempted to feed to the Empirikul to save his own realm. Misery took Wong regardless, and now Stephen Strange is left without his most trusted ally and friend.

This issue opens with two groups of eldritch and demonic beings battling. We are told that they are attempting to stake a claim on Earth’s returning magic. Doctor Strange attracts their attention and convinces them to fight him instead. He wins and forces them to come to treaty. This all also might have taken place in Strange’s living room, because magic and weirdness. Just roll with it.

We are made privy to the fact that the Sanctum Sanctorum is in disarray due to the disappearance of Wong. Zelma is having trouble maintaining what she can, and Doctor Strange is having to balance the upcoming magical crises with the search for Wong.

We next see Wong attempting to fight an internal battle against Misery. Despite his best efforts, Misery manages to access information about Strange from Wong’s mind, and the two leave to act on this.

Doctor Strange goes to the Bar with No Doors, a locale that caters to sorcerers, sorceresses, witches, wizards, shamans, etc. He hopes one of them has information about Wong, but none do. They are busy trying to keep the balance in the world as well.

The swamp monster and protector of the Nexus of Realities known as the Man-Thing appears and beckons Doctor Strange to go with him, and he does. The next scene has Strange and the Man-Thing fighting off extradimensional Nazi Vampire Ninjas, because, you know, magic and multiverse theory.

We are next shown a man named Samuel Wintergreen, and Wong/Misery pay him a visit. They take him, doing something to his head, and we are shown a menagerie of the other victims which Wong/Misery have acquired.

Doctor Strange and Man-Thing dispatch the remaining vampires. Man-Thing gives the Sorcerer Supreme some kind of algae, and Strange receives a call from Zelma. She informs him of a potential lead on Wong.

Stephen goes to the hospital at which he was once surgeon, and he is told by a doctor that multiple patients with severe brain tumors just arrived. They attempted to operate on one, but the tumor “fought back.” At this point, Strange is shown a room covered in blood and viscera. He is shown the other patients, and their heads are malformed and swollen. Doctor Strange agrees to operate on them, as he believes the Man-Thing’s algae may help. The comic ends with him showing that he also called upon Thor, Goddess of Thunder for aid.

As always Jason Aaron has put together a weird and wild issue for the Sorcerer Supreme. With the Empirikul, the Death of Magic, the Blood in the Water which attracted all the villains, and now Mr. Misery, he has put Stephen Strange on a fascinating trajectory that is incredibly enthralling.

The pacing and storytelling in this issue was seamless. There’s never a dull moment or a panel wasted. The only disappointment is the fact that Bachalo isn’t on this issue. I do wish he was back, but Irving’s artwork is so weird and unnerving that I can’t complain too much. His style is very much fit for a comic book about Doctor Strange. The realistic yet heavily shaded shapes as well as the faded colors contrast Bachalo’s art, but both easily work for Doctor Strange.

This remains one of Marvel’s better books coming out at the moment, I dug the guest-starring of Man-Thing, and I look forward to the next issue with Thor. I highly recommend this book. It’s cohesive and tells a broad story, but it manages to give each issue its own arc. It’s never a bad time to jump on, so give it a read.

Final Score: 9/10

The Worst Comic Book Character: Harley Quinn

The Worst Comic Book Character: Harley Quinn

Banner Art by Amanda Conner

This is the big one. This is the character that, at this moment, I dislike more than any other. Harley frigging Quinn.

All the worst parts of Deadpool and Starfire combined. She is a lol-so-random character who relies on juvenile humor and cheap fourth-wall breaking and she is portrayed as a sex-puppet whose ass is constantly hanging out for the lustful enjoyment of teenage boys. To add to it, she frequently behaves like a little girl, so you have her acting like a prepubescent while having her ass hanging out. What a winning combination.

Now, I do understand that she is an empowering figure to some people. She comes from an abusive relationship with the Joker, and she escaped. You don’t really have any other characters like that in comic books except Jessica Jones with the Purple Man and Carol Danvers with Marcus Immortus (the latter is a really weird and skin-crawling one, and I discuss it in the Captain Marvel entry of my Top 10 Marvel Heroes list if you want to know about it).

I get that Harley can fill the role of the empowered survivor for some people, and I’m not saying that it’s bad to like her. As I’ve said before, if you like any character on this list, that’s fine. You do you.

However, it’s hard for me to see Harley as an empowered character. The hyper-sexualization is off-putting, because I know it’s being done for male audience members, as that is generally the first thing on every marketing department’s mind. Her personality since she has become popular and received her own comic is nakedly mimicking Deadpool. Don’t get me wrong, Marvel and DC rip each other off all of the time, but, frankly, Deadpool sucks. He’s not an interesting character, and Harley could have been a very interesting and compelling character had they split her off from the Joker in a more interesting manner. Instead, DC saw the baffling popularity of Deadpool and said, “We want one.”

To add a little salt to the wound, Harley has never really left the Joker behind, despite the abuse he put her through and the multiple times he has tried to kill her. She is frequently depicted holding some sort of Joker memento, like that doll on the cover of Suicide Squad: Rebirth #1 which she cradles. This is compounded by the fact that she still uses the identity and clothes which he gave her.

I am going to say something here to the people who idolize the Joker and Harley Quinn dynamic as some pinnacle of “weirdo” love. Get your head out of your ass. This is not a healthy relationship. This is a horrifically abusive one. It doesn’t go “both ways” and it’s not okay that she’s “into it.” Frankly, if you try to justify it with that latter excuse you can really shut the hell up because you do not know what you’re talking about. This is not a good thing. This is not something to which you should aspire. This isn’t a BDSM dominant-submissive dynamic. This is a monstrous and murderous man who, for a long time, had a mentally unstable woman wrapped around his thumb, and he took advantage of her, brainwashed her, beat her, and frequently tried to kill her. It is no one’s ideal relationship.

I know the Suicide Squad film tried to retcon it [cover DC’s ass] by making it so Harleen willingly followed the Joker, and he didn’t actually treat her that badly in the film, relatively speaking. I didn’t see the film, but I do see where some of those elements could still be problematic. However, I’m not talking about that film here. I’m talking about the insufferable comics.

I do want to make an aside here and say that I’ve never been in an abusive relationship. I’m not an expert on the psychology of it. I have been told by some advocates of Harley Quinn that some of her personality traits are common in women who have recently escaped abusive relationships. I’m not saying that behavior is wrong in a person.

That being said, I want you to understand the importance of context and artistic intent in this case. I truly believe that DC did not consider any of the behavioral commonalities of a domestic abuse survivor when crafting Harley Quinn. DC is a big corporate conglomerate under the corporate mega-giant known as Warner Brothers. Despite the fact that I have dedicated this website to the critique of DC and Marvel’s output, I never forget that they are massive companies with bottom lines and investors who are subsidiaries to the likes of Disney and Warner Brothers. When I see something that is so obviously, so blatantly trying to hop on a trend, in this case the popularity of Deadpool, I’m going to go with my gut instinct and believe that it is riding a trend.

Her frivolously murderous and ultraviolent tendencies do little endear her to me either, and it does add to the Deadpool similarities. I think I would be willing to give her more of the benefit of the doubt if she didn’t frequently beat the tar of a random passerby with a baseball bat. It adds to the unlikability because it is hateful act without reason or intent. She’s not the Joker or Bullseye who are genuinely malicious people with murderous instincts. She’s not Red Skull or Lex Luthor with plans made for ten steps ahead. She and Deadpool are often painted as being “not so bad” despite these murderous tendencies. It’s incongruous. It’s disingenuous. It makes both of them far more hateable.

All of this being said, I find Harley Quinn leaving the Joker’s shadow to be an interesting prospect. I used to like her. There was potential for a really great character here. However, when faced with this opportunity, DC behaved in a very marketing-minded manner. They left artistic expression by the wayside. This is a very “what do the charts say” character. They saw that Deadpool was and still is very popular. They know that T&A always sells. They saw that a portion of the reader base, myself included, were craving more diverse characters. They made a perfect character to fill in those criteria. She behaves like Deadpool. She wears skimpy costumes. She’s a woman just out of an abusive relationship.

I have, do, and will likely continue to say that I hate Harley Quinn. But, upon writing this, I do see that it’s not entirely true. It’s not that I hate Harley Quinn. I mean, I do, but that’s not the crux of the matter. The truth here is that I hate all of the worst, money-hungry, business-minded instincts of the two big comic book companies. Harley Quinn is the epitome of those instincts, and the sad thing is, it worked. Her comics sell gangbusters, and she’s everywhere. The only thing that could have made it worse is if she was born out of a massive Marvel comics crossover event.

I just wished they tried a little harder. She could have still been funny. She still could have been sexy in a manner that wasn’t blatant and pandering to the baser instincts.

So that’s the list. These are my ten most hated characters from Marvel and DC comic books. These are the ten that will likely drive me away from a comic the quickest, and they have had the most negative impact on comic book storytelling and artistic trends.

I don’t currently have any list ideas on deck. I will likely skip next week as I often do at the end of a big list. If any of you fine readers have any ideas which you would like to see made into a list, feel free to leave a comment below this article, give me a shout on Facebook, or Tweet at me. You just may decide my next list.

And, as always, keep reading comics!

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1

Justice League of America: Rebirth #1

And That’s How They Became the Batty Bunch

Steven Orlando (W), Ivan Reis (P), Joe Prado, Oclair Albert (I), Marcelo Maiolo (C)

Cover by Ivan Reis, Joe Prado, and Marcelo Maiolo

Publisher: DC Comics

Price: $2.99

          Apologies again for the lateness of this review. I definitely did not intend to have this ready a full week after the comic was released.

As you likely know, I’ve been really looking forward to this release, despite the fact that I’ve not been remotely following the Justice League vs Suicide Squad story. I like wacky line-ups in super hero teams, and this team has a lot of characters that I like, particularly Lobo, Black Canary, and Killer Frost. I’m particularly interested in seeing Killer Frost trying to become a hero. The way she was recreated as a “heat vampire” in the New 52 is an interesting twist on the character, and I saw a lot of potential for redemption in this iteration of Kaitlin Snow.

The story begins with Batman showing Killer Frost around their headquarters, located in Happy Harbor, Rhode Island. Batman tells Snow that he is putting together a team for some imposing threat, and he wants to give her a chance to start fresh. She accepts the invitation.

Next, Killer Frost is fighting Black Canary in Seattle. After a short fight, Batman appears and tells her that Killer Frost is with him. The Dark Knight tells Canary that he needs a human element to this new team as well as someone who will call him out on bad decisions. Dinah Lance qualifies for both.

Next we see Mammoth City, New Jersey, where Lobo has just gotten thrown out of a biker bar. Black Canary approaches him about the team. It’s apparent quickly that Lobo and Canary won’t get along.

At Ivy University, Ryan Choi arrives in Ray Palmer’s lab using his Bio-Belt. Lobo and Batman are waiting for him. The Caped Crusader was waiting for Ray Palmer and tries to leave. Lobo convinces him to stay and accept Ryan onto the team.

At City of Vanity in Oregon, the Ray is out in the city. Ryan arrives through his phone. The Atom invites the Ray onto the new team, and he accepts.

In Manhattan, Vixen stops a crime being committed by someone called Roxy Rocket from robbing a museum. Afterwards, a police officer shows Mari a bizarre weapon, but she leaves when she senses Batman nearby. He extends an invitation to her as well, and, after some convincing, she joins the team.

Back at the headquarters, the team is having its first meeting, and Lobo, of course, is antagonizing everyone. Batman stands up for Killer Frost after Lobo starts harassing her for her past. Batman restates his intent to form a team of humans, and the comic ends with the new Justice League of America in action.

This comic was…serviceable. It wasn’t particularly exciting, but it set up the team well enough. It’s a peculiar lineup, but this book brings them together in a believable manner.

Batman shows a bit of humility in this issue, and that’s something that you rarely see from the Dark Knight. I enjoyed that. The Atom and the Ray seem like they are going to have good chemistry. Canary and Lobo seem like they are going to fight a lot. Then again, Lobo will probably pick a fight with everyone.

“Human” seems like a very odd word with which to describe Lobo. I can see it being used to describe Black Canary, the Atom, Vixen, and Killer Frost in this situation. Even the Ray I can see, but Lobo? The Main Man what smacks down with Superman regularly? Maybe, in this case, Batman means a bit of a bastitch.

That being said, this comic doesn’t do anything all that exciting. It tells enough story to fill out the pages, but I feel like this could have frontloaded a different story if it were shortened a little. Maybe this could have been a mega-sized first issue at four or five-dollars.

It wasn’t a bad book. It was alright and enjoyable enough, and I definitely look forward to seeing where this comic goes. However, this first issue wasn’t one of the best openings to a book. I have confidence that the series will be good, but I’m not reviewing the series. I’m reviewing the first issue, and the first issue is just serviceable.

Final Score: 6/10

#2 Worst Comic Book Character: Deadpool

#2 Worst Comic Book Character: Deadpool

I won’t lie, I’ve kind of been looking forward to this. I hate Deadpool. I hate Deadpool a lot. He is simply not a well-designed character, and stories that center around him are just insufferable to me.

Yes, I liked the Deadpool movie, and even the Deadpool videogame was pretty fun, though I wouldn’t call it a great game. Rick Remender’s Uncanny X-Force made Deadpool a pretty likable character within the story, and it worked for the same reason the Deadpool film worked. He’s actually a character in that comic and the movie. He has arcs and goals and all those things that actual human beings have, whereas his own comic and most comics with him in them tend to be an aimless mess of in-jokes, fourth-wall breaking, and juvenile humor.

I liked Deadpool a lot when I was in middle school. I feel like that statement speaks for itself. I liked Deadpool when I was in middle school. His humor is so very juvenile. It can be summed up in fart-joke, lol-so-random-joke, and a declaration of “hey, aren’t comics so weird?”

I’m never going to say that superhero comics have ever been this bastion of maturity and transcendent storytelling. Like any literary form, you have your good stories and your bad. Superhero comic books in particular require a lot of suspension of disbelief and an acceptance of the ridiculous. However, you can only take the piss out of yourself enough before it’s hard to take anything you say seriously.

This is why, though Gerry Duggan’s Uncanny Avengers has had characters I like on the team like Steve Rogers, Quicksilver, and Brother Voodoo, I cannot get into the book because Deadpool is on the team. He’s too damn goofy and derails entire scenes just to make a stupid joke.

He’s also a bad character in from a narrative standpoint. He doesn’t have a range of emotions or a discernable personality beyond “Haha, aren’t I so random, fart, poop, I’m in a comic book.” If you were to give him a puppy then kill that puppy, he’s probably going to have the same reaction to each event. Plus, it’s hard to take his “serious” stories seriously, because he’s taken the piss out of himself and his environment so many times that any emotional tension dissolves because “Haha it’s just a comic who cares?” Also, the lack of a discernible plot in most comics kills tension too, because, well, you know, stories are needed.

Someone is likely going to read this and say “That’s the point.” And—yeah, that’s not incorrect. However, you should see why he’s unapproachable to me as a reader. I don’t think he’s funny. If I don’t think he’s funny, then I won’t be there for the comedy. So if he’s not funny and he’s not an interesting character and every serious story about him is sidetracked by the fact that his shtick prohibits any emotional weight…then why am I here? The answer—I’m not, because I won’t read any comics about him.

Also he’s a Rob Liefeld creation made to rip off Spider-Man, Wolverine, and Deathstroke the Terminator, all of which are infinitely better characters. So screw that.

 

Still Sick

Though I was able to power through the week, I have crashed at the end of this week. I will continue the Top 10 Worst Marvel and DC Characters List next week, and it will conclude next Friday. I will definitely be reviewing Justice League of America: Rebirth #1 this weekend since I made such a big deal out of that book. Whether or not that is the only review I will be doing this weekend is dependent on how I feel in the next two days.

I apologize for the return of delays. I do want to do this stuff, but my mental and physical faculties have been impaired by this bug. Hopefully it will go away soon.

Until next time, keep reading comics!