A great deal of what I’d expected to be reading this week has been delayed into some time next month (or beyond). The result was an odd collection of books, comprising two endings, two beginnings, and a hybrid of both.
Battle of the Atom #2
The very first thing I wanted to read this week was the conclusion of the two-month-running Battle of the Atom crossover, masterminded by Brian Michael Bendis and spanning four ongoing series and two one-shots. As I’ve mentioned before, I’ve quite been enjoying Bendis’ X-Men stories generally and enjoyed the first half or so of BotA without any real complaint. But as the series passed its midpoint, and as news began to stir about what would come after the event was over, my enthusiasm flagged. This week, it came very close to dying.
The truth is, for the “end” of an “event,” this issue was an extraordinary letdown. On its own it might possibly have been enjoyable, but taken as the final issue of a long-running arc, it feels deeply unsatisfying. Note that the remainder of this “review” will contain spoilers. Perhaps the worst part of this event is how little of an attempt is made to explain anything of consequence in the story. We have no reason for why the future “Brotherhood” came back — or what led them to become the “Brotherhood” in the first place. We have no indication of what they expected to accomplish by sending the O5 back in time. Speaking of the O5, we have no idea why they couldn’t go back; in the most obtuse “comic science” excuse ever conceived to justify crowding the publishing space with characters who’ve already had half a century to hog the spotlight, the reason we’re given is simply “the universe won’t allow it.” For a company that is just wrapping up a book they pitched to people who believed Marvel had too many teen heroes, the idea of making it even harder for those newer teen heroes to thrive by adding teen versions of the original characters is strikingly obtuse.
The thing about Battle of the Atom is that it was fun in the beginning but turned into a random, sluggish nightmare about halfway through. Things persisted without reason, people fought each other without thinking, none of the communication that should have transpired between friends did, and that inane lack of any kind of reasonable behavior was then used as the excuse for some of the stupidest events in the book, not least of which being the decision Kitty Pryde makes at the end. I’d call it a “shocking conclusion” but that would suggest it was a surprising decision made by a character — not a character-defying declaration which made no sense in the context of her life and relationships. Certainly it was unexpected, but that’s only because I try to expect good writing. I suppose those who expect less were also less surprised.
I disagree with the notion that “a story is only as good as its ending,” but in many ways the reason I didn’t hate this story while reading it was because I anticipated that my concerns were going to be addressed by the time the story wrapped. In hindsight, knowing how it concludes and how little is ultimately explained in a satisfying way, I can definitively say this is one of the worst events I’ve ever read. Outside of the handful of pretty cool spreads which the artists had a chance to throw together for this anniversary, Battle of the Atom is a wash. Read this issue if you’re a completionist; otherwise, if you decided to skip the crossover, you made a better decision than I did.
Scarlet Spider #23
Considering how late I jumped on the Kaine train, this whole arc has been an interesting blend of excitement and ambivalence for me. Unlike most readers, I know nothing of Kaine’s past, his connections with Kraven (or, really, any of his pre-Texas life), or any of his relationships beyond Aracely, since other than the brief mentions on the introduction page of every issue I’ve not yet read a story that featured them. Thus the backstory which leads to this confrontation with Kraven, and the threats to kill off Kaine’s loved ones, is less suspenseful or engaging for me than it likely should have been.
This proves to be a double-edged sword, because it means coming into the story with neither preconceived notions nor the typical risk of emotional scarring that accompanies the deaths of characters I’ve come to care about. Had I been reading for longer, the “who will die” hook would probably have made me drop the series; but since I knew I wouldn’t care, I let myself read on, and actually found myself enjoying the ride. Kaine has become one of my favorite titular characters (I say titular because most times I read books with ensemble casts), and seeing him wrestle against his past in a very literal way was a fun roundabout way of getting to know a bit of what, as I said, I’ve never read. This series ends in two issues, and Kaine & Aracely have already been confirmed to star in New Warriors next spring, so all that remains is to see how Yost has decided to tie up this story.
I despise Cataclysm.
I figure that bears saying up front. The whole notion of Marvel more or less threatening to (and maybe even promising to) wreck a huge portion of their publishing landscape, and a slew of characters and relationships along with it, is indicative of the problems I’ve had with the company since almost a year ago when I started reading their comics. In fact, knowing since this summer that something terrible was going to happen to the Ultimate universe has been the main reason I’ve avoided reading anything in their line, despite the fact that they introduced Cloak & Dagger, two of my favorite characters, into Ultimate Spider-Man, one of the few books I’ve actually had an interest in reading.
Yet loathing aside, Cataclysm positions itself as the quintessential opportunity to watch a train wreck, and preliminary reviews of this prequel one-shot issue starring the Ultimate (female) version of Vision piqued my interest. So I read the beginning of the end. And it was beautiful: a story with crescendos of doom but a steady, quiet undertone of hope. One that made me (despite my ignorance) respect Vision and the universe she has inhabited, and run the risk of caring (if just for a moment) about this world of characters I do not know and have done my best not to know.
I don’t intend to read any of the rest of Cataclysm. I imagine it will be pretty bleak and upsetting. But I’m glad I decided to give this issue a shot.
Nightwing Annual #1
Folks seem to be pretty sure that DC is planning to kill Dick Grayson. While I’m not quite so cynical as to believe the company would actually kill two Robins in less than a year, I recognize the guy has had a really rough time of it lately. And while I’m not following Forever Evil, I get the sense that things look pretty bleak. Yet somewhere between all the massive crossover and world-changing events Kyle Higgins wrote a story with a lighter mood and happier times — one which, I realized only after I’d picked it up on a whim, actually ties into Batgirl and is a direct follow-up to its most recent issue.
Having never read an issue of Nightwing outside of the Death of the Family crossover, I came to the annual with few preconceived notions of Dick or his relationship with Babs. I understand they’ve had a pretty long history but what with all the changes the New 52 has wrought it’s been pretty uncertain to what extent their feelings for one another from days past had even actually happened, let alone mattered. And in that sense, the best reason you could pick up this book would be to see that question finally taken up and addressed in a way that feels sensible and meaningful without ignoring the developments in either character’s recent life.
I suppose it’s worth mentioning that this book also involves a subplot of a mystery involving a firebug (I actually read this the same day as facing Firefly in Arkham Origins, coincidentally, though the character here is someone completely different). It provides an excuse for Barbara and Dick to run around Gotham together, but not much else; in fact, it’s almost a distraction, and not an utterly engaging one at that. That said, I didn’t find myself particularly bothered, and I don’t imagine most other folks would be either.
Whatever the future may hold for Dick Grayson, it was nice to see him have a chance to run around more or less carefree here. While by no means a “must-read” (unless you’re a huge fan of Dick or him with Babs), this is certainly a fun annual. You could definitely do far worse.
Sandman: Overture #1
In hindsight, the majority of this week’s entry could have been called “I don’t have much knowledge of the history of this, but I really enjoyed it.” So it goes with the book I saved for last in my stack, the long-awaited return of Neil Gaiman and Dream of the Endless — aka Morpheus — in a six-issue miniseries illustrated by the recently-departed-from-DC-but-still-(thank God)-drawing-this-series J. H. Williams III. And the truth is, this book is as much quintessential Gaiman as it is quintessential Williams. Both have a style that is instantly recognizable even as they are dynamic tellers of stories; which is to say, they vary in their delivery but the work is always also distinctly theirs.
My Sandman experience is, quite briefly, the first issue of the series and the deluxe hardcover collection of Death. I cannot be quite as excited for the return of the series as others since I have only the vaguest notion of just how missed it has been for these many years. What I can be is thrilled that Overture is phenomenal thus far. It is the rare book that makes me slow down and savor each page, makes me truly read and weigh the words, makes me worry about progressing because I might have missed some excellent detail in my haste. It is the first time I can think of I have read a comic and known for a fact that I was going to reread it, not because I’d need to in order to understand some obtuse plot point or reference or to unravel some future mystery, but because it was just such a joy to experience and I’d be looking to experience it again soon.
Sandman: Overture is every bit as whimsical and beautiful as it is disturbing and jarring. Gaiman and Williams present you with inhuman characters with surprising humanity and human characters who are surprisingly inhuman, and you learn quickly not to trust first impressions. This is a book in which Fate is made a character, and then is forced to read its own story; in which people who dream become different people when they do so; in which plants feel fear; in which Death tells jokes beneath her unnecessary umbrella.
This issue convinced me of two things. One, that I will be reading the next five issues. And two, that it’s about time I read Sandman.