Marvel Comic Books

My comic book binge continues!

The Uncanny X-Men: Days of Future Past

Book CoverMy partner and I are big fans of superhero movies, and really enjoyed the most recent X-Men reboot. When the previews for this summer’s sequel came out, though, I couldn’t make head or tails of the storyline, and Tom recommended that I read the comic books that it is based on. The storyline was originally published over two issues of The Uncanny X-Men in 1981 and released as a trade paperback in 2011.

I have repeatedly mentioned that artwork is very important to me, and I found the 80s aesthetic a little trying, but the dystopian future and desperate intervention from the past plotline was quite engaging. (Also, the dystopian future is set in 2013, and I wonder if they originally aimed for a release date last year.) Ultimately, though, I don’t know that reading the book helped with my initial issue, since I believe the movie is taking a lot of freedoms from the source material. The primary one being that now Wolverine is the pivotal character instead of Kitty Pryde. The comic book fan in me is attempting to argue that this change is just due to Wolverine being very popular, but the feminist in me isn’t totally buying it (not least because both sides of me suspect that Wolverine is starting to be played out).

The All-New X-Men: Yesterday’s X-Men

Book CoverReleased just this year, the “Yesterday’s X-Men” trade paperback is pretty much the mirror image of “Days of Future Past.” My X-Men reading heyday was many years ago, so a lot has happened since I stopped checking in monthly. Comic books are similar to soap operas in a lot of ways: a set roster of characters rotates through years of marriages, breakups, feuds, and deaths. This book actually builds on all of that, and references the past craziness in very nice and often humorous ways, without overwhelming the reader with past references.

The basic premise is that so much craziness has happened and the X-Men have gotten so fractured that Beast decides that he needs to bring the teenage X-Men from the 60s forward in time so that the current X-Men can face their past selves and recognize where they have gone wrong. This does not work ideally, of course, and the play between the two sets of X-Men is very interesting and entertaining. (And the illustration is some of the best I’ve seen recently in the big superhero comics—everyone is of course in peak physical condition but no one is ridiculously stacked in either musculature or T&A.)

Hawkeye: Little Hits

Book CoverRebecca previously reviewed Hawkeye, Vol. 1: My Life as a Weapon, and I wasn’t quite sure what to think about it. It is so different from any other superhero comic I’ve read: Clint Barton (aka Hawkeye) is just trying to get by in life when he isn’t with the Avengers, and is only somewhat successful at it. I was initially taken aback by the bleak and almost noir-ish world, but I think it is quickly becoming a favorite. Life is not easy for Clint Barton, partly due to circumstance and partly due to personal poor decision-making, but he perseveres, and I enjoy reading about it. (Oh, and not to harp too much on disappointing girl-power comics, but Hawkeye’s female protégé is so casually tough and independent that there’s no need to make a big deal out of it in the writing.)

“Little Hits” is the second volume, released just last year, and does some very interesting things with the comic book medium, including an issue entirely from the point of view of Clint’s dog, using a series of pictograms to communicate thoughts. The back of the book also includes several pages from the artist’s sketchbook, along with a description of his very minimalist approach toward color and it was fascinating, as well.

—Anna

Comic Book Glut

RurouniKenshinRurouni Kenshin: Restoration
By Nobuhiro Watsuki
2013

This was one of the free comic books that I picked up at Free Comic Book Day. It is a teaser for an AU (alternate universe) version of Rurouni Kenshin by the original author. It was fun, but mostly I enjoyed it because it reminded me how much I love this series. The actual teaser itself wasn’t all that great. It reintroduced the characters and held their first meeting at an arranged illegal fighting/gambling event, which just seemed like a bit of over-the-top, idiotic, self-indulgence.

While the reboot wasn’t so great, I definitely recommend the whole original series of Rurouni Kenshin, following Himura Kenshin, an amazing swordsman who, after a bloody past during the civil war, made an oath to never kill again but still manages to find and be found by a whole lot of trouble. The anime series based on the manga is also really good, and the recent live-action movie was excellent! (The animated movies, branded “Samurai X”, however, should be avoided.)

Anyway, seeing more of these characters written and drawn by the original author made me bounce around grinning with excitement. But the actual thing wasn’t all that good. It was a it of self-indulgent fluff, and while there’s nothing wrong with self-indulgent fluff, if you actually want to read a good AU take on this series, fandom (in the person of Vathara) has provided several better options, including the urban fantasy Blades of Blood and it’s sequel Witchy Woman, the Star Wars-crossover Shadows in Starlight, or the historical fantasy Gargoyles-crossover All I Need is a Miracle (which is a direct response to the awfulness of the animated movies).

So this series is awesome, and I highly recommend it, but this particular comic book is not the best example of it.

 

HawkeyeHawkeye: My Life as a Weapon
By Matt Fraction, David Aja, and Javier Pulido
2013

I’ve never really followed any of the Hawkeye comic books, but I enjoyed The Avengers movie a lot and the characters cameo in the Thor movie made me grin. So a new stand-alone comic book about Hawkeye at my library caught my eye. It was a whole lot of fun.

It’s a look at what Hawkeye, aka Clint Barton, is doing when he’s not out being a superhero Avenger… which is mostly getting into other types of trouble and going out being a secret agent for SHIELD. But it also involves hanging out with his neighbors at a rooftop barbeque/potluck.

Anna pointed out that the stories in this collection are all a bit grim, which I was going to argue with, except, okay, yes, they are a bit grim. But it left me happy. I liked it. Even though it does kind of imply that one of the main requirements of being a superhero is the ability to take a beating.

 

the-book-of-five-rings-a-graphic-novelThe Book of Five Rings
By Miyamoto Musashi, Sean Michael Wilson, Chie Kutsuwada, and William Scott Wilson
2012

I picked this book up because I have struggled to read The Book of Five Rings for a while now. It was highly recommended by a seventh-don black belt that I was training with. And yet, I found it super uninteresting and unhelpful. In some ways it read (to me) like The Art of War, except without the value. The graphic novel version makes up for some of that lack by being really well illustrated. And from everything I’ve read, Musashi himself was a fascinating character and I wouldn’t mind reading more about him, despite not caring for his writing.

Anyway, I actually highly recommend the graphic novel as a precursor to the plain unabridged text of The Book of Five Rings. It will give you a taste of the text while making subject more accessible. It’s readable in about an hour. Then, if you find the graphic novel appealing, maybe you should try reading the original text in its entirety.

Although, really, I mostly recommend Sun Tzu’s The Art of War instead.

 

Elektra_Lives_Again_00-1book_coverElektra Lives Again
By Frank Miller
2002

I read a couple of Daredevil series before and really enjoyed them (Frank Miller’s Daredevil: The Man Without Fear is excellent, as is David Mack’s Daredevil: Vision Quest although it largely focuses on a different character), but over all the quality of Daredevil comics varies wildly, so I also read a couple of Daredevil series before that I didn’t enjoy at all. Elektra is Daredevil (aka Matt Murdock)’s tragic girlfriend, a zombie-ninja-assassin who has her own spin-off series, but I had never read any of her comics that were any good at all… until now. This collection really brought her to life (haha!) as a character, despite her being a zombie ninja assassin. I liked the writing and the illustrations and just the whole feel for it. Well done.

Plus, there are two more Elektra graphic novels by Frank Miller for me to look forward to.