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Friday, September 13, 2013

Review: Mighty Avengers #1

Mighty Avengers #1
Al Ewing, Greg Land, Jay Leisten, Frank D'Armata, Cory Petit

Alright I really liked this one!  I actually don't have much of a clue about what's going on with this Infinity crossover that it ties into, but we get the gist of it pretty quickly.  The Avengers are all in space doing something important and probably really meaningful and awesome, so Thanos and his crew are gonna swoop in and fuck it all up.  So while the Avengers are out of town, we've got Luke Cage, The White Tiger, the new Powerman, Spectrum (Monica Rambeau, formerly Captain Marvel), a new Ronin, and Doctor Octopus (in Spider-Man's body) to step up and defend the Earth somehow.  Not exactly the A-list, but you could do a whole heckuva lot worse.

The team's not entirely together by the end of this issue, but I'm guessing it's going to go the route of the classic Avengers set up, having the big supervillain conflict unite the team in a stroke of ~*d e s t i n y*~.  Al Ewing does a nice job of previewing some of the team dynamics by way of taking down some C-list chump supervillains and their henchmen, and we also get a nice sense of some their personalities in the process.  Luke Cage is a new dad with new responsibilities, the new Powerman acts as his counterpoint, a hot-head teen with everything to prove, Spectrum is smart and capable, eager to reinvent herself as a premier superhero, and Spider-Man is arrogant and self-righteous, but it's mostly because he's actually Doctor Octopus in Spider-Man's body.  Each team member is different in his or her approach to why they're in the superhero game, and Ewing is great at having these conflicting personalities inform the characters' motivations and decisions.

(Sidenote about Spider-Man: How does no one know that something's up with Spider-Man yet?  Spider-Man has been involved in the crime-fighting game since he was sixteen, and he's worked with almost every hero on the scene.  Luke Cage must think that something is up with Spider-Man, right?  Spider-Man is acting like such an asshole, and everybody's just like, "Oh, I guess he must be having a bad day.  Better not ask him about it," which I guess would be a fairly realistic reaction?  I don't know, I guess it's just weird that no one's said anything to him yet?  Maybe this is being dealt with over in The Superior Spider-Man?  Whatever, it's not a big deal, and I'm pretty into this new jerk Doctor Octopus/Spider-Man.)

Greg Land's art is the typical Greg Land art we've come to know and have opinions about.  I'm not a big fan of his, but I guess his saving grace is that his comics mostly come out on time?  All of his characters look like shiny plastic figures in poses.  The heavy photo reference doesn't bother me all that much, but those static poses get to me because I'm of the opinion that superhero comics should have art that has some energy to it.  Big action has to look like it's moving, and Land doesn't convey that sense of motion that I want from a superhero comic.  This is a comic with car chases and explosions, so let's see some movement, right?  We can't just draw in a couple of speed lines around our perfectly photo referenced cop cars and call it a day.

On top of being the latest Avengers comic, Mighty Avengers has also been getting some buzz lately on account of how it's one of the few major superhero team lineups largely featuring people of color, and also it marks a change of heart from Executive Editor Tom Brevoort, who in the past had called the idea of a mostly black cast "contrived." Mighty Avengers is being held up as a signifier of change in the air, which is great, but I'm still not convinced that this is going to be the one thing that will change the face of superhero comics.  I think having a cast of mostly non-white males is definitely a positive step in the right direction, but the set-up of this team's place among Avengers titles kind of bugs me.  The other two main Avengers titles by Jonathan Hickman, Avengers and New Avengers features a cast of mostly white men and women, and they are supposed to be the ones that will be affecting the direction of the Marvel Universe's plotlines.  The way that Mighty Avengers looks to be setting up, it seems like it's going to be the more "street-level" team of Avengers.  I understand that they are dealing with a cosmic-level threat in Thanos and his crew right now in the first arc, but the main thrust of this conflict and why it's supposed to be interesting to us is that this team is the underdog.  They're not supposed to be dealing with a cosmic-level threat, but they're going to have to find a way.  It bugs me, though, because what it looks like we're getting here is the white team of Avengers shapes the direction of the universe, and the black team of Avengers has to deal with all the "street-level" runoff.  And maybe this is an interesting idea and commentary in and of itself, but I was hoping that maybe we'd see a team of non-white superheroes deciding the fate of the planet rather than just reacting to whatever table-scrap conflict the white Avengers were too busy to deal with this month.

Or maybe I'm wrong.  It's only been one issue, and the message of an underdog team is usually a pretty empowering one, but I guess my problem with it is that the underdog story is something that people of color have been living for their entire lives.  The shine of novelty has worn off.  And it's true that Mighty Avengers isn't fixing to be a portrait of gritty realism, but we can't really call it escapism if the overall tone or message of it is something that people of color are living with everyday.  Mighty Avengers may not have to choose a side, but straddling that line between a message of realism and escapism will be a difficult task, especially given that it seems to have the added pressures of supposedly being the superhero book that's going to change the face of superhero team dynamics or something.  Or maybe not.  Maybe it'll be something else entirely.

Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Some thoughts on Avengers A.I.

I wrote a little thing on Avengers A.I. #3 for the dudes at Comics Bulletin, but it was a short thing, about 400 words, and I think I may have some more things to say about that series, because I'm liking it and I'm rooting for it.

I like Sam Humphries.  I was pretty big into Our Love Is Real, but for whatever reason his Marvel output so far hasn't really impressed me.  Avengers A.I. on the other hand is pretty entertaining, and I think it looks like he's having some fun with this book.  It feels really weird and offbeat, like something Marvel would have published during the Bill Jemas era of books.  The problem with these sorts of books is that they tend to be a little bit under the radar, and in this era of the Disney-Marvel Corporation, being under the radar is something less acceptable and it could almost certainly mean cancellation.  Here's the usual course for these sorts of books: fly under the radar, start tying-in to every crossover event, creative team switches, desperate letter writing campaign, pray that the TPBs sell.  I hope that this isn't the path that Avengers A.I. takes because I think has the potential to be a genuinely different monthly superhero offering, and it deserves better.

I like these characters.  I like Hank Pym's weird recasting as a bumbling sitcom dad who is also a brilliant jock-scientist.  I like Monica Chang as the straight-shooting over-achiever.  I like Victor Mancha as a shitty teenager, trying too hard to look cool.  I like the Doom-Bot.  Doom-Bots are always a nice source of comedy in the Marvel Universe.  I like The Vision as the straight man to this team of goofs, and I like his new nano-robot powers.  I don't know if I like Alexis.  I think we're supposed to think she's a traitor, but I think she's going to redeem herself or something.  Whatever.  I think all these dudes work well together and I'm glad they keep finding excuses to talk to each other.

I hate everybody's ugly-ass jackets.

The Diamond is a pretty cool idea.  I like this A.I. Utopia, but I have reservations about what Humphries is trying to get at with the idea that these A.I. are a new life form, deserving of personhood.  I mean, I get it.  I understand the gray area that this presents, I get that this is pretty similar to the whole mutants and humans conflict, but the A.I. that live in the diamond, regardless of how peaceful they are, are set up as the bad guys simply by not being on the same team as the Avengers.  Also they're being led by an A.I. named Dimitrios who is inhabiting Iron Man's most evil looking armor (and wearing a shitty blazer on top of that!), so definitely not scoring any points there.  Here's another thought about The Diamond: Is anyone else getting "For The Man Who Has Everything" vibes from The Vision's experience in The Diamond?  We've only known Dimitrios for a couple of issues, but it seems like something he'd do.

Maybe I'm just anti-robot.  Maybe this comic book is holding up this dark mirror to my black soul, riddled with heretofore unacknowledged technological bigotry.  Maybe I'm the asshole.

I think it would be cool if the A.I. were actually cool new life forms deserving of personhood.  I think it would be cool if the Avengers were the assholes here.  Like, if this team of Avengers ended up destroying an entire civilization of new life forms, or if we were tricked into rooting for genocide, how great would that be?  I mean not great that we were rooting for genocide, but I mean that this team would have to live with the consequences and the guilt?  I dunno, that's definitely not going to happen in this book.

Maybe I just so desperately want this book to be the new X-Force/X-Statix.  Constantly fucking with its readership, making jokes, killing central characters just to prove that no one is safe and that life is cheap.  It's not going to be that book, though.  Sam Humphries isn't Peter Milligan (nor should he ever need to be), and a lower-tier Avengers spin-off title in 2013 is a far different thing from a lower-tier X-Men family book in 2001.  Having a set of blockbuster movie franchises will change things like that.
I just want every superhero book to be X-Force/X-Statix.  I know that's wrong to want something so impossible.

Anyway, all I want is for this book to do well and to be able to develop its own original voice in a sea of on-message branding.  It probably won't happen I don't know comics are good at finding a way to be terrible usually.

Monday, September 2, 2013

NOT COMICS!: SAD GUY MUSIC SPECIAL part 1-- DRAKE IS A HARMFUL PARAPERSONALITY AT THE TOP OF HIS SAD GAME, or Drake and the Question of Realness

I wanted to get a little rambly about music for a bit, because I've been listening to The Weeknd's "Trilogy" again, giving it a second chance, but I didn't know where else to put this, so it goes here.

For the last month or so, I've been giving sad guy music another shot.  When I say "sad guy music," what I mean is this sort of sub-genre that's alway existed, but has become increasingly prevalent in the Hip-Hop and R&B circles, or at least the ones I tend to find myself or my friends listening to.  In my listening, I've figured that Drake and The Weeknd are pretty much at the forefront of my view of sad guy rap/R&B, and when I first gave them a listen, I'll admit I didn't much care for them.



Drake had bothered me for a while, for all the reasons one is typically bothered by Drake.  This idea that he's not as "real" as other rappers, that perhaps he is much less deserving of this lavish lifestyle that he so laments.  He got his start on Degrassi, but never really acknowledges this in his music, preferring instead to recall a past life of non-specific "struggle."  I saw him as more an actor playing a part, rather than the "Last name: Ever, First name: Greatest."  These were the initial misunderstandings about Drake that would weigh heavy on me as I found myself listening to 2011's "Take Care," struggling to stop myself from enjoying it too much.

But the fact is, I did find myself enjoying "Take Care," and I hated that I enjoyed it because I couldn't properly explain why.  I didn't think that any criteria or reasoning I had for liking something really applied to Drake's "Take Care."  I mean, this guy Drake was supposed to be some kind of punchline in the Hip-hop community whose music I never really had to struggle to like, but I can't deny that some of his lines were pretty much perfect and resonant.  Moreover, I just couldn't align myself with supporters of Drake's work who were touting it as some kind of break-through in "sensitive rap" or whatever.  Rap music has always had the capacity to be sensitive, something I always understood as being a dimension of that "realness" that's so important in the Hip-hop I enjoy.  Confounded and frustrated, I put it on the shelf, writing it off in the guilty pleasure category.

I dug up "Take Care" a while ago and I realized my problem with understanding my enjoyment of it had a lot to do with this idea of "realness."  First, why was I so concerned about Drake's realness anyway?  I admittedly have no claim on starting from the bottom, so I'm not the most accurate barometer of hip-hop realness.  Drake is a qualified actor, so perhaps this is as good a reason as any to suggest that maybe his stage persona is a performance piece?  Consider Aubrey Graham as "Drake."  This certainly flies in the face of traditional "realness," but plenty of performers have created personas for themselves that they embody onstage and in their music.  Is Bowie less "real" for doing that?  Maybe this doesn't fit hip-hop's definition of traditional "realness," but hip-hop is still a constantly evolving genre, and the idea of a rapper's persona isn't new in hip-hop, either (see: Eminem/Slim Shady/Marshall Mathers, TI/Tip, RZA/Bobby Digital, Rick Ross/Rick Ross).  I will admit that this may seem like reaching on my part, trying to justify my enjoyment of "Take Care," but I think there's more to it.

One prevalent theme of "Take Care" is the sense of loneliness at the top.  Drake is not subtle about this.  The whole "heavy is the head that wears the crown" motif is for display right on the cover, and one of the recurring themes of a Drake song is this image of a man adrift in a sea of beautiful women and luxury condos, all of which can mean nothing to him because he's hung up on the one that got away (be it a woman or a certain moment in time), that unattainable ideal that he may think he once possessed.  Now because of his own mistrust of himself and others, this ideal of true love or compassion or happiness or whatever will always be out of reach.  As a result Drake probably gets a lot of sad handjobs.  But is chasing this ideal really the only thing that is making Drake so lonely?  Maybe in the context of the music, it's as simple as the loneliness inherent in striving for the unattainable, but within the context of Drake as a persona, maybe the loneliness stems from Aubrey Graham's desire for transformation and reinvention.



There's this line in the title track off of "Take Care" that's probably my favorite thing Drake has ever done, and it's simple.  It goes: "My only wish is I die real."  I like this line because of how it works within the context of the idea that Drake is a persona created by Aubrey Graham.  On top of just being a nice line that sounds cool, the idea of wishing to be real is a central theme of hip-hop.  Although usually in hip-hop we hear it more as an assertion that someone is real, as opposed to being a wish.  Drake in his music wishes to be real the way we've previously understood that someone is real in hip-hop: money, power, talent, loyalty, etc.  What if Drake the persona's wish to be real entailed becoming not a facet of the author, but instead the reality of the author?  What being real means to Aubrey Graham may be a little bit more complicated, and we'll never actually know the answer to that, of course, because Aubrey has so thoroughly immersed himself in his Drake persona, but maybe what this means is that we can remove Aubrey from the equation and focus solely on the Drake persona, this character that Aubrey has created and has presented to us fully on "Take Care."  Perhaps the removal of Aubrey is what Drake the persona wanted all along.  Perhaps the picture of Drake is not so much unreal as it is incomplete because the persona is still figuring out how to achieve total personhood.  Give it enough time.  Aubrey Graham will be So Far Gone, Buried Alive beneath the luxury condo of a Drake that has been fully fleshed out, a real person in his own right.

Anyhow, this is all kind of a roundabout way to admit that I like Drake, despite everything else.  I think he offers a lot to think about "realness" with his Brechtian approach to hip-hop.  I think his lonely mobster/sad hand job receiver image is an interesting commentary on the changing mood of hip-hop performance.  I've got fairly specific conditions to liking Drake, yes, but at the end of it I've learned I need to be more real with myself and admit to what I enjoy.

NEXT TIME: I'll probably talk about The Weeknd, and why they could stand to lighten up.