Friday, December 23, 2011

Best Video Game 2011

Best Video Game of 2011: Okamiden (Nintendo DS)

I know there have been some much bigger titles, and much more graphically impressive games in both presentation and gameplay -- but Okamiden served up a surprisingly deep story, continuing the tale of Amaterasu, or more accurately re-treading the same tale, but with a new perspective. Introducing Ammy's son, Chibiterasu was a stroke of genius, as it allowed this game to serve as both a sequel and an off-shoot tale at the same time.

The gameplay was simple, but satisfying - and it delivered on both the functionality and visual style of the PS2/Wii counterpart; Just on a smaller scale. It can sometimes get repetitive, once you know the solution to a puzzle - but I think this serves the game well for younger players, as it does require critical thinking - but not an insane difficulty level. The drawing mechanics, though, are very fun to use on the DS - taking the drawing mechanics of the game play and using it in inventive and effective ways.

Another feature that made the gameplay so fun for me was the pre-order bonus that the game came with: a DS Stylus Brush, to give you more of a feel like you're painting. (I know that wouldn't apply to people now. It really should have come packaged with the game.) It's a larger and fatter stylus - but that proved to be an asset, as it became simple to always hold the pen in my right hand while playing, instead of fumbling with removing the regular stylus in and out of it's slot on the system.

Yet what made this game really stick was the story, and the emotional investment you put into the partners who join with you during the journey. It started off simple enough - but ended with such a surprisingly deep and meaningful ending - that I can't help but pick it for best game of the year. At least the best game for me ^_^ (I know this isn't an objective pick - but it's not suppose to be. It's what I liked the best from this year.)

I hope another Okami game is in the works at Capcom. It's a series that didn't launch well at all, over shadowed by the Legend of Zelda's Twilight Princess (with Link as a Wolf), and the debut of the PS3 - but I think the re-release on the Wii, and now Okamiden on the DS probably faired better. And it strikes me that it would be such a monumental waste for Capcom not to utilize this property again - given new systems like the Nintendo 3DS and the upcoming WiiU - both of which seem perfect for stylus controlled gameplay.

Another reason I feel it would be a waste not to see another entry in the series is that Japanese video game developers seem to have an inferiority complex these days - no longer being on top in the face of competition from western developers. That's the impression I've been getting, at least. I've heard in interviews from Kenji Inafune (Megaman) and other developers about difficulties trying to balance their own innovation along with trying to make their games mainstream. There's also the reverse, of games relying far too much on Japanese Video Game styles, and letting an international appeal be lost in the shuffle. Inafune even lamented that he thought the Japanese video game industry was dying - and shortly after he very publicly departed Capcom, with the desire and goal to make games without corporate interference.

Even though Okamiden is a Capcom game - I think it's one of the best examples of a game having a creative vision. The game is a complete celebration of Japanese mythology - and it's something I deeply appreciated about this series. Simply put, Japanese video games are far from dead - and while Western Shooters are more popular here in America, I can't express enough how important it is to see creative content still coming from Japan. They revived and perfected video game industry -- and they are definitely not being forgotten by Western gamers.

I give a lot of credit to Capcom for supporting Okami with a Wii and DS iterations, but there is a reason Inafune left the company. Capcom announced a large reduction in creating Wii and 3DS games earlier this year. Capcom has also been showing a striking lack of respect for Mega Man as a franchise, specifically not including him in Ultimate Marvel vs Capcom 3. While intentional or not, it seems like a slight against Inafune over leaving the company.

This kind of corporate lock-down makes me worried that chances for another Okami game are reduced. I only hope that won't be the case.

In any event, whatever happens to the Okami franchise - this title, Okamiden, satisfied me with extending the already deeply rich storyline, giving a satisfactory ending, but while also leaving things wide open for a future sequel.

Best of Comics 2011

The Comic Book Revolution Website put out their list of what they thought was best in the world of comics this year. I was adding my two cents in the comments section when I thought, hey - if I'm putting thought into this, why not put my picks on my own site as well. So, here it is. (I'll be back with my pick for best Video Game of the Year)

Here's what I thought was best this year in comics. It's certainly been a year of upheaval, changes and disappointments - but over all I think it's been quite a good years for comics (if you're reading the right books, that is)

Best Event/Mini-Series: The New 52

I know it's not a cohesive story - but it certainly counts as an event. And while it had it's up and downs - I was very impressed by the creative content (both writers and artists), who really stepped up on certain titles. Plus it's just cool to see new people, or older fans, actually buying comics again!

Best Creative Team: Rick Remender and Tony Moore

These two just seem to compliment each other so well. Even if it was for a few pages in, for example, issue #5 of Venom, the pages Moore drew elevated the entire issue, even though a different artist came in to finish the rest.

Best Story Arc: The Dark Angel Saga

Uncanny X-Force has just been incredible, and the promised culmination of all the events in the series thus far did not disappoint one iota. The art was amazing, the writing was cleaver and top-notch - feeling like it was an event, instead of just a single story arc in the series.

Best New Series: Wolverine and the X-Men

What could have been an easy cash-in on yet another Wolverine title - this series surprised me with how original, wacky, and freeing it could be. Creativity abounds in every page, and utilizes X-Men history to make you feel right at home.

Best Ongoing Series: Uncanny X-Force

This year of Uncanny X-Force has just been amazing! Ever single issue feels jam-packed with cleaver, exciting, and dramatic storytelling. It's a spin-off from the X-Men -- but I think this series speaks more to the X-Men being at their best than any other title out right now.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Avengers, the Best of Bendis' Run

It was recently announced that Brian Michael Bendis is going to be leaving the Avengers. It sounds like he's leaving both titles, and the new Avengers Assemble series after he completes the first arc. You can see what I read here.

I have to say I'm very disappointed about this. I know hating Bendis has become an official sport to some people, or even a well calculated science -- but I definitely was not one of those people. There's a reason his run on the Avengers lasted so long, with him supposedly finishing his run with 200 issues under his belt. Bendis pretty much revolutionized the Avengers since he took over. While I'll admit he made some mistakes along the way - the sum total of his run is very impressive! The Avengers went from what I'd wager was an average selling title - to a franchise that has since eclipsed the X-Men in popularity. That is no small feat; and I wanted to highlight some of my favorite moments from his run on the series.

Spider-Man & Wolverine

Bendis' first 4 issue story arc depicted the end of the Avengers - as the Scarlet Witch lost all control of her powers, killing several heroes - and utterly shattering the team. Avengers: Disassembled, though, lead to a bold new era for the Avengers franchise - as it was rechristened "The New Avengers" - Bendis would bring to bear his dialogue heavy, thoughtful and also erratic storytelling to the series, changing it forever.

One of the biggest changes was the addition of characters who fans immediately decried as not being Avengers material. Spider-Man and Wolverine where probably the most high profile examples of this.

Spider-Man had always been the loner of the Marvel Universe. He had tried joining the Fantastic Four in Amazing Spider-Man #1, but couldn't make it work. In Spider-Man Annual #3, he tried to join the Avengers as well -- but failed there too. When a large scale prison riot exploded - the heroes that came to the rescue would become the basis for the "New Avengers". Captain America, seeing their presence at the event as some kind of destiny, wouldn't take no for an answer: and that included Spider-Man.

Wolverine joined up soon after, running into the New Avengers during their first mission in the Savage Land. While always dedicated to the X-Men first - Wolverine became just as loyal to Captain America's group as he had been to Xavier's. Even though Wolverine clashed with Cap and the Avengers, especially since Wolverine is a known killer (of bad guys); Iron Man convinced Captain America to have him join, because their new group where facing some much darker and more subversive threats - something an old hat espionage killer could be useful with.

Really, though, that was all just context for forcing these characters onto the book. There's really no reason Wolverine and Spider-Man couldn't have worked, being on the book, long before -- it was the adherence to the previous status quo, and those early Spider-Man team-rejection issues, that had prevented it until now. With Wolverine and Spider-Man on the book - the surge in popularity of the title can no doubt be attributed to them being there. It's made a huge improvement to Spider-Man's character, giving him fellow heroes he can rely on; and while Wolverine is now currently serving on 3 to 4 different teams - I always looked at his presence on the Avengers as the place he was sleeping, or hanging out, and would eventually show up for work with the X-Men later. They are comic book characters, after all. Can't we have a little suspension of disbelief, in the name of fun? Bendis has pointedly used Wolverine and Spider-Man as the humorists for the group. I think it's proved pretty beneficial over all..

Luke Cage

One of the best re-inventions brought into the new Bendis-led era of the Avengers was that of Luke Cage. The former Hero for Hire, Luke Cage possesses unbreakable skin; making him very powerful and a good fit to any super hero team. Yet Luke was the definition of a different kind of Avenger. He was street level, usually working to keep his neighborhood safe. Yet when he joined the New Avengers - Luke brought that kind of on-the street, help the common man mentality to the group. There was one issue that particularly highlighted this - as it showed the Avengers going to one of the most crime-ridden streets in Detroit, and simply stood there. Supposedly this is similar to a police tactic - showing overwhelming force in a troubled area, to scare off the criminal element. Supposedly, even though the show of force is temporary, there's still a reduction in the level of crime later on after they have left. (I'm only saying what they explained in the issue. I don't know if police has really used this kind of tactic or not. It sounds like it could work, though.)

There was one moment I knew Luke Cage belonged on the team -- when the New Avengers where in Japan, fighting against a horde of Ninjas. They where fighting at the very top of a high-rise building, and at one point Luke went off and fell all the way down to street level. Not only did he get back up and run right back in the building, but in a humorous moment he silently took the elevator, waiting until it reached the top. Once the doors opened he simply stated he was back, like falling off the roof was nothing.

With Luke being on the team - the introduction of his girlfriend, Jessica Jones, became a welcome addition. Jessica previously starred in a solo Marvel MAX series called Alias. Jessica Jones was conceived as a one-time Super Hero who worked as a private investigator; dealing with cases that involved Super Heroes. Since the series was part of Marvel's mature MAX Line, Bendis was able to cut loose and develop this wonderfully rich and foul mouthed woman. During the series she started dating Luke Cage, and stuck with him when he joined the New Avengers. The Alias series drew to a close, and while Jessica is still the famous swear-filled woman, the appropriately censored (F$%~) wording solved most issues. And while Jessica is Super Powered, her whole thing, from the Aliases series, is about being out of the Super Hero game. While she'd pitch in whenever there was trouble, she has nonetheless remained the tight-less supporting character of the series. She and Luke eventually had a baby together, and tied the knot in the first New Avengers Annual.

Luke became a true leader, though, during the Super Human Civil War. In one of Bendis' best single issues, they showed Luke Cage being informed by Iron Man and the government that he would have to register himself as a super-hero, or face imprisonment. A split had driven the New Avengers into two camps -- Iron Man's government sponsored Avengers, and Captain America's rebels, who refused to participate. Luke Cage had just recently gotten married and had a new baby girl. His morals, though, would never let him sign up for governmental intrusion into their personal lives. So on the night the Super Human Registration Act went into Law, Luke sent Jessica and the baby away, and obstinately stayed in his home, defiantly saying that he was going to do nothing - and see if the Government would go ahead and arrest him for just being himself. They did - and true to form Luke heroically fought back, and eventually joined up with Captain America and the other rebelling Super Heroes.

The Civil War put a permanent wedge between Iron Man and Captain America's camps -- even after Iron Man's side won. Captain America had surrendered himself to authorities - and was tragically shot dead by a sniper on the court house steps. In his stead Luke took command on the remaining rebel heroes. Down and out, on the run from the law, Luke lead the New Avengers in some of their most heroic moments.

Ares, God of War

With the Avengers split up between Luke Cage's group and Iron Man's - a new Government-sponsored Avengers stepped up, in a series called "Mighty Avengers". A new character was recruited to the team - Ares, the Greek God of War. There had been a mini-series earlier that had depicted the fall of Olympus - and Gods like Ares where now stuck on the mortal plane. Ares shifted from a typical enemy of Thor and Hercules - to a father trying to raise his young son, Phobos. Ares is hired by Iron Man to be on the Avengers - figuring that his super-powered and vicious attitude could prove an asset. (It was suggested he was like a mix between Wolverine and Thor). Ares actually proved to be a very likable character. He fought bravely for the good guys, putting his talents as the God of War to good use. His first appearance written by Bendis had some great moments, as the Mighty Avengers fought against an iteration of Ultron -- giving him the chance to show off his comedically awesome and vicious fighting style.

One of the best parts about Ares, though, was his role as as single father. He hadn't joined the Avengers out of the good of his heart - they where offering him a pay check. His son, Phobos, though, would take a path away from his father - when he's recruited by Nick Fury as one of his "Secret Warriors". The young Phobos' skill? He's the son of Ares -- accordingly, like in mythology, Phobos is the God of Fear. Nick Fury was able to teach the young boy about his powers - as he worked on secret missions as part of the Secret Warriors. Even though this took Phobos on a different path from his father (who Ares couldn't really relate to, Phobos being more sensitive) - they still managed to remain on good terms; with Phobos reacting strongly when his father was eventually killed in a later storyline.

Secret Invasion

Secret Invasion seemed to be the culmination of a lot of planning and secrecy. Major revelations HAD to be kept under wraps - as the ultimate guessing game for comics took place. You see, the Marvel Universe over the last several years has been silently invaded. Prominent characters and heroes have been replaced by Sleeper Agents - alien shapeshifters, known as Skrulls; who once where revealed, was it too late to stop them.

This storyline was very well timed - being a natural out-growth of the War on Terrorism we where all living through. Where in real life we where questioning who around us could possibly be a terrorist - this series reflected those societal fears, as suddenly every Super Hero could secretly be a Skrull. There where plenty of heroes to choose from, too! Any hero acting out of character was suddenly a major suspect - Tony Stark, because of his actions during the Civil War, being the most obvious choice. Any Avenger who fans had said could never be Avengers -- maybe they where right? The reveals turned out very well, and nearly broke both sets of Avengers.

The biggest upset, though, was in the aftermath of the invasion - as Norman Osborn, who made the killing shot against the Skrull Queen on national television, suddenly became the recipient of unparalleled fanfare and public trust.

The Dark Avengers

Again mirroring real life issues, but through comic book characters, we saw Norman Osborn, aka the Green Goblin, become a national hero. He dismantled S.H.I.E.L.D. and replaced it with his own organization, dubbed H.A.M.M.E.R. - and became America's top cop, taking Iron Man's place. The public either simply didn't know, or didn't care, that Osborn was once the Green Goblin, a notorious foe of Spider-Man. Yet after being scared into thinking anyone around you could be an invading shapeshifting alien - ignoring Osborn's past mental instability was easy. If this sounds like it's some kind of analogy to George Bush, and the unprecedented powers he was given to fight the "War on Terror" - then it shows you're paying attention. Certainly not a direct analogy - but one that nicely mirrored the frustration many of us where feeling in real life.

In the biggest and most elaborate "F@#$ you!" to the Avengers (who where now on the run), Osborn created his own dark version of the Avengers - who starred in the new title "Dark Avengers". Criminals where propped up, acting dark mirror images of the Avengers. The psychopath Bullseye was dressed up as Hawkeye. Venom was made to look more like Spider-Man. Wolverine's angry son, Daken, took up the classic brown and gold costume his father use to wear. Less than perfect heros from the Mighty Avengers, Ares and the Sentry, helped with the transition of the cast. And Norman Osborn? He dressed himself up as the Iron Patriot, spray-painting an Ironman suit like the American flag - and portraying HIS Avengers as the Super Heroes the public could trust!

It was simply a great series - as we saw Osborn corrupt every part of the Marvel Universe he could touch. The New Avengers shined during this time, as they acted as the usual foil to Osborn's plans. Eventually Osborn would crash and burn, trying to launch an unprovoked Siege of Asgard - where he finally broke down as was seen as the madman he really was. What? An analogy the invasion of Iraq? Now you're just imagining it.


Jessica Drew, aka Spider-Woman, has always been somewhat of a difficult character to get a grasp on. Having no direct connection to Spider-Man probably doesn't help - but her original solo-series has been a fan favorite by many -- though by none more than Brian Michael Bendis. Her stylish costume and hair apparently being highlights for him - Spider-Woman's inclusion in the opening issues of New Avengers was surprising, but welcome. Ever since her popularity faded, she's nonetheless remained a well liked supporting character, acting as a Private Eye for years. Her inclusion up-front as one of the New Avengers finally meant the character was getting her due - and Bendis didn't disappoint with her being the most mysterious and engaging of the cast.

A Spider-Woman Origin mini-series was done as well, updating her origins - and explaining her very convoluted past in a more simple manner. Long story short - Jessica was experimented on by her father, which gave her Spider-Powers. The terrorist organization Hydra took control of Jessica and turned her into an assassin to kill Nick Fury. She failed - but was subsequently recruited by Fury as an agent of S.H.I.E.L.D.

Now joining the New Avengers - Spider-Woman supposedly was working two sides of a dangerous scenario - as Hydra recruited her again to spy on the Avengers; yet she accepted under the authority of Nick Fury - who wanted the then down-and-out Jessica Drew to play Hydra's offer against them. She's essentially a double-double agent.

After the Origin mini-series, a new on-going series was promised - with Bendis and legendary Daredevil collaborator Alex Maleev rejoining Bendis on art. The series simply never materialized - which was confusing and disappointing. No explanation was given - but there was a reason for that. During the Secret Invasion, one of the biggest revelations was that Jessica Drew was in fact always a Skrull - the Skrull Queen, no less! That was why the on-going solo series never got off the ground - they had originally planned to reveal Spider-Woman as a Skrull in the first issue, but ultimately couldn't justify selling a Spider-Woman series that wasn't actually starring the real Spider-Woman. As it turned out, it just made the revelation during Secret Invasion more powerful - and made the betrayal even more vicious.

The real Jessica Drew, though, would be revealed at the end of Secret Invasion - alive and well, but now suddenly in a world she hardly recognizes. She eventually joins up with the New Avengers - but her presence on the team is not easy. Her identity had been co-opted in the worst possible way -- and worst yet was that the whole world had seen her face (the Skrull Queen) as the leader of the invasion. It's like having the face of Hitler.

So angered by what a horrible mess her life has become - Jessica is given an opportunity to put her anger and rage to good use - as she's approached by Abigail Brand, Director of S.W.O.R.D. - the government organization in charge of policing aliens on Earth. Brand wants to make Jessica an Agent of S.W.O.R.D. - with the mandate of hunting down the remaining Skrulls hiding on Earth.

The series was just wonderful! The art of Alex Maleev was better than ever - as he mixed a dynamic and stunning new visual style into his already impressive sketchy-art. The first Skrull Jessica tracks down leads her to the Island Nation of Madripoor - a fictional port of call for criminals in Southeast Asia.

The series was doing something especially revolutionary - as Marvel was attempting to do the series both as a digital animated comic, and a regular series. Each issue would be available in both formats. It was an ambitious idea, but it didn't seem to gain as much traction as Marvel might have liked. (It's much easier to simply animate comic-storylines that are already made, instead of doing one concurrently with a monthly series.) What's worse is how this drained Maleev dry. After 7 issues the series ended, with Maleev having enough. It was understandable - he had done essentially 2 year's worth of art, designing for both the monthly book and the animated comic. The series just wouldn't have been the same without Maleev - so instead of bringing in another artist, the Spider-Woman series ended after only 7 issues. It a darn good 7 issues, though.

The Sentry's Fall

During the Siege mini-series, the Sentry, the Golden Hero, finally came tumbling down as the massive threat he really was. Bob Reynolds is a psychologically sick man - an agoraphobic schizophrenic, but with the Powers of a God. His introduction at the beginning of New Avengers was surprising - as Bendis took a character, originally conceived as an elaborate April Fools joke - as Marvel originally purported the Sentry as a long lost Super Hero from the 60s, and integrated him into the Marvel Universe proper. He was a cool concept, but Bendis has never been known for his tact when depicting the mentally challenged. Suffering from some issues myself, I've never felt particularly offended by anything Bendis wrote -- but I knew full well a lot of liberties where being taken when depicting the Sentry's mental troubles. It usually just was used as a way to not make the Sentry the be-all, fix-all hero he purportedly could be, given his power levels.

The Sentry remained one of Bendis' less developed concepts - until the Dark Avengers, where Norman Osborn (being crazy himself), was able to relate to Bob and gain his trust. The Sentry's true origins where revealed, exposing him as the less than noble hero he pretends to be - and during the Siege mini-series, Bob finally went over the edge, by ripping Ares completely in half (it was quite bloody), and going power mad. I simply LOVED the Spider-Look, crawling out of his mouth, showing his decent and transformation into the Void.

The Sentry's tenure as an Avenger probably stands as the most convoluted and frustrating parts of Bendis' Avengers run. But that finale battle, when Thor, Captain America, and Iron Man finally put Bob down -- that was a really great moment.

New Avengers Finale

After years of building up the New Avengers as the premiere super-team, after the Siege mini-series the title would be split up between a more classic Avengers group (putting Captain America, Thor, and Iron man back together again), which would regrettably split the popularity of the New Avengers title. Before that happened, though, we got one last chance to see Bendis' New Avengers embark on a mission before the status-quo change - taking care of the villainous Hood, who after Siege was left powerless and on the run. After years of dealing with this guy, it felt incredibly refreshing to see Luke Cage's team track him down. It was made even better by the incredible art of Bryan Hitch - this one-shot finale issue put a satisfying cap on the series thus far.

Avengers #12.1

Bendis has often been accused of building stories almost exclusively made to be long multi-issue arcs. Thats why this Point One issue of Avengers seemed to high-light for me how good a writer Bendis can be at times - and this point one issue would be an excellent example of Bendis giving his A-Game, and within just a 20-page story. The issue essentially revolved around Spider-Woman going missing while on a mission for S.W.O.R.D. Spider-Woman, since properly returning to the fold after Secret Invasion, has regrettably been disenfranchised ever since then. Her Spider-Woman series seemed to be fulfilling the long-promised spot-light for her - but as explained before, the series only lasted 7 issues. Jessica Drew has been seemingly sidelined all this time - so her focus in this issue was very welcome. The story featured the appearance of a lot of different villains - and essentially serves as a prelude to the Ultron-arc coming up this Summer of 1012. This issue is even going to be offered for free this May as part of Free Comic Book Day - just in time for that story arc. It was a good issue, probably the best contained example of Bendis at the top of his game, especially alongside the incredible art of Bryan Hitch.

Squirrel Girl

Squirrel Girl has been somewhat of a fan favorite since joining the perpetual loser team: The Great Lakes Avengers! A joke team if ever there was one. Dan Slott did a mini-series starring the team, adding Squirrel Girl to the group. Despite being created by Spider-Man co-creator Steve Ditko - Squirrel Girl has been a dismissed loser character for as long as she's existed. Even her premiere story by Ditko was annoying - as it featured Doreen Green, able to command Squirrels, defeat Doctor Doom. Doctor Doom is pretty much the Darth Vader of the Marvel Universe, on par with the Fantastic Four and the Avengers. A running joke has been that since Steve Ditko wrote that debut issue, it automatically is in continuity - so Squirrel Girl automatically PWNS Doctor Doom!

Anyway - Bendis surprisingly brought Doreen into the New Avengers title, which could have felt out of place given the less joking nature of the series. Bendis had a good excuse to bring her in, though! She was hired as the babysitter to Jessica Jones' and Luke Cage's baby. They needed a babysitter who had super powers - and despite the goofy idea of her being able to command Squirrels, Bendis was able to integrate her as a supporting character on the team. He even conceived the idea of Doreen and Wolverine having a romantic untold past! So what could have been a hamfisted inclusion onto the team became an equal parts humorous and sensible plot point. Doreen got to prove herself very soon - protecting her infant charge during a Nazi attack on New York.


This is a very simple comment - but a noteworthy one, defining the different approach Bendis brought to the Avengers from the very start. In his opening issues, in Avengers Disassembled, robot Ultrons appeared, attacking the Avengers. For all of Ultron's many appearances over the years - every single writer has re-hashed Ultron's backstory. Over and over again. Bendis pointed that out, to stream-line the narrative, he wouldn't explain Ultron's origins. He's a power-mad robot out to destroy humanity - you don't necessarily need to know that much about him. That's a simple thing - but in 30+ years no other writer has depicted Ultron so simply. It was simply refreshing to see that kind of narrative shift - which for good of ill, for some people, this stream-lined approach to the series has no doubt helped make it more easily accessible to new fans and readers.

Returning Heroes

One of Bendis' biggest and justified criticisms has been his killing off of characters. During Avengers Disassembled, that story killed off several great characters, seemingly for no reason. Hawkeye's death was probably the most prominent and famous one - as Clint did a pointless suicide run on an invading army, which ultimately was made even more pointless by the fact the invading army was a conjured creation of the now insane Scarlet Witch.

Bendis made up for it, though, bringing Hawkeye back in spectacular fashion during the House of M mini-series, where the alteration to reality allowed Bendis to slip an alive Clint Barton back among the living. And not to treat his return lightly, Bendis took a long, long time before even putting Clint back into his traditional Hawkeye uniform. Hawkeye's death was simply pointless - but his return from the dead made all the difference.

The original Vision was also one of the victims of Avengers Disassembled. But recently Tony Stark brought him back out, apparently having been tinkering with him in his spare time. No big story arc or fan fare - the Vision is just back. ...Ta da! It was just a cool and smartly delivered moment - and the Vision's return just feels like a return to form, bringing back such a beloved and classic Avenger.

Saturday, December 3, 2011

Captain Marvel, Peter David's Run Part 2

The Captain Marvel series was in trouble, and a dramatic reboot was done to give the series a second chance. In a contest dubbed "U-Decide", Captain Marvel and two other books would be released - and the one that sold the most copies would continue on, and the others would be canceled. Frankly it all seemed like an annoying stunt - but I was ok with it, if it meant one of my favorite series was going to continue. Suffice to say - Captain Marvel won the contest.

The most immediate change was the design of a new costume. Alex Ross re-designed the new look, using the Kree Armor the original Captain Marvel wore when he first appeared in comics. It was a radical stylistic departure - but it would ultimately serve to indicate how much Captain Marvel had truly changed.

Genis, possessing Cosmic Awareness, tried to extend and master his abilities. This wasn't a curve-ball, plot-wise, as it had always been a running plot thread that Captain Marvel didn't always have complete control over his abilities. Moondragon's telepathic help had guided Genis into becoming more skilled in it's use. So now Captain Marvel began seeing more and more of events surrounding him. It was random, chaotic - as his awareness bolted him from crisis to crisis; from an alien drug dealer to dealing with interstellar conflicts. Genis suddenly could see EVERYTHING happening in the universe! But it was all at once, completely out of his control -- and it drove him utterly insane.

Having now gone off the deep end, Captain Marvel killed people, interfered in almost anything he fancied - and sought to understand where he stands in the universe now. Is he a God? He can see everything - is more than willing to pass judgement on anyone.

Rick Jones became trapped by Captain Marvel - suddenly a prisoner on the other side in the Microverse. The relationship between Rick and Genis devolved more and more as the series went on. Rick was able to manage a bit of control over the Captain - by using their psychic connection to send a mind-blast to hurt Genis.

The first six issues where particularly pivotal. After going insane in the first issue, the second has him examining the morality of killing - and goes to the best source on the subject: The Punisher. Meanwhile in the Microverse Rick is trapped in an extremely cold and harsh environment. He's able to seek shelter in a cave - where he meets a mysterious grey skinned woman. This woman, named Epiphany, is very important for things to come.

Back in the regular universe Captain Marvel has interjected himself into the Kree army - killing a commanding officer and taking his place. Genis' motives for doing this seem to revolve around examining the structure of the people he comes from, but I think it's really just a plot revolving around the new costume that Captain Marvel adopts in these issues. During the course of events, including engaging the ticking off the Shi'ar Empire, Captain Marvel's supposed loyalty as a Kree soldier are tested - as he's ordered to execute a woman who has been found out as a Shi'ar spy. While insane and morally confused on every level - we see there are points where we see some kind of mortality on Genis' part. Instead of murdering the woman - he instead executes himself - firing his gun into his mouth.

Rick, meanwhile, he begun a relationship with Epiphany - which has inspired Rick's musical abilities. While traveling through the Microverse he develops a rockstar career playing the guitar. In the regular universe Captain Marvel, having just blown his brains out, is annoyed to find himself rising out of his own grave. In what may have been a delusion, or an actual experience with the afterlife, Genis finds himself encountering his dead father, Mar-Vell. While Genis certainly might have some father issues - his insane state only makes things worse. Mar-Vell is trying to talk sense to his son - to help him come back from the edge he's clearly gone over. They fight, with Genis beating his father to a bloody pulp - and ending it by dropping Genis' own grave upon him - crushing him. Genis falls over. only to then be greeted by luminous black and white being, dubbed Entropy.

Entropy is brother of Epiphany - and there's a reason they have engaged with Rick and Genis. Entropy, especially, wants Captain Marvel's help with something very important. It seems Entropy is the son of Eternity - a cosmic celestial being in the Marvel Universe who is suppose to embody the universe itself. Entropy wants to end the universe - something Genis is very keen to help with.

Issue #6, the end of the first arc, takes an existential turn - as it features Captain Marvel, Entropy, Epiphany, and Rick. It's one month later (I don't quite understand what happened inbetween, though.) They are all in an entire white void - with Captain Marvel having successfully destroyed the universe. Rick had failed to stop Captain Marvel, and is furious with him. Entropy loves the new experience of the universe having been destroyed. The nothingness is a new concept to Entropy - the first new concept he's ever encountered; as before all he had known was the universe, the universe being his father, Eternity. It strikes him that he should create something - but it's a foreign concept to him. Rick suggests he create what he knows, like any good writer/author would do. Yet where to begin? Captain Marvel has an answer for that:

"In the beginning."

Captain Marvel shoots Entropy in the head - creating the Big Bang. The explosion that ensues re-creates the Universe - and before them now stands Eternity; Entropy being the end and the beginning, has transformed into his father Eternity. Everything is the same as it once was - all except for Captain Marvel. Captain Marvel then finds himself waking up in the same location he had begun his journey in trying to master his Cosmic Awareness. I don't know wether this means that everything in the past 5 issues are moot now - but it ultimately doesn't matter. Captain Marvel is still insane - and Rick is still trapped with him.

The next two issues have Thor guest starring. This appearance by Thor seemed very appropriately timed - as it was during a time when Odin was dead, and Thor was made Lord of Asgard. Somewhat in parallel to how much Captain Marvel had changed - Thor had dramatically shifted gears as well - as he was now injecting Asgard and the Gods into mortal life. Playing God would ultimately be disastrous for Thor - but for right now it was a great time for Captain Marvel to visit, as he wanted to explore the idea of being a god. He had, after all, destroyed the universe and then re-created it.

The story had a lot of theological ideas knocked around, while a pair of Storm Giants attacked Asgard. After making a mess of Asgard himself, the fight against the Storm Giants was also escalating to a dangerous conclusion - which Captain Marvel could tell was coming with his Cosmic Awareness. After having his fun Captain Marvel granted Thor a glimpse into his Cosmic Awareness - to see how the escalating conflict would lead to the destruction of Asgard. Thor was even shown the origins of the Storm Giants' hatred for Asgard - how a promise to them had been broken ages ago. Thor decided to honor the agreement that had once been denied to these Storm Giants. One of them, though, was still angry and still wanted to destroy them - which is why Captain Marvel stepped in and shot him dead.

In the next story arc Captain Marvel witnesses troubles in the Justice system, as a criminal Rick had testified against years ago was set to be put to death. (Rick apparently had managed to make a deal with Genis, so he can leave the Microverse at times.) This man, Karl Coven, had claimed he was an alien - and couldn't be killed. The execution goes as planned - but Coven wakes up, alive and well. Despite his human appearance, Coven really is an alien - and after the ensuing legal battle to try and keep him in jail (even though he was successful executed) Captain Marvel became very interested in the law and the justice system. It was a strange yet thought provoking story.

The story, though, felt a little bit like a derailment - an attempt to do a story not exclusively dedicated to Captain Marvel's mental collapse. When the series was relaunched Peter David very much had Chriscross' dynamic art in mind - as Crisscross can draw an insane-looking face better than any other artist. It was a big disappointment to suddenly find that Chriscross was off the series. I don't know why Chriscross left - but apparently Peter David even thought about reversing directions, and going back to a sane Captain Marvel. (They had rebooted the Universe in the first story arc, after all.) Yet the insane-Captain Marvel storyline continued on ahead. Even though Chriscross was lost, they got some phenomenally talented people to take his place. The colorists for the series did an especially good job making the art look consistent, even though wildly different artists came in and did certain arcs.

While I enjoyed the artist who came in to fill the void, apparently some fans where growing tired of month-in-month-out "Captain Marvel is still insane". It's a valid point - but one I whole heartedly disagree with. While the stories might have meandered around to different subjects, without a clear idea of where it was all leading -- it missed the point of enjoying the examination Peter David was doing on all these various subjects, as seen through the warped lens of Captain Marvel. Peter David has always tackled important subjects, from political to theological - so for me this all seemed exactly what Peter David is best at.

Perhaps the most Peter David-esq story came up next - as he wrote a single issue that pretty much was a parallel to the War in Iraq, with Captain Marvel tormenting an alien leader, similar to George Bush, with antics both funny and dangerous. The story essentially entailed Captain Marvel killing a monstrous villain, Burstarr, and stopping him from attacking this planet. The people and the George Bush-like politician where extremely grateful to Captain Marvel. Graciousness that would not last - as, much like liberators in Iraq, Captain Marvel simply would not leave. It's not a point for point comparison between events in real life, but the commentary was clear. This was probably one the prime examples of Peter David injecting his opinions, especially his political opinions, into his story. I didn't like this issue when I first read it (I had different opinions about the war at the time.) Yet is strikes me now as a good issue to have been made.

In the next issue Captain Marvel suddenly found himself face to face with different versions of himself. Himself as Legacy, the sane Captain Marvel, and the insane one. You see, when the universe was rebooted - there where some holes left over in the fabric of reality. Rick was also meeting different version of his former self. For Rick its disappointing to see where he had come from, his reckless youth - and later trying to be a super hero/partner to Captain America. Rick's younger selves don't necessarily like where Rick is right now either, and what his life has become.

For Captain Marvel it was depressing to see his younger self, Legacy, drunk and irresponsible; the sane Captain Marvel was even more disappointed, seeing a preview of what kind of monster he would one day become. The insane Captain Marvel suggests that if his sane counter-part wants to stop it -- all he has to do is shoot Legacy. Eventually these universal aberrations go away - but the insightful look into who they are and where they have been in life was fascinating.

A change for Captain Marvel's status quo, though, was on the way in the next major arc. It involved the Kree, Skrull, and Shi'ar Empires coming to the same conclusion that something had to be done about the mad Captain. A surprising figure stepped forward, from Genis' home world the Moon Titan: that of Genis' mother, Elysius. This is especially surprising because I believe Elyius is suppose to be dead, but suddenly isn't. Elysius urges Captain Marvel to let them help him him. Captain Marvel is not pleased about this, so he escapes and goes to visit his father's memorial grave. He rants at the grave, proclaiming that Mar-Vell had somehow set her up to this.

Epiphany suddenly appears and greeted Captain Marvel. She had since disappeared after Entropy's destruction and rebirth as Eternity -- and claimed she was there to thank him for his help before. They eventually begin a relationship together. Wether Rick's experience with Epiphany was erased or not, I'm not sure. He was pretty busy being a rockstar and nearly dying during this time; something Captain Marvel may have engineered himself, having grown tried of Rick's complaining. Supposedly Captain Marvel used their psychic bond to influence Rick's mind to have him kill himself. Later the Captain resurrected Rick. It's not addressed immediately - but it becomes clear that Rick cannot see Epiphany there. Is Captain Marvel imagining her there?

It became a moot point, though, when Captain Marvel returned to his home planet, the Moon Titan, to deal with his family. To Genis' surprise a female Captain Marvel greeted him, attacking and trying to take him down. This woman is named Phyla, which Captain Marvel both knows, yet doesn't know. Phyla is Genis sister -- and Captain Marvel's confusion is understandable, since up to now Captain Marvel has always been a single child. It's eventually revealed that when the universe was rebooted, a few things where added and subtracted. Captain Marvel's mother is suddenly alive - and instead of raising and developing one child with Mar-Vell's DNA, Elysius created two children.

Along with Phyla and other members of Captain Marvel's family - they hounded and confronted Genis with all of his actions and misdeeds. They showed him how fractured he had made the universe, and all the damage he was doing -- and addressed the real issue at the heart of it all: Is Captain Marvel really crazy? Clinically insane? Epiphany, unseen by anyone, continually counters their arguments; though seeing someone who isn't there is never a sign of good mental health. They eventually come to a conclusion, that while the unfiltered explosion of information his Cosmic Awareness had caused him to behave as he had - he's still technically sane. His reactions to everything is more the reaction to truly not caring anymore, about anything - because all the possible futures Genis constantly sees now simply consumed him.

Captain Marvel, after having been mentally beat down, is somewhat recovered. Genis even takes on a new costume - similar to his original star-faced costume, but with gray coloring instead of red. (It was a good look; a return to form, but without leaving unaddressed what has happened.) The Kree, Skrulls, and Shi'ar are satisfied with the results - and that his family would keep an eye on Captain Marvel for now.

So Captain Marvel is now sane again (or at least saner). Yet Epiphany is still seen by Genis, telling him that he is still insane; just that for now he's going to play it much closer to the vest.

The next story arc seemed like a new era - one that surprisingly took us into various different future eras. You see - a super powered version of Marlo suddenly returns to Rick's life, having supposedly come from a far distant future to kill Genis, and also Rick for not having stopped Captain Marvel. Whatever had been done to Marlo, to make her young for so long, and give her powers, was also burning her out - as she failed in her mission and died. Rick is heart broken - and wants to find out what had happened, and who in the future had done this to her.

Going into the future Captain Marvel and Rick find a future Earth ruined and decimated. One of Captain Marvel's most powerful predictions, through his cosmic awareness, was what would happen if the Shi'ar, Skrulls, and Kree ever banded together on common ground - and enslaved Earth. Rick and Captain Marvel eventually encounter an older Genis, and his son Ely. They had a future Marlo in stasis - apparently her having succumbed to a disease, and putting her in stasis being the only option to save her. Captain Marvel is able to use the Nega-Bands (which both young and old Genis had), and was able to merge with his older self. It would be temporary - but it gave Captain Marvel twice the cosmic power he now had; and since he was all-powerful right now, this merging gave him the ability to scare off all the aliens off of Earth, saving the human race.

Time jumping again, since this future had not yet revealed everything that happened to Marlo, Captain Marvel is surprised to find that a statue had been erected in his honor, and had since been vilified in recent years as well, with the statue defaced. Genis is able to find his son again - who hates with father as well. Having him be absent from his life, and then appearing every once in a while down the time line has left Ely bitter and angry; and dangerous. And while Captain Marvel had driven the aliens off of Earth, the pro-Earther mentality had consequences down the line. The two of them argued with each other, with Rick eventually switching places with Captain Marvel so that Rick could beat Ely up. In a shocking twist Ely grabs Rick's Nega-Bands, and used some unknown technique to jolt Rick forward through time, leaving the Nega-Bands behind.

Meanwhile, it has to be noted that Marlo and Moondragon are focused on, in the present, during this entire arc. Apparently one of Captain Marvel's enemies, Magus, has been effecting Moondragon.

In the even more further future Rick awakes to find himself in a vast desert where once the statue of Captain Marvel stood. History had gone horribly wrong, especially for Ely. He had learned how to effect the Nega-Bands the way he had by non other than Magus. Marlo has since been released from stasis and cured - and given super powers. Possessing the stolen Nega-Bands, Ely was made aware of Rick's arrival and met him in the desert near where the Titanic now lay.

Giving Rick another pair of Nega-Bands (having been stolen from Phyla's dead body in years past), Rick is able to switch with Captain Marvel again. This is what Ely has wanted, having spend years and years, mastering powers and doing very evil things to become stronger -- all to punish his father. Ely wants to initiate the biggest battle ever conceived - something that would not only destroy the Earth, but leave a mark on the entire universe. Using his stolen Nega-Bands, and with the Magus' knowledge, Ely has become powerful enough to do just that. That's where the biggest and most shocking surprise of the entire series happens. Instead of fighting against his son, Captain Marvel decides on something else. Ely screams for him to stop, pleading that he'll change; Ely is disappearing, being erased from time.

It's a classic morality question: if you could kill Hitler, in his crib when he was a baby, would you do it, knowing all the evil he would do if he grew up? Captain Marvel made this very choice, knowing that when he invariably would return to his own time, that he would live on and have children. Captain Marvel vowed to kill Ely, in his crib as a baby, to stop all the evil he would do as an adult. This was a dark and damning moment -- and while there are all sorts of questions about better options, like trying to raise Ely better, or something like that -- it really comes down to that morality question about Hitler. If you had the chance, would you kill Hitler in his crib as a baby? For Captain Marvel, the answer was yes.

While in the future there where more clues and revelations about what was coming up in future plotlines -- like that Moondragon was seen alongside the Magus, a villain against Captain Marvel. It felt like this time-traveling story arc was only a prelude of things to come. Yet after 26 issues the series was canceled. Supposedly the insane Captain Marvel plotline had gone on too long, especially without Chriscross' art; and even though it had somewhat ended, it was simply too late, with sales dropping. Peter David had one final issue to wrap everything up - and he chose probably one of the more clever ways to do it.

On a base Captain Marvel had previously set up one of the Moons of Saturn (to be base of operations, but still close to his family on Titan), Captain Marvel sat at a desk, at a silent telephone, waiting for a call. Any emergencies that Captain Marvel could help with - where suppose to come in through here. Yet no one was calling.

A very obscure character showed up, however, with the announcement that things where over. This character had been in the series, in the background, since the beginning - as the manager of Marlo and Rick's Comic Book store. It's revealed that this once unassuming guy was actually a cosmic entity, dubbed Eulogy. (Along with Epiphany, Entropy, and Eternity, it became clear that this was all a homage to DC's Sandman series, mirroring the Endless, all characters beginning with the letter D. For Marvel, here the characters all start with "E".) Eulogy explained to the Captain that no one needed him anymore. No one cared. Captain Marvel kept insisting that someone was going to call, at some point. Eulogy said no; people had simply moved on. Eulogy began packing up all the supplies, furniture - everything; clearing it all out, like the dismantling of a set when a TV show is canceled.

The adventure through time had reunited Rick with with Marlo - and with Eulogy coming to wrap everything up, another entity was introduced to put a bow on everything. Dubbed "Expediency", any only seen as hands on a key board, plot lines where quickly tied up. Suddenly Marlo wasn't gay - and she was getting back together with Rick. Rick was also freed from his Nega-Bands and allowed to return to his normal life. All that was left was for Captain Marvel to step through a door and leave. Captain Marvel kept insisting that someone was still out there, and that someone would call. Eventually, though, he walked through the door. The phone began ringing.

That final issue, while very "Meta", examining the failures and struggles of the series, was out of place - but welcome, and honest, giving a bittersweet end to the series.

Captain Marvel would remain in the Marvel Universe, though, joining the Thunderbolts team; supposedly he joined to be a hero again, and make up for his insane actions. A new costume was developed, and Genis even took on a new title as Photon. I only read the first few issues - and later Genis apparently died, heroically giving his life and redeeming himself; but it all felt horribly contrived. For the past few years this C-List hero of the Marvel Universe was developed into an A-Class Villain, which seemed rife with so much potential. But, like it was shown, no one was calling that phone.

Even thought it didn't end as well as it could have - I felt very satisfied with what had been made up to that point. Yes, I would have liked to have seen the series continue - but it at least was given a second chance to begin with.