The original telling of how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton, first serialized in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84. Very confusing, nonlinear storyl...moreThe original telling of how Wolverine got his adamantium skeleton, first serialized in Marvel Comics Presents #72-84. Very confusing, nonlinear storyline, chaotic art/panel arrangments, dialogue mostly medical technobabble (from the doctors/nurses operating on Wolverine) or inarticulate grunts, yells and roars (from Wolverine). For most of the story, Wolverine is either anesthetized or freaking out and going into berserk rages, so there's not a lot of focus on his character. Instead, the narrative focus is mostly on the doctors, technicians, nurses and various military personnel at the Weapon X facility, and questions of who knows what about what the Weapon X project really is, and who lied to whom about it. This stuff could be interesting, but since I never got much of a sense of who any of these characters were, their machinations and discoveries meant little to me.(less)
This is a literary-fiction treatment of a standard comic-book plot: supervillain builds doomsday device, arms himself with a Mystical Artifact of Grea...moreThis is a literary-fiction treatment of a standard comic-book plot: supervillain builds doomsday device, arms himself with a Mystical Artifact of Great Power and goes on a rampage, and the superheroes have to defeat the villain, destroy his weapon and save the world from total destruction. Because of the literary-fiction style, though, a story that might be resolved in a three-issue arc in a comic-book series gets stretched out into a 300-odd-page novel.
That stretched-out, leisurely pace is (as befitting a novel about superheroes!) simultaneously Soon I Will Be Invincible's secret weapon and its greatest weakness. It's a secret weapon because it gives us a lot of downtime in which to see the heroes and villains at rest --- and in which we learn that there is really no such thing as "rest" for these characters. The same preternatural abilities that enable them to fight crime also preclude them from living any other life. That was what I liked most about the novel, actually: this sense of strain and awkwardness in the heroes' daily lives. (I blogged here about the similarities I saw between this aspect of being a superhero in Grossman's novel and living with a disability in the real world).
The novel has two major weaknesses: one is the slow pace (and loose, asymmetrical organization) of the story; the other is the insufficient differentiation of the two narrators' voices. These characters come from dramatically different backgrounds: one of them is a plain Jane, average girl whose car accident turns her into a cyborg, which allows/pushes her to work as a mercenary before joining an elite superhero team. The other is Doctor Impossible, physics grad student turned evil genius, who has been in highly accelerated classes his entire academic life and supposedly thinks at a computerlike speed. Given that description of Doctor Impossible, you would expect his narration to be very complex and rapid-fire, fairly cryptic and frequently making reference to concepts from physics and higher math, giving the impression that his thoughts are moving far too fast for him to write them down, and his narration is merely the Cliff's Notes version of his internal monologue. Instead, his sections are rambly, wry and heavy on flashback, just like Fatale (the cyborg)'s are. That was actually what disappointed me most about this novel: that the characters' voices were not as strange and arresting as the characters themselves.(less)
I've only read this first volume so far, but for now The Invisibles is rivaling Alan Moore's Promethea as the weirdest comic-book series I've ever rea...moreI've only read this first volume so far, but for now The Invisibles is rivaling Alan Moore's Promethea as the weirdest comic-book series I've ever read.
The two series have more than weirdness in common: the protagonists of both are young people who quickly learn there's a lot more to the world than meets the eye when they are attacked by mysterious, shadowy creatures that are clearly not of this world. There's magic in both series, particularly astral projection: going to other planes of being in your mind while your body is sleeping or meditating. And both series see a relationship between sexuality --- especially male sexuality --- and creativity: in Promethea, there's the whole wand/chalice rigmarole, while here, the mysterious extraterrestrial Enemy, whom our protagonist, Dane, first encounters in a bleak, Orwellian reform school and whose goal is to enslave all of humankind, mutilates those people who join them by removing their genitals. "We will make you smooth between the legs and between the ears," they say.
Other than that, The Invisibles is a very different kind of story, set in an entirely different moral universe. The main protagonist of this first volume is a teenage boy named Dane, whom we first meet as he's throwing a Molotov cocktail into a library. That ought to tell you right now that this book's central conflict isn't really about Good and Evil, it's about Freedom and Slavery. As Dane's (and another character's, the actual, honest-to-goodnessevilness Marquis de Sade) inclusion on the side of the freedom fighters implies, the freedom being defended includes the freedom to do evil.
It's a compelling story, but told in kind of a confusing way. I suspect some of these mysteries will clear up as I get further in the series, but there are a lot of jarring transitions, especially at the beginning. (Examples: we see John Lennon on the streets of Liverpool where Dane is also hanging around. What does one make of this? Is Lennon really there? Is he a spirit? A little later the Invisibles' leader, King Mob, mentions having evoked Lennon magically, calling on him for guidance; this also probably explains a bizarre interlude of panels showing Lennon's silhouette amid psychedelic patterns and word salad; there's also a long interval where Dane wanders through London with a mysterious beggar calling himself Tom o'Bedlam, who teaches Dane about magic and gives him a hallucinogenic "blue mold" to eat. It is unclear how much of this stuff has really happened).
Anyway, the Invisibles rescue Dane from the sinister boarding school, and after his stint of on-the-job training with Tom, Dane joins them. Their adventures include being menaced by various other agents of the enemy, and going back in time to commune with past Invisibles and gather information about who the bad guys are and what they're trying to do. This is clearly the start of a long, very strange trip, and it looks like one I'd like to go on. (less)
I'm a huge fan of the X-Men, but I'm most familiar with the All-New, All-Different X-Men Chris Claremont debuted in 1975. I pretty much have everythin...moreI'm a huge fan of the X-Men, but I'm most familiar with the All-New, All-Different X-Men Chris Claremont debuted in 1975. I pretty much have everything about that X-team from its inception to its disintegration and re-forming as two separate teams. Then the 1990s happened, and, having sampled a few issues from that time period, I decided I can safely skip that whole chapter in X-history. I caught back up with the X-Men in college, when Chris Claremont came back for "X-Men: The New Age," which I followed until the House of M realitysplosion.
Add in Joss Whedon's run on "Astonishing X-Men" and Grant Morrison's run on "New X-Men", and you have the entirety of my Marvel Universe background.
I picked up "Utopia" because I'd heard about an upcoming event called "Schism," where Cyclops and Wolverine part ways, each taking half of the current crop of X-Men with him, and I wanted to get some idea of what's been happening in the Marvel Universe leading up to that.
Overall, I say "meh" to it.
This is unfortunate, because "Utopia" didn't have to be a "meh" book at all! It starts out on fairly solid and fertile ground for an X-Men story: the human-mutant conflict, this time erupting over a discriminatory law called "Proposition X" which would restrict mutants' rights to have children. Henry McCoy and a bunch of younger mutants are in San Francisco's Haight-Ashbury district, protesting, and they clash violently with mostly human, anti-mutant counterprotestors, led by (of course) a member of the indefatigable Trask family.
So, that's all very interesting, but we only get maybe five pages of that and then the story changes focus completely, turning to Norman Osborn (a.k.a., the industrialist/mad scientist/supercriminal the Green Goblin, from "Spider-Man") who is apparently passing for a good guy now? And leading a team of Avengers and, now, X-Men too? Anyway, he ends up sending both of these teams into San Francisco to restore order, which is difficult since both teams include such intrinsically disorderly types as Venom, Bullseye, Mimic, Daken and Ares. (Yes, apparently they *really* mean Ares, the Greek god of war, not just some superpowered guy with a toothbrush helmet and anger issues ... I knew the Norse gods sometimes showed up in Marvel comics, but hadn't seen any Greek ones before!)
Anyway, with these new "peacekeepers" on the scene, things explode into three- or four-way mayhem, with agitated mutant protestors and the X-Men on one side, human anti-mutant activists egged on to violence by Whatsisname Trask III or IV, and Norman Osborn's two teams fighting both of those factions, and sometimes each other. There's also a fair amount of subterfuge, as Norman Osborn has made Emma Frost the leader of his "Dark X-Men," and wherever Emma Frost goes, she brings along enough ulterior motives to fill a walk-in closet.
What most contributed to my not finding this story all that compelling were 1) too many characters and 2) too much chaos. What's more, the "too many characters" were drawn from all over the Marvel Universe, so for me at least half of the dramatis personae here were total strangers. And since, with the exception of major players like Cyclops, Emma Frost or Norman Osborn, each one might get a few lines of significant dialogue and a few combat appearances, you're not going to know those characters any better after you've read this book than before. You are also probably not going to get attached to anyone you didn't already know, and you might well be disappointed in the author's handling of those characters you do know.
Two examples stick out for me: Mystique and Daken. Mystique is on Norman Osborn's X-Men (why? She's a mutant separatist, and not above violent, pre-emptive action against human she deems a threat; her sympathies ought to lie with the mutant protestors), but all she does is sit around pretending to be Professor X and issuing public statements of support for Osborn's activities. Mystique is a fascinating, subtle character; intelligent, devious, fiercely protective of those few people she cares about and a consummate spy, a decent tactician and a badass hand-to-hand combatant. Here she's reduced to a play-acting henchwoman.
And Daken ... he, too, seemed underused and reduced in this story. I've only seen him before in Daniel Way's "Wolverine: Origins Vol. 5", but there he seemed to have ten times the personality he has here. What I liked about Daken as written by Daniel Way was his urbanity, and his contemptuous sense of humor. He still has the berserker rage going on underneath that, though, so he has this weird periodicity between opera-going sophisticate whose weapon of choice is his wit, and the howling savage who uses his teeth and claws. Also, he's bisexual and has the power to manipulate the emotions of people around him. Given all that, it's a shame his only role in "Utopia" is ultraviolent thug. He only even gets one halfway decent one-liner: when Bullseye confronts him about belonging to the Dark X-Men and the Dark Avengers, he tosses something off about "I always did like playing for both teams." Zing!
That's all the fun I got out of having him in this book, though; all the rest of the book, he scowls, growls, threatens and menaces like some insecure newbie's interpretation of Wolverine. "I don't know what to do with this guy; better have him go fight something!"
It's probably impossible to discuss this in depth without spoiling everything, so I'll just leave it at saying that Scott's and Emma's actions baffled me. Maybe I'd have benefited from keeping up with them after Joss Whedon left "Astonishing X-Men," and maybe not. It's not that the decision Scott ends up making is so confounding --- it's not, really; it struck me as a perfectly reasonable solution to the X-Men's problems --- it's just that he did a lot of weird, out-of-character stuff leading up to the big decision that didn't seem necessary to me. The whole plot seemed like that; stuff thrown in there for no good reason, adding awkward elements that made characters act against their interests and values too often.
So there you go: potentially promising storyline derailed by overly chaotic plotting, too many characters and disappointingly weak characterization and dialogue. (less)