Beat the Post-Holiday Blues into a Bloody Pulp and Leave Them Tied Up For the Cops.
Transformers: For All Mankind (IDW 2010), Spider-Man Noir (Marvel 2009), PC in My DC
The "soft reboot."
This is another one of those comic terms, the knowledge of which proves your
geekery. Along with "retcon," "adamantium" and "a few issues short of a full run."
Every time you use one of these terms, the cheerleader or football player you tried
to date in high school does that sound. You know, that "Fumf" sound of disgust
that means, "You are such a neeeerd." Listen carefully. Do you hear it?
The soft reboot means that an older writer has left the title, willingly or no, and a
new writer has been instructed to "take things back to basics" or "mix up the status
quo" by the editors.
The things are a mixed blessing. The infamous One More Day was a "soft reboot"
of Spider-Man, for all that it was about as soft as a kick in the nuts. But Kevin
Smith soft-rebooted Daredevil a few years ago by killing Daredevil's girlfriend
and driving Daredevil a little nuts, and the stories have never been better.
J. Michael Straczynski recently soft-rebooted Wonder Woman into a hunted hero
on the run.
IDW soft-rebooted the robots in disguise in 2008 with All Hail Megatron, a series
that got an epically mixed reaction. AHM was about Decepticons running rampant
after the Autobots are wiped out. Cool idea, though it undercut itself with
predictable storytelling and deus ex machina twists.
So a year later, IDW created another soft reboot, both to hold on to jaded old
readers and lure in new ones: an ongoing Transformers series as opposed to their
previous series of miniseries. Aside from an ill-fated attempt by manga publisher
Dreamwave, the TFs hadn't had an ongoing series since 1994. The writer was
Mike Costa, who was gaining attention for his gritty work with Christos Gage on
GI Joe: Cobra, and the conceit was simple but effective. How would humans really
react if there were giant robots warring among them?
It seemed cool enough. The story would start with an Army liaison reverse-engineering alien weaponry, a tragic loss for the Autobots, and a pack of scheming,
leaderless Decepticons ready to fake an alliance.
But there was some disturbing talk by Costa about a philosophical shift from an
action comic to a comic about "the aliens among us." He mentioned how he would
focus on the human and Autobot relationship.
Costa obviously doesn't read many TF comics. That relationship is part of every
Transformers comic, and it's been done to death. There are many more things to do
with Transformers than another dozen pages of humans in special robot armor
shooting at much more powerful metal aliens.
So. The day arrived. I went to the comic store and beheld an ongoing Transformers
series at last.
And my worries were fulfilled four pages into For All Mankind . . . fulfilled and
Let it be known, Internet:
I have never read a comic that misfires like this.
First of all, the art, from Transformers mainstay and drawer par excellence Don
Figueroa, has morphed from what used to be dynamic and fun to . . . still dynamic,
Don Figueroa takes the Generation One figures and equipped them with the
monstrous faces of the Michael Bay films. Why? This is a separate franchise from
the Michael Bay movie-verse comics IDW is already releasing. The "Generation
One" comics are about robots that look like they did in the 80s.
The Transformers hang out and talk for much of the comic, and when they don't,
they fight humans in old Hulkbuster armor. A confrontation with the Decepticons
comes only at the end of the long, talky graphic novel.
A-list Decepticons like Starscream or Shockwave or Megatron are nowhere to be
found. Jet fighter Decepticon Thundercracker provides a nice monologue about
human oddities, but it's over too soon, and has no relation to the rest of the story.
Optimus Prime, the heroic and visionary leader, gives himself up to the humans in
order to try and foster understanding between their races, leaving all his men far
from home with no way to get back. Of course. That's exactly what a military
leader would do in hostile territory.
Clichéd army jock Spike leads strikes against the Autobots in between his booty
calls. Unlike TF writers Simon Furman, Nick Roche and James Roberts, Costa
didn't even attempt a female character in the male-dominated TF world; instead
they just hang out in underwear in the background.
The Autobots make a hopeful alliance with a Decepticon named "Swindle." Yes.
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I really had no idea what Costa and Figueroa were doing, and rather soon into the
trade, I didn't care. I flipped through this comic at the store when it came out, but
held off on buying it, and now I'm especially glad that I got For All Mankind from
the library rather than putting my cash into it.
Why does Mike Costa think that people read Transformers? These are giant robots
that turn into cars and fight each other! Why is that hard?
Simon Furman has written great TF stories for twenty-five years by focusing on
the science-fictional fun to be had with robot planets, robot gods, and robot
zombies. Last Stand of the Wreckers, by James Roberts and Nick Roche, played up
the military aspect of the series with a robot-black-ops-mission. Furman, Roche
and Roberts have found ways to slip in some Shakespearian moments and provoke
the occasional oily robot tear -- but they did it among lots and lots of action.
Even All Hail Megatron followed a good idea. The Decepticons wasted Earth, half
in fun, while the Autobots attempted to gather their suffering forces.
But For All Mankind is about how Optimus Prime gives up while his followers
bicker and moan. All Hail Megatron was a good idea written badly. For All
Mankind is a bad idea written and drawn badly.
Costa and Figueroa are still, sixteen issues out, working on the TF series, despite
vocal fan objection. IDW has produced some fantastic Transformers stories, but
mismanaged the production of such from the beginning: instead of one ongoing
series, we got years of spread out miniseries, Simon Furman's climactic arc
Revelations was shrunk to four issues from the planned six and shunted aside for
All Hail Megatron, and now IDW keeps at this flagging series.
I can't fall for you again, IDW. I mean, since the separation I've dated a lot and not
found that special something we had. It's true that you made me happy, IDW. But I
respect myself too much to let you in again.
Um . . .
Well, that's how it feels!
Spider-Man: Noir is not a soft reboot, but an alternate-reality tale. (There she goes
again -- "Fumf." Yeah, well, cheerleader, you got pregnant at eighteen and I'm
now dating a supermodel and I'm a billionaire computer baron. Okay, actually I'm
an English teacher, but my wife is much hotter than you.)
Noir got some attention recently for its place in the Spider-Man: Shattered
Dimensions video game. The game provided four separate incarnations of the
Webhead: classic Amazing Spider-Man, black-suited, younger and more foolhardy
Ultimate Spider-Man, futuristic Spider-Man 2099, and Noir. I hadn't read Noir
when the game came out, but I became interested. Not because I'm much of a
gamer, but the game used Spider-Man 2099, one of my favorite incarnations, so I
had to see if it would stand with the others.
It did. Spider-Man: Noir is a fun, violent, gritty little tale, taking the myth of
Spider-Man and inserting it into the gangsters and corruption of Depression New
Alternate reality tales will give us, the nerds of nerddom, a familiar character in an
unfamiliar context. In the case of Noir, Peter Parker is a young idealist in poverty-stricken New York. His uncle Ben has died, off-screen, torn apart for messing with
Norman Osborne, the Goblin, the crimelord who controls everything in the city.
Aunt May continues the crusade Ben started, preaching Emma Goldman-style,
power-to-the-people anarchy and feeding the hungry.
Reporter Phil Urich and newspaper editor J. Jonah Jameson fight what is mostly a
good fight, although neither one of them is willing to take on the Goblin. After
Urich notices Peter's discontent, he recruits Peter to be his photographer, trolling
the city and finding sob stories of poverty.
But Urich is on the Goblin's payroll, held in check by his morphine habit. Urich
saw Ben Parker murdered, and witnessed a dozen other atrocities committed by
Osborn, but he has never blown his information in the press, because he needs the
drug money the Goblin bribes him with.
Peter happens to intercept a tip at Urich's apartment, leading him to a warehouse
where the Goblin's goons are unloading a mystical spider totem. The totem
promptly comes alive with thousands of spiders, who devour the Goblin's
goombahs. One bites Peter, and a mystical spider appears and declares, "Why do
you tremble, little man? My bite brings death only to those of evil intent. I will
bestow on you a greater torment . . . the curse of power."
He wakes up in a tangle of black webs, all secreted by his own self. And thus he
has the power to fight back.
The rest goes on in the style of the very best Spidey books. Nightclub mistress
Felicia Hardy, Urich, Jameson, and the cast of gangsters are caught up in the furor
caused by Peter's one-man war against the Goblin. Aunt May is caught in the
middle. Peter is pushed to the limit. Each character faces their fears and faces
death, and is changed.
David Hine and Fabrice Sapolsky seem to have been born to write Spidey. This is
just like the best Spider-Man stories, a meditation on power, responsibility, and the
trickster who cannot be contained, with a juicy and complex supporting cast.
Camine di Giandomenico's art is dynamic and big. The hideous spider that appears
to Peter is particularly memorably for its all-too-human legs and hair,
uncomfortably grotesque as it is. Shots are claustrophobic and dark, like when the
Goblin breaks out of a panel to shoot into the audience's eye and Peter flashes
across the Goblin's office, taking out his goons.
I do think that di Giandomenico could have been more liberal with the inks. This is
a dark, tight world, but it's too well-lit.
But it's no biggie; this is the best Spider-Man comic you'll read these days. Now if
only we could get both more Noir and more 2099. It's not as though Amazing
Spider-Man is worth the nickel it would have cost in the 30s.
At this point, I've written the two reviews that the Great and Powerful Card pays
for. And now, like a metaphorical proctologist, we delve into other opinions. If you
don't like metaphorical proctology, you have been warned.
The Internet was set a little bit on fire a few months ago with the announcement
that Idris Elba, of The Wire, would be playing a Norse god in Kenneth Branagh's
Thor. Seems the Norse weren't black.
Anyone who really understands Marvel's Thor comics, as Branagh does, won't be
bothered. If Marvel respected the Norse myths, Thor would have a red beard, red
hair, and would be pretty darn stupid. Sif would have golden locks and stay home
raising Thor's two children. Also, when Thor was finished fighting Doctor Doom,
he would hang his dead body from a tree as a sacrifice to Odin.
Marvel Thor is blonde and selfless, Sif is a raven-tressed warrior woman worthy of
Xena, and Thor kills his foes about as often as Superman does. Who cares?
Kenneth Branagh is making a superhero movie. Kenneth Branagh is making a
Now the Internet has fired up again after a DC story in the new Batman Inc. title.
This series follows Bruce Wayne as he trots the glob, creating Batmen in every
major city in the world, since he has gotten a little old to put the suit on. Batman's
pick for the Batman of Paris is a sixteen-year old master of the gymnastic art of
parkour named Bilal Asseleh. Bilal, as you might have guessed, does not have a
line of Frankish ancestry as thick as crème fraiche. Bilal is Algerian by ancestry,
though he was born in Paris, and is a practicing Muslim. He stood by during the
riots and unrest in Clichy-Sous-Bois until a friend's arrest led him to don cape and
cowl to help quell the volatile unrest.
Naturally, a French commentator got pissed off that Bilal is not a "real Frenchman"
-- which will lead us down a thornier and more galling pathway than black Norse
gods. I didn't want to write an article about the ethics of nationalism and
immigration, so I'll leave that debate, even if France got their silly selves into
Algeria in the first place . . .
Some yanked out the old "Islam is a terrorist religion." This comes from people
who could never talk to an imam or read the Qur'an without their own prejudices
getting in the way, so there's no point talking about how Islam is an autonomous
religion without one central dogmatic interpretation. These people would never
listen when you tell them that Bilal's interpretation of jihad -- "struggle" -- is
maybe what Islamic kids need to see in a role model.
Point is, there's the nutty racists who call for boycotts, and then there are those
who simply mutter and pull out the old complaint about "making superheroes PC."
And while the second seems like a normal complaint, it's a bit more insidious than
It's true that heroes are diversifying. The openly gay Batwoman took over
Detective Comics for a while and dated the Question, leading to lots of bad jokes.
DC chose a black Green Lantern, John Stewart, for their JLA cartoon instead of
original whitey Hal Jordan.
There is a simple answer: we live in an increasingly globalized world. Superman
and Batman are everywhere and are heroes to every child. Different races, religions
and sexual orientations should be represented. If you don't like it, well, Bruce
Wayne, Clark Kent, Peter Parker, and most other heroes are still WASPs and you
can buy comics only about them.
But there is a better answer.
Have you ever heard of Stanley Lieber and Jacob Kurtzman? Really? What about
Stan Lee and Jack Kirby, their pen names?
Take a moment to run down the real names of famous comic book pioneers.
Batman's Bob Kane was Robert Kahn. Superman's creators were Jerry Siegel and
Superheroes were created by Jewish guys in the 30s, a time of casual anti-Semitism. This was before the extent of the Nazi horror was known, in a time when
many Americans wanted nothing to do with the war in Europe.
There's a great scene in the Band of Brothers miniseries where the troops discover
that the concentration camp is full of Jews, and they all look at their fellow Jewish
soldier, who many of them have degraded unthinkingly. Jack Kirby fought in
Europe in 1945, and served on several dangerous scouting missions so that he
could sketch maps of enemy positions.
The creators of superheroes fought for Judaism, and superheroes were a part of that
fight whether we admit it or not. Clark Katz couldn't have carried a comic in the
30s, but the torment of a geeky Jewish kid was all there in Kent: an alien nature, a
fundamental need to hide his true identity, and power fantasies to make Golems
look the pansy.
Tokenism isn't invading comics. Minorities have been there all along. And it's
brave of DC to shuck off "political correctness" accusations and proudly display
Although it would have been much braver a few years ago. Big companies won't
take big risks, but these little steps will add up. Maybe, in the World War II
tradition, Bilal will go kick bin Laden's butt the way Captain America kicked
You know, that cheerleader really is missing out. Come back next month, where
we won't do too much metaphorical proctology . . . we'll do just enough.
Read more by Spencer Ellsworth