Back in the Day : Mark Millar – “The Ultimates” (2002)

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Earth 1610. Not the year 1610. The Ultimate Dimension 1610. The year is 1945. Steve Rogers, aka Captain America, plunges into the Arctic waters after de-routing a Nazi rocket aimed for Washington. Cut to 2002, New York. General Nick Fury recruits morning-drinking, Maxim-girl courting Tony Stark, newly-in-control Bruce Banner, and Mr. and Mrs. Pym (Giant-Man and the Wasp), to form the ULTIMATE superhero team. And hey, maybe that Thor guy over in Europe can help? Together, they will provide the blueprint for Joss Whedon’s smash hit “The Avengers,” while defeating the Chitauri menace, (the Chitauri are reptilian aliens that caused the rise of National Socialism, if you must know.)

What holds up in Mark Millar and Bryan Hitch’s run are the funny bits, such as Nick Fury’s prophetic conviction that only Mr. Samuel L. Jackson should play him in a screen version of the story. Tony Stark errs in aiming for Johnny Depp (although Robert Downey Jr. does get name-dropped.) The Wasp (of Asian descent in this version) complains that they’ll probably cast her as Lucy Liu even though they look nothing alike, but hey, ain’t that Hollywood. As for wimpy, neurotic Bruce Banner, casting suggestions include: “Woody Allen if he dropped a few pounds? That Stuart Little mouse that Geena Davis adopted? Steve Buscemi?” Overhearing this talk, poor Bruce runs out and transforming into the Hulk, howling: “HULK WANTS FREDDIE PRINZE JR!”

Which is funny.

Less funny? A bizarre marital conflict story-line that sees things escalate into what has to be one of the first cases of superhero-on-super-heroine domestic violence. Watching Gigantic, emasculated Hank Pym attack his poor wife (“You shouldn’t have made me seem small”) has to be one of the cruelest moments in Marvel history.

And when Captain America white knights his way into beating the shit out of the wife-beater? Nope, that doesn’t feel right either. These Ultimates are Ultimate assholes. Working close to ‘Watchmen” territory, Mark Millar made a tense, gritty epic that would reverberate.

(Currently re-reading a lot of the Ultimate Universe, which was really my introduction to Marvel in the 2000s)

 

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Cool Hand, Warm Gun : Rene Goscinny, Morris – “Lucky Luke”

“I am a lonesome cowboy, I’m a long long way from home.”

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“Lucky Luke,” some 60 + adventures into his journey, is second only to “Asterix” in my Franco-Belgian BD catalogue (I suppose Spirou and Fantasio are a close third). Belgian cartoonist Morris created ‘Lucky Luke’ in post-war France and eventually hooked up with Rene Goscinny (the sprightly, witty writer of ‘Asterix’ with Albert Uderzo, and of “Iznogoud” with Jean Tabary). The saga is one of Western tropes through French binoculars, (call it the baguette Western) but has some actual historical worth to it, plus more jokes than your average John Wayne oater.

Lucky Luke is a purely Mediterranean character, olive-skinned, cigarette dangling, (surgeon general be damned). He has been disrupted  from his siesta into showing loco Americans how not to kill each other over fool’s gold prospects. Accompanied by his trusty stallion, Jolly Stomper, as well as clueless Rin Tin Can, (the Inspector Closeau of the canine kingdom), Lucky Luke meets all the Wild West greats in non-flattering encounters: petulant Billy the Kid; the Daltons (same face, different heights); a Robin Hoodian Jesse James; Frank James, as Shakespeare-quoter; easy-going Calamity Jane; and prank-loving dimwit Cole Younger.

There is so much to explore in this great masterful series, I simply can not recommend it enough. The Cinebooks edition do a great job of translating the French puns, or figuring out alternate English jokes. “Lucky Luke” should not be missing in any library of the world’s iconic comics.

RATING: MASTERPIECE!

This Is Why Superheroes Can’t Have Nice Things: Tom Taylor – “Injustice: Gods Among Us” (Year 1)

The sweetest sound Superman has ever heard is the double heart beat of Lois Lane (and their baby inside Lois). The oddest sound Batman has ever heard is that of a quiet, crime-less Gotham. But neither of those moments come void of tragedy. They open the “1st Year” of Tom Taylor’s “Injustice: Gods Among Us,” a prequel to a popular video-game that keeps the “WHOA!” factor at almost too high a level. Maybe I haven’t read enough recent mainstream comics? This might be a bold bet, but I bet you there is no better book out with the words “From the Creators of ‘Mortal Kombat'” stamped on its cover.

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SPOILERS GALORE: So Joker steals Lois, and tricks Superman into killing her AND triggering the destruction of Metropolis, (no worries, nothing profitable ever really dies in comic book land). But when an angry Superman seeks revenge on the Joker, the Green Lantern tries to mellow Supes out, while Batman meekly listens to the Joker’s 10,000th speech. How much can Batman and the Justice League coddle the Joker? He just killed 11 million people in one minute! I feel like pretty much anybody in the DC Comics Universe could kill the Joker and get a medal. What jury of peers would say anything other than: “He kinda had it coming since 1940?” So Superman kills Joker, and… good for him???

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Anyway, fearing Superman will kill not only the Joker but also Harley Quinn, Green Arrow takes Harley to his Arrow Cave (Did you guys know about this Arrow Cave? As Harley points out, it’s a dumb name. “Arrows don’t live in caves, they’re inanimate objects. Why not call it the Quiver?” GA concedes that would be an improvement.)

Meanwhile, an outraged Superman vows to end ALL the wars (and with Wonder Woman’s help pretty much reduces Ares, God of War to the less intimidating role of “God of Ponies.”) Only Batman foresees the dark path that lies ahead. If Superman opposes the shady dealings of all the armies and governments of the world, it’s only natural that he’ll have to replace them with SOMETHING. Superman must become King of the World Might not Aquaman make a bid for King of the Sea? Not if Superman can help it, which is how the Man of Steel throws Atlantis in the middle of the Sahara. ATLANTIS IN THE SAHARA. If DC movies bothered to be a tenth as inventive as even the run-of-the-mill DC books, fans wouldn’t have to spend the year griping about how they wasted their money on Zack Snyder’s ” Justice League vs. Suicide Squad: Day of Reckoning Reboot” or whatever is waiting around the bend. “Wonder Woman” is also much more complex and interesting than the Perfect icon of Feminism movies proposed in movie form. Here, she manipulates Superman down a bad path because she BELIEVES in him- she lacks the innate cynicism of Batman. Her behavior is not wondrous, but it’s human!

“Injustice” makes a surprisingly deep statement on how reactionary behavior leads to absolutism and tyranny even in well meaning people. I highly enjoyed this series, it drew me back to DC Comics, and hey, when Batman gets outed via Twitter, you can’t get more modern than that!

RATING: COOL!

Not the Hernandez Bros : The Luna Brothers – “Ultra: Seven Days”

I suppose when you and your siblings get into the comic book biz and call yourself “The ______ Bros,” you’re bound to hear “They’re NOT as good as the Hernandez Bros, though” an infinite number of times. Sooner or later you will snap at some ComiCon or other and shake someone by the lapels: “That comparison doesn’t even make sense! If someone was an only child, would you compare them to all the other only children in their chosen profession?”

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But anyway, the Luna Brothers are not quite as good as the Hernandez, etc etc. Their career over the last fifteen years or so has seen them grow in ambition, and it all began with “Ultra,” a “Sex and the City and the Superheroes” trifle that follows Pearl Penalosa (Ultra), a Hispanic female superhero of undetermined Hispanicity, and her two besties: Jennifer Janus (a.k.a. Cowgirl because… she dresses country?) and Olivia Arancina (Aphrodite) who is SUCH a Samantha. While on a girl’s night out, an unimpressive fortune teller crystal ball prophecies that Ultra will find true love within 7 days, and somehow the characters all take this extremely seriously, even though the fortuneteller is openly coked up.

The reader won’t, but the art is pleasant, even as it consistently beats the writing, which is best labeled as “amiable” (We all need to see more caped folk, male and female, just being nice to each other and catching up over lunch.) The covers mimic those of famous mags: Maxim, Time, Wired, Rolling Stone, Vogue… and I may be forgetting a couple since it was an 8-issue run. In the brevity lies the problem: “Ultra” hints at larger serious issues of commercialism, (what happens when superheroes go fully corporate?) but the breezy story never even intends to tackle them.

RATING: GOOD

The Monkey King and the Sacred Quest for Panties: Akira Toriyama – “Dragon Ball” (Volume 1)

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ABOVE: Children of all ages, gather round for this wholesome tale!

Ah, Akira Toriyama’s “Dragon Ball.” The finest of children’s entertainment! It is truly refreshing to revisit the pages of this beloved classic, looking for a gentler time, a more innocent time. What wondrous insights will we find in this pure-hearted adaptation of “Journey to the West,” the revered, borderline sacred 16th-Century Buddhist tome?

*opens comic book*

WHAT THE… WHAT IS THIS FILTH?!?

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ABOVE: I’m too disturbed to even think of a caption.

“Dragon Ball” is, from what I can glean, the tale of Son-Goku, a toddler with a tail who runs into a 16-year old girl named Buruma, (as in Bloomers, after the female undergarment.) While Bloomers is asleep, Son-Goku takes off her panties so as to dive into her crotch. This unorthodox behavior, we learn, can be traced back to Son-Goku’s habit of sleeping with his grandpa’s genitals as a pillow.

You think I’m joking or exaggerating. This is LITERALLY what happens in “Dragon Ball.”

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ABOVE: Or, Friday night at every frat house ever.

The monkey kid is shocked to find that Buruma, or, in the politically-correct, bowdlerized American translation, “Vulva,” doesn’t have a pee-pee and testicles. After being “woke” to gender inequality, the hero of our tale will walk around town, patting little girls in the nether regions to ascertain their sex.

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ABOVE: I’m not even going to go into the whole “Injun” thing.

Of course, we haven’t even met the actual pervert of our tale: that would be the wise Master Roshi, the Dumbledore of our delightful saga, perpetually asking Buruma to show him her magical honey valley.

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ABOVE: He’s 300 years old, she’s 16. The turtle is of indeterminate age.

This is all within the first few chapters of our mythic, decade-spanning quest for magical wish-granting balls. “Dragon Ball”‘s legacy may be one of protracted, onerous world-rending fights, the predecessor of “Naruto” and “Bleach” and “One Piece” and “Fairy Tail” and countless others; but its origins are those of a humble, a pervy parody of “Journey,” which explains things like Roshi summoning “baby Gamera” as a transportation device, a gag more on Tezuka’s territory.

Before long, Goku and Buruma are joined by Oolong, (as in the tea, as in tea-bagging), a cutesy Communist pig whose hobby is drugging and abducting his female victims in an unsuccessful search for a child bride that will obey his whims. THESE ARE THE GOOD GUYS IN OUR SAGA!

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ABOVE: I suppose a perverted pig trying to force children into abject obedience is as good a metaphor for Communism as any other.

The cast expands with every episode: We meet tough-guy-wanna-be Yamcha as well as his cat-like sycophant, Pu’ehr (say it outloud). The characters will soon number on the hundreds, but as the first volume (out of 42!) concludes, we have a sizable questing crew- the final addition being the cutesy Chi Chi who, unlike Buruma, at least seems like size-and-age appropriate for Goku. By this point, I have become immune to the depravity, and only wish these children a happy marriage.

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ABOVE: Hey! You! Get off of my Cloud!

RATING: MASTERPIECE of its kind! Amoral, amoral masterpiece.