Tag Archives: Jonathan Hickman

Overview: Starbrand and Nightmask

“…And I’m nothing…Nothing but a pretender.”

Hey, all, it’s D.C. to produce after a short hiatus. Work and life got in the way in too many ways, but we’re back to catch up and throw down on all we’ve read.

I am glad that I have branched out my tastes in recent years. It helps train that mental palette to see what’s really of worth out there in the literature and graphic world. Unfortunately, I made a mistake reading Marvel’s only trade of Starbrand and Nightmask:

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Starbrand? Nightmask?

For those unfamiliar with the characters, Starbrand and Nightmask for characters from one of Marvel Comics’ more popular alternate universe brands, New Universe (and its similar “revival,” newuniversal). They are two of a series of beings that emerge when a planet is on a growth of universal proportions. The White Event producees, among others, a Starbrand–the earth’s planetary defense system, endowed with staggering power–and a Nightmask, which serves as the Starbrand’s guide and conscience.

College student Kevin Conner mistakenly received the Starbrand during Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers run, with the “perfect human” Adam becoming the Nightmask, during a broken White Event. In this cancelled Marvel run, creative team Greg Weisman and Domo Stanton decide to take the cosmically powdered duo to college to connect with humanity.

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Expectations?

I was very much on the fence with reading this series on premise alone. Jonathan Hickman’s modern take on these two characters was fantastic. But for Greg Weisman to take them to college to connect with humanity? How often, and for how long, has a premise like that ever worked for characters of such a high power set.

Well, I can see the reason why, but I would have hoped Starbrand and Nightmask would not have to go to college (and those of us who went, know what it’s like) just to connect with humanity. You don’t see Hyperion running off to community college in his solo series to understand humans.

But with most things, I wanted to see if my instincts were wrong, so I bought Volume 1: Eternity’s Children (Attend University).

Highlights?

Highlights…highlights…

No. I don’t have any. Really.

If there’s any saving grace here, it is that Greg Weisman mostly kept Nightmask true to his character: the stoic adviser to the Starbrand. That is all.

Lowlights?

Writer Greg Weisman. He is another example of a writer who does not research the characters he is chosen to headline. Starbrand and Nightmask were given foundations via Jonathan Hickman. Kevin Conner, from what I read, was a young man barely growing into his role as the broken planetary defense system, an unworthy person granted cosmic power. Still he shows a quiet eagerness to be a team player and grow into his role. He whined a little bit, but when your first power spike causes massive death and destruction of an entire school, how would you carry yourself?

Weisman’s take on Starbrand was both grating and disappointing. Wiesman took this uncertain yet adjusting young man and turned him into a generic character with a distinct millennial streak. Starbrand wasn’t one to use the word “Dude,” especially to address Nightmask, but Wiesman has Kevin using that word so often. It’s like he was trying too hard to be one of the other kids. To that end, he lacked any individuality Hickman brought to Starbrand.

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The plot was abysmal. To a certain extent, I can understand Starbrand needing to reconnect with his humanity in the wake of exploring his cosmic level powers. Even the premise of this arc was ideal: other cosmic aspects desire to kill Starbrand in order to destroy the earth, so–surprise, surprise–the universe would meet its rightful death.

Now, the problems I have with that premise is this: after Secret Wars, in which we saw the reconstruction of the multiverse, why would there be forces trying to prematurely destroy the universe again, even when the in-story explanation was that the universe’s death was not to be for millennia to come? It just didn’t come to fruition at all.

The activation of a White Event in other parts of the universe was touched on, but it made for a shoddy story. By now we should have some understanding of why White Events occur, but how what happens when two White Event analogs meet? Weisman brings in a Kree Starbrand to answer this question, and this results:

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What was that, indeed?

It was another adolescent and ill-defined turn: that the White Event analogs inexplicably desire to mate as a failsafe against one another. Why a failsafe? Why an attraction? What would that serve, and why would the universe risk progeny of galactic proportions as the proper failsafe? What if same-gendered analogs (two male Nightmasks, for example) met up? This “failsafe” was just thrown in there as if it were panacea for the bad storyline already unfolding.

Speaking of ill-defined: the supporting cast was passable (nothing worth noting), but to write off Kevin’s attraction to one girl as having originated from her being the originally-destined Starbrand? How could Nightmask know that just from a conversation with a classmate? How did Nightmask even know the criteria needed to be a Starbrand? Why weren’t we, the readers, given better insight into this before it was just thrown out there as more panacea? More importantly, why is the fact that she was to be Starbrand fitting for her being attracted to the current Starbrand, and vice-versa?

None of this even made half-assed sense.

 

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Starbrand before…

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…and Starbrand NOW.

Now that I’ve exhausted myself on Greg Weisman’s immature writing, let’s discuss artist Domo Stanton.

Just awful. Starbrand may be 20 years old, but why is he drawn as if he’s 13? It was such an eyesore to see such childish, cartoonish art on characters that exude NOTHING resembling childishness. Stanton just made Starbrand foolish by way of his pencils. This sort of art may work for Power Pack, Howard the Duck, or Squirrel Girl, but not for the serious side of the Marvel Universe.

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What could’ve been better?

So much, simply put.

For one, Weisman could’ve just written a better premise. To hell with going to college to connect with humanity. Just going to a place where loss of control is almost guaranteed? It sounded like a recipe of disaster to have two cosmically-powered young men going to a place where bad decisions happen. What if Kevin got trashed or emotionally unstable and blew up this school?–granted, he DID get drunk, and it is surprising that he didn’t lose control of his powers at that time.

But to continue…much better scripts would’ve explored the White Event more, what components of the White Event were needed and missing (ie: Justice, Cipher, Spitfire), and what those missing components mean for the ascension of Earth on the scale it was meant to.

Nightmask’s extent of humanity could’ve been explored, as well as his relationship–or lack thereof–with his creator, Ex Nihilo–who, at this point, has not been shown, even though every other major player during the incursion saga returned alive.

Bringing Captain Universe back would have been a good move, too, for allowing Starbrand and Nightmask to explore the entire universe to gain some much needed maturity and perspective on their roles.

Not to mention the art. There needs to be art that benefits the elements and personalities of the characters. You can’t just dab on a cartoonish artist with cosmic-level protectors and pretend that it would work.

Recap

Starbrand and Nightmask had all the potential of a great, existential series. However, an adolescent premise, poor understanding, and piss-poor execution by Greg Weisman made this series deserving of cancellation. Too many plot elements were thrown in for no good reason, and it just made for a terrible read. Domo Stanton’s likewise adolescent art retards any aesthetics of the characters developed from Jonathan Hickman’s incursion saga. Together, this creative team made this series an arduous chore to get through (seriously, it took me a week or so to read it).

This was a poor, poor series to read, and I don’t recommend it to anyone. I have hopes that a much more mature writer and much better artist could bring these characters back into focus and to new heights.

END THROWDOWN.

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Secret Wars!

This is D.C., and today’s throwdown will be on something I was very much looking forward to reading:

Marvel Comics’ Secret Wars of 2015, as opposed to the 1984 iteration (I’ve not read that one, but you best believe I will someday).

Let’s take a step back.

As I’ve said before, I’ve had a deep love for Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers saga that detailed the incursions and the end of all of Marvel’s universes. While Hickman chronicled the heroism and ethical dilemmas in Avengers and New Avengers, hints of the breaking of reality and earthlings’ fault in the matter could be seen in various other books:

Spider-Verse, X-Men’s Battle of the Atom and All-New X-Men, Age of Ultron, War of Kings, Realm of Kings, the Thanos Imperative, Volume 2 of New Avengers (the Heroic Age), and X-Termination all have bouts of the weakening barriers of the multiverse.

The incursions in Hickman’s saga is just the culmination of the constant reality-hopping intrusions and time-travelling mishaps the heroes commit. Hank McCoy, the X-Men’s Beast, is possibly the worst offender of all, given both his time-jumping the young X-Men into the present and his work with the Illuminati:

Almost as evil as Iron Man

So, by the time Secret Wars begins, we are at the Final Incursion, the inevitability. Two Earths remain and are on a collision with one another. The mutual destruction means the end of all universes, the destruction of one leaves one universe alive. So what happens?

The end of all that is

Pure, unadulterated chaos between Earth-616 (main earth) and Earth-1610 (Ultimate Marvel earth). Characters from both Earths make a last ditch attempt to defeat one another to save their own planet. Amid the chaos, the real planners try not to win–they try not to lose. The Illuminati try to escape with a so-called “resurrection team,” tasked with reviving the species (a very big eugenics nod, when you read Mr. Fantastic). Meanwhile, the Cabal, along with the Maker (Earth-1610 Reed Richards) make their own escape plans.

The first issue of Secret Wars was sad. It was as grueling and sad look at what any species would do when faced with extinction. They chaotically gasp for their final breaths as they wage a futile war.

The Good Stuff

The first issue was, by far, my favorite of the series. It is chaotic, saddening, and gripping, fitting for the end of all that is.

I have little to say on the coloring aspect of Secret Wars. It’s good, and gives the feel that I was reading an epic.

The covers. My goodness. I’ve always been a fan of Alex Ross’ art since I read Kingdom Come so many years ago:

Alex Ross

Even the variant covers NOT done by Alex Ross were great to look at:

Hickman’s portrayal of Dr. Doom was actually very superb. While Doom’s overwhelming narcissism is present, his personality reaches a different realm to me. Immediately you perceive his feelings of love, and even his lack of self-confidence.

The best part of this story? You see that Doom limits himself and remains so petty, even with godlike power in his hands. Doom is gifted with omnipotence and he still can’t think of much better than to combat his insecurities towards Reed Richards. You really start to pity Doom early on and throughout the event when you realize just how small this “god” really is.

The Not-So-Good Stuff

The first issue of Secret Wars told me I would be in for some problems, thanks to Esad Ribic’s art.

If you read my critique of DC Comic’s Batwoman, you will know that the worst thing I think a creative team can do is to forget what came before when doing their work. The same occurs here on one of the splash pages.

If you look immediately to the right of the Hulk, you see a flying figure that most certainly appears to be Hyperion. The design makes it very likely.

There is NO REASON Hyperion should have been on Earth–he was dead by this point. Hickman’s Time Runs Out arc explained why. It turns me off whenever past events are not reviewed before making a story. This is a very bad thing to do in any medium.

Ribic’s art catches me off-guard at some points. He’s very hit and miss; at many points the art is beautiful, colossal, and raw. At other points his execution is just…ugly. There isn’t a definitive point where it’s one thing and another, but there are hiccups in the event.

What the hell is up with She-Hulk’s face?!

Sue Storm just looks…well…hideous. Not to mention her arm. I tried to mimic the pose. It feels and LOOKS anatomically incorrect:

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Them arms and dat face…

As for the survivors of the former earth…Why were they chosen? Manifold was tasked with retrieving certain people during the Final Incursion, but there was absolutely zero reason provided as to WHY these people were chosen out of many. Clarity would have made sense of this.

Secret Wars suffered from several instances where events occurred for no good reason, for example: the Thing relenting in his fight with Franklin; how easily the Thing trusted Thanos; how quickly and easily the zombies in the Shield sided with Black Panther and Namor. Again…clarity would have helped.

The chosen ones…but for what???

Recap

Secret Wars was an appropriate send-off to Jonathan Hickman’s enduring saga of the end of all things.

I’ve read reviews that the main event suffered from a disjointed plot, and I agree. Some events occurred without reason, and that made for a very confusing read. There was substantial focus given to Dr. Doom that gave a good understanding of the burden Doom suffered. Some focus is placed on Mr. Fantastic, but there wasn’t nearly enough time given to the other survivors and how they adjusted to their new reality.

Unfortunately, there are hints that Secret Wars might have been a very rushed project. Quite a bit of what happens does not make sense because of the lack of development given to the cast, and to that of the world itself. One would expect world-building in the main series. The 40-some odd tie-ins will assist in that, but why would you need that many tie-ins to help make the main event comprehensible?

There are many things I wished that could have happened in Secret Wars and Hickman’s incursion saga in general, but it was a surprisingly quick and decent read. I’d give it a 3/5.

One final issue:

For those who aren’t familiar with the reality hopping Exiles series, it’s a worthwhile read. With the collapse of the multiverse, I can’t understand why these characters NEVER made an appearance through Hickman’s incursion saga, in Avengers, New Avengers, or even Secret Wars. Where the heck were they? Multiversal problems were their specialty!

Bring the Exiles back!

END THROWDOWN.

The Avengers, which Avenge..?

Hey, all. I’m not reviewing a comic per se, but I’m going to share a question that’s been nagging me for a while. Kay G. said I should mention it so we can share our answers with you.

Like I said before, I’ve read comics for nearly 25 years by all kinds of publishers, but I’m primarily Marvel-bred. Among my favorite teams has been the Avengers, because…really, who doesn’t enjoy a team that changes every so often? Changes in team line-ups and team leaders mean changes in character dynamics and different storylines.

The O.G. Avengers

I have enjoyed the many incarnations over the decades, my favorite being the Avengers Machine from Jonathan Hickman’s world-ending saga:

Jonathan Hickman’s Avengers

Even the splinter teams have had interesting stories of their own: the West Coast Avengers (which, I don’t recall having read–again, reading for years, haha); Force Works; New Avengers; Secret Avengers; and the Avengers Unity Division. And they’ve all used the cool catchphrase: AVENGERS ASSEMBLE!

But one thing’s been bothering me for some time:

Just who are the Avengers avenging?

If you’re reading into their name literally, the Avengers are tasked with avenging. If we took them at their name and its meaning, you’d think the Avengers would act in a manner similar to this guy:

VENGEANCE! …Which is similar to avenging…

For as long as the Avengers have existed, their shtick has been that of a group coming together to handle threats that no one hero can overcome. As such, they’ve had confronted high-level and even cosmic threats. They fight to protect.

But protection isn’t the same as avenging.

Avengers seem to react to the threats they see before them, not taking action to what was DONE to others.

Have the Avengers actually avenged anyone? I’m not certain. There may have been exceptions–Yellowjacket’s death during the 1995 storyline “The Crossing” being one, but avenge means different things to different people: kill, apprehend, punish…

Why haven’t the Avengers, after a good 50-some odd years, not reflected and questioned their own name and purpose? Why haven’t any of the writers? Will they ever?

Now that we have the All-New, All-Different iteration of Avengers…which, frankly, look so odd, especially with the Avengers’ long standing against having children in their ranks…will the creative teams really take a introspective look at what the Avengers are, and what they should be standing for?

Or are they just going to be another aimless team that just attacks threats?

Or, worse: are they just going to repeat the same kinds of stories all over again, like so many other teams and characters do?

What do you think?

Are these your (All-New, All-Different) Avengers?

END THROWDOWN.