On Things I’ve Been Reading

Some recent comic book purchases.

Irredeemable #1
BOOM! Studios
Written by Mark Waid
Art by Peter Krause

For nearly twenty years my brother and I have jokingly called Mark Waid “Waid the Butthead.” The reason goes back to an early issue of DC Comics’ The Comet, part of their short-lived revival of Archie Comics’ superheroes in the !mpact line of comics in 1991. In that early issue, either #2 or #3, Waid (who wrote the title) ran a letter column, only the letters were from the title’s creative team and editor. One of the letters, from the editor, began with the line, “Waid, you butthead!” Hence, “Waid the Butthead,” and a private joke between my brother and myself that has lasted until today.

Now, Mark Waid is Evil.

I’ve seen the tee-shirt. Don’t have the tee-shirt, but I’ve seen it.

And the reason is Irredeemable.

Here’s the premise. The world’s greatest superhero, Plutonian, has snapped, and he’s on a rampage, killing teammates — and their families, including young children — from his Justice League-like team.

I probably spent more time reading Grant Morrison’s afterword to Irredeemable #1 than I spent reading the comic’s story. That’s not a criticism by any means. A lot happens in the comic, and then Morrison writes two pages of dense material on human behavior, pigeonholing, and the like. That’s Grant Morrison.

What about Mark Waid?

I find there’s not a lot I really want to say about the first issue in terms of story. The story’s narrative sense is, initially, confusing; it takes a reveal late in the issue — and the nature of one character’s powers — to untangle the story’s internal chronology. What I found interesting about that is that, not realizing the way a sequence work, I took it “straight,” and came away with a chilling reading — only for the reveal to happen, and the book took on an entirely different meaning. A darker meaning.

You never get a feel for Plutonian, though you see him on virtually every page, because the story always shows him through someone else’s eyes. No one understands why this most powerful hero has turned on his friends. The issue raises a lot of questions, and offers a few hints at some of the answers.

I’ve always liked Peter Krause’s artwork — he worked on DC’s Star Trek: The Next Generation comic back in the early 90’s, and then he did The Power of Shazam! At times, Krause’s work reminds me greatly of Jerry Ordway’s artwork; there are a few shots of Plutonian that are reminiscent of Ordway’s take on Superman, which is probably the point. Plutonian’s powers, as depicted in the first issue, aren’t that dissimilar to Superman’s. It’s a good looking book.

Irredeemable is, in some respects, a continuation of themes Waid has developed in the past. If Kingdom Come was his story of superheroes in twilight and Empire was his story of the triumph of supervillainy, Irredeemable seems to be staking itself out in the middle ground — what happens when a hero crosses the line?

This first issue is an intriguing start to an ongoing saga, and I’m curious to see where it goes. As a writer, I’m impressed with the script for the first issue and its reveals. Simply for that, it’s worth checking out. Then you get Peter Krause’s artwork, and that’s bonus.

Batman: Battle for the Cowl — Man-Bat
DC Comics
Written by Joe Harris
Art by Jim Calafiore

Why the hell did I buy this?

Star Trek: Countdown #1-4
IDW Publishing
Written by Mike Johnson & Tim Jones from a story by Roberto Orci & Alex Kurtzman
Art by David Messina

Unless you’ve been living under a rock, you probably know there’s a new Star Trek movie opening worldwide in about a month. With a new cast, the forty year-old franchise is returning to the 23rd-century, with new faces as old friends like Kirk, Spock, and McCoy.

Two characters in the film, however, hail from the 24th-century, from a time after the most recent film, Star Trek: Nemesis. Countdown is the story that explains how they got from the 24th-century to the 23rd. The backstory of the film’s villain, the Romulan Nero, is detailed, and his conflict with the aged Ambassador Spock begins.

Countdown is a bit of a mixed bag. The first two issues have some weight and heft to them, and then the final two issues feel stretched and thin. Next Generation characters Picard, Data, La Forge, and Worf are shown in interesting places that raise questions that are never answered. Some of the conflict surrounding Spock sits awkwardly in the story.

However, some things work. The relationship between Spock and Nero through the four issues sees evolution from wary allies to friends and finally to enemies. Nero’s descent into villainy makes sense. The story, though thin, is always compelling.

That’s the problem with Countdown — it lacks weight.

The story feels unsure of itself and what it’s supposed to do. Is it supposed to pass the torch back from the 24th-century to the 23rd? Is it supposed to provide backstory to the film? Is it supposed to close the story on the Next Generation era? Is it supposed to be a complete story in and of itself? As a consequence, it doesn’t do anything well.

Countdown doesn’t pass a torch at all. Backstory seems to be there. It doesn’t provide any sense of closure or finality to the Next Generation-era in the way that Whatever Happened to the Man of Tomorrow? did to the pre-Crisis Superman. And while one part of the story is complete — the threat from the Hobus Star — the story raises so many other questions (and I’m not referring to Nero and Spock here) that there needs to be a 24th-century sequel dealing with the repercussions of the events of the second issue in particular.

Here’s the thing. On a purely visceral level, Countdown works. David Messina may be the best Star Trek artist working today, and his work is never less than compelling. The strengths of the first two issues in characterizing Spock and Nero are enough to give the reader traction. The best approach is probably to just absorb the story (as I did for so many Voyager episodes) and let it wash over you. But it leaves so many loose ends and unanswered questions that thinking too hard about the story will only leave you frustrated.

Essentially, Countdown isn’t a complete story in and of itself. Too many elements lack the context to make them make sense, and there’s insufficient closure at the end. Eventually, the novels and comics will, likely as not, backfill between Nemesis and Countdown, to say nothing of a 24th-century resolution to Countdown‘s lingering questions.

Still, don’t let this scare you off from discovering the roots of the conflict between Nero and Spock before Star Trek hits theaters next month. Countdown may not be perfect, it may not even be great, but it is generally good, and if you’re looking for a movie tie-in, there’s nowhere else to go until Alan Dean Foster’s movie novelization reaches stores.

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