Your Home for Toy News and Action Figure Discussion!

The Non-Marvel Action Hour – 4/2/8

Quantum. Also, Woody, Blue Beetle, Ex Machina, Fables, Icon, and Empowered.

Employee’s Pick

Quantum

[Acclaim] Quantum & Woody #18-21
Writer: Christopher Priest
Pencilers: M. D. Bright (issues 18-20), Oscar Jimenez (issue 21)

Yes, another great series that couldn’t escape the 90’s. So nice, they cancelled it twice. An abridged history lesson: First, there was Valiant Comics. They published books like Harbinger, X-O Manowar, and Solar: Man of the Atom. You can’t swing a lolcat without hitting someone on the internet who will insist that one or more Valiant titles were among the greatest comics of all time, and you can’t find a comic shop anywhere that hasn’t had that title in its quarter box since the mid-90’s. Valiant came, made a splash, and left. Or rather, got gobbled up by videogame publisher Acclaim Entertainment, who did a rather better job at producing comics than games. Not that you’d know it from their sales. Acclaim comics aren’t as easy to find for cheap, on account of none of them sold a million copies (or even close). No one wanted to buy out Acclaim and use them as an asset for their own ends; they went bankrupt and that was that.

It is at this point in the review that I shall insist that Quantum & Woody is among the greatest comics of all time. Come on, who didn’t see that coming? Though people often complain that "comic books aren’t fun anymore," they usually mean "Batman and Spider-Man aren’t fun anymore," and even then they restrict themselves only to the most mainstream representations of those characters, refusing to accept JLU Batman or Marvel Adventures Spider-Man as substitutes for Detective or Amazing. Why, when I was a kid, we would try new things and then decide whether they were as good as the ones we knew. And we weren’t trying to recapture the naive innocence of our five-year-old days by grousing about how G. I. Joe was better when Destro had a silver head and Sgt. Slaughter pretended to wrestle people instead of pretending to be a cartoon character. When Tiger Force and Python Patrol came out, did we cry out for unique figures or rereleases of the faithful originals instead of lame repaints? No! Because Tiger Force was awesome. New things were exciting, and we hadn’t yet learned that instead of forming new memories, new attachments, we could cling to the old ones. Nor did we dream that the old could be made "new" by recycling it ad infinitum. No one grows old, no one changes clothes, no one gets married, and no one dies. It’s so perfect! Don’t you see?!

But enough of that. It was always too late to fight to save Quantum & Woody. Because fighting doesn’t work, because there are valid reasons not to give every new thing a chance, because change isn’t always good. Valiant was a joke by the time Acclaim’s line started up, and if people avoided the new books for fear of being left in the lurch within two years, well, they may have been right to do so. Seventeen issues in, with plot bits dangling all over the place, Q&W was cancelled. It came back with issue #32, a teaser of future storylines that were never explored, followed by four regular issues before Acclaim went under and we were left with less than two years’ worth of comics to build nostalgic pillow forts around.

But what is – was – will be Quantum & Woody? A superheroic odd couple. Straight-laced Eric Henderson is Quantum, a former soldier who embraces professional heroism when he gains powers in a lab accident. Woodrow Van Chelton is… Woody, his purpose in life to annoy Eric. Woody takes to superheroing reluctantly, refusing to wear a mask or use a codename. Quantum has sophisticated gadgets, Woody has a gun. Quantum listens to classical music, Woody blares heavy metal at ear-splitting decibel levels. And they live together, forced to clang their matching control bands together every twenty-four hours or dissipate into energy. But they’re not a couple.

With issue eighteen, we’ve strayed a bit from the status quo. The control bands are off and the boys are powerless. French police surround them, suspecting that the duo killed their archnemesis Terrence Mangum (they kinda did), and throw them in jail. On the moon, David Warrant is approached by some immortal dude who isn’t immortal anymore and is looking for help in keeping his people from dying off. Warrant was suspected early on of causing Eric and Woody’s fateful lab accident, as well as killing their fathers. He’s innocent, but Eric still doesn’t trust him. It doesn’t help that Warrant resists being labeled either hero or villain, claiming to be a scientist and nothing more.

Bailed out of prison by Eric’s estranged mother, Woody goes home and burns his costume. Or he would if it weren’t flame-retardant. Helping the FBI on a case leaves Woody wondering, if he’s not a hero anymore, what is he? Quantum hangs around Paris a while longer, meeting with eccentric businessman Toyo Harada, who tells him about some dumb crossover that, like everything at Acclaim, never reached a proper conclusion.

In the process of retrieving the control bands, Quantum finds the Parisian public very appreciative of his heroic efforts. Woody also finds something worth fighting for: money. He intends to sue Marble Comix for ripping he and Eric off to produce Dark Kitty, a parody of Christopher Priest’s then-ongoing run on Black Panther. Harada tricks Quantum into recreating the experiment that gave him his powers, this time without Woody, who’s busy chewing people out at Marble HQ. Eric gets all the power, Woody arrives too late, more crossover nonsense, the moon explodes, and… that’s it. Several more issues were planned, written, even illustrated, but it’s unlikely that they’ll ever be published.

New-Type Books

Ex Machina 32

[DC] Ex Machina #32
Writer: Brian K. Vaughan
Penciler: Tony Harris

At last, popemeet! Will Mayor Hundred kill John Paul II? Find out next issue, ’cause this one’s more filler. It does have a naked prostitute, though, and a scene where meditatin’ Mitchell is visited by the specters of all the people who’ve died throughout the series. Pherson’s there, but since this is all in Mitch’s mind, we still don’t know that PETAman is dead. It’s hard to complain about Ex Machina, but these last few issues have been so slow and unfulfilling. Doesn’t help that I’m not interested in the whole pope plot, aside from hoping that Hundred doesn’t manage to kill the guy or get far enough in an assassination attempt that his political career is ruined, which turns out to be the evil Russians’ true goal. I want Mitch and Kremlin to make nice already. They were so close at the end of the sixth trade, then this arc starts up and the whole thing has been quietly swept under the rug. I know the focus will swing back that way eventually, but if we can’t have it now, I’d like something more substantial than this tease of a story to distract me.

Blue Beetle 24

[DC] Blue Beetle Vol. 7 #24
Writer: John Rogers
Penciler: Rafael Albuquerque

Traci 13

Last issue, Jaime had the scarab torn out of his spine after a failed assault on the Reach mothership. He survives this, but the scarab, apparently, does not. Trapped in a prison cell with no powers, Jaime has to fall back on the natural Blue Beetle awesomeness he inherited from Ted Kord to escape. Then it’s back on the offensive, as Jaime boldly rushes to the control room, where he hacks the ship’s computers before being captured again. Beetle’s family is also under attack; his friends band together to protect them, but they’re outnumbered and outgunned. How will Blue Beetle get out of this one? Two words: Khaji Da.

Stinking: not actually a power

I love this book. It’s everything a legacy comic should be. John Rogers shows great respect to Dan Garrett and Ted Kord, while still promoting Jaime Reyes as a worthy successor. Jaime himself considers both Garrett and Kord role models, incorporating the things he’s learned from them into his anti-Reach plan and the general way he goes about superheroing. Part of me wishes it were Ted doing these things, kicking alien ass and having a wisecracking, loveable supporting cast – I’d certainly love to see Ted in a comic this good, whether as a solo hero or part of a team – but as much as he owes to those who came before, Jaime’s his own man, and he deserves this as much as Jack Knight or Tim Drake or Superman himself.

My staff

Back Issues

Fables 59

[DC] Fables #59
Writer: Bill Willingham
Pencilers: M. K. Perker, Jim Rugg, Mark Buckingham, Andrew Pepoy, Joelle Jones, D’Israeli, Jill Thompson, David Lapham, John K. Snyder III, Eric Shanower, Barry Kitson

An entire issue dedicated to answering reader questions like "Who was Prince Charming’s first love?" and "What is Frau Totenkinder always knitting?", with some of the best artists in the business on board to illustrate it. But, invariably, the answer is "it wasn’t interesting enough to show you," and the art varies wildly in quality. Buckingham and Rugg, for instance, are up to their usual high standards, but combined they make up just three pages of the book. Kitson mails it in, using the same face for most of the women in his short; all of the characters look familiar, but few remind me of a Fable as much as they do someone Kitson’s drawn in another title. The best thing about this issue, aside from the few chuckles I got from the hastily written script, is that regular artist Mark Buckingham got to take three months off to rest for the regular storyline, where he and Willingham can get back to putting in full effort. It’d be a stretch to say I feel cheated, but whether you’re new to Fables or a regular reader, you can safely skip this issue without missing anything important or terribly interesting.

Icon 1

[DC] Icon #1
Writer: Dwayne McDuffie
Penciler: M. D. Bright

As part of the ambitious Milestone imprint designed to counter the woeful deficit of African-American (or any non-white) superheros in comics, Dwayne McDuffie created the black Superman. An alien crashlands on Earth, apparently in Africa, and, influenced by the woman who found him, assumes the form of a little African boy. Well over a hundred years later, he’s a wealthy lawyer and the target of would be thieves looking to steal from overprivileged white people. One power display and fingershaking speech later, the thieves have run off. Only, one comes back. A girl, inspired by Icon to better himself. She suggests he become a superhero, and she his sidekick. He dismisses the idea at first, but eventually makes a foray into superherodom, which gets him surrounded by guntoting cops.

It’s pretty light, even for a first issue. The origin story’s incomplete, and the encounter with the police hits a cliffhanger almost before it begins, left to be resolved in issue two. And the costumes are ugly, fitting all too well in the early 90’s era in which this comic was published. It’s not bad, but it doesn’t make me want to run out and buy more like this next comic does.

Trade

[Dark Horse] Empowered Vol. 2
Writer/Artist: Adam Warren

From her humble beginnings as a bondage fetish pin-up girl, Empowered has grown to be a three-dimensional, insecure, sometimes effective superhero/bondage fetish pin-up girl. She’s joined a team, the Superhomeys, most of whom laugh at and tease her. She’s picked up a boyfriend, former supervillain henchman-for-hire Thug Boy. And although she’s made many enemies (most in the schoolyard bully sense), she’s also made friends, most notably Ninjette, an exiled ninja princess whose self-esteem is about as low as Emp’s when not bolstered by copious amounts of booze. This volume deals with dinosaurs with lisps, videogames, sleeping on the job, accepting praise, nigh-drawing dire peril, ninja antics, time-themed villainy, the nightmare-suppression powers of stuffed monkeys, traumatic cereal-related memories, and unlikely rescues.

Caged Demonwolf

It also deals with catgirls, shoulder candy, bad touches, sexy archetypes, the ninja art of fake boobery, depilating downstairs, and lots of bondage. Whenever Emp’s oh so fragile costume is torn, she loses her powers, which leads to much tying up by the baddies and much PG-13 type nudity. Though the comic is clearly aimed at adult readers, there’s no "real" nudity (naughty bits are obscured) and cuss words are blacked out. There’s frank discussion of sex and loads of titillating imagery, but lines regularly left in the dust by Vertigo titles are not crossed here. It’s probably best that they aren’t; despite its origins, Empowered is more a fun superhero comic than a sexy fetish comic, and nudity would distract from that more than the risque material already featured does. Part of me wishes Warren would do away with that aspect entirely, but then again… nah. S’part of the fun, and, like Warren’s manga-influenced artstyle, helps to set Empowered apart from other comics.

Opera ninja

The one thing that worries me is that when the book takes a rare foray into serious territory, it tends toward the most disturbing seriousness possible. Supervillains who deliver white hot death via unspeakable means, ninja who brutally kill their targets, Thug Boy’s corpse-filled past (he has a nightmare in the same vein as Mayor Hundred’s in Ex Machina *points up*), and the contract on Ninjette’s head. I love the book when it’s lighthearted fun, or all sad and touching *sniffle*. I don’t want it to turn into another comic where DRAMA! reins supreme, where characters die left and right in the most gruesome manner imaginable and everyone does terrible, unforgivable things (like making deals with the devil *cough cough*), leaving me no choice but to hate them. But that’s pretty extreme. I doubt Warren will ever take the book too far in that direction, and any forays that are made may well turn out better than expected. That’s the constant battle writers face; readers need conflict to stay interested, but if they give a damn about your characters, they fear all conflict and the tragic consequences that might result from it.

Truncation

Quantum & Woody – Not the best issues of the series, and they’re still excellent.
Ex Machina – Filler with boobs.
Blue Beetle – Action! Heroism! Cookies!
Fables – Filler.
Icon – A slow start by a dependable creative team.
Empowered – Sexy fun.

 


Additional Links

 

 

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *