Wednesday, May 25, 2011

What If Wednesday #3: What If The Avengers Had Never Been?

Every Wednesday, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

Well, I may have been a slight naysayer of the concept last week, but now? This was pretty awesome. It’s still obsessed with 1962 Marvel stories, despite being published in 1977, but this week’s issue has this emotional weight to it... I don’t know. Despite half of it’s cast being characters I am on record as saying suck ass (The Wasp and Ant Man/Giant Man/Goliath/Yellow Jacket/Hank Pym/god damn could you keep your name straight for two fucking weeks?), this issue really worked for me as a whole. Again, like issue 1, far from perfect, but at least someone fucking died this time, and trust me, as you will learn soon, RANDOMLY SLAUGHTERING CHARACTERS WITHOUT CONSEQUENCES IS BASICALLY THE ENTIRE POINT OF WHAT IF?. Lets get started.

Okay, so good news, the recap of Avengers #2-3 is only 3 pages long, so unlike last week, we jump in with the real story quickly. I haven’t read these issues yet, come back to me in a few months, but basically the plot is as follows: The Avengers (Iron Man, Thor, Ant/Giant Man, and the Wasp) were formed to stop a rampaging Hulk who was being controlled by Loki, Thor’s douchebag step-brother, who, if you’ve see the new Thor movie (and if you haven’t, what the fuck is wrong with you?), you know pretty much everything that goes wrong in Thor’s life is Loki’s fault. The Avengers stop Hulk, Loki is defeated, and Hulk joins the team....

… for like half a second, because the Hulk is a violent, super strong crazy green person. Hulk quits as soon as Iron Man asks him to wash the dishes or something, the Avengers go after him, Hulk and Namor team up for some reason, and the Avengers stop them from whatever. Namor goes and throws a chunk of ice in the ocean that secretly holds Captain America, the Avengers find it, and the rest is history.

Well, not in this universe, baby. Because here, just as the team is rushing off to stop a rampaging Hulk from leaving the team, Ant/Giant Man- certified asshole and future wife-beater- brings up the point that the team’s membership is voluntary, and they shouldn’t force the Hulk to stay on it. Thor agrees, and when Iron Man points out that “yeah, but, you know, giant super-strong green monster known for destroying whole cities, maybe we should keep him in check”, Thor rushes off in a huff, and Ant/Giant Man and Wasp leave too, mostly because they are fucked up individuals (see my review of Essential Ant Man for further information). Side note: I think it’s hilarious that as soon as the Wasp opens her mouth to voice an opinion, Giant/Ant Man shuts her up by saying “Quiet Jan, this is serious!”, and then they quit because (I swear to god I am not making this up) after hanging out with Thor, Iron Man, and the Hulk, Hank Pym realizes that “growing 12 feet tall isn’t that great a power. I’m not a big-leaguer!” That’s right, Giant Man quits the team because he doesn’t feel like enough of a man when compared to the other guys around him. Thank you, Dr. Pym, for once again proving me right about how much of an asshole you are. It always comes back to size with this guy, doesn’t it?

ANYWAY! After consulting with Hulk’s ersatz side-kick Rick Jones- mostly to remind us that when he’s not crazy, the Hulk has a teenaged side-kick named Rick Jones- Iron Man rushes off to stop the Hulk from rampaging. He fails miserably, but manages to get away alive. Hulk and Namor team-up just like in the real version, and challenge the Avengers to a fight at the Rock of Gibraltar. (Editor(me)’s Note: I haven’t read Avengers #3 yet, but finding out this fight is supposed to happen at friggin’ Gibraltar makes me even more excited for it. Wikipedia it if you don’t know where/what Gibraltar is. Short version, back before we knew the world wasn’t flat, Gibraltar was literally considered the end of the world, the last place before there was nothing but endless ocean beyond, and was also known as the Pillars of Hercules for reasons that are awesome. Explaining that one will take too much time, and I’m loosing my buzz as it is fact checking this shit, but from Wikipedia: “According to Plato's account, the lost realm of Atlantis was situated beyond the Pillars of Hercules, in effect placing it in the realm of the Unknown. Renaissance tradition says the pillars bore the warning Nec plus ultra (also Non plus ultra, "nothing further beyond"), serving as a warning to sailors and navigators to go no further.” So yeah. Awesome. End Greek Mythology rant.)

So yeah. Iron Man agrees, saying he and the (non-existent) Avengers will meet the pair there in two days. Iron Man’s kind of stupid here, I guess. Realizing he can’t beat Hulk AND the Sub-Mariner by himself, Iron Man builds new suits or armor, and tries to con Rick Jones, Giant Man, and Wasp into wearing them to fight the Hulk and maybe stop him. Not only that, but these armors are way better than his. Like, Rick’s armor can let him walk through walls and shit, and they all have features like that. Iron Man doesn’t think to update his armor, because, again, I guess he’s kind of stupid, despite being a genius. AND! Despite all that awesomeness, though, they politely decline, mostly because the only person insane enough and smart enough to work a suit of Iron Man armor is Tony Stark himself. (Oh, and War Machine. But he hadn’t been created yet.)

Rejected but refusing defeat, after getting juiced up on Super-Electricity or something, Iron Man goes and fights them both. And honestly? It is baller as hell. Iron Man loses, don’t get me wrong, but man, he gives these two a hell of a fight. There’s this awesome splash page of Iron Man literally frying the Hulk, and that’s before Subby throws Iron Man head first into the rock part of the Rock of Gibraltar. Iron Man lays dying, knowing he’s given his best, yet failed. All of the sudden, though, Rick, Giant Man, and Wasp show up in their Iron Man armors!

They start kicking ass, and Namor runs away like a little bitch (okay, not really, give me a sentence or two). Giant Man and Hulk duke it out, and Iron Giant Man is doing pretty well, but he’s forgotten something REALLY, REALLY IMPORTANT. The madder Hulk gets, the stronger he gets. So as Giant Man is kicking his ass, Hulk gets madder, and then he’s all “BITCHES BE TRIPPING!!!!” and hauls ass on Giant Man. Giant Man lies there, and Iron Man crawls over, and literally uses all the power in his suit AND body to power Giant Man’s armor (if you haven’t seen the movie, there’s basically a super battery in Iron’s Man’s heart keeping him alive, FYI). Giant Man is suddenly super powerful and takes down the Hulk for like 30 seconds.

Namor comes back from swimming a bit and attacks Rick. That’s bad, though, because the Hulk FINALLY realizes that it’s Rick in that armor, and goes to rescue his buddy, then attacks the Sub-Mariner. They go fight underwater, and our team of Rick Jones, Ant/Giant Man, and the Wasp mourn the death of Iron Man. End of issue.

So, there you have it. Iron Man will go down in history as the first character to die in a series that I PROMISE YOU will soon become known for being a comic book that viciously, horribly, and violently slaughters the characters that you (might) know and love, mostly because it could. Since the stories don’t really count, you know, why not? At this point, its not about shock value, and that actually shows. Iron Man dies because he’s a hero, and his sacrifice saves both the day and the life of Hank Pym (though I still think he’s a douche bag). And again, I wasn’t convinced when I learned the concept, but this is a pretty solid story, and Tony Stark’s death feels like it means something here. So bravo, mister Shooter(writer), and the always amazing Gil Kane (artist). I wasn’t sure at first, but this is pretty great.

Next week! What if The Invaders Had Stayed Together After World War II?*

* = The Invaders were a group of superheroes who fought in World War II. In case, you know, that title was too confusing for you.

Friday, May 20, 2011

What If Wednesday #2: What If the Hulk Had the Brain of Bruce Banner?

Stupid internet problems made this late. Sorry.

Every Wednesday, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

Have you seen “The Incredible Hulk” movie? If you have, this review will probably make more sense. Not the Ang Lee monstrosity starring Eric Bana and Jennifer Connelly, I mean the more recent one with Ed Norton and Liv Tyler. If you haven’t, you should, as Edward Norton is seriously amazing in every thing he does. And Liv Tyler is okay, except that despite everything, I still can’t help but see her father’s face every time I see her, and that kind of cuts down on the general hotness. Anyway, Ed Norton by himself should make you want to see any movie, so watch it if you can.

ANYWAY! What If? time. Okay, so..... fuck. This is one weird ass comic, and you have officially been warned. It’s starts off okay, then gets pretty decent, and then takes a left turn into full out Crazytown, USA. Drunk or sober, I don’t think anyone, no matter how much or little comic history they knew could make heads or tails out of this. Like, I didn’t hate it, but I really don’t know where the end came from. You know. Like the last episode of the Sopranos, only angrier? I guess? Anyway, here we go.

Okay, so seriously, I gotta say, the first 6 or so pages of this book are bullshit. Basically, the Hulk- in ‘our’ universe- is being chased around by a bunch of cops he tries to escape from, because that’s pretty much the Hulk’s whole deal. That and smashing things. And then there’s a whole page spread of the Watcher’s GIGANTIC head while he pontificates about how he’s the Watcher and he watches everything and seriously, dude, WE FUCKING GET IT. We have to sit through all this before we even begin the actual story that readers 30 years ago spent 50 cents for. Seriously Marvel, what the hell?

Anyway, then the real story begins. We get a couple pages of the Hulk’s origin being rehashed, which I’d complain about, but actually, for people who haven’t read Hulk #1 (i.e. pretty much everyone reading this who isn’t me) it IS a convenient info-filling-in-athon, so... okay. Anyway, the Watcher basically creates a bullshit explanation for the Hulk to not be... you know... violent and stupid, and to keep his Banner-brain, but... whatever. It’s fine. It’s for the story, so I’m just going to go with it. Anyway, kind of like last week we get this weird rehash of Hulk #1, but instead of the Hulk punching the ugly commie scientist into submission, he sort of makes friends with him or something. Whatever. Since Bruce Banner/the Hulk isn’t constantly being chased by Betty Ross’ asshole-General dad(he is both an asshole and a General, that was a literal statement), she and Bruce/Hulk fall in love right away, instead of going back and forth for like 30 god damn years. Anyway, they get married, and Bruce Banner wears a purple tuxedo, mostly because he’s assuming he’ll turn into the Hulk at some point I guess? (Even though he doesn’t, what bullshit is this?)

Bruce and Betty soon get a call from Reed Richards, alias Mr. Fantastic of the Fantastic Four, and Banner goes and helps Reed to find a way to turn the Thing into regular old Ben Grimm. Apparently it works, and without their Jewish rock-monster clobberin’ expert, the FF disband. Reed and the Hulk team-up, which inadvertently means that the Avengers (Marvel Comic’s premiere super team and soon to be movie franchise) never form (the Avengers originally formed to stop the Hulk, cuz he was all violent and crazy and stuff). Since the Avengers never form, Captain America is never rediscovered (this isn’t in the comic, but is pretty damn significant for me as a comic book historian). Oh, and later Professor Charles Xaiver, founder of the X-Men (Patrick Stewart in a wheelchair), shows up to join Reed and Banner/Hulk, because I guess he thought it’d be easier than teaching a bunch of super-powered teenagers how to use their powers constructively. Nothing more is said about all the people who would normally become X-Men, so I assume at some point in this reality's future Jean Grey destroys the universe. (More on that in a latter column.)

The new team of nerds that is Reed Richards, Bruce Banner/Hulk, and Professor Xaiver are pretty great together, until Galactus shows up. For those who don’t know who Galactus is, he’s basically a space god (who loves purple) that eats planets for breakfast. Yes, you read that right. He EATS planets. And he’s come to Earth to eat ours.

Okay... now this is where things get WEIRD AS SHIT. Because, in order to defeat Galactus, the new Nerd Trio use the power of deus ex machina to combine themselves into a glowing, golden, underwear-wearing-exclusively superbeing called... wait for it.... the *groan* X-MAN. Now, I know that in the *real* universe, the FF defeated Galactus by the power of deus ex machina too... but... seriously... well... just listen, okay?

The X-MAN goes to where Galactus is, and he just... stares him down. No seriously, that’s it. They have a FUCKING STARING CONTEST, and Galactus pussies out and leaves the planet. That is how they save the world. And honestly? I’m not sure if that is awesome or boring as shit. I’m really not.

And then it just gets weirder. After Galactus leaves Earth out of boredom from the staring contest or whatever, the X-MAN (it really is always related in capital letters, I promise) reverts back to Reed, Banner, and Prof. X, except now they have no powers. And all of the sudden, Ben Grimm turns back into the Thing (I guess he sort of watched it all happen, whatever), except now he’s got the strength and mind of the Hulk too! And General Ross is now chasing him, and NONE OF THIS SHIT MAKES ANY SENSE AT ALL!

So.... yeah, I really do not get what the hell is going on in this comic, and keep in mind I’ve read pretty much every comic they reference in here. It’s not a complete train wreck, most of the middle I kind of like, but.... WHAT. I mean, at least it wasn’t boring, but even under the liberal parameters of “comic book science” I can not stress how ridiculous the endgame plot is, or how little sense it makes. All of the stuff I like about Betty and Bruce dealing with Bruce’s condition gets overridden by how bat-shit-crazy the ending is, and what the hell is going on with the Thing at the very end? Oy!

The comic isn’t completely shitty. It’s just completely insane, and not really in a good way.

Next week! What if the Avengers had Never Been? Which frankly, I thought we kind of covered this week, but hey, who am I to judge the work of writer Jim Shooter?*

*= Other than anyone who has actually read any of the work of Jim Shooter? And yes, that’s his real last name. Which is awesome. Some of his work? Not so much.

Wednesday, May 11, 2011

What If Wedsnesday: What If Spider-Man Had Joined the Fantastic Four?

Every Wednesday, The Amazing Justin Palm! gets drunk as shit and reviews an issue of Marvel Comics’ “What If?” so that you, the reader, can enjoy his drunken ramblings about a comic book whose sole purpose is to talk about shit that never happened, so it doesn’t matter at all. Dear Internet: You’re welcome.

So! First of these columns, and it’s actually sort of topical. This particular story takes place during the events of Amazing Spider-Man 1-2 and Fantastic Four 12-14, both of which I’ve fairly recently reviewed. The story is by Roy Thomas, which is a good sign, and asks a question that... ugh... was recently answered after the Human Torch “died”. (Yeah. Because dying off camera in a comic book means you’ll never come back ever. OF COURSE.)

Now, I’ve said it before, and I will say it again, but I have long maintained that I am philosophically opposed to any version of the Fantastic Four with Spider-Man as a member where the rest of the team ISN’T Wolverine, the Hulk, and Ghost Rider, but... honestly, this is a pretty solid story. Instead of running off like a little bitch, Spider-Man agrees to stick with the FF because Reed Richards stops being such a greedy bastard (“You want to go on crazy space adventures for me AND get paid enough to keep you’re elderly, barely alive aunt breathing through modern medicine? Fuck off asshole!”), so Peter joins the FF and everything is awesome. Seriously, they have a press conference, and Spider-Man is being heckled by America’s Greatest Newspaper Man, J. Jonah Jameson, and all the sudden Reed Richards is all “Dude, I’m backin’ my hommie” and JJJ SHUTS THE FUCK UP. Apparently, being backed up by the smartest guy on the planet gives you street credit.

Anyway, the new Fantastic Five fight the Vulture, the Red Ghost, and pretty much everything else pretty much about as it happened in the ‘real’ universe (comics aren’t really real, but you know, whatever). EXCEPT! When the FF go to the moon to fight the Red Ghost, Reed only has room for four in his rocket ship, and basically tells Sue that the men are talking, so she gets stuck on Earth while the rest of the team goes off to have an awesome moon adventure. Which by itself would be dickish and boring, except that at the same time, Namor the fucking sub-mariner has been mind controlled by the fucking Puppet Master, the Villain Who Makes The Least Amount Of Sense Ever In The History Of Comics Ever. ANYWAY! Sue joins his underwater kingdom, because she’s bored with Reed now that he has a man-crush on Spider-Man, and when the rest of the Fantastic Five get back to Earth, Reed FREAKS THE FUCK OUT. That is because Reed Richards is the most mentally unstable man on the planet, who at any time he doesn’t win Susan Storm’s heart ends up killing us all, and I promise to prove that in the coming weeks.

Anyway, there’s some mind control bullshit and stuff going on still, but essentially (heh) when the rest of then team gets home and realizes Sue is gone, they decide to go to what little is left of Atlantis to fuck Namor’s shit up. They go, there’s a mostly boring rehash of FF #14 (although it’s hard to hate any story where the Thing fights a giant octopus), and anyway! In this version of the story, after all the mind control crap is over, Sue decides she (as the only women on the team) feels like the fifth wheel on the new F5, and so she leaves Reed for Namor. And despite my comments earlier, Reed doesn’t destroy the universe.... for now.

Okay, so (*drunken*) seriously: for the first issue of a series that no one knew would really take off? Pretty decent-to-good. Is it the best issue of What If? ever? Of course not, it’s issue fucking number one. But it is SOLID, and that counts for something. I first read it when I was 14 (I promise, most of these issues I haven’t read before I review them, but I have an old copy of the “Best Of What If”, okay?) and despite not appreciating Silver Age Marvel History like I do now, it was pretty cool then, and it’s pretty cool now. So yeah. For a pilot episode? Not bad.

Next Week! What if the Hulk had the brain of Bruce Banner! I assume it will be a lot like most of the Hulk comics later in Peter David’s run?

P.S.: I haven’t actually read Peter David’s run on Hulk (yet), though I’ve heard it’s pretty good. And I’m one of the three people who read his entire run on Captain Marvel, so.... I probably ought to?

P.S.S.: Seriously, I fucking loved Peter David’s Captain Marvel. Seriously.