Essay: How Carmelo and the Knicks Stopped Making Sense
As the value of “superstars” in this league continues to rise, a separate stock has emerged as equally valuable: the Hercules. The players who are so good, they can win games on their own. Their will-to-win terminates any sort of advantage opponents had over them.
This isn’t referring to players who can have really, really good games on occasion, like Kobe Bryant when his shots actually go in, or Rudy Gay when the Raptors face the Bobcats. It refers to players who every night have the aura of greatness, as if angels should blow horns, heralding their arrival to decimate your pathetic team. LeBron James is the obvious prime example of this, effortlessly putting up 26 points, eight rebounds, and seven assists every night. While many choose to focus on Kevin Durant’s scoring, he has an exceptionally well-rounded game as well, notching 28 points a night, eight rebounds, and four-and-a-half assists.
Credit can be given to the maturity of these two guys, as well as their ability to lead their teams and command respect. Throw in their unique physical figures (LeBron’s super ripped, tight end body, Kevin’s bizarre lanky-yet-muscular stature) and they’re two unbeatable players. They are Gods amongst men.
After the week Carmelo Anthony has had, if he isn’t a God, he’s damn sure got a great-looking robe and a long white beard.
Most of the media and fans have pretty much accepted Carmelo Anthony as one of “those” players. Y’know, the ones who are great, all-star caliber, deserve a max contract, lead the team in scoring, blah blah blah. He’s a superstar, sure, but he’s a human one. He has flaws, so therefore he’s only really great until someone brings up LeBron or Durant, or better yet, Melo’s playoff record (one round and out in eight out of nine appearances). After a very, very hot start to the season, the Knickerbockers had quite the cold January, February, and first half of March. Not all Carmelo’s fault, mind you. In fact, it was barely his fault. It was hard to believe that if Carmelo was on the same level as Durant and James, that the collapse they had would have happened.
Yet, the Knicks have bounced back and are playing the best basketball of the season, and they’re doing it the same way they got those 6- and 5-game win streaks earlier in the season. They’re playing tough defense, and the threes are going down smooth. It doesn’t hurt to have JR Smith absolutely gunning for that Sixth Man of the Year award, either. It’s been agreed that this has been Smith’s best season anyways, but in during this win streak, he’s averaged 24 points, six rebounds, a couple of assists and a steal in about 35 minutes of play per night.
Throw in four games of over 30 points, while putting up 49% shooting and 35% from downtown over 12 games, and it seems Smith has secured his place as a key factor on this Knicks team. It’s been Carmelo’s play over the past four games that has got people noticing these Knicks, though, and may very well change the playoff picture.
There’s been no shortage of praise for Anthony’s scoring abilities, both in his jump-shooting and ability to get to the line. Prior to these four games, he already had 23 games in which he scored 30 or more points. That’s over a third of the games he’s played this season. It’s also not the first time he’s been able to string together multiple games of scoring 30+, having scored like that in back-to-back games nine times already. It’s the sheer amount of points, and more notably, the timing of his personal streak that has potential playoff opponents nervous, including those at the top
Over the past four games, Melo has averaged 42 points per game on, get ready, 61% shooting and 56% from downtown. Tack on eight rebounds, and the numbers are nearly gobsmacking. So who has he been demolishing? Well, it all started when he dropped 50 on a LeBron-and-Wade-less Heat while shooting 69% on the road. The next night (yes, the next night, not just the next game) he went into Atlanta and casually put up 40. 90 points in two nights is the stuff of legend. But he one-upped himself, putting in 41 points against the Bucks, and throwing in 14 rebounds for good measure, in just 37 minutes of play. Certainly plenty could scoff at a great player like Melo running down teams that are generously described as “playoff-caliber”, but there’s no ignoring what he did against the Thunder in the fourth game.
In what was hyped, rightfully or not, as a head-to-head battle for the scoring title, Carmelo easily beat out Kevin Durant on KD’s home turf. Scoring 36 points to Durant’s 27 put Anthony in the insanely slim lead for the PPG title, but going deeper than that, he outright played better on every level. He shot 51% to KD’s 41%. Twelve rebounds to three rebounds. Zero turnovers to four. True, KD got more assists, but considering how Anthony usually plays, nobody’s quick to point that out.
After the down season he had last year, it seems Carmelo Anthony is finally putting this team on his back, but he’s had a lot of help, too. For all the clamor and hype about “superstars” and contracts and markets, Carmelo has emerged as a leader above all else, and these Knicks are prepared to follow him. Currently sitting at the number two seed, the Knicks are projected to take on the Boston Celtics in the first round, a team they’ve been able to handle this season. The Pacers could provide a real challenge in the second round, but of course, everybody’s looking at the potential of LeBron vs. Carmelo in the conference finals. Can Anthony will this team, and himself, to a victory over a god? To quote Hercules himself, “Whatever Thor canst do, Hercules canst accomplish more mightily!”
Of course, that’s Marvel Comics’ Hercules saying that, but hey, anything is possible.
Comic Book Review: Young Avengers #1-3
As it would turn out, graduating from college and applying to jobs takes up a lot of time, especially when punctuated with episodes of crying and wondering what the hell you’re going to do with your life. However, I have been able to keep up with some of Marvel’s new series, and few series got me more excited than the new Young Avengers. For the first time in the series’ relatively brief history, the title is under a creative team other than Allan Heinberg and Jim Cheung. One of the biggest complaints about Young Avengers arcs in the past has been the delay in their publishing. Due to Heinberg’s outside writing commitments, Young Avengers was an infrequently published title, and there was usually a two-month wait between issues. This time, the title is headed by writer Kieron Gillen (Uncanny X-Men, Journey Into Mystery, Iron Man) and artist Jamie McKelvie (Defenders, X-Men: Season One), who worked together prior to their Marvel days.
Thus far, Gillen and McKelvie have masterfully worked with and played towards Young Avengers’ tight-knit fanbase, updating their Tumblrs with notes on each issue, giving thorough commentary on pages, and interacting with fans on a daily basis. This is probably the most accessible work Gillen has made so far, with his runs on Uncanny X-Men, JiM, and even his current run on Iron Man getting derailed by the major Marvel “events” of the past two years, such as Fear Itself and AvX. Rather, the Young Avengers are really off in their little corner of New York, though they have paid a visit to Avengers Mansion already. While each team member has been around the Marvel Universe for a while now, we’re getting a chance to see Gillen work without interruption and with the ability to keep the flow from storyline to storyline going without fear of having these characters be changed by major Marvel events. Plus, he gets new team members to play with.
So with all that said, I suppose I should actually talk about these three issues. Since the events of Children’s Crusade and the effective breakup of the team, each member has gone off to a fairly normal life, with Kate part-timing with Hawkeye and hooking up with Noh-Varr (Marvel Boy), Billy and the orphaned Teddy living with Billy’s foster parents (and still being a couple), while Eli and Tommy are nowhere to be seen (RIP Cassie). Meanwhile Kid Loki, one of the most beloved characters from Gillen’s run on Journey into Mystery (a series I admittedly never understood) is able to detect that grave danger is coming, and that Billy will be the source. Thus he summons the fairly unknown Miss America Chavez to kill Billy, which she isn’t into at all, and she attempts to kick Loki’s butt. So what was this grave danger Billy was putting everyone in? Well, after getting into an argument with Teddy and feeling guilty, he decides to bring back his dead mom from a universe in which she’s alive. Turns out, though, that the “mom” he brought back is actually some kind of horrible living parasite taking over people’s minds and bodies while being made of melted puddy. Oh, and Kate and Marvel Boy are fighting Skrulls in spaceships, though we haven’t seen them since issue one.
Let me just say, these threes issues are quite good. Granted, being a huge fan of the original team and series, I was way too excited for this. The first issue is in no way action-packed, and the team doesn’t exist yet, so we get a lot of one-on-one, serious business conversations. The wit that filled previous issues isn’t appropriate in these first three, though I loved the Game of Thrones reference (of course Billy and Teddy are huge fans). Still, the dialogue is very natural between characters, and their personalities remain relatively true to their teen ages. Which is perhaps why I can somewhat forgive how the whole crisis this storyline surrounds began. Billy, after arguing with Teddy about the fact that the latter was still going on patrols, especially after two of their friends had died last time ’round, feels bad about getting so angry, since hero-ing is all Teddy has without a family. So Billy decides to rip open some holes in the universe to find his mom.
Y’see why that doesn’t make sense? Why would the character, who’s powers manipulating space/time/reality resulted in dead friends, who got angry over his boyfriend knocking out some thugs, decide that his first act of using his powers since, would be to do… THAT? Gillen has Billy contradict himself three pages in! Again, I’m willing to overlook this because he’s a teenager, and teens are sometimes compulsive idiots who don’t think before they act, and often act selfishly, even when trying to help others. You’d think a superhero teen who has seen some shit and who’s powers got WAY out of hand previously would exercise a little more caution, though.
The art is spectacular, but not in a flashy way. Faces are drawn very well, and the clothes each character wears fits them perfectly. The colors stand out most, though, with even the darkest scenes being filled with rich, vibrant tones. McKelvie’s art meshes the cartoon-style of the comic book world with the real emotion and look of modern cities and people. Aside from some odd-looking faces on occasion, McKelvie’s art fits the emotions of these characters perfectly. As lumpy as the start of the series has been, I have total confidence in this creative team that they’ll make sure their Young Avengers are as worthy of the love of their fans as the previous iteration was.
Also, Noh-Varr danced around in his undies to Motown records. So there’s that.
In case you missed it, my name is Aaron Weiss, and this is my website, warts and all. It has all of my published work, both non-fiction and fiction, serious and satirical, this and that. It’s alright if you didn’t catch that the first time around. You’re a busy person, what with your job and the kids. I get it, really.
I am a recent graduate of Bowling Green State University in Bowling Green, OH, having received my Bachelor of Arts in Communication, majoring Telecommunications with a focus in Radio. I’m pursuing my great love of writing on a both creative and functional scale, and doing my best to make a living at it. If you’d like to contact me with questions or regarding a job opening, feel free to email me at email@example.com, or call me at (708) 822-5963.
Josh Smith is Predictable Money
We pretend like basketball is something we can predict. That we know how games are going to go, how players are going to perform, and who will be victorious in the end. This isn’t like football, where the season is so short and the game so physical that having a “bad day” could mean a ticket to the playoffs or not. It’s also not like baseball, where there’s so many games, a team could have dozens of hot or cold streaks in just a couple of months. Basketball can’t even be compared to hockey, because it’s so low-scoring, it could very well come down to a guy being in the right place at the right time, no matter how good or bad the team is. With basketball, the ball don’t lie. You can watch every play, see every movement from every player, and know how things are going to go. You know how the teams are going to match up. That’s not to say an inferior team can’t win, it happens all the time. Except you know that when it counts, they won’t win. The other team is better, because they play better, and usually, because they want it more.
There are exceptions. Jeremy Lin was quite a surprise last season, but we can chalk that up to either poor scouting, right place/right time, and the fact that Jeremy just got better. He’s come back to Earth now, but still shows that incredible skill on occasion. I’m sure not many people predicted the Lakers doing this poorly, though we knew they’d still be human. We saw the depth of their bench (none), and looking at how a previous super team worked out (the Heat, duh), we knew that it’d probably take a year before things really clicked.
Of course, nobody predicted how much Jim Buss would shit the bed and panic, but that’s another story for another time. On the subject of predictability in the NBA, there may be nothing more so than the trade deadline. In a game that seems easier and easier to predict, fans are constantly searching for solutions to losing streaks, sudden injuries, and humps that seem impossible to get over. One of the main reasons Jason Collins is still in this league, while bouncing around from contender to contender, is because he’s able to stop certain centers from playing their best, particularly Dwight Howard. How can a guy with a 52 rating on NBA 2k13 be more coveted by a playoff team than, say, Rudy Gay? The answer is money. The answer is almost always money. It’s the reason why Josh Smith wasn’t traded before the deadline.
In retrospect, despite all the discussion surrounding his name, and the sheer volume of rumors that were out there, it shouldn’t be a surprise that Smith stayed put. Hawks GM Danny Ferry is no idiot. Why take on a bunch of contracts in a pu-pu platter of guys who won’t really help you improve? The rare exception to this would be a move like Danny Ferry made to ship off Joe Johnson, and help kickstart the rebuilding process. In return he received Johan Petro, Jordan Farmar, Anthony Morrow, DeShawn Stevenson, and Jordan Williams.
With the exception of Stevenson, all are already gone from the team, with Stevenson’s next two years on his contract being non-guaranteed. So yeah, they got basically nothing but a first round pick in a shitty draft… this year. It’s what they might have for next season that matters, because they might have the best team in the NBA. They might have Chris Paul. They might have Dwight Howard. Brandon Jennings, Manu Ginobli, Andrew Bynum, and Al Jefferson are all guys who could possibly end up with the Hawks. Heck, maybe a couple of these guys could.
That’s because The Hawks will have less than 19 million dollars on the books for this upcoming offseason. That’s it. Al Horford, Lou Williams, and rookie John Jenkins will be the only players with guaranteed contracts. That leaves room for at least one max contract, and if it’s a big enough name, who knows who’d be willing to play for less for a shot at a ring? The Cleveland Cavaliers pulled off a similar move, no surprise as GM Chris Grant worked directly under Ferry until the latter’s resignation in 2010.
Now, Cleveland has 32 million dollars in guaranteed contracts this summer, but it’s the players signed to those contracts that matter: Kyrie Irving, Anderson Varejao, Dion Waiters, Tristan Thompson, Tyler Zeller, Marreese Speights, and Alonzo Gee, with Irving, Waiters, Thompson, and Zeller all playing on rookie contracts. They’d be even sweeter off for the next off-season, with even more contracts off the books, and perhaps the return of Lebron, as the King himself has publicly teased.
So why would a team ever pay the maximum for a guy like Josh Smith, who is an All-Star caliber with poor decision-making skills who has shown no interest in being a team leader, and who’s skills have plateaued? Because this league is all about the haves and the have-nots. It’s about who you can put on the marquee to make money. As an owner, giving a talented, well-known player huge money really isn’t that much of a risk. Josh Smith will draw enough attention and buzz around any team he goes to, so the sales of tickets and merchandise will rise, and that’s the real bottom line for team owners. Even if you end up losing, you can keep baiting fans into buying tickets by drafting touted players, making trades, LOOKING better than you did the prior year, even if that facade is broken come playoff time, when you’ve put together another 7-seed that’s getting bounced in the first round.
Of course, there’s a reason Josh Smith can’t come back to Atlanta. The long con that was Johnson/Smith/Horford dried up at least a year before Johnson was traded to Brooklyn. The fans caught on, and tickets weren’t being sold. It took years for that to happen though, and as an owner, if you’re getting years of price-gouged tickets being sold to duped fans, buying 30-dollar t-shirts and 5-dollar hot dogs to watch your team lose by 15 to the Heats and Thunders of the league. The added bonus, of course, is that if your team is actually good, then you don’t look like an idiot for giving Josh Smith all that money! But you have to be really good. The Bulls are learning this the hard way *COUGH* Carlos Boozer *COUGH*.
What the player get out of this though? Uh, money. They get money out of this. “Sure, sure,” you say, “but won’t they look like douchebags for accepting so much money even while losing? Won’t the fans resent them?” Well, maybe. Depends on the player. Kobe Bryant is set to get about 30 million next year. But a) he has rings and, more importantly, b) he looks like he’s trying really hard not to lose. When you see Dwight Howard jack up 15-footers while double teamed when the Lakers are down by 9 with 2:30 left to play, then not hustle back on defense and smile and goof off in the huddle, yeah, that’s pretty fucking infuriating. But because Kobe, Derrick Rose, Kevin Durant, and other truly great players never, ever quit, and are violently ill with competition, you don’t mind.
Why do you think Dwight smiles, then? Because he’s getting paid a lot of money to play his favorite sport for 7-9 months, then getting to do whatever the fuck he wants during the summer, all while being young, ripped as hell, swingin a big dick (probably, right?) surrounded by beautiful women, beautiful homes, beautiful cars, and adoring fans. I mean, c’mon, I’d be starstruck as hell if I ever met Dwight, and I think he’s an asshole. The point is, Dwight’s not sweatin’ when freaking Byron Mullens drops a three in his face in the second quarter when the Lakers are up 13. He probably should, but it’s hard to blame him when he doesn’t.
So don’t be surprised when Josh Smith gets overpaid. Don’t be surprised when either the Heat or Spurs win the title, despite not having a single player signed to a max deal. Most importantly, don’t be surprised when the answer to all your questions – “Why didn’t we sign that guy?” “Why didn’t we trade for that guy?” “Why did we give that guy such a big contract?” “Why aren’t we getting better?” – turns out to be what it always is: money.
How The Bulls Are Blooming Without Rose
Even as a Bulls fan, I often forget that Derrick Rose was ever named MVP. It just feels like we’ve been living in this era where LeBron dominates everything, and anything he doesn’t, Kevin Durant does. R0se won the award based on his numbers and his talent, as all MVPs do, but it took a lot to get those numbers and to reach that talent. He was only 22, and in his first season with coach Tom Thibodeau.
A lot of the improvement from Thibs’ coaching would come the next season, in his defense and outside game. That MVP season and that run in the playoffs was based on will. Desire. Passion. That’s also what’s keeping this Rose-less team not just afloat, but succeeding beyond wildest expectations. Chicago is in third place in the Eastern Conference, and with Rose returning to contact practices, it seems a matter of time before they retake first place. So how does the fight in these Bulls translate to actual wins?
Let’s break it down, player-by-player. First, there’s Joakim Noah, arguably the team leader at this point, a role he may very well keep when Rose returns. JoNo has always been an emotional player, but in his early years it translated to petulance and streaky play. Thibs has finely channeled Noah’s passion into a full-court monster, executing in almost every facet. He almost has to, considering he’s averaging a jaw-dropping 38 minutes per game, unheard of for a big man, especially one coming off a season with multiple ankle injuries.
His field goal percentage is at a career low 45%, but he’s averaging a career high 10 attempts and 12 points per game. He’s also improved his finesse game, getting less than three fouls per game (pretty good for a big man) and getting a career high four assists per game, executing a sweet drive-and-dish move frequently. Add on his usual 11 rebounds and career-high two blocks, and Noah becomes the Bulls captain on both ends of the court.
The other Bulls All-Star, Luol Deng, led the league in minutes per game last year with 39.4. This year? 39.6. Except this time, he’s brought back his lethal scoring, averaging more points and better field goal percentage than last season, with career-high free throw accuracy. Add in his usual all-around game (six-plus rebounds, three assists), and it’s no wonder why he’s regarded as the prototypical small forward. He’s a better defender than Danny Granger or Rudy Gay, but a better shooter than Metta World Peace and Gerald Wallace. He’s not a superstar like LeBron or KD, but he’s very, very good. Hence the second straight trip to All-Star Weekend.
The player with the All-Star contract, Carlos Boozer, has blossomed this season. He was much maligned the past two seasons for failing to live up to his contract and staying on the court in crucial situations—such as game six against Philly last season, when he sat out the entire second half in favor of defensive wünderkind Taj Gibson. I called for his head, for his contract to be burned at the stake.
This season he’s returned to form, averaging almost 16 points and nearly 10 rebounds in 31 minutes per game. His counterpart, the aformentioned Mr. Gibson, has continued to bring his consistent rage and smashiness to the game, maintaining his averages from the past two seasons. It’s concerning that he hasn’t grown more, but considering Thibs is keeping his minutes at 20 for the past two seasons, it’s hard to see how he could. Time will tell what his ultimate contribution will be.
Marco Belinelli has taken the Kyle Korver role, and reveling in it. It doesn’t hurt that he had a few clutch moments in a row. If you do a side-by-side comparison, there’s not much difference in their overall contribution, until you take into account that Belinelli is also younger, leaving room for improvement. He’s also quicker, making him a more consistent threat on the fast break. He offers a fresh break from the ancient Rip Hamilton. That’s not meant to be a diss on Rip. He’s still putting up 11 points and a couple of assists per game. He may be the only outright failure as a deal for the Bulls, but that’s not saying much, as he still contributes…to a degree.
Then there’s the yin and yang of Hinrich and Robinson, and I don’t mean it in a black/white way. Hinrich is a big distributor, already averaging over three more assists than last season in just three more minutes, and he’s scoring more. Injuries aside, he’s earned his title of “Captain” Kirk. Nate Robinson, on the other hand, has earned his title of “crazy.” The ultimate microwave scorer, Nate has only started five games, but has played in all 44. He’s had multiple games where he’s been the top scorer, and the Bulls have won some of those too. Despite being in the mix as someone who could get released in early January, Robinson made himself important to the team’s success, as an irrational-confidence guy coming off the bench. He’s been doing it his whole career, and for a team that has won 40 straight games when scoring 100 or more points, you need performances likethis.
Topping it all off is the steal of last year’s draft, Jimmy Butler, or has he’s been suddenly dubbed, Jimmy Buckets. Butler was a drafted to be a defensive stopgap for Luol Deng when Deng was on the bench, which would allow for bench players to score more. Not many points to distribute between Boozer, Deng and Rose, ya dig? Within the past month, though particularly the past week or so, he’s become a new scoring threat, scoring 16 against the Warriors and Hawks, 18 against the Pistons and Grizzlies, and a career high 19 against the Bobcats.
Butler is the epitome of the Bulls this season, doing everything you’d expect him to, plus one or two things you didn’t. You expected the Bulls to stay strong on defense, having an awesome 97.8 defensive efficiency, and holding opponents to just 91.5 points per game, both good for third in the league. But they haven’t dropped off in offense, either. Last year they were 18th in points per game. This year? 20th. Last year they were 12th in field goal percentage. This year? Eighth.
Granted, it’s an ugly eighth, and it’s actually two percentage points worse than last year, but it shows they’re still playing the game they want. They’re winning with Bulls basketball. The question is, can Derrick Rose still play Bulls basketball?
Comic Book Review: All-New X-Men #1
I love going out to dinner for a lot of stupid reasons. I like free water. I like ordering my steak the way I want it, and it comes out that way. I like booths. But my favorite thing is the bread before dinner. That hot loaf of bread, ripe for a buttering, is a good omen for your meal. It’s a sign of good faith. It’s the restaurant saying, “hey, don’t worry about us fucking up your dinner. We didn’t fuck up the bread. So why not give us a shot?” All-New X-Men #1 is that loaf of bread. It’s good, but more importantly, it’s likeable.
You might have heard of All-New X-Men. It’s by far the most intriguing new series coming out of Marvel NOW. Y’see, with Cyclops, Magneto, Emma Frost and Magik on the lam as mutant revolutionaries, the good guy X-Men bemoan what has become of Scott Summers. Bobby Drake waxes nostalgia talking about how the way things are now is even worse than the sort of situation the X-Men were always trying to prevent. He also mentions that the Cyclops of old would have “slapped the crap out of” the current Cyclops. Hank McCoy, going through another next-generation mutation (it’s how he got his blue fur), has decided to go back to the Scott of old and, um, maybe bring him back? The issue ends on Modern Beast meeting Young Beast and the whole original gang of X-Men. It’s a refreshing low-stakes cliffhanger from the usual OH GOD HERE’S SOME NEW BAD STUFF HAPPENING WHAT IS GOING TO HAPPEN OH GOD.
So what makes this number one a perfect opener and a good omen for the rest of the series? Well, it’s just plain good. A lot of people were looking forward to going right into the mythos of time travel and science-y stuff from the get-go, but writer Brian Bendis wrote this in a thoroughly Bendis style, with good action, a remarkable amount of splash pages, and simple dialogue that’s true to the characters. Bendis is not an extraordinary writer, but he might be the perfect writer for an X-Men series. Considering so much of recent X-Men history deals with the survival of the species as a whole while weathering in-fighting and new threats. It’s large-scale stuff. Multiple-series stuff. With Bendis’ experience writing both Avengers and New Avengers, thus placing him in control of (essentially) the central characters of the Marvel Universe, he can handle the X-Men on such a wide scope.
For hardcore X-Men fans, I know this isn’t thrilling news. You were just getting used to focusing on one core group, depending on the series, and All-New X-Men is promising to follow the original X-Men team, the teachers of Jean Grey School, and Cyclops’ renegade team. You don’t want JUST competence, you want next level shit. I get it. You do not get next level shit in issue one. But look, Bendis doesn’t undersell ANYTHING. He’s the master of the modern “Next Big Thing” in Marvel, whatever it may be. If you think the original X-Men team coming into the present from the 1960s is going to be ordinary just because Bendis is writing it, you’re going to be wrong. Patience. Treat this issue like it’s the introduction to a book. This might actually be the first book in Bendis’ bibliography that seems to set a slow pace. His Avengers titles have always had explosions from the start of any storyline, so it seems he’s playing the long game with All-New X-Men. That’s a good thing.
Briefly about the art, I’m convinced Stuart Immonen is the new blueprint for every Marvel artist, or at least should be. His style keeps the defined body language and strong faces of the old school, while having a certain looseness that keeps it in reality. The 60s X-Men are drawn BEAUTIFULLY, clearly steeped in their time. If nothing else, this book will not be sore on the eyes.
Comic Book Review: Avengers Academy #39
I haven’t been a die hard comic book reader for very long. Like most people my age, my introduction came in the form of the animated shows of the 90s and early 2000s, like Batman: The Animated Series, X-Men, Spider-Man, and Justice League. That lead me to picking up a couple trade paperbacks, including Marvel’s Civil War, which then lead me to go backwards and read Avengers: Disassembled and the New Avengers series it spawned. That lead me to go through The Initiative era, Secret Invasion, Dark Reign (which had one of my favorite series ever, Dark Avengers), and finally, I was caught up in time to buy my first #1s from comic book shops with the Heroic Age.
At the same time I picked up that Civil War TPB, I also picked up a little book. Seriously, it was tinier than most, and at first I thought it was a, yeugh, manga, except it had the Marvel logo on it. I flipped through the first couple pages, and 2 hours later, I was finally leaving the bookstore after pounding through the first volume. The second I got home, I ordered the rest of the books from Amazon, and followed the series until its cliffhanger conclusion. That series was Runaways, a series that was about a group of teens, born from parents who served as a Los Angeles Illuminati of sorts, who first gained power through mystical means. The Runaways went on the run, dodging heroes and villains alike in their quest to be independent, teenaged heroes. The characters were complex, the dialogue was well-written, and I really formed a bond with the characters.
So when I went to pick up those new Heroic Age issues, the one series I absolutely had to have was Avengers Academy. The story focused on a group of superpowered teens who had gone into the Initiative program, and had horrifying experiments performed on them by Norman Osborn in order to maximize their powers. They were taken under the wings of two of my favorite heroes, Hank Pym and Tigra, and through 39 issues, we saw them grow up, in some cases faster than they would have liked. Christos Gage, the writer of every issue, followed these teen heroes as they found out about their supervillain potential, met their future selves, fought and killed in Fear Itself, and of course, went through teenage awkwardness.
I read this issue as objectively as I could, but this series was truly special for me, and seeing it end is absolutely tragic. But it’s a testament to Gage’s writing that he was able to wrap it up as well as he did. It’s one of the best issues of the series, but obviously, not a starting point for any reader. I beg of you, if you like good comic books with a fair amount of action and characters with tons of depth and development, pick up the series in TPBs or hardcovers. I know I might sound like another fanboy recommending an obscure comic series to read, with his nose held high in the air, but in reality, this is much harder for me to do. Because you are going to get attached to these characters, and you’re going to want to see more of them, and instead, you’re going to see them die. Not in this series mind you. I wouldn’t spoil it THAT badly. No, you’ll have to buy a new series coming out in December. A series called Avengers Arena.
Despite Marvel’s protests, Avengers Arena is, essentially, The Hunger Games with superpowered teens. Y’see, Arcade has made a new Murderworld, a deathtrap-laden hell, and he’s kidnapped these heroes and is forcing them to kill each other—or be killed. Arcade, or more specifically, writer Dennis Hopeless, has gathered up heroes from Avengers Academy, Runaways, and other characters from cult series and has vowed to kill them. Serves us right for becoming fanatical over such poor-selling books, right?
Marvel’s recent history with teen heroes has been positively sadistic. New X-Men, Young Avengers, Runaways, Avengers: The Initiative, Young Allies, andAvengers Academy all introduced amazing and complex teen characters, as anybody who runs a “Fuck Yeah _____” page on Tumblr could tell you. But after giving us a taste of these characters, they’ve all now been split apart, are never seen, or have died (RIP Rikki Barnes, Cassie Lang, and New Vision). A handful have popped up on Wolverine and the X-Men, but are outshone by new characters created for the series (one of whom has already been sent to his old planet, and another brain-dead). The Runaways made a couple appearances on Avengers Academy and Daken: Dark Wolverine, but mostly have been forgotten about over the past four years, though rumors keep swirling about a Runaways movie. There’s a new Young Runaways series coming up that I’m getting way too excited for, especially since two originals are dead, and Patriot and Speed quit, but I have faith in Kieron Gillen as a writer, after seeing his work with Kid Loki. It’s just incredibly frustrating to see these great characters created and killed before introduced in an A-list series.
So why am I asking you to torture yourself by getting attached to Avengers Academy? Because it’s good. Art that is good, no matter the pain associated with it, must be seen, especially by those who claim to love that brand of art. If you love superhero comics, then you must read this series. It’s like watching The Wrestler as a wrestling fan. I’ve only seen it once, but it connected to my emotions in such a powerful way, because I love wrestling so much. Seeing whatever happens to these characters in Avengers Arena will be painful, but I want to see them grow. I want to follow them that badly, for better or worse. As fully aware of Marvel’s intention of capitalizing on the Hunger Games crowd as I am, I cannot abandon these characters. Maybe reading the series will help them survive. Or if they die, maybe they’ll get brought back to life. I know I sound like a loony right now, a desperate fan clinging to what little hope exists. But I challenge you to follow these characters and their story for 39 issues, for two years, for 858 pages of their lives, and not feel the way I do.
Obviously, this is a conditional **** rating. All you need to know is that it’s an excellent end to an excellent series.
Avengers Academy #39. Written by Christos Gage. Art by Tom Grummett. Released November 7, 2012, by Marvel Comics.
Comic Book Review: AvX: Consequences #4
I’m going to start off this review with a terrible analogy. Marvel’s Avengers vs. X-Men was a lot like WCW’s invasion of the WWF. For those of you not in the wrestling know, WCW was a rival wrestling promotion that was bought by the WWF after they went bankrupt. The WWF decided to create a storyline wherein the WCW was “invading” the WWF, thus setting up a ton of dream matches and rivalries. Only it didn’t go quite as planned. The WWF didn’t buy out many of the biggest contracts from AOL-Time Warner, so the wrestlers they actually got were mid-carders or outright unknowns. Thus, we were forced to believe that guys like Booker T or Diamond Dallas Page posed a serious threat to WWF legends like The Undertaker, The Rock, Kane, etc. It just wasn’t believable. The dream didn’t become a nightmare, necessarily. It just became … boring.
I use this terrible analogy because I got the same feeling reading this series as I did watching the “Invasion”. So much promise, so many ways for it to go, and yet they took it in such a boring, declawed direction. It went from being Avengers vs. X-Men, to Avengers vs. the Phoenix Five, with a lot of heroes sitting out. The Phoenix Force kept kicking the Avengers’ ass, every issue, yet, through in-fighting and stupidity, they were defeated. The last issue of the series was a good one, and there was a lot to like about the series, but it lacked a lot of the impact it could have had. If it had truly been good guys vs. good guys, with real moral questions being risen regarding Hope and the Phoenix, then it might have had a serious impact, with the results being something other than dead heroes and new teams. Instead, it was good guys vs. corrupted good guys, with big fights, cities being destroyed, monologues, etc. It became clear around issue seven that the X-Men were now clearly the “villains” in the series, and what they were doing was wrong. The Avengers won. Because they are the good guys.
But the win comes with an asterisk, and it’s kind of a big one. While the Avengers may have arrested Cyclops, the consequence of the Phoenix coming to Earth again was the return of mutants. Some being born, others having their powers suddenly occur. Cyclops’ big theory about the Phoenix was that it would return greatness to the mutant species, and in that regard, he was right. Cyclops was right. That’s where AvX: Consequences brings us, and by issue four (of five), we’ve seen a whole lot of monologues, a lot of “I was right”/”No you weren’t”, and a look at where the fugitive X-Men are.
On its own, issue four is pretty good, much like the rest of the mini-series. It sets up a lot for the future, and both answers questions while asking new ones, questions I presume will be answered during in the final issue and the further consequences of which will be answered in Marvel NOW. But it’s also got some downright stupid points. Like how a certain character we’ve known for years is suddenly a mutant. How about another awkward conversation between Wolverine and Cyclops? They happen all the friggin time in this series, and they last, like, 10 seconds. I get it. There’s beef, but they’re trying to mend a broken friendship. Aw.
Strengthened by good art and some pretty good writing, the issue serves as a strong penultimate issue for the mini-series. I’d recommend picking up this issue and the previous one, as that’s when thing’s start getting a little juicy, though I don’t know if they’re juicy enough at four bucks a pop. That depends on how big of an X-book reader you are. You know who you are. Yeah, I don’t like how they’re treating the New X-Men either. It’s like, why create all these new characters, you have a bunch of awesome ones you don’t even use, am I right? Say, um, I just picked up Justice League: Unlimited on DVD, you wanna come back and watch some with me? Oh, yeah, f’sure. No, no, I was just asking, I get it. Yeah, hey, you can’t miss your grandma’s birthday, you’d be a total asshole, ha ha. Well, uh, can I get your number, and maybe text you later? Cool! Cool, cool, cool.
AvX: Consequences #4 (of 5). Written by Kieron Gillen. Art by Mark Brooks. Released October 31, 2012, by Marvel Comics
Comic Book Review: Avengers #32
Sorry for leading off with that, but if you forced me to give the briefest possible synopsis of this issue, it would be what you read above. The best chiropractor on Earth-616 is a very rich person, put it that way. I’m not saying the borderline-disgusting art took anything away from the issue. No, that would have to be courtesy of the breakneck speed at which Brian Michael Bendis tells his stories. Mind you, I’m not a Bendis hater. I’ve actually been a pretty frequent defender of his. But being given the responsibility of having to write the “big stories” for the main Marvel universe, in addition to working on Marvel’s Ultimate universe has led to Bendis adapting a clear style: using witty banter, even over massive action scenes (of which there’s plenty), and making huge reveals in almost every issue, just to keeping the story moving. The mainstream comic tradition of breaking down comics into distinct 3-, 4-, or 5-issue arcs forces that kind of pace.
To Bendis’ credit, he manages to write pretty well in this style. His dialogue flows well, is rarely awkward, but it can’t avoid the pitfall of leaving the reader wanting more. Just a touch more exposition. Just a little pause for dramatic effect. I don’t think it would have been out of the question for Janet Van Dyne, the OG fucking Wasp, to wring some drama from her return. Instead she’s revealed—kisses for everybody!—and the issue ends with her saying they have to kill the Godfather of the Microverse.
Oh yeah, they’re in the Microverse, because Janet Van Dyne never died, guys! What’s more, she’s shocked anybody thought she was dead, even though she totally sacrificed herself! Instead, they could never find her because she’s too small, and she couldn’t find a transmitter to use her special Avengers communicator for almost 4 years. But there’s no time to explain any of that, because now they have to fight a centaur in bitchin gold armor named Lord Gouzar. What?
Okay, crazy shit aside, let me point out something for my homies with canon-boners as big as mine. In issue 129 of The Incredible Hercules, an issue which I own, we see Janet Van Dyne in Erebus, a casino in Hades where many dead heroes try to earn enough dough to buy their lives back. In fact, they make a whole page out of Herc trying to talk to Janet, but she’s too busy playing a slot machine. She’s there with Goliath, Namorita, Banshee, and a bunch of other heroes that made you geek out just a little bit when you saw them. Don’t lie.
So just to wrap this up in a nice bow, the Avengers receive a signal from the Microverse from a former Avenger who turns out to be Janet Van Dyne, and it ends with them about to fight a centaur Godfather. Also, all the female heroes have ridiculous figures and Simon Williams is trying to be a nice guy again.
Did I forget to mention that? Well, don’t worry about it. It’s about as awkward as the rest of this issue. Still though, THE WASP’S BACK! EEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEE-!
Rating: Avengers #32. Written by Brian Michael Bendis. Art by Mike Mayhew and Brand0n Peterson. Released October 24, 2012, by Marvel Comics.
Comic Book Review: Hawkeye #3
When I first heard that Marvel comics would experience a reboot of sorts, my immediate instinct was to give up. I saw how half-baked the DCnU turned out, andhow quickly the fans came to despise it, though Justice League sales would have you believe something else. I’ve dedicated too much time and care too much about these heroes and their lives to see it all thrown away. So I’m like every other comic book fan, and I’ve got the feminist tumblr to prove it (free Cassie Cain, Stephanie Brown, and Oracle’s wheelchair!). Thankfully, Marvel knew they just needed an organ transplant, while DC decided to create a clone baby to be raised by Dan DiDio, before blowing its own brains out (okay, I’m done). Marvel made small changes, but ones that refreshed the look and feel for longtime readers, while attracting new readers with a series of number ones. Covers would look more like movie posters and have a distinct style. They’ve already started a series that follows the Avengers team as they’re presented in the movies, and Nick Fury is black! They’re giving us new teams and pairing up superheroes that haven’t worked together before (see Uncanny Avengers), while still keeping the past a part of history. The aftermath of Avengers vs. X-Men still hangs over the Marvel NOW! update, and it plays a factor in how things will turn out. The first of these new series, released a little in advance, was Hawkeye.
Written by Matt Fraction with art by David Aja, Hawkeye has the familiar feel of a comic book, yet the layout, the art, the presentation, and the way it carries itself is totally different. It’s pulpy, but not classless. It’s got action, but it’s in no rush to get you to the end. It takes itself seriously, yet it is, without question, very funny (fuck TBS). Obviously, this is not the first comic that’s been pulpy, serious, funny, action-packed while filled with dialogue, but the way it all flows and comes together gives it a unique feel.
Okay, let’s actually talk about this issue, because it’s a good one, and one that is good for new readers. Granted, it’s only the third issue in a series without an arc yet, so it should be good for newbies, but still. Clint Barton in these Hawkeye issues reminds me a lot of a Sherlock Holmes/Dr. House-type, except he doesn’t hate people as much, he cares about the well-being of others, and he gets laid. A lot. So he’s only really like Holmes/House in that he’s kinda grumpy sometimes. That comparison broke down quickly, I know, but try to follow me. He’s continuing that tradition that so many “street heroes” have had of beating up bad guys, taking their money, and helping the community. He rescued a dog that had been hit by a car in the first issue, for crying out loud! In this issue, he sleeps with a hot redhead and gets chased by villains who say “bro” a lot. (Side note: all of the thugs in every issue say “bro” a lot. I think it’s an obsession of Fraction’s. It’s really, really funny.) The issue also continues to highlight the “other” Hawkeye, Kate Bishop, who earned the mantle during her run as a member of the Young Avengers. Kate, being at the youngest in her late teens, makes for a pretty snarky “sidekick” who really just makes fun of Clint and saves his ass a ton. She’s great, and they’re great together. Yes there’s some sort of romantic vibe there. Yes it’s weird, made weirder by the fact that they do have a lot of chemistry with each other. Since they’re not actual people and they theoretically “can’t” have chemistry, consider that another compliment to Fraction’s writing.
Aja’s art is truly fantastic, blending extremely well with Fraction’s art and dialogue. For all the jump cuts, diagrams, and press-pause moments, it’s an issue that, to repeat myself, flows very nicely. The retro/modern look of the comic, along with the unique color palate (courtesy of colorist Matt Hollingsworth) make it stand out. This is a must-read comic, especially for those who may have found Fraction too wordy or slow during his run on Invincible Iron Man. Looking forward to seeing him make Fantastic Four and FF less boring and confusing. Seriously, have you read those lately? KNOCK IT OFF WITH ALL THE PHYSICS TALK, NERDS!
Hawkeye #3. Written by Matt Fraction. Drawn by David Aja. Colored by Matt Hollingsworth. Released October 17, 2012, by Marvel Comics