Friday, February 22, 2008

Comics Are Expensive: Umbrella Academy #6, Immortal Iron Fist, Crossing Midnight Vol. 2

A rather light week at the comic shop this week, with only a handful of things I really had to have. The $25 price tag on the first volume of Sinestro Corps proved to be something of a mixed blessing – while pushing the hardcover out of my budget, it left enough room for volume two of Crossing Midnight. The first TPB of The Atheist and issue #4 of Angel, both supposed to ship this week, were no where to be found, but hopefully they’ll turn up soon before some other shiny thing grabs my attention and my wallet.

Spoilers ahead, as always.


Writer: Gerard Way
Artist: Gabriel Ba

And so Gerard Way, lead singer of emotatastic Band-That-Hot-Topic-Built My Chemical Romance brings his first foray into comics to a close. Only it’s not his first brush with the medium, technically – the story goes that Way was an intern at DC years ago, and even then was chomping at the bit to create comics of his own. When nothing came of it, he fell back on that most tried and true of Plan B’s: International rock superstar. Good to see the kid catch a break at last, eh?

I enjoyed the hell out of Umbrella Academy for several reasons, only a few of them stemming from the Hey, this guy can actually write surprise of the first issue. Gabriel Ba’s distinctive artwork certainly had something to do with the initial attraction – after the fantastic job he did with Matt Fraction on the first arc of Casanova, it was clear that, for the first time in pretty much ever, I’d be following an artist around the industry, picking up anything he cared to work on.

Ba’s work here has more than made the trip worthwhile, creating an interesting, solid world for the team and their adventures to rampage through in just six short issues. Sure, it’s not the sort of place you’d want to live, filled as it is with alien squid things with a love of wrestling, sleeping doomsday devices waiting for the perfect Spring day, and masked orchestras playing their way to the end of everything, but it’s a world nonetheless, and one that delights in vivid colors, mad architecture, and countless opportunities for Ba to show of. I hope he’s along for future installments, because it’s hard to imagine anybody else capturing the heroic profile of Spaceboy’s ape body in quite the same glory.

On to the story itself, this issue isn’t quite as neat as the five before it – there’s a lot to resolve, after all, between the end of the world, chunks of the moon falling to Earth, and a whole mess of daddy issues, and one suspects that a truly satisfying ending might require just one more issue to wrap things up properly. That said, it’s still a lot of fun, with almost everybody getting what they deserve, and there are far worse things than having to read a good comic twice to make sure I caught everything.

Way’s been very up front in interviews about his love of Grant Morrison, and while the influence of comic’s own pop magician is felt throughout, it’s just that – influence. Umbrella Academy avoids the lazy trap of trying to lift Morrison’s shtick wholesale that has claimed so many would-be talents, instead showing a real understanding of the blend of great character moments and cool, understated responses to absurdity that made books like Doom Patrol work so well in the first place. It’s a fantastic first effort, and proves there’s much more to this Gerard Way guy than his day job of making awesome music videos.

BUY STATUS: The letter page promises more to come, which will hopefully happen sooner rather than later. Expect a trade in a few months to fill in any nasty deficits in awesome your bookshelves may be suffering from.


Writer: Matt Fraction

Artists: Nick Dragotta, Mike Allred, Mitch Breitweiser,
Chris Brunner, Lewis Larosa, and Russ Heath

One of the best bits of Ed Brubaker and Matt Fraction taking over Iron Fist was the introduction of Orson Randall, rogue Iron Fist of the Golden Age who knew more about the power that came with the name than Danny Rand could hope to imagine. While he’s been dead for several issues now, the repercussions of his return are still being felt, the most important of which being the year’s in the making revolution that seems ready to consume the mystic city of K’un-Lun. This one-shot serves double duty in the slow build up to war, filling an empty month in Iron Fist’s publishing schedule while providing a bit of back story for both Orson and a character bound to become more important in the near future: John Aman, The Prince of Orphans.

And what do you know: it’s pretty great. With a different art team handling each chapter, this issue takes place over several decades, dipping into some of Randall’s adventures with his friends the Confederates of the Curious and their constant race to stay one step ahead of The Prince. The result is an interesting twist on your typical Golden Age story – against this backdrop of a world where Cowgirls from Hell and Kid Frankensteins are the norm, there’s a real sense of innocence lost that follows the characters from one end of the book to the other.

As Randall flees his responsibilities as an Immortal Weapon and the death sentence on his head, the Prince nipping at his heels is a constant reminder that he can’t run forever, that sooner or later he’ll have to face the reality chasing after him. The question is, is it better to choose how and when to face the inevitable, or to keep running? And what will that choice say about the man called Iron Fist?

While not the best jumping on point for the on-going story playing out in the monthly title, this one-off shows a lot of potential for pulling in new readers just by virtue of being a fun, action-filled story with a brain. What it lacks in the slow boil plotting of the regular series it more than makes up for in capturing the character beats that work so well there. It’s a small sample of the sort of man Orson Randall was; maybe not showing him at his most ass-kicking, but perhaps showing him at his most human. While I’m looking forward to getting back to the “Seven Capital Cities of Heaven” storyline next month, it was great to spend a little more time with the previous Iron Fist and the sort of people he called friends. Hopefully, this isn’t the last we’ll see of him.

BUY STATUS: I’d happily buy more of the adventures of Orson Randall, but it doesn’t look like there’s going to be any for a while. Iron Fist has inexplicably become my favorite Marvel comic since the start of the new series, however, so I doubt I’ll have to look far for consolation.


Writer: Mike Carey
Artist: Jim Fern

Crossing Midnight is a lot of things. It’s a story about a twin brother and sister, one born just before midnight and the other just after, when there was only ever supposed to be one of them. It’s a fairy tale about the Japanese Kami, spirits of the Shinto faith living in the objects around us, and the sort of trouble you can cause by asking them for a simple favor. And, of course, it’s about growing up, and the horrible responsibilities we have to take on as we move from one world to the next.

More than anything else, though, Crossing Midnight is further proof that Mike Carey is at his best when working on his own creations rather than being the best Neil Gaiman cover band in the world. In the tradition of My Faith in Frankie and his work for DC’s Minx line, he creates complex and intriguing characters with intriguing ease, assembling a cast as adept at moving the story forward into more and more interesting territory as they are at providing tastes of the larger, older tale happening around it.

Within the six issues here, we get the story of Yamada, former servant of the true Lord of Knives turned police detectives with one of the more imaginative curses I’ve seen in a while, Uso-Tsuki the Liar, a pair of extremely resourceful scissors who is never quite what it seems, and Mimi-Sama, retired porn star with a heart of gold and a demon in her belly. All this is before you even meet the Gleamer, a truly monstrous creature that I can’t imagine we’ve seen the last of. If all volume two of this series did was throw characters at you, it’d be more than worth your $14.99 without the first hint of story.

Luckily, however, there’s lot of that to go around as well. While technically divided into chapters, the story here and its many plot lines are far denser than most Vertigo titles, giving each beat all the room it needs to hit just right and not leaving a lot of space for playing catch up or convenient points of entry. To truly appreciate the slow and steady escalation Carey and artist Jim Fern are creating here (and in a lot of ways, to just understand what the hell is going on), you really need to pick up “Cut Here”, the first trade available at finer comic shops for a mere $9.99.

Without the full story, it’ hard to properly appreciate the constant creep of the strange into the lives of siblings Toshi and Kai, and more importantly the way it tends to explode in sudden, violent outbursts of horror like a pipe bursting. Caught between the twin forces of the adult world and the mythical one crashing in on them, it’s hard to imagine a happy ending for our heroes. But then, as Crossing Midnight is one of the few books out there that manages to genuinely surprise with each issue, it’s impossible to say how it’s all going to come down.

Unfortunately, it looks like we won’t have to wait long to find out. The solicits out this week have the final issue arriving in May, making Crossing Midnight the most recent book to fall victim to the week monthly sales (despite trade sales being reportedly strong) plaguing DC’s more adult line. To be a Vertigo book is to stand on shaky ground these days – the line seems to have lost its sense of direction, and while it casts about for a new one few of its newer books have the assurance of safety that comes with a Y the Last Man or Fables. It’s a shame, and a real loss for Vertigo.

With any luck, Carey and Fern will have received enough of a head’s up to bring the series to a suitable end point, leaving fans wanting more but begrudgingly satisfied with what they got. I swear, if Crossing Midnight becomes another of comics’ great, unfinished works, I’m throwing some sort of fit for at least a week. Stomping my feet and holding my breath till I turn blue TBD...

BUY STATUS: Getting the next trade, certainly, and buying up copies of the first one as presents for all manner of people. One less reason to pay attention to Vertigo, then.

And that’s that. I’m feeling the need to shake things up a little – my reading needs a bit of new blood, so to speak, and I’m considering an approach that at best will introduce me to some fun new stuff and, at worst, provide a bit of bile to balance out the love-in of these first three columns. More on that later, probably, and in the meantime feel free to leave suggestions in the comments or email them to

Chris Lamb is a registered Expertologist.


  1. I have to agree with your assessment of Iron Fist. It certainly continued fleshing out the backstory of KunLun, Orson, and Danny's father. I don't think I have seen this much time spent on the backstory of K'un L'un.

    It did unfortunately slow down the lightning pace of the tournament story.

    And if you enjoy The Umbrella Academy, I'll re-recommend Atomic Robo by Red 5 Comics.

  2. I think that's part of what I love about the book so much: it's added a depth to the character and the history surrounding him that's miles beyond anything else I've seen done with Iron Fist. Hell, just using his power for more than hitting things was awesome enough for me, but Brubaker and Fraction just keep impressing.

    I'll keep an eye out Atomic Robo next week. It looks like a trade is coming out soonish, which should be helpful.

  3. I never quite thought that Crossing Midnight "clicked"--it's full of brilliant imagery and good ideas, but I didn't feel the emotional involvement in it that I wanted to, or that I did during the best parts of Carey's Hellblazer and Lucifer. I'll still miss it.

    Vertigo gets some credit for letting books have (nearly) two years to find an audience--remember the bad old days of the late 1990s when both Marvel and DC were regularly canceling titles after ten, six, four issues? Anyone who can't tell a complete story in 20 issues just isn't trying.

  4. "Anyone who can't tell a complete story in 20 issues just isn't trying."

    I think it's less a matter of "can't", and more a matter of that not really being the plan for the book. Not knowing the creator's intent for the story after twelve issues, there's no way of telling what issue 19 would have been were it not now the final one. Who knows how far they were into the next story arc when word came down that the series was ending? Either they got enough warning to begin wrapping things up nicely, or just enough to try adjust the current storyline to serve as the de-facto end of the book. Whether they can tell a complete story in twenty issues or not isn't really the question here, unless that's how long they planned the series to be in the first place.

  5. Just a note on ATHEIST and ANGEL- the ATHEIST trade did come out this week and it's nice to have that finally collected, given how long the issues took to come out individually; and ANGEL was severely allocated everywhere because there was some problem with a truck somewhere on Diamond's end. So, if your store has a subscription service, those people are likely the only ones who got it, and if not, it probably disappeared faster than usual.

  6. Note to self: pick up the first Crossing Midnight trade tomorrow.

    I'm looking forward the Atomic Robo trade. I like Brian Clevinger's 8-bit Theater, so I want to try his other stuff.

  7. Dan: Thanks! I'll look a bit harder for The Atheist next week - after growing accustomed to waiting ages between issues, I can definitely hold off on getting the trade for a little longer if I know it actually it exists.

    Patrick: You won't be disappointed, I hope. The first volume ends with several mysteries still unanswered, but the second trade is very good at providing answers for some of the more pressing ones. Let me know what you think of it once you finish it.

  8. If you're looking for new blood you should check out Booster Gold. I'm loving the heck out of that title. Do you follow Invincible? That's another title thats consistently good. It doesn't come out very often most of the time either, so its not too hard on my wallet.

  9. I get Invincible in trades, and really, really enjoy it. It's the superhero comics equivalent of really good pop music - light, fast, fun, and often about girls.

    I quite liked the first few issues of Booster Gold, but decided to start collecting it trades for budget purposes. I think the first trade is either out or out soon, though, so I should pick it up soon.

  10. As an alumni of SVA and ex-classmate of Gerard Way, I can at least voucher somewhat his comic book roots, he along Aaron Tappen (EX-DC staffer), Dave Roman and Henry Manfra (Current DC Production God, or so I've been told!) all took Klaus Janson's class and he was there for every class for over 2 years. I do have to admit that I cannot recall what his art looked like but he did have a deeper passion and understanding of comics than most. In fact I think we also took a Writing for Comics class with Jack C Harris and he did well from what I remember Jack telling him. But more power to him if the rockstar road got him what he wanted faster than animation and comics. Hell, it's a long, ardous road but if you stick to it, you'll get there.

    Val, where do you get all these cool images??