Thursday, June 01, 2017

Murder at Malibu!

What makes a team book a fun read? The writing and the art are good places to start. The characters need to be interesting. But the biggest reason is that there needs to be a sense of purpose or an overarching theme behind the group.

The Fantastic Four are essentially a family*, Mr. Fantastic is the husband of the Invisible Girl, brother-in-law of the Human Torch and best friend of the Thing. At its core, there’s a family dynamic. The Avengers are Earth’s Mightiest Heroes. They deal with the stuff that no one else can handle. If you’re an Avenger, you’re the best of the best (at least in theory – I’m looking at you Dr. Druid).

* My theory as to why the FF sucks as a movie: there’s not enough time to establish a family dynamic, figure out how to use their powers and deal with a bad guy. Not in two hours. It would be better as a book. When I say this, people always use “The Incredibles” as a counter argument and that kinda works. But the thing is, “The Incredibles” is about a nuclear family: dad, mom, brother, sister and baby. You already know how that works, that dynamic is practically hardwired into your brain, so you don’t need a lot of time to explain it. The FF isn’t a “traditional” nuclear family and time is needed to establish bonds. Why does Sue love Reed when he’s an obvious asshole? Why are Johnny and Ben so close? Why does Ben defend Reed despite Reed constantly fucking him over? There’s no shorthand to this and it’s not stuff that you can get across in two hours.

The X-Men are a little different. They’re together because they’re mutants and half the world hates them, the other half fears them. They needed to be brought together to be taught how to use their powers and work for the betterment of mankind. At least that’s what Professor Xavier says, I think he just wanted to look at some young tail.


Even the Defenders had a reason, even if it was an anti-reason: they were a non-team. That meant if the Hulk doesn’t feel like dealing with the villain of the month, he doesn’t have to. The Sub Mariner has things to do in Atlantis, get to it Subby. There were always plenty of heroes hanging around Dr. Strange’s mansion to lend a hand.

Do these teams above bicker with each other? Constantly. But there's that purpose that ties them back. Yes the Thing wants to knock the Human Torch into next week, but he won't because they're practically brothers. Wolverine routinely wants to ram a claw into Cyclops' throat (let's be honest, who doesn't?) but he won't because he believes in Xavier's message.

That brings us to the Champions. It seems that writer Tony Isabella saw that the Marvel method is, "Have teammates argue with each other" and confused it with growth or substance or something and left it at that. We’re in issue four and I still have no idea why they hang around with each other. I mean I get why Angel and Ice Man are pals and everyone probably wants to sleep with Natasha, but the others are just jerks to each other. Bobby has a hair across his ass about Ghost Rider and now Angel does too.

Before I get into that, I need to explain this month's plot a bit: Hercules and Black Widow are walking on the beach when they’re attacked by an old, crazy guy calling himself Billy. He attacks our hero without any provocation and talks about himself in the third-person, which reminds me of Rickey Henderson. Being reminded of Rickey is great.

(My brother had this poster when we were kids, it's so awesome. AND there's a bonus comics pun in there! Who says I don't bring it all home?) 

They kick his ass and are trying to figure out what to do about it when these six goons come around to bring Billy back to where he came from. Hercules isn’t too happy about this because all of a sudden, he likes Billy. The goons shoot him and Widow and the next thing you know they’re at the San Marino State Hospital. I just looked it up and San Marino is 52.3 miles away from Malibu, so I’m not sure what Billy was doing in Malibu anyway and why it took these guys so long to track him down, but comics!

Anyway, Hercules is in cuffs and Widow has a device around her neck that will fry her if either makes the wrong move. It turns out that this scientist is trying to replicate the Super Soldier Serum* and has been testing it on the mentally deranged, the old and the poor. Surprisingly, it hasn’t worked out very well for any of them.

* I love how the SSS only worked for Steve Rogers. It (at least up until I stopped reading comics in the late 80s) never worked well for anyone else. For the most part, after being injected with the SSS, it drove people insane. I think that says a lot for Steve Rogers, that he’s the ultimate American. Not just in terms of mental capacity, but in terms of will and temperament. That’s a nice idea to hold onto, especially if we use him as an avatar for America.
This scientist, Dr. Edward Lansing, is planning to try his experiment on both the Widow and Hercules so that they will be his slaves. Their first mission? Destroy the Champions? Why? I don’t know. They just have to, that’s why.

Herc, Nastasha, Dr. Lansing and some more SSSed-up goons attack the Angel, Ice Man and Widow’s friend Ivan. And they’re kind of kicking their asses pretty well, until Ghost Rider shows up. Remember, he’s not only the cavalry, but he’s also the friend and teammate of Angel and Ice Man.

Angel says, “How ‘bout puttin’ your money where your mouth is for once before we all get creamed?” Does the Ghost Rider need this shit? Fuck and no, he doesn’t. If I were Johnny Blaze, I’d turn my bike around and go somewhere else. But Blaze is a better hero than I would be, so he helps the two asshole mutants fight Hercules and it goes okay. Ivan has his hands full with the Black Widow who is literally choking him—like Homer does to Bart*, only less funny.

* The Simpsons are probably my favorite piece of pop culture ever, when they finally leave the airwaves, it's going to be a sad day. But the whole Homer choking Bart “joke” hasn’t really aged well, has it? I guess it’s good that it's a cartoon because seeing a real 38-year-old man choking a real 10-year-old boy would be disturbing.

This act wakes Natasha up and she kicks Dr. Lansing in the face, breaking his control box. The mutates (his words, not mine) end up turning on him and kill him. I guess that once the people under his control kill someone they are then bound to turn into brain dead zombies. Lansing wanted Hercules and Black Widow to kill their fellow Champions so they would be under his control, which seems like a dumb plan. Why don’t you just have them kill a drifter or two? Why take the gamble that they could kill other heroes – even if those heroes are Ice Man and the Angel.

In a rare moment of empathy, Hercules feels bad about these zombies. Are they zombies? I guess they are technically, though they're not dead. It sort of feels like I'm not being sensitive by lumping all brain dead slaves into one big zombie pile. Angel doesn't care for my PC musings (and you know WWIII would vote for Donald Trump and would tell everyone that he did so) and tells the Scion of Zeus not to worry that the cops will take care of them (uh, okay?). Hercules argues that these people were innocents who went to a doctor for help, only to see themselves get experimented on and altered in the worst way.

Does Warren Worthington III take stock in that and feel any empathy? Of course not. He flips the fuck out and says, “All right! There is evil the world Hercules – and Lansing is part of it. But there’s good as well – and we’re a part of that! The question is: do we do anything about it – or do we sit around crying in our beer? #MAGA*”

* He didn't really say the last thing. 

A few things, WWIII:

  1. Hercules wasn’t saying let’s disband the Champions with a murder-suicide pact. He’s just bummed out about what happened to these people.
  2. He didn’t say that you were the cause of this, so just relax.
  3. You have wings, Hercules is one of the strongest people on the planet. He's a demigod. Maybe you should slow your roll a bit.

And that’s what brings me back to my original point: I still have no idea why these people are still together. They don’t seem to like each other too much, they have completely different philosophies for practically everything and aside from mooching off the Angel (he’s rich and underwrites everything that the Champions do and allows him to crash at his place) there’s no symbiotic relationship.

I think that the Champions stories have struggled in these first four issues because the group has struggled to find a purpose. They never answered that one important question: why are the Champions here?

This was a meh issue. The group just sorta defeated literal ancient gods, so fighting a mad scientist is not just a step down, it’s an entire building down. And again, they didn’t really defeat him, Black Widow kicked him and the mutates did the rest of the work (killing him) for them. And BTW, good job Champions of saving Dr. Lansing. No one lifted a finger to help him. At all. 

"Oh? Those screams? Just good old Dr. Lansing being torn apart by a bunch of brain-dead zombies. I wonder if Warren still has that margarita machine? Taco Tuesday y'all!"

You know you're a 90s kid when ... stupid sentence beginning but, every time I read this headline, I sing it to the chorus of the Hole song, "Malibu". I'm sure Courtney Love will be thrilled. 

The George Tuska art was a little better, but the writing lagged. The front cover is boss, so they have a four-issue streak on that. I’d have bought this book if I saw it on a spinner or the magazine rack at Mahoney’s Drug Store in Methuen, MA. I give this issue two vest-wearing Angels out of five.

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