Eric: Welcome back for another POW! This week was actually a really tough week for me. I was unsure whether to pick Action Comics #5 (which was really emotional this week), Wolverine and the X-Men: Alpha & Omega #1 which had an interesting concept, or the one I ultimately chose, Uncanny X-Men #4. Although, when I met Dan to swap issues, it turned out to be a good thing I didn’t pick WatX:A&O since he’d received it as a free issue (his comic shop seems to do that pretty often) and didn’t much care for it.
Dan: I was about to say, Wolvie bored me with its direction and I have yet to be wowed by Grant Morrison, so you probably made the right choice.
Eric: Yeah, as you wouldn’t be surprised to learn, Quentin Quire is a Grant Morrison creation. And for the most part that issue is only fun if you’re a huge 616 X-Men fan. For me it was interesting to see what they’d do with Quire. He’s actually way too over-powered, I think. Morrison did that because I think he was meant as a throwaway character. And Armor, the girl Wolverine is fighting, is one of my favorite characters to come out of Joss Whedon’s run. Also, I love the Blade Runner-esque world they end up in. Action Comics really spoke to me because the central plot and backup story were about parents and children. So I decided that of my three picks, Uncanny X-Men had the biggest chance of actually appealing to you.
Dan: I appreciate that you’re looking to win here, but I don’t mind if you try and convince me of something I wouldn’t care for. Uncanny is a perfect example of that working out. I have about as much X-Apathy as possible for a person without mutant apathy powers.
Eric: Yeah, I was wary of choosing it again so soon, but the story really seemed like something you’d enjoy. It has a real horror/sci-fi feel that reminded me of that Swamp Thing issue you selected a few weeks ago.
Dan: Not to mention the best part: it’s barely about the X-Men!
Eric: That’s true. Although it ties into the previous issues of Uncanny X-Men Vol 2 very quickly (and we’ll get into that in a minute), it definitely has the feel of an evergreen issue. Something they could just stick in when they were having production delays.
Dan: It fits into the continuity (at least based on what I remember from the last issue), but it has a real one-shot feel to it that I dug.
Eric: Yup! So let’s get into it. This issue is about the Phalanx. Sure, they’re kind of a Borg rip-off, but most hive-mind bad guys are.
Dan: From what I can tell, all they need to do is make contact with organics to assimilate them?
Eric: Yeah, it looks like some nice body horror on the first page as the way they work is shown brilliantly and without too much exposition. I didn’t know anything about the Phalanx and I really enjoyed this issue. It was solicited as the return of the Phalanx, so I thought it would be one of those canon-wank issues, but it wasn’t. In fact, I was going to share some info that I looked up as we were getting ready for the POW!, but I’ll leave that as an exercise for the reader.
So the issue begins with our main character talking about how awesome it is to be part of a hive mind and how his life before that sucked. Again, pretty typical for a hive-mind sci-fi bit of literature. But it really brings home how horrible it must be for him when Mr. Sinister captures him and he’s separated from the rest of the Phalanx. As soon as I saw Sinister, I realized what was going on – this is how he gained the powers he’s had for the past three issues of Uncanny X-Men. And if this issue had been about that, it wouldn’t have nearly been as entertaining. Instead, that’s almost incidental to anything else that happens in this issue other than the fact that when Sinister is done with his experiments, he destroys the dude and throws him way.
Dan: My favorite little touch about this book is the way that the Phalanx units narration works. It fits in with that hive mind mentality with the “we/us”-speak throughout the start and it subtly shifts into “I/me” as tragedy befalls the unit. It’s still written in a way that a hive unit probably wouldn’t speak, but I think that embellishment is ok for the sake of clarity and understanding. It can also be hand-waved away by saying the Phalanx unit was alone and narrating its past.
Eric: That’s true. The issue definitely has the feel of a narrated story being played back. Once the unit is thrown away, this is when the story turned around and I knew this would probably end up being in contention for a POW! pick. First of all, he’s able to use nematodes to gain enough mass to dig to the Earth’s surface. Then some girl finds him and it just reminds me of all those super-bug movies where some kid is playing in the forest and gets bitten by a monkey and ends up killing the whole town.
Dan: Don’t pick up things you find in the woods, kids. It’s always a bad idea.
Eric: Yup! Then he takes over her and we get the first plot twist where I’m really starting to dig this story. When he absorbs her, her consciousness is gone! So instead of having her join the glorious hive-mind, he’s killed her and absorbed her body. So it’s tragic for both of them (assuming that it’d be better for the girl to be hive-minded than dead). And then he tries the parents with the same results. And, yo, guess what? He ends up killing the whole town just like in those disease movies.
Dan: Don’t live in a town near the woods, kids.
Eric: And the X-Men get called in to fight since they’ve dealt with this before. We get a little more development on the whole Colossus being cursed by evil thing – since he took Juggernaut’s powers/curse during Fear Itself.
Dan: My favorite visual detail about the Phalanx monstrosity are the many faces that protrude from its sides looking like they’re screaming in pain/fear.
Eric: That was a really nice touch. I noticed that as well. Really the ONLY complaint I have about this issue is when it acts a bit too much like a comic for the sake of a cool line. Just as there’s no reason for Sentinels to announce what they’re about to do (pretty darn stupid from a tactical point of view), there’s no reason for him to announce that he’s adapting to become anti-metallic just so Hope can get off an “adapt to this” line.
Dan: The best part about that clunker is that the explosion does damn near nothing. I wish all action heroes got cool one liners before their attacks failed.
Eric: It’d certainly change it up to have them not always win after one.
Dan: Otherwise it’s like when “Go Go Power Rangers” started blaring. You knew the Megazord was about to win at that point.
Eric: Good thing comics don’t have musical cues! Then we got to the final plot twist which cinched its place in the POW! When he finally gets to reach out to his Phalanx buddies no one answers. So he stops fighting and commits suicide rather than defeat the X-Men and live alone. It’s one of the few times I actually felt for the villain.
Dan: I would have felt worse had it not been followed by Cyclops’ redundant reiteration of the theme.
Eric: That was the WORST! Oh man, it doesn’t get any worse than that.
Dan: Stupid, lazy, penis-costumed dialog.
Eric: Gillen was really channeling 1990s X-Men on that one!
Dan: Thankfully the rest of the book is well-written.
Eric: Yeah, on average I tend to like Gillen’s writing. It’s not the most rock-solid team writing, but it’s pretty good. So let’s move on to your entry.
Eric: Dan, you have a very…different entry this week. You told me, when we exchanged issues, that you’d explain what was going on here. So what’s up?
Dan: Rather than keep cycling through the same comics that I love I figured I’d try and pick up an issue of a book I’ve never read before, regardless of where it is in story arc or continuity, for the next couple of weeks. Hence, Rachel Rising, which I’d heard good things about. I originally intended to pick up Brubaker’s Fatale #1, but it was sold out in my shop.
Eric: Pretty bold strategy. Although it aligns well with something I was thinking of doing one of these weeks – buying a grab back of 20 comics from Midtown Comics and having us do a POW! based on something we enjoy from there. They tend to be way cheaper than 20 indvidual comics, but you don’t know what you’re getting and there’s a bit of fun in that. So, I guess you can’t really explain what’s going on in this book. And, for the POW!’s purposes, at least, that’s a shame. Because this issue is WEIRD!
Dan: Well I think the book does a decent job of explaining what’s going on itself, but I agree that the particulars escape me. The weirdness of the book definitely stands out almost as much as the uniqueness of the art. Since Rachel Rising is an independent comic, Terry Moore opts out of using a separate artist or even a colorist. The entire thing is inked by him and is presented in black and white. Even the paper between the covers is different from other books.
Eric: Yeah, the whole thing has a real manga aesthetic to it. Which is not to say the characters look manga-ish. It’s just that if this style ever existed in America, it’s gone now. And only manga tends to be printed in black and white on this cheap paper. The interesting thing is that the whole cliche of less is more really comes to bear with manga and with Rachel Rising. This issue is exactly the opposite of one of my favorite comics right now, Penguin: Pain and Prejudice where the artist has drawn, inked, and coloured every single detail as though it was a real-life movie set. Comics like Rachel Rising (and manga) show what you can do with less.
Dan: And if there’s one thing I love for artists to do…
Eric: Definitely. That’s almost a battle-cry for you.
Dan: I mean, it’s not a hard and fast rule. I love the elaborate work being done in Batwoman or Swamp Thing, but it’s always interesting to see what can be done when the limitations are greater.
Eric: So as the issue starts off, the basic story is such that it can almost go on its own without knowing what happened before. Someone’s dead and two characters are apparently at a morgue. Don’t care that I didn’t see how it happened. That’s fine. Then, we see that Johnny has visions of some sort about her. What about these visions? Is this like in normal conversation where people would say that and you’d dismiss it as coincidence or does this guy have powers?
Dan: I don’t really understand what Aunt Johnny was talking about there, but I was able to discern that Aunt Johnny is a mortician or a medical examiner based on the way the grunt at the door interacts with her and the way Rachel and Jet respond to her.
Eric: I wasn’t 100% sure about that it almost seems like he’s just friends with Earl, the grunt. But it’s not that important. You do bring up another strange point that’s PROBABLY explained in the first few issues. Rachel, who we’ll get to in a second, keeps calling one of the main characters Aunt Johnny. Now, Johnny’s a dude’s name and Johnny looks like a dude. But I’ve actually been looking at the first few pages for the past 15 minutes and there appears to be a subtle suggestion of breasts for Johnny. And the way the face is drawn, it could be a mannish woman.
Dan: That’s the way I read it. She just goes by Johnny for whatever reason. Quirky indie comics!
Eric: OK. Because I didn’t pick up on that on my first read-through and I thought there was just something weird about Rachel. But then as I was taking another look at Johnny, I also noticed that Jet is wearing a tie and more man-like clothes. So whether it’s meant to be an explicit or implicit message, Terry Moore has something to say about gender – which is pretty typical in indie comics and web comics.
So, as the comic moves along we find out she jumped off the roof of some building and landed on a car. We also eventually get a panel that seems to confirm what you said about Johnny working for the coroners. And then Rachel wakes from the dead.
Dan: For a comic that started me off thinking that Rachel had actually committed suicide, it actually got pretty funny once she “rose”. Reminded me of Pushing Daisies a little bit.
Eric: Yeah, I was about to say, things got a bit slapstick there for a minute when Earl comes in after she scares Jet and Johnny. So they debate whether or not she’s dead – Rachel’s insisting that, as the fact that she’s talking proves, she’s alive. While the other two saw her fall. She reveals she was pushed and there was another woman which takes us to the next section.
Dan: No more comedy here. Just a lot of weird, surreal-seeming dead body burying in unmarked, shallow graves, bodies in trunks, and eerie, homicidal little girls.
Eric: Yeah. From the way the narrative flows at the beggining of this issue, I think it’s possible even if you’d read the first three issues you still wouldn’t know what’s going on with this balding dude and the woman he buries. You never know. I mean, I think the issue works well with us being as much in the dark as Jet and Johnny are, but I could also see it being written the other way where you saw how this girl hit Rachel on her way off the building. And, yeah, some super creepy girl asked for help burying a body. That really freaked me out more than any horrific image I’ve seen in a comic.
Dan: Wait, I have to take back my comment about the lack of humor. The girl shows up on the scene after slamming the aforementioned car into the balding man’s car. At first you think, “Uh oh! Villain!”, but then it’s a little girl.
Eric: I love how out of it the dude seems that after his car is crashed into he doesn’t say anything. He just has this look on his face like whatever drove him to bury that woman probably took that last bit of his sanity. And so when the girl (who’s wearing bunny slippers, by the way) gets fresh with him about helping, he just goes and does it.
After that it goes back to the three women and a bit more slapstick. And what they imply, but don’t come out and say, is that she’s…well, my first impression was a zombie, but upon second reading I saw the “neck marks” remark and I’m going to to say she’s a vampire. Thoughts?
Dan: I thought the neck marks implied strangulation, not a bite, but I might be wrong. God help me if I accidentally bought a vampire comic…ugh…
Eric: On third read, yeah he mentions strangulation, so zombie? I don’t know – they keep talking about paleness, etc but the author uses a faint to keep us from finding out until next issue what actually happened to her.
Dan: It’s important to note that you don’t mean zombie in the typical zombie sense. She’s not rotting or gross or staggering, she’s back from the dead, but with all the symptoms of still being dead.
Eric: Yeah, zombie only in the sense that it’s an internet meme to say Jesus is a zombie.
Dan: Right, I feel you. I just wanted to make it clear for the readers that she’s not yammering on about brains for 20 panels.
Eric: Fair enough. So we go back to the guy and little girl and the guy is still catatonic. I was right before – whatever drove him to bury that woman has put him in a weird state. And then…
Eric: Yup, the little girl kills him and leaves him with the other corpses.
Dan: Not a good end for that fellow, but he didn’t seem all that good to begin with.
Eric: And then she speaks to a demon or something who has been “making her do bad things”. Again, the way this is written, this could be the fourth time you’re seeing this demon or the first time. Either way it’s both creepy and a pretty interesting cliffhanger.
Dan: We skipped the part where the snake crawls in the corpse’s mouth, right? That was pretty weird too, wasn’t it? Kind of fits in with the cover image, though, so I imagine it’s important. Which brings me to my next point: what the heck happened in this comic? Haha. That’s gonna be a big point in our…
Dan: I’m guessing it’s your least favorite part of Rachel Rising #4.
Eric: You know, in most circumstances, not knowing what’s going on annoys me to no end. However, some writers really are able to have a great balance between making it so you could jump in a little late without boring the long-time readers with too much backtracking. I think Rick Remender also did a great job with this on his current X-Force run. I started about 14 issues in, but I was still able to get integrated into what was going on. (Although getting the trades did help me appreciate things a lot more) I think that’s what Moore has done here with Rachel Rising. I feel that there MIGHT be a lot that we’re missing, but at the same time I feel that this might be the perfect jumping on point – where you’ve skipped the boring introductions and reasons why Rachel refers to Johnny as an Aunt.
Dan: There’s an ease to the relationships and interactions in the book that made it flow really well. I felt like I understood who Rachel, Johnny, and Jet were without a lot of issues before. I may have been a little confused, but I’m also intrigued! Reading this issue makes me want to pick up #1-3
Eric: Good luck with that. I was reading his blog and it turns out retailers have been ordering too few copies and it’s costing him money for reprints and stuff. So it might be hard to find.
Dan: I’ll make do. I was able to get my hands on back issues of Chew without too much trouble. I probably overpaid a bit, but I’ll survive.
Eric: Yeah, you probably also want to get a few more issues in before you worry about that.
Dan: Back on topic, the other thing I really enjoyed was Terry Moore’s art. Everyone looks like how they act (which sounds weird, but it’s true) and, aside from the doorman/grunt, they all look relatively realistic. Terry Moore gets a lot of props for drawing varied (ie: not all supermodel) figures in his books and you can see that with the designs in this issue. There’s also an intangible, “I feel like I’ve seen this before,” aspect to his art to me. It looks good, clean, and sharp, if a little sparse.
Eric: I think it’s actually a hard book to find fault with. I guess you could say the pacing is maybe a bit slow – the dialogue in the morgue can get a bit repetitive as they try to convince Rachel that she’s dead. But you can tell this book isn’t in a hurry to tell its story. Like Chew, he probably has the whole thing mapped out unlike mainstream comics which go on until no one reads them.
Dan: On the other hand we have a very solid X-Men story. I rolled my eyes when I saw Mr. Sinister early on, but the arc of the lone Phalanx (is that even possible?) was heartbreaking and sad. Reminded me a little of The Plutonian (there were some neat revelations in this week’s Irredeemable, by the way).
Eric: Yeah, when you saw Sinister and actually groaned, I wanted to tell you “no, it’s not really about him!” but I didn’t want to spoil the narrative.
Dan: The Ballad of the Lonely Hive Mind (the only title I acknowledge) was also well-drawn. I can’t imagine how long it took to draw all those intricate techno-organic lines, but it makes me tired just thinking about all that work.
Eric: Yes, not only was it beautifully drawn, but Kieron Gillen also allowed the art to speak, showing that, those two abhorrent lines aside, he knows how to write a comic well. And, even though this seems like a backhanded compliment, it was nice for the X-Men to only show up at the end.
Dan: It comes down to an intriguing, but confusing and kind of slow story, fun dialogue, and sharp art or a self-contained, well-paced, and interesting read.
Eric: This is one of the hardest POW!s we’ve had for a while.
Dan: I’m with you there. Either book deserves the win, but I think X-Men impressed me more because I didn’t think it was possible for an X-Men book to impress me.
Eric: You know, I think I agree with you for almost the same reasons. I really, really enjoy the soap opera that is the X-Men corner of Marvel. But X-Men stories are rarely a cut above the rest. And you can’t fault them TOO much for that. After all, their stories are working on 5 and 10 year cycles and usually an entire arc is pretty brilliant even if some of the individual issues aren’t. Sum greater than the parts, type of thing.
I think you’re ready to give me the win this week, but I’d just like to say that I really liked your bold choice. I ended up enjoying it a lot more than I thought I would. It’s just, based on this one issue, not as much “my genre” as this week’s X-Men story was – sci-fi with another spin on contagion horror, hence my greater enjoyment of X-Men and my support for its win.
Dan: I’m more than happy to give X-Men the nod and I’m glad that my gamble made things so difficult this week. We’ll see if you can adapt to me next week!
Eric: Now that the decision is out of the way and we decided based on our impressions as we read the books without additional info, let me drop this bomb on you. Here’s the description from Comic Vine and see if this changes your view of what happened in this issue as much as it did for me: “Rachel wakes up at sunrise on a shallow grave in the woods and discovers the freshly murdered body in the dirt is her own. With events of the previous night a blur, Rachel seeks out her boyfriend Phillip.”
Dan: I don’t really know what to make of it since it’s incongruous with her being in the morgue. Just makes me more curious
Eric: Makes me wonder if this story is being told out of order. Like the part with the crazy-eyed dude takes place before the part in the morgue. Also, it explains how there was no other body. Perhaps the body that “hit her” is her dying the first time around or something. I tell you what, it really makes me curious to see what’s in those first three issues.
Dan: The only shame is that we’ll never understand what he was trying to tell us.
Eric: Well, I’ll see you and the readers next week!