The Marvels Project #1 of 8 (Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.
I’m still not quite sure what drives the need to organize and categorize comic book universes to the point of ossification (I tend to blame Roy Thomas, but that’s for another day), but if you wanted to come up with a revamped “universal force” creation mythos for the Marvel Universe, you couldn’t do better than give the job to the team of Ed Brubaker and Steve Epting. They shaped Captain America into a series that blended superhero action with espionage, mystery, and strong characterization, with a toe dipped here and there into just enough history and politics to bring some added resonance to the piece, and that approach is just what’s needed here: a time that grows more and more mythic with each passing year gives birth to mythical characters whose stories are still read today.
In 1938, a doctor is treating an elderly patient who raves to him about a world of strange creatures and mythic heroes that is to come. Unsurprisingly, we’ll come to learn that the dying man is a character well integrated into the Marvel U, but there’s a bit of a twist as his visions of the future don’t jibe perfectly with what we “know” happens afterwards.
The story’s “gathering storm” doesn’t actually feature Churchill (yet), but characters from FDR to Nick Fury are about to be drawn into the fight against the emerging threat of Nazism, and Namor finds himself confronting arguably the most horrifying aspect of it (and one that will certainly resonate with anyone who enjoyed District 9). Brubaker’s canny story structure invokes classic Marvel, with notes that range from Bill Everett’s Sub-Mariner to Dan Slott’s She-Hulk. Lots of foreshadowing, but most of it treated so lightly and deftly that it never slows the story down. While several cast members have good moments here, I found the poignancy of the Human Torch’s story to be extremely well conveyed in the few panels allotted.
And not to take Steve Epting’s brilliance for granted: his depiction of the Torch and Namor as elemental forces of fire and water is awe-inspiring, and for a story with so many dark corners (from Nazi laboratories to a mental hospital to secret backrooms), he manages to vary the look very effectively. Those who crave more action beats will probably need to wait for an issue or two for things to really amp up, but Epting proves once again that he’s going to be more than equal to that task.
I don’t know how important it may be to the individual reader to get what will become the new book of record for the Marvel Universe, at least for the foreseeable future. But it’s a well-written, well-drawn piece of myth-making, and I look forward to seeing what other twists Brubaker has up his sleeve.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Blackest Night: Batman #1 of 3 (DC)($2.99)
By Devon Sanders
Due to marquee value being what it is in comic shops today, there will never be a comic titled, Blackest Night: Deadman. Knowing this, DC Comics has pulled quite the clever fast one and given us this comic, only titled Blackest Night: Batman. Batman and Robin featured in this title, and quite prominently, I might add but lets be real, this comic is all about the dead and no one is deader than Boston Brand, Deadman.
Says so, right there, in the name.
All across Gotham City, the dead awaken, new initiates of The Black Lantern Corps. In Gotham, a new-ish Batman stands over his adoptive father’s grave. It has been robbed of its content, desecrated, the skull of The Batman, missing. Elsewhere, a deadman and an ally of The Bat has been given a renewed purpose and against his will, he too shall, ”RISE.” Writer Peter Tomasi, once again, with Blackest Night: Batman #1 crafts a tale equal in quality to his Green Lantern and Blackest Night cohort, Geoff Johns. Tomasi shows a tremendous amount of respect for where Blackest Night is headed while forging his own unique take on what could otherwise have felt like filler. Tomasi’s uses of Deadman as story catalyst, narrator and commentator is simple, clever wicked fun and more of what comics need, even amongst this somewhat macabre subject matter. Artist Adrian Syaf is true prize, recalling, at times and not entirely due to inker John Dell’s line, the stellar work of Adam Kubert. Syaf has a fluid, heroic sense of storytelling/anatomy and never seems to draw one single overactive panel. Kudos to him for how he has a “reborn” Ventriloquist use his Black Lantern ring. It made me laugh out loud. Blackest Night: Batman #1 is a exactly what a companion piece should be: it stays on point, adds to the source material while adding to the overall scope of things. In short, it’s a more than worthy addition to the Blackest Night firmament.
THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Ultimate Comics: Spider-Man #1, Ultimate Avengers #1 (both Marvel, $3.99)
By Jeb D.
It’s too bad when a perfectly good comic turns out to be bit of a disappointment; or, as in this case, two perfectly good comics.
The new Ultimate Comics imprint represents something interesting: the second time that Marvel Comics has fumbled the same ball.
The Ultimate Marvel line was originally created as a way to sell stories about Marvel’s intellectual property to people who don’t visit comics stores, but do shop at Target or Toys R Us. And it would appear that no one was more surprised than Bill Jemas and Joe Quesada, when the line sputtered at mass market retailers, but took off like gangbusters at those damn comics stores.
And that’s where the golden opportunity came up: Marvel now had a second “universe,” where you could literally change anything about the characters or stories without affecting the all-important ancillary merchandising, since the original Marvel Universe still existed.
But for some reason, that never became the corporate vision: “Ultimizing” the Marvel Universe could have led to new and different approaches to superhero storytelling; instead, it just led to tweaked variations of the same old characters and stories (when your most significant innovation is changing Deadpool from one guy to a group of terrorists, you’ve set your bar pretty low).
That’s not to say that the Ultimate line didn’t produce good superhero books; it did. But those aren’t really hard to find. Different or innovative superhero books are, though, and it would have been nice to see Marvel take a chance on it.
Which is kind of what I thought was the whole point of that Ultimatum thing: wipe ‘em out, and start over (god knows, a series that bad really did need some greater justification for its existence). And there’s certainly a sense of “putting it back together” in both these issues… but, really, nothing happens here that would have been unthinkable, or even particularly remarkable in the “old” Ultimate U: Peter Parker has troubles with his job and his family, Tony Stark hits the bottle again, some familiar villains turn up in Ultimate form. That’s not really a knock on the scripts by writers Brian Bendis and Mark Millar; they’re just trying to write good superhero stories. The problem is, no one at Marvel is inviting them to pitch anything else.
So here we go again: instead of being reborn or rethought, the Ultimate Marvel universe continues along as little more than a well-executed set of variations on some very familiar themes.
This is the point where I should stress that both comics are eminently readable, which comes as no surprise, given that the characters are in the hands of the guys that successfully launched their Ultimate versions in the first place. In both books, we get the emergence of new villainous threats, faces both fresh and familiar, and sharp dialog. In Ultimate Avengers, there’s also an intriguing secret (that, for some reason, Millar reveals on the final page, rather than leaving us guessing till next time) that should fuel a pretty good ongoing story for Ultimate Cap.
In the end, though, I’m recommending both books primarily for the art: one from a relative newcomer, the other from an industry vet seriously upping his game.
David LaFuente collaborated with Bendis on a recent Spider-Man annual, and he moves into the Ultimate version of Spidey with smooth assurance. His style has more Japanese influence than I usually prefer (and I will never get used to Spidey having a head as round as Charlie Brown’s), but he’s a superb storyteller, which is the principal characteristic he shares with his Ultimate Spidey predecessors (Mark Bagley and Stuart Immonen): design specifics definitely take a back seat to moving the story along—which is exactly the kind of artist that works best with Bendis, making sure that the dialog-heavy panels retain a sense of urgency that can otherwise get lost behind all the thought balloons.
Carlos Pacheco’s Ultimate Avengers is a bit closer to the “posing-and-splash-panels” that can bog down this kind of team book, but only a bit, and he more than makes up for it with some great facial expressions (his self-loathing Tony Stark is paragraphs of exposition in a single frame), a genuinely creepy design for the newest Ultimate villain, and some great airborne action. It’s only one issue, but if he keeps up this pace, this series might rank as his best work so far.
As I say, these are both well-done, enjoyable comics. One thing the Ultimate universe always did manage was to keep itself fairly small and self-contained, and if these two books are an indication, a superhero fan get a a pretty satisfying and economical spandex fix by just following Ultimate Marvel.
But it’s still a shame: there was less need for a second pocket Marvel Universe than there is for superhero storytelling that takes a few chances, and breaks a few eggs on its way to a comic omelette.
Preview of Ultimate Comics Spider-Man #1 – Preview of Ultimate Avengers #1
Both Books: THREE AND A HALF OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
[Raided] G.I. Joe #8 (IDW)($3.99)
by Graig Kent
The return-to-basics whizz-bang G.I. Joe of the 1980’s has returned by way of the big screen with a successful live-action film grossing almost $100 million in less than two weeks. The vast majority of the critical establishment call it a travesty of cinema, their on-line contemporaries by and large championing the film, age and nostalgia likely the two biggest factors differentiating them. If the film is a reflection of the hokey, yet guiltily enjoyable daily cartoon of yesteryear, then the IDW-published comic book relaunch, now 8 months old, is reflective of the Marvel Comics which ran popularly and proudly for twelve years under writer Larry Hama’s guidance. The comic, far more serious than the cartoon (which, arguably, isn’t saying much) could get away with things a children’s animated series couldn’t. Having not seen the film yet, I’m not sure if the IDW series is getting away with things it couldn’t, but one thing it’s not getting away with is telling a tight, enthralling, fun story. Though writer Chuck Dixon is known for his fast-paced, high-octane style of storytelling, his G.I. Joe has been treading water since its first issue, the epitome of decompressed storytelling that shouldn’t be able to survive at a $3.99 cover price. It’s eight issues in and the Joes still don’t even know of the existence of Cobra, while Cobra has yet to engage the Joes in any meaningful conflict, and Destro has been reduced to a loquaciously mopey and “pretentious boor”. One would have hoped that this issue, coinciding with the release of the film would have been the start of a new storyline, or a ratcheting up of the action, but no such luck. Over $30 worth of spinning wheels so far… I’m guessing two comparably-priced visits to the theatre is probably more worthwhile.
TWO OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
Red Herring #1 (of 6)(Wildstorm)($2.99)
by Graig Kent
I had a writing teacher in university tell me that writing in the second person is the most challenging narrative style, since you wind up imposing your will upon that of the reader, and it can just as easily take them out of the narrative as suck them in. One wrong move, one wrong association that doesn’t feel at all right to the reader and you’ve lost them. Red Herring writer David Tischman (here without his usual suspect co-writer Howard Chaykin) utilizes the second-person narrative here to try and get the reader to relate to sleepy-eyed, raven-haired fox Maggie MacGuffin, aide and lover to U.S. Congressman Damorge Channel . Yes, these are actual names in the book, knowing nods to the reader with a cheeky “I’m so clever” undercurrent. There’s also Red Hering and Jack Frost and Meyer Weiner… it’s all so winky-winky and quite unpalatable. Narrative lines like “You need coffee” (I don’t drink coffee), “God, you love the smell of his cologne” (No, I really don’t think I would), and “You’ve had the better ass, all through college” (true, but who really thinks on that level?) just ring as overwrought and hauled me right out of the story from word one. Despite the fact that I’ve always enjoyed Philip Bond’s cartooning, a mix of doe-eyed anime and sexy Americana, it’s far from great enough here to even remotely save this tragedy about, apparently, aliens and espionage (two facets of the story which are buried beneath the mounds of useless and unreadable second-person exposition). This’ll be near the top of worst comics I’ve read this year.
ONE OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
[Raided] Lockjaw and the Pet Avengers #4 (of 4)(Marvel)($2.99)
by Graig Kent
There should be no reason why a grown-up, professional, nearly-mature man such as myself should enjoy a book that features a gaggle of talking animals stopping a near-omnipotent cosmic being from taking control of the universe. I mean really. Yes, superheroes like the Avengers are quite silly themselves if you deconstruct them enough, but their superpowered pets forming a supergroup? It’s ludicrous kid fodder at best. But if so, then why have I not yet given the series to my seven-year old. I know for certain he’d love it… but in my own petty parental greed I’m keeping it in mint condition and to myself, because I can’t help it, I love it. Chris Eliopoulos has tapped into what used to be the norm for ongoing comic book series: fun. Fun can come from all sorts of places but here it’s just the sheer madcap idea of a group of superheroic animals on a quest to recover all the Infinity Gems and, in this issue, face off against Thanos for control of their power. Even the inclusion of President Obama’s new Portuguese Water Dog puppy, Bo just hits the right note of goofy fun. Eliopoulos ingeniously balances the “real world” Marvel Universe with the “pet world”, the world as we see it from the cast’s perspective, which is the main factor that makes this more than just kid fodder. The fact that Ig Guara draws all this with a quasi-realistic tangibility instead of an over-simplified cartoonish style, and colorist Chris Sotomayor uses shades and hues that would be just as comfortable over in Captain America or X-Factor instead of a simplified, primary cartoon palette adds a nice sense of involvement for the mature reader, where otherwise it would be relegated to only the kiddie camp. It’s a beautiful looking, and equally beautifully orchestrated book, fit gleefully for all ages. The news that an ongoing Pet Avengers is coming in 2010 is welcome news indeed.
FOUR OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS
[Raided] We Kill Monsters #1 and 2 (of 6)(Red5 Comics)($3.50)
by Graig Kent
A few weeks ago I managed to catch a repeat broadcast of the 2006 Sci-Fi Channel mini-series The Lost Room. It was such a brilliantly executed, all-consuming production that I immediately went on-line to find out if or when a follow-up of any sort would come forth and throw my support behind it. Alas, aside from a few fan lamentations that the new series Warehouse 13 is like The Lost Room-lite, What I did find out though was the show’s co-creators Laura Harkcom and Chris Leone’s next project had just come out in the form of the new Red5 mini-series We Kill Monsters. With the level of obvious forethought and detail put into The Lost Room, the mere title of this new comic book series inspired a lot of enthusiasm on my part. Obviously it was more enthusiasm than the book could actually support. We Kill Monsters has the seed of an idea that been executed dozens, if not hundreds of times in numerous media, to varying levels of success. Small town + invasion of paranormal badness (alien critters, huge wormy graboids, giant spiders, evil trucks, or here, big hulking monsters) = unlikely heroes stepping up and taking them out. Harkcom and Leone try to inject some characterization and relationship dynamics into their series, but they miss the mark on consistency creating some highly awkward scenes that don’t read true. The monster invasion is also handled without much delicacy and the series’ hook winds up the weaker for it. Artist Brian Churilla (with assist from Hilary Barta) doles out a loose, thick-edged cartoonish style, simplified, uncluttered characters and settings, which is somewhat reminiscent of Brian Hurtt’s work on The Damned only Churilla isn’t anywhere near as refined an artist and his consistency from panel to panel is problematic. There’s some entertainment to be found here, but overall it’s like a first draft that got out into the world before it could be washed and polished.
TWO OUT OF FIVE VIKINGS