Jumping into Comics

Wednesday, January 04, 2006

Amazing Fantasy (vol. 2) #15

This was the recent one-shot (of sorts) Marvel put out that showcased their writers group called the 10 Terrific. I think it's safe to say that Amazing Fantasy #15 was a marginal success back in 1963 when it premiered a certain webbed mascot of Marvel Comics. Would that make this book the latest book ever? If so, it broke the previous record held by Darker Image.

The point of this book was to give six of Marvel's up-and-coming writing stars introduce readers to a brand new character. Since the success of (vol. 1) #15's new character, this was a fitting place for the idea. And since the industry has become incredibly stale in years past, an influx of new blood is welcome. Even before AF hit the shelves, we've seen new launches like Arana, X-23, Gravity and others, all to varying degrees of creative and financial success. Either way tho, I am all for Marvel taking chances on new properties to spice up the House of Ideas. In addition to the six new characters, we have a quick tale of the guy that Spider-Man's holding on the cover to his first appearance on AF (vol.) #15.

AF itself encapsulates just about every degree of creative success, ranging from great right down to "Wow, this is pretty much total crap." Let's jump into each story separately ...

"Mastermind Excello"
(Greg Pak & Takeshi Miyazawa)

This is the first story in the book and also the best. Essentially, this kid is one of the smartest people on the planet. He can outthink just about anybody, but has to eat to recharge his energy. Different approach to the idea. He’s also being tailed by the government (who swears they’re trying to protect him). However, after his house is torched, Amadeus (Excello himself), believes the selfsame gov’t agent to be responsible and vows to track her down.

This is the property of the book that I would most like to see spun off into an ongoing. The protagonist is not the normal teenage superhero – hell, he isn’t even a hero. He’s on the run from the gov’t and just wants to be left alone. Appropriately, he actually meets the Hulk in these few pages. It doesn’t feel like a shoehorned guest appearance, just a nice juxtaposition between brains and strength.

I’m becoming a fan of Pak’s writing, after he kicked ass and made me care about the whole Jean Grey/Phoenix mess in his series “Phoenix: Endsong.” He has a sharp eye for dialogue and doesn’t talk down to the reader. A rare treat these days, the stories aren’t cliché’ but aren’t weird for the sake of weird.

Miyazawa’s art is slightly cartoony and manga-esque, but his storytelling skills are top notch. You’re never guessing what’s going on and the angles aren’t simply straightforward. I’m not into the “big eyes and mane of hair” style, but I can overlook it for Miyazawa.

“Blackjack”
(Dan Slott & Pete Woods)

Essentially, these stories (several 2 page spreads throughout the book) can be summed up by the first title: “Heavy on Action, Light on Plot.” This is a mix of James Bond and straight superhero action. It’s a tongue in cheek version of nick Fury that boasts flying bullets and hot blondes.

This isn’t surprising from Slott who’s become comicdom’s resident “Comics are fun!” cheerleader. The man excels at old school books that are just good, fun escapism. Woods’s art is just the same. Frenetic and action packed, it isn’t going for subtly. Of course, if he was trying to be subtle the entire point of the character would be lost.

Nothing wrong with Blackjack, but this particular type of story isn’t my thing. It’s a perfectly serviceable plot set-up, but I don’t know if it could sustain a full ongoing. I think it would pull in a great cult-following in 8 page back-ups in AF.

“The Great Video”
(Daniel Way & Nick Dragotta)

Sweet merciful crap.

What the hell is this? No, seriously. I don’t know what happened here. Some guy wakes up in the hospital, burns the people around him … somehow. Then he breaks out of the hospital and burns a guy in a video store while recording it.

Daniel Way is an odd writer. He’s not usually bad, but he is so decompressed and slow that sequential fiction like this is definitely not his place in the world. He’d e so much better as a novelist, but alas, he’s here at Marvel. The art, by a guy who’s unfamiliar to me, is nothing special. It’s scratchy and it’s basically point-and-click.

I’m not even going to bother going further than this. “The Great Video” is obviously the weakest story in the book and deserves to be tied p to a tree and Old Yeller’ed. If you want some good Daniel Way, go buy Punisher vs. Bullseye.

“Monstro”
(Robert Kirkman & Khary Randolph)

Kirkman Marvel Book #78

I’m not complaining, mind you, but the man writes enough books to tie Bendis. Suits me just fine as the man writes gold. This is another example. It’s a neat idea of a man who doesn’t want to be a superhero, but uses his powers as a member of the FDNY.

I’m not sure the book can sustain an ongoing, but I would love to see a limited series, maxi series or even graphic novel with Monstro. It’s a unique approach to superpowers that deserves exploration.

Randloph’s art is Oeming-esque in its apparent simplicity, but it really does bring out a lot of emotion. It also fits the main character’s personality to a T.

“Heartbreak Kid!”
(Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa & Jeff Parker w/ Sal Buscema)

Meh, mildly interesting idea but I’m just not into inserting “hidden” characters into the original runs of books. This time it’s a kid who can suck out your despair and make you feel better. He tries to befriend a young Peter Parker, but Pete freaks out and ditches him ... which is a good idea because taking the despair out of Pete’s life at that point in his life would kill Spider-Man and, well, that’s just bad, folks

I’m a fan of Sacasa’s writing (I think I’m the only person buying MK4) and Parker and Buscema seamlessly harken back to the 60s Spider-Man series while keeping it their own (even if Buscema was a part o the original run).

In the end tho, it’s a case of “what’s the point?” Peter walks away from the Heartbreak Kid and that’s about it. There’s an allusion to him moving on to help other people, but who cares about them? I’m not saying that every book has to be an action festival, I’m even down with all talking heads books, but this one seems a little thin to support a series.

“Positron”
(Sean McKeever & Kristen Donaldson)

Here’s an odd little story. It could easily be expanded into an ongoing series, but something’s missing. Maybe its just my own tastes, but I really don’t care about the emotional battle being fought. I’ll admit, I was surprised at Jackson’s role at the end, and I’m mildly intrigued, but feh.

I’ve nothing against McKeever, but I’ve only ever read one of his books. Granted, his Inhumans series was fantastic and I was sad to see it cancelled, but I need to see more of his work before I go more in depth on the man’s work. Donaldson’s art is kind of hippy, but it works for the story. I have to note I LOVED the ships chasing the kids. They look great.

“The Guy In Spider-Man’s Armpit”
(Dan Slott & Patrick Scherberger w/Norman Lee)

This is fun little tale about the guy Spider-Man is carrying on the cover of the first AF #15. It’s just a funny two page spread about what happens after Spider-man lands and puts the guy on the ground. The joke works and I’m surprised it hadn’t been touched before now. It gave me a chuckle and is a cute bonus to this volume.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Secret War

Just to piss off Hook, I'm going to start my little regime here at JiC by reviewing not only a Bendis book, but a Bendis book that accentuates what failings he has but also highlights his strengths that annoy Hook ... and one that was insanely late.

The first and most blatant aspect of this book has to be its lateness. It's hard to miss and it actually impacts stories outside of itself. The first issue hit the shelves in April of 04 with #5 not seeing the light of day until December of 05. That's a wee bit shy of two years for a five issue series. Granted, it's a fully painted book, but, come on, two years? How many late books does it take to make Marvel Editorial learn that you don't solicit these kinds of books until the artist is extremely close to or is totally finished.

Now, aside from the pain in the ass it is to have to wait two years for a five issue story to end, the end to this particular story has a huge impact on the rest of the MU. After all is said and down, Nick Fury, arguably the glue that holds Marvel's Earthbound heroes together, was forced to go underground and leave SHIELD in the dark.

Aside from the fact that the grandmaster of dealings in superhuman politics has gone AWOL, his absence plays a huge role in the current state of Spider-Woman. Bendis (and thereby Marvel) has been pushing Spider-Woman into the big leagues for a while now. Not that I have any special affinity for Ms. Drew, I have to admit to biting on the hype. I dig her in the New Avengers and I even picked up the first issue of her origin miniseries (based more on checking out the Luna Bros.' art, but the book shows promise). I probably won't be getting her ongoing in 2006 but that's due to my being a poor college student.

Anyway, due to shipping schedules, we actually saw Fury making contact with the Avengers for the first time after going underground before we saw him go undergone. NA #14 shipped a week before SW #5. In effect, the end of SW was a flashback, which is ironic considering SW itself was a flashback story.

And here we step into another problem. I have no problem with flashback stories. On the contrary, I think they can make a generic story more interesting and can even be twisted into a mind-bending masterpiece like the film "Memento." However, the problem here arises in one of Bendis's trademark styles - decompression. Flashback stories are designed to add suspense and action to a story that may not have much to begin with. Put this in the hands of a writer whose strength is not action and you get some mixed results.

Making it even worse is making Captain America and Fury the only two who know what the hell are going on. The two of them bicker back and forth and the reader feels like Spider-Man in that we have no idea what's going on, but more like Cage in that we're in a coma with people talking over our unmoving body.

I went back and reread the series with #5's release and even though it works much better as one piece of fiction (as much of what Bendis writes does), there is still a lot wrong with this book. I'll ignore my Fanboy Urges and not go into detail with Logan's grossly out of character behavior on the plane. Another issue I had was this book was basically a primer to New Avengers. Not only does it lead directly into several NA storylines, but its style mimics NA to the panel. I wonder if this is on purpose or if this is simply the only kind of team/action story Bendis can write. Lord knows his action is better in Ultimate Spider-Man, but a solo hero (and a teenaged one at that) is a totally different dynamic.

As important as art is in any book, it's even more of note in SW. it was the art that delayed the book this long because we already know Bendis can write like 68 books a month. I'm not as enamored by painted book as others, tho I have no serious problems with them. I mean, Marvels and Kingdom Come are beautiful books. Secret War, not so much.

Dell'Otto's style is quite obviously very European. It retains a tightrope between uberrealistic and artistic almost to the point of cartoony. Nothing wrong with this style per se, it's just not my cup of tea. His group shots do seem kind of muddled tho, especially the espionage scenes with the Secret Warriors (oh, yes, they're a whole new team now!) attacking the group of Mechwarriors (their archenemies?).

And speaking of the Mechwarriors, the inherent problem in any story involving a mass of villains is that it's going to have to be a large group of villains that most people don't know nor really care about. I mean, a new version of Goldbug? Oooh, Captain America, a man who has stared down the Hulk, is really trembling. The only alternative is new people taking over established mantles, like the new Doc Ock rip off Lady Octopus. Hardly terrifying to Spider-Man who has beaten the REAL Ock countless times.

For all the problems the book has, it isn't entirely bad. It has some great espionage and political aspects with Fury talking to the President of the U.S. and the Black Widow undercover in Latveria. I'm kind of wondering when Latveria turned into a democracy and began electing a Prime Minister. Would Doom actually allow this? Is he still supposedly dead after Unthinkable? Some interesting questions here, but alas, no answers.

I also liked the realism in Fury's actions. He freely admits that there's a possibility he's being manipulated into acting outside of SHIELD protocols. He knows the President might want this situation taken care of militarily, but can't lose face on the world political scene.

However, no matter how well scripted or interesting the political aspects, this book languishes in the storytelling. More time is spent on getting Spider-Man or Daredevil to Cage's hospital room to tell the story or in Captain America fighting with Fury than is spent telling us what the hell went on in Latveria.

In essence, this story is really about the fallout of an event. The problem is, the event in question isn't a preexisting story like the Kree/Skrull War or Inferno. Instead, Bendis tries to cram in both the attack on Latveria and the political and practical fallout of the attack. It's quite obvious that the fallout and aftermath of the event is his main thrust of the story, and rightly so as it is more interesting, but there is nowhere near enough time explaining to us what actually went on a year prior. Without us knowing what happened, any aftermath, as interesting as it may be, holds zero impact.