Comics Published on 18 September 2002

Before I start, there’s something I want to address. As you can see, my first review is Captain Marvel #1, the first issue of Peter David’s contribution to the Marvel “U-Decide” stunt. I thought, very briefly, of reviewing Jemas’s Marville and Ron Zimmerman’s Ultimate Adventures, in the interest of fairness to the event. Then I decided that to do so would be to give more attention to both of those books than they deserve. The U-Decide event, in my opinion, is all a sham; it amounts to nothing more than a fairly transparent attempt to a) publicly make fun of DC and make money in the process and b) stir up a bunch of free publicity for a failing book, namely Captain Marvel. I’m reviewing Captain Marvel because I had already decided to do so after my review of last month’s issue. However, I can’t see any situation wherein I would want to subject my readers (that’s right, I’m talking to both of you) to my opinions of either of the other U-Decide books. I’d like to think that most of the people who visit this site are fairly discerning readers who have zero to no interest in either of the titles in question, but if I’m wrong in this assumption, just drop me a line and I’ll toss up reviews of both Marville and Ultimate Adventures. Then I’ll publicly make fun of you for asking (just kidding…or am I?). With that rant out of the way, let the reviews commence:

Captain Marvel (V. 4) #1

For those who don’t remember (or simply didn’t read), I gave a fairly scathing review to the “final” issue of Captain Marvel last month. And for those of you who are skimming, let me say right now that the first issue of the relaunch is markedly better than last month’s.

I remarked in my store today to another customer who was picking up the issue, “Man, remember when this book was fun?” He was sympathetic to my complaints. I think a lot of long-time readers of the book (i.e., those of us who were reading before David and Jemas cooked up this publicity stunt) would feel the same way. I’ve always been a big fan of what I call “cosmic Marvel,” things like Silver Surfer and Warlock, and for the past several years, Captain Marvel has been the only cosmic-type book that Marvel puts out (at least until God answers my nightly prayers and gives me a Grant Morrison-penned Silver Surfer book).

At the same time, I’m not a terribly big (I swear, that’s not a “comic book fans are overweight joke”) Peter David fan. I always found his Hulk to be rather impenetrable, drowning in its own continuity, as it were. I laughed out loud when, in his column at CBR, Mark Millar said something to the effect of “The Hulk‘s not a book where we can explore the soul of a tortured man; it’s about industry in-jokes and past continuity!” He hit the nail on the head with that sarcasm, man. As well, I think his Supergirl suffers basically the same problems (although I can’t imagine ever giving a damn about a Supergirl book anyway) and Young Justice is just too…fluffy, I guess…for my tastes. However, I always found his mix of snide humor and comic book in-jokes to be rather well played within the pages of Captain Marvel; I for one never had any of the problems the Quesada and Jemas claimed readers had with the book. That’s just me though.

So anyway, back to the issue at hand: is it any good?

Yes and no. The issue deals with several concepts (David’s feelings about Israel / Palestine, the whole “if Superman is so powerful, why doesn’t he stop wars and genocide instead of bank robberies” issue, and what I took to be a reference to abortion) in a fairly short amount of time, so at times it feels a little schizophrenic. David jumps from one idea to another fairly rapid-fire-like, but it doesn’t ever feel like he explored them with any real depth. The suicide bomber moment was amusing, in a morbid sort of way, and I think it got all the attention that it deserved. The moment that I took to be a reference to abortion (the whole bit about one life making a difference and what not) just felt contrived; for the record, I generally agree with David’s politics on this issue, it’s just that I really don’t care to hear about them in what basically amounts to a throwaway superhero book. Of course, I could be reading too much into this, in which case my criticism is a bit misplaced. Regardless, it should be said in all fairness that the entire issue is essentially dealing with the whole “how all-powerful is Captain Marvel?” question and what effects that power has on him.

So anyway, what we’re left with here is, thankfully, not simply a rehash of the origin of Genis-Vell. There’s a brief summary of his origin, but it’s told in text boxes while the art is doing something different. That was my big concern before having read the issue: that I’d be sitting through 22 pages of material that I already know. David’s story is fun and, for once, not at all laden with the backlog of continuity that his books are usually saddled with. It’s an issue that, I’m fairly certain, a new reader would have no trouble reading and understanding; which is good, considering the whole point of this U-Decide thing was to give David a fresh start on the story and, in turn, a second chance to make a first impression (hence, gaining new readers, hopefully).

It’s not by any means art and it’s not going to change the face of modern comics as we know it. If you take it for what it is (i.e., just another superhero book, albeit one that’s slightly more well-written), it’s definitely worth your $2.25. And it’s worth mentioning that, as always, Chriscross’s kinetic art style is in full swing and fits the title perfectly.


The Hood #5

Brian K. Vaughn, the writer for The Hood, is currently getting an incredible (and well-deserved) amount of good press over the work he’s doing on Vertigo’s Y: The Last Man. If you, in reading Y (which, if you aren’t, you seriously need to ask yourself why not), are just discovering Vaughn, you owe it to yourself to check out the really rather nice work he’s turned in on The Hood over the past several months. It’s a book that, much like Y, he could have easily dropped the ball on. However, again much like Y, he doesn’t and the end result is some rather impressive work.

A quick summary for those who may not have previously read the book: during a nearly-botched jewel heist, small-time criminal Parker Robbins and his drug addict cousin, John King, kill a demonic entity. Parker swipes the creature’s cloak and boots, which he soon finds grant him the ability to turn invisible for short periods of time (by holding his breath) and to walk on air. However, the diamonds they make off with belong to The Golem, a crimelord so notorious that apparently he intimidates even The Kingpin. The Golem sets his super-powered henchmen on Robbins’ tail and during his escape from their ambush, Parker shoots and critically wounds a New York City policeman. In issue #5, the noose begins to tighten around Parker’s neck, as his cousin is in police custody (charged with the shooting that Parker himself committed), The Golem continues to pursue both his stolen diamonds and Parker’s slow death, and an FBI task force seeks to make a name for themselves by “taking down a mask.”

The really surprising part about The Hood thus far has been the unflinchingly honest manner in which Vaughn treats his burgeoning protagonist. Robbins isn’t truly a bad person, though he’s by no means a “good” human being. He wants to do right by his pregnant, naïve girlfriend. At the same time, he’s basically too lazy to get a day-job and besides, none of them would pay enough to placate the mistress he keeps on the side. You never get the impression during this story that, come the close of the six-issue mini-series, Parker will see the error of his ways, the wounded cop will emerge from his coma and everyone will live happily ever after. Quite the contrary, it appears, at least to me, that this is all going to end very badly and very violently. In fact, if Parker lives through this escapade, I’ll be disappointed if there isn’t a very good reason for it.

Regardless, between another career-making outing from Vaughn and some distinctive pencils from Kyle Hotz, it’s a book that you really should be reading. I give it .

Daredevil #37

Generally speaking, I try not to ever read reviews at other sites before I write my reviews for I’m afraid that reading another’s opinion will color my thinking or that I’ll, unconsciously, steal a turn of phrase from someone else’s review, which would destroy any shred of credibility that I might have. But I happened to swing by tonight right before I started writing these and I noticed that Don MacPherson has chosen this week’s issue of Daredevil as his “Best of the Week.” I want to preface my upcoming comment by saying that I have nothing but respect for the guys at The Fourth Rail and I think both Lander and MacPherson generally bring more than their share of insightful comments to the table when they write reviews. But, that having been said, I don’t think I could disagree with him more on that choice.

This issue of Daredevil is, in my humble opinion, yet another perfect example of what I called last week “Brian Bendis Syndrome.” That is, this issue is so pointless that I felt ripped off, and I get my comics for free. Elektra appears to have been thrown in for no reason other than to spike sales a slight bit and to allow Bendis to use plot exposition as dialogue as she stands there and lets Matt Murdock “unburden” himself about the events of this interminable story arc. The bright spot of the issue is the high concept (the publisher of the Globe is, in a moral sense, in the right, even though he’s opposing our hero); it’s just that the execution of it really leaves something to be desired.

Let me put it another way: it took me around three minutes or so to read this issue, cover to cover, and I tried to take my time. I just can’t put it any simpler than this: next to nothing happens in this issue. In the same way that Star Wars: Episode One could’ve easily fit onto the scroll at the beginning of Episode Two, the sum total of this issue’s events could have been related to the reader in the summary page of Daredevil #38. Basically, you could skip this one and I promise you, you won’t be missing anything important.

The worst part of all this is that, after close to a year (I believe) of this story arc, it’s apparently going to continue on. The close of the issue ends with “Next Issue: The Trial of the Century.” Looking at the Marvel solicitations for December, I find that the “The Trial of the Century” arc is apparently a four issue long one. So this story arc, which has outlived its welcome long since, is going to carry on for at least another four months. It’s a depressing thought to me.

In closing, I make a snide remark: Matt, while talking to Elektra, explains that he thinks “the sight” of Elektra was meant by the Black Widow (who contacted Elektra) to snap him out of his depression. Maybe it’s just me, but it seems awfully difficult for “the sight” of anything to make much impact on someone who is, y’know, BLIND.

You could certainly do much, much worse this week (I’m looking at you, Marville), but you could do a lot better. .

Quick Reviews:

Catwoman Secret Files and Origins #1

Although a little pricey at $4.95, it’s a fun read that basically serves as a textbook example of what the SF&O series should be: some summary of the book’s set-up, a little foreshadowing for the issues following the SF&O, and some stand-alone stories that are just plain fun. It reads, in a lot of ways, more like an old-school annual than anything else and that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The highlight story, in my opinion, is the first one, in which several different parties describe run-ins with Catwoman.


Tom Strong’s Terrific Tales #4

The first story of this sometimes-uneven anthology series about ABC’s most recognizable character is easily the strongest of the bunch. It is, as you might have guessed, the only one of the three written by the imprint’s father-figure, Alan Moore. Sometimes I actually enjoy the Tales version of Tom Strong more than I do the regular series, as the Silver Age kitsch that is part and parcel to him is best taken in small doses and I think that Moore sometimes has a tendency to get a bit carried away with it.


Fables #5

Fables is the book that’s running with Midnight, Mass and Y: The Last Man at the head of what appears to be a new Vertigo revolution. I’m a sucker for a good detective story, so I was an easy sell on this entire first story arc. However, the high concept is really ripe with story opportunities and Willingham is a veteran writer, so I’m fairly confident that the series will maintain the level of quality that the initial arc has set. In this issue, the conclusion of that self-same arc, Bigby Wolf is able to fulfill his dream of acting out a staple of the mystery genre. Namely, the parlor scene, wherein all suspects and concerned parties are gathered to see the mystery unraveled by the wily investigator. It’s a fun read and a satisfying conclusion. Definitely worth checking out if you haven’t already, though finding issues #1 and 2 may prove a bit difficult, as I hear they’re sold out at the publisher. Luckily, the arc will be collected in a trade paperback in December.


G.I. Joe #10

This one’s really kind of hard to review. I was a huge fan of G.I. Joe when I was growing up in the ’80s, so the inner child absolutely loves reading this book every month. But, to be perfectly honest, it’s not particularly good. Then again, that’s almost OK, because no one really expects it to be Watchmen or something. This is one of those books that either you’re the audience for or you aren’t, just like Transformers, Thundercats and Battle of the Planets. The people I feel truly sorry for though, are those who are buying all four of those books and planning to buy Robotech and Masters of the Universe. My nostalgia is strong, but only goes so far and really; G.I. Joe is the only one of those properties that I have fond enough memories of to buy a comic book of. If I were being objective, which I’ll try to be for the purposes of this review, I’d give it: .

Hairball: A Cal McDonald Mystery

Wow. This…sucked. Steve Niles is currently getting a lot of press (and deservedly so) over his other work for IDW, 30 Days of Night. However, I took a gander at his work on Hellspawn and you’d never know it was the same creator. Whereas 30 Days of Night is clever and makes good use of atmosphere to evoke the mood, his work on Hellspawn is just plain bad (of course, it IS a Spawn book; how good could it be?). I also recently read the short novel that Niles penned with the same lead character as this issue. It was mediocre, but showed some flashes of creativity; however, it was dragged down by clichés and excessive drug use for no apparent reason other than shock value. Hairball has all the bad qualities of Savage Membrane (the short novel) and none of the charm, which was sparse in the first place. To boot, the use of the word “mystery” in the title is sort of misleading, since any sort of understanding of the concept (McDonald is a detective who constantly finds himself caught up in supernatural occurrences) would allow you to venture a guess that this book is going to have a werewolf somewhere in it (and you’d be right) based solely on the title alone. Anyway, it’s pretty lousy and your three dollars is better spent on a wide variety of other books. To boot, the art by Casey Jones is downright amateurish; I’m not sure it’d even be good enough for an Avatar book. I don’t feel the least bit guilty giving it: .

Simpsons Comics #74

Reviewing this is a lot like reviewing G.I. Joe. I’m not reading it because of any lasting impact it’s going to have on the comics industry or because it’s particularly well written. But it is amusing and if you’re down with The Simpsons already, you’ll probably enjoy it. There’s really nothing more to it than that. Let’s say I give it…oh…how ’bout : .

Uncanny X-Men #413

Chuck Austen continues to put the family aspect of the team back into the book, continuing to remind me of the golden years (not to be confused with the more recent “really lousy years”) of Chris Claremont. Though we still have no explanation as to how Havok has been returned to the mainstream Marvel universe (he was previously trapped in a hellish dimension that I call “Written by Howard Mackie”), the team’s reaction to his return is genuine and varied. As a credit to his abilities as a writer, Austen has managed to make Stacy X (the mutant hooker, I kid you not) into something resembling an interesting character. At the very least, her relationship with Archangel is building towards something and I’m interested enough to keep following. In the end, if New X-Men wasn’t your cup of tea, Uncanny X-Men is a viable alternative. You no longer have to seek solace in X-Treme X-Crement to find an X-book that doesn’t really challenge the traditional boundaries of what the team stands for. However, Austen is providing the audience with a Geoff Johns-level of writing: it’s fun superheroics, in keeping with what a sizeable portion of comics readers expect from the book, but written well enough that more discriminating readers will not have their intelligence insulted. I would be remiss if I didn’t mention two final points: 1) I previously credited Sean Phillips as having turned in the art chores for Uncanny X-Men, which was incorrect; it was Ron Garney. 2) Sean Phillips is in fact penciling this issue (don’t worry, I double-checked this time) and he does a more than adequate job. Not as easily enjoyable as Garney’s work was, but very nice nonetheless.


One Plus One #1

Well, color me intrigued. This first issue from two creators I’ve never heard of takes a bit of a slow start, but once things get moving, it’s a damned good read. Our two protagonists are quite the pair: one constantly sees what people will look like after they’ve died and the other is already dead (though it’s unclear if he’s one of the walking dead or an agent of some higher power). One is on a mission (the zombie/agent of Heaven) and the other seems to have no direction in life whatsoever. In this issue, little happens other than an alcohol-soaked conversation between the two, as both explain their respective predicaments. Regardless, it’s fascinating reading and I’m really looking forward to #2. Oni has rarely disappointed me (Shot Callerz is the only occasion I can recall and I generally buy every book Oni produces in a given month) and this new series looks to carry on their reputation for quality. Pick it up, it’s definitely one of my picks of the week. .

Incredible Hulk #45

I get nauseous with jealousy every time I think about how perfectly crafted this issue was. It’s another one of my picks of the week, so I don’t want to spoil plot details. Suffice it to say that Jones has really outdone himself this time: the confusion that Banner feels is passed along to the reader, resulting in an actual enhancement of the story, rather than annoyance. As well, this issue manages to capture the Fugitive-style feel of the television series, as well as the modern horror that Jones is known for. You owe it to yourself to read this issue. My only complaint is that the “new Marvel” should be spending all of its time and money holding up books like this and, usually, Daredevil, that manage to be both mature and superheroic, rather than juvenile publicity stunts like U-Decide.


Y: The Last Man #3

I just can’t say enough good things about this book. For God’s sake, I’m a fairly right-wing guy and I laughed out loud at this: “Who’s shooting at us? Terrorists?” “Worse. Republicans.” It’s a book that challenges the notion that many comic readers have that a Vertigo book needs be dark and self-indulgent. Y is both original and light-hearted, despite its high concept involving the genocide of everything on Earth with a Y chromosome. The previous two issues, which I absolutely loved, really didn’t give us a feel for what the series will be like once things get rolling, and I’ve heard some concerns about that voiced in my store. Let it be said now that those concerns should be laid to rest in the wake of this issue. Vaughn has a daunting task ahead of himself, as he’s set the bar so high in these early issues that it’s hard to believe that any writer would be able to keep up this level of quality. Even so, I must say that I have nothing but confidence in Vaughn’s abilities and Y continues to be the last book I read week in and week out (FYI: I try to save the best stuff for last). I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: if you aren’t reading this book, start now. .

American Splendor: Unsung Hero #2

It’s absolutely an enthralling read. I’m not going to even attempt to review this book, as I simply don’t feel intelligent enough to do it justice. If you’ve never read Harvey Pekar’s book before, pick up this issue and the one previous and take the time to read them. It’s a powerful look at both the Vietnam War and American race relations at the time.


The Absolute Authority hardcover

Y’know, reviewing this book is sort of a problem. On one hand, if you like The Authority, you probably have either the single issues contained herein (the entire Warren Ellis run, #1-12) or the trade paperbacks that it covers. Then again, the oversized format is so kind to Bryan Hitch’s already outstanding art that it makes you realize that this is truly the format in which this book should be read. However, the $50 price tag is very prohibitive in regards to the possibility of impulse buying it. If my comics budget wasn’t essentially unlimited, I question whether or not I’d have picked this up. Regardless, I’m thoroughly glad I did and if you have the means, I highly recommend picking one up (credit to John Hughes for that turn of phrase).

That’s a wrap on another edition of Optic Verve. I didn’t have a chance to review SPX 2002 (the anthology tpb produced by the Small Press Expo) or Midnight, Mass #6. However, cursory glances and past experiences suggest that both are worth your hard-earned (or ill-gotten, I really have no way of knowing) dollars. In any case, thanks for bearing with as I continue to overuse parenthetical phrases. Your feedback is welcome and appreciated, folks.

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