Before I start, a couple of items of business:
I did in fact get a request for me to review Ultimate Adventures #1 and Marville #1, though I don’t think that request was made with any hopes of hearing that either book is any good. So, as I said on the message board, “Ask and ye shall receive.”
Secondly, discriminating readers will notice the glaring omission from this week’s batch of reviews: League of Extraordinary Gentlemen V. 2 #3. It’s not that I don’t read LoEG; it’s that Diamond Comics is apparently run by a pack of inbred howler monkeys that can’t seem to properly transcribe my store’s order. To that end, they shipped us zero copies of the new issue of League, despite the fact that we ordered 35 (this is on top of the error from two weeks ago, where they shipped us 32 copies of the original League trade paperback and billed us for 35 when we ordered like 6). Then we got to argue with our customer rep who apparently thought it was our mistake, despite the fact that we had a copy of our order form in front of us (us being the store owner and myself) that clearly showed that we did, in fact, order it. So let’s all give a big round of applause to Bill Tucker (our rep) and his equally half-witted cronies at Diamond for my being unable to review what was probably been an outstanding issue. On the upside though, we did get an apology from Tucker when he bothered to, y’know, shut his flapping pie-hole, stop habitually disagreeing with us, and actually look at our order. That made my day (Wednesday, for the record). Well, that and outrunning a cop in my new car (which doesn’t have insurance yet, hence the running).
Marvel Comics – Geoff Johns (w); Kieron Dwyer (p); Rick Remender (i)
As I recall, I fairly unimpressed by last month’s Avengers #57, Geoff Johns debut issue as the book’s writer. And I also recall hoping that, given the fact that the first issue of any new writer is usually nothing more than set-up and exposition, his second issue would improve upon the flaws of the first and begin to further the plot (for those not reading, mysterious voids have appeared over a majority of the world’s nation’s capital cities, leaving the world to wonder if the cities therein have been destroyed or simply displaced; in response, the United Nations invokes a previously unused bylaw which allows them to give control of the entire world to the Avengers). However, I can’t say that I’m any more impressed with this issue than I was with last time and the reasons are several and varied.
First of all, I must say I’m growing rather tired of having it explained to me in book after book how important Captain America is to the Marvel Universe and how every other “real” hero idolizes Steve Rogers. I grasp the idea that he’s basically Marvel’s equivalent of Superman, the iconic, superheroic ideal that the other white bread (or not so white bread, I suppose, in Falcon’s case) superheroes all aspire towards. I don’t need to beaten over the head with the “Captain America is a legend” mallet to understand it, but that’s just what Johns does in this issue. The problem isn’t that Johns shows us another Avenger admiring Cap’s poise under pressure or smooth sense of leadership; it’s that he shows it to us over and over again.
Secondly, there’s an absolutely glaring inconsistency in the story that I just found to an appalling example of truly how little Marvel’s editors apparently do. In the issue’s intro page, we’re given a quick synopsis of the story thus far and a short version of Iron Man’s origin. As well, it notes that Tony Stark recently revealed to the world that he is (and has always been, aside from the stints when Rhodes was wearing the armor) Iron Man. Yet, when Iron Man is attempting to calm European investors over the upheaval, Stark pulls back his faceplate and is met with shocked expressions by the financial moguls. Now, this is the equivalent of Michael Jordan announcing to the world that he is, in fact, Bill Gates and has been wearing a mask for years. I think the news might spread beyond the boundaries of the United States. Yet, apparently, such is not the case in the Marvel Universe. This asinine plot point is compounded by the simple fact that the intro page tells us that the world DOES know that Tony Stark is Iron Man. So why the shock and dismay, you ask? I’ve no idea. It doesn’t make much sense and strikes me as simply poor writing.
On a lesser note, I find it sort of irritating that She-Hulk is being played as a bit of an airhead. Now, I can’t claim to having been a diehard reader of her book previously (point of fact, I’ve never owned nor read a She-Hulk book), but this issue specifically identifies her as a lawyer. Regardless of your opinion of lawyers, you don’t get to become one by being a vacant, ditzy broad.
There are good points though. Johns is clearly taking his time building the story, and I’m fine with that. He also illustrates what each member of the Avengers “does” in some fairly clever ways, showing the reader rather than having Captain America say something Claremont-esque like “Falcon, use your powers of telepathic control over your bird, Redwing, to futz with that doo-hickey! It’s our only hope!” Also, there are some elements of suspense, in that something is clearly amiss with The Vision and that it simply isn’t clear who or what is orchestrating the catastrophes worldwide, and it’s enough to get me to pick up the next issue, at the very least. It’s just that this issue felt like he was stretching the story’s build-up a bit too much via clichéd plot devices, like the aforementioned Captain America fan club that the rest of the Avengers have apparently devolved into. Overall, the issue is certainly better than a good portion of Busiek’s run (which I always found to be highly overrated), but so far, Johns’ run isn’t exactly the stuff of comics legend.
Fantastic Four #61
Marvel Comics – Mark Waid (w); Mike Wieringo (p); Karl Kesel (i)
Man, I’m really torn on this one. I must confess I really want to like this book. But I just don’t think I’m its audience here.
I guess my problem (and question) is, “Have these characters simply not grown at all in 40-something years?” I understand that comic book characters clearly don’t age like the rest of us do, but I find it hard to wrap my brain around a character that’s been around for over forty years acting like a twelve-year old (Johnny Storm is the character in question here, for the record). I was first put off by Waid’s interview at Comics Newsarama where he seemed to imply that he would ignore all past continuity that didn’t agree with his versions of the characters. While I’m all for not letting continuity bog your story down, that’s not a valid reason to regress and retcon any sort of growth that these characters might have had (and given the fact that it’s a Marvel book, there’s probably been precious little actual growth for the Fantastic Four since 1961).
I enjoyed the 9-cent issue because it seemed perfectly crafted to serve its purpose: namely, reintroducing the characters to a theoretically unfamiliar audience in a new and amusing way. However, I’m forced to wonder how long the trend will continue, as this issue is basically every bit as explanatory as the previous one. I realize that I’m only giving Waid two issues to convince me here, but I really expected more of a story. Instead, this issue feels more like a back-up story from an annual or something.
To boot, there are several moments where Waid is clearly trying way too hard to be perceived as hip and his references are painfully outdated. For God’s sake, how (ignoring the more important question, “Why?”) would Johnny be watching Tom Green re-runs? The show’s been gone for some number of years, right? I admit that I’m not exactly up the minute on my MTV programming, but I feel fairly confident that that man’s fifteen minutes are up (though Hollywood feels compelled to continue to inflict him on an unsuspecting public with garbage like Stealing Harvard). You just get that same embarrassed feeling from Waid that you do when someone’s father tries to use teenage vernacular that’s about five years past its expiration date. It’s both clumsy and pathetic.
On the positive side, I’m happy to see that Waid is treating the family dynamic as the dominant theme of the book (it’s a bit more soap opera than superhero) and there are several occasions where the humor is spot-on and enjoyable. I think the real problem is that Waid is simply trying too hard to be cool and it’s coming off as contrived. It’s enjoyable, but not as good as I expected it to be. .
Fight for Tomorrow #1
DC/Vertigo – Brian Wood (w); Denys Cowan (p); Kent Williams (i)
Another day, another #1 issue. It gets hard to review introductory issues after a while, because essentially very little happens in the vast majority of them. They typically either give you nothing but action, hoping to draw you in with the thrill or give you nothing but story, hoping their wordsmithing will bring you back next month. Fight for Tomorrow manages to straddle the fence and do a little of both, though I have some reservations about the series given Brian Wood’s past history.
If you’ve read Channel Zero, you can probably understand those reservations. I read a review of Wood’s most well-known work once that said that it was story that went from point A to point A. It’s clever and apt at the same time, as Channel Zero spends a lot of time building (and strongly, at that) towards a conclusion that never appears. Fight for Tomorrow begins in the same way, starting the story in media res and doling out plot details and back story at a trickle rather than a flood. For the most part, it works.
We’re given a protagonist, Cedric, who has recently lost his girlfriend and is currently sleeping with an apparently affluent would-be writer simply because she is financially stable. However, Cedric evidently has a history of violence and is well-trained in the martial arts. This training, and a chance encounter, leads him to an underground world of unlicensed martial arts fighting (a sort of mélange of Fight Club and Snatch). Wood deepens the character by showing a deeply spiritual side: Cedric is known by face, if not by name, at a local Buddhist temple. A worker/student at that shrine’s curiosity leads her to send her brother to watch Cedric fight. Previously, during their only meeting, Cedric and the young woman’s conversation is contrasted by flashback sequences of a conversation between Cedric and his lost love, Christy. A parallel is clearly drawn when Cedric weeps at the memory of Christy administering first aid to him after a fight and the Buddhist woman’s brother contacting her via cell phone from a fight where Cedric has been beaten to an apparently bloody pulp.
The similarities between Fight for Tomorrow and Channel Zero run further than the manner in which they establish their action. They also share a resemblance in their sense of artistic style, as Denys Cowan’s pencils are very reminiscent of both those of Brett Weldele (who work with Wood on Cous Cous Express, another graphic novel) and Wood himself (he did all the creative work on Channel Zero, both writing and drawing it). They’re sketchy and rough, but evoke the mood aptly and convey the gritty action quite nicely.
Overall, it’s an intriguing first issue and, to be honest with you, I’d have probably picked up the rest of the series simply because it’s a Vertigo book. It’s definitely worth a look, though I can’t say I’d recommend it to everyone. .
Ultimate Adventures #1
Marvel Comics – Ron Zimmerman (w); Duncan Fegredo (p/i);
Well, I must admit, this wasn’t half as bad as I expected it to be. Given my generally low opinion of the U-Decide stunt as a whole, and my complete distaste for Ron Zimmerman specifically (who we should all thank, however, for writing the only Punisher story worse than when Marvel made the Punisher inexplicably black for about six months in the early ’90s), I thought Bill Jemas would be hard-pressed to churn out a book that could top Ultimate Adventures for sheer lack of quality.
The issue here isn’t that Ultimate Adventures is necessarily bad; it’s just that it’s boring. It’s intentionally written as a parody of Golden/Silver Age origin issues, but the problem with that is that most of those origin stories are generally recognized as poorly written by today’s standards. If they’re enjoyable at all, it’s only for nostalgia or kitsch value, not for any intrinsic literary value. There’s just nothing here to enjoy, in my opinion. It’s all fairly clichéd and contrived (which, again, I understand is sort of the point).
The only surprises are that Zimmerman doesn’t resort to the incessant Hollywood name-dropping that his previous efforts have been so over-laden with and the Batman / Robin latent pedophilia / homosexuality jokes are non-existent (though I imagine those will begin popping up next issue).
I think the real problem is that Zimmerman isn’t sure what he’s trying for here. At least with Captain Marvel and Marville, you’re fairly assured of what you’re buying when you look at it. Captain Marvel is the only “serious” effort of the three and Marville is openly nothing more than a half-assed parody. However, Zimmerman seems to genuinely try to inject some heart into the story, which seems ill-advised in a book that no one is going to take seriously no matter what. In the end, you could do worse than to have bought Ultimate Adventures (I’m looking in your direction, Marville), but you could certainly do much better. Before I forget those, many thanks to Joe Quesada (the editor / creator of this book) for being the only U-Decide faction not to resort to alternate covers to pad his sales stats.
Marvel Comics – Bill Jemas (w); Mark Bright (p); Paul Neary (i)
This, on the other hand, was every bit as bad as I expected it to be, if not worse (and trust me, I expected it to be very, very bad). It’s in Marville that it becomes perfectly clear that the entire U-Decide stunt is a sham. Either that or Bill Jemas is even dumber than I have always suspected, because this might be the single most amateurish waste of paper I’ve ever read in comics. I mean, this isn’t even Chaos or Avatar level quality we’re talking about here. I’m not even going to attempt to review this, I’m just going to ridicule it and move along.
In case you’ve been living under a rock, Marville is Bill Jemas’ attempt to irritate his DC counterpart, Paul Levitz. The most ridiculous part of the book comes in the opening page, where Jemas explains the “in-jokes” of the book to us (also, this point has been previously made by Joanna Draper-Carlson, of Comics Worth Reading fame): The bottom of the page reads “In Marville, any similarities between the Comic Book Characters and Real World People is just for fun.” Yet in the standard legal text, we have “No similarity between any of the names, character persons … is intended and any such similarity which may exist is purely coincidental.” If that isn’t screaming for a lawsuit, I don’t know what is, as Paul Levitz is named and ridiculed openly in the book, as well as Ted Turner.
Then we have Ted Turner saying “Dad’s Comic Company (DCC) sucked. They couldn’t make a decent book.” Last I checked, Vertigo alone produced more quality titles than all of Marvel and their related imprints combined. I’ll leave it at that.
Later, KalAOL (the laughably bad parody of Superman) says, “I could start to do things the Marvel way. You know, have a realistic lifestyle with a job and everything, then fight crime out of my sense of responsibility.” Yeah, ’cause I’ve heard so many explanations on how Professor Xavier can afford the Danger Room and the Blackbird jet alone, much less the rest of the gadgetry the X-Men use (the only answer I’ve ever heard is the lame “Uh, it’s all Shi’ar technology” excuse; that’s about as relevant as magnetic fields being the answer to everything in Star Wars). And this is somehow implying, I suppose, that DC characters don’t fight crime out of a sense of responsibility, which couldn’t be further from the truth, in my experience. But that’s OK, we’ll move on.
The real problem with Marville is that it’s simply not funny. And when you take into account that the book’s only selling point is that it’s, at least theoretically, a comedy, that’s a bad sign. Jemas could have made the book better, in my opinion, by choosing to lampoon himself and Marvel, because they’re every bit as ridiculous as Paul Levitz and DC. As in Ultimate Adventures, the central point of comedy here is how contrived Silver Age origins are. However, Jemas chooses to gloss over Stan Lee’s contribution to the angst and hyperbole quotient of the day and focus solely on DC.
I said several days ago in conversation that I think this attempt to irritate Levitz will (or, at least, should) fail. I compared Marville to my other job, where I work with grade school and junior high students. If one of them makes light of me, I find it hard to take offense. After, they’re children, they don’t know any better and, frankly, their opinions mean very little to me. Marville comes off the same way. Marvel Comics is the finger-pointing child in this situation, DC Comics is the adult. If I were Levitz, I’d find it hard to be annoyed by what it essentially the mindless chatter of a man desperately attempting to draw attention away from the fact that even with increased sales, his company is still neck-deep in debt and making little progress.
If I could give it anything lower, I would.
Jason and the Argobots #2
Oni Press – J. Torres (w); Mike Norton (p/i)
It’s a genre not often explored by Oni, generally known for well-crafted horror or hard-boiled crime drama, that of an all-ages adventure book. This time, it comes from J. Torres (he of Allison Dare fame) and Mike Norton (who previous work I’m apparently unfamiliar with). Jason and the Argobots is the story of a boy in a near-future world that stumbles upon an abandoned, enormous and apparently quite powerful suit of robotic armor. The media’s attention is drawn to Jason when he helps aid in preventing a prison breakout near his home in the desert. When the cameras notice him, so does the military, which dispatches a response team to secure the armor for them. If this all sounds more than vaguely like The Iron Giant, it should; it think the resemblances are probably intentional. Regardless, it’s harmless fun, particularly if you’re a fan of big robots, and Norton provides a light-hearted, cartoony style of art. If he could read well enough to enjoy it, I’d have no problem giving this book to my nephew, yet it’s still fun enough that I got a kick out of it. It’s clearly not for everyone though, as it’s basically just bubble gum fun. It’s worth: .
DC Comics – Geoff Johns (w); Justiniano (p); Walden Wong (i)
I love The Flash. Always have. If I could have any superhero’s powers, I’d take his. I mean, think about how much stuff you could accomplish if you only had those powers for a day, much less the rest of your life. So it pains me when I read a really lousy Flash issue, because I go into every single issue hoping to enjoy it. And, as much as I’ve enjoyed most of Johns’ run, this is one of those issues that just doesn’t quite get the job done.
To put it simply, it’s boring. The whole issue focuses on the backstory of the Pied Piper, none of which, to my knowledge is anything new. It’s just whiny and self-indulgent; it’s no fun whatsoever to hear the Piper talk about how he’s a criminal because his parents didn’t love him enough and he only wants attention. To boot, the pencils by Justiniano (my reaction was probably the same as yours: “Who?”) are generally nothing more than a cheap imitation of Joe Quesada (remember when he actually penciled books, rather than hawk them like a carnival barker?). If you’re a diehard Flash fan, chances are you’re going to pick this issue up no matter what I say. However, if you’ve been hearing the good buzz about this book, now is not the time to start picking it up. Wait until next month, at least.
DC/Vertigo – Warren Ellis (w); Darick Robertson (p); Rodney Ramos (i)
I could cry. How in the hell am I supposed to live in a world without Spider Jerusalem now that this book is over? Transmet’s been shipping pretty erratically lately and I found that I didn’t really care, since the slower shipping schedule meant prolonging the inevitable final issue.
And what a final issue it turned out to be. There are just some genuinely laugh-out-loud funny moments in the book, reminding me of what made me love the book to begin with (“Respect the Chair Leg of Truth, Fred. It is terrible and wise” was one of the funniest things I’ve ever read in a comic). It all comes together with a real sense of meaningful conclusion, even though this issue is a sort of cooling off after the climax of #59 (where The Smiler finally got his comeuppance from Spider). Regardless, I recently read that the hallmark of a truly good ending is when you didn’t see it coming, but can’t imagine it having ended any other way. In that case, this is a great ending to a phenomenal book, who’s passing we should all mourn.
DC Comics – Ed Brubaker, Geoff Johns (w); Scott McDaniel (p); Andy Owens (i)
I think it’s safe to assume that if you’re reading Batman right now, this issue was the last thing you wanted to read. After all, next month marks the beginning of the much-publicized Jeph Loeb / Jim Lee run, so the sooner we get this over with, the sooner they can start, right? Even still, Brubaker turns in a satisfying conclusion to his run (which I have generally enjoyed) on Batman before he switches over to Detective Comics in a couple months to replace the outgoing Greg Rucka. And as per usual, Scott McDaniel handles the fairly action-oriented story with his trademark sense of motion and fluidity.
If I have one complaint with Brubaker’s run, it’s been the over-reliance on Deadshot as an antagonist. When a Previews solicitation for an issue reads something to the effect of “Deadshot’s back,” I cringe, since it always seems like he just left. With Rucka choosing to focus more on police procedural and Batman as an actual detective over in Detective Comics, Batman is left to carry the more superheroic side of things. However, Brubaker’s real failing, in my opinion, was failing to utilize one of the character’s greatest strengths: arguably the most recognizable and entertaining rogues’ galleries in all of comics.
However, things look to be building to a real watershed moment in Batman history. Soon, we’ll have Loeb / Lee on Batman, Brubaker on Detective Comics, Brubaker, Rucka and Michael Lark on Gotham Central and Loeb and Ed McGuinness on Superman / Batman. It’s a good time to be a Batman fan and Lord knows I’ve always been a big one. This issue, however, is solely for people like me who would pick up at least the two core Batman books so long as they weren’t absolutely abominable.
Well, I’m running short on time here, as the reviews need to be submitted to Julian and I need to head for bed. However, next week I’ll definitely have reviews of the things I missed from this week, particularly Pulpatoon Pilgrimage, an ogn by Joel Priddy and Holliday, a weird western from Saddle Tramp Press. Thanks for reading and, as always, your feedback is appreciated.