I’m currently snowed in, so badly so that I almost didn’t go to work on Wednesday to get new comics at all. However, the time cooped up in the house should allow for a) lots of reviews and b) timely reviews, something that the column has been short of lately.
The Mighty Thor #57
Marvel Comics – Dan Jurgens (w); various artists (a)
…Thor is a readable book. Would someone kindly tell me when in the blue hell this happened? Man, I feel like I’ve stumbled into some kind of parallel universe, like I’m in Bizarro World or something. If you had told me a year ago (hell, a couple months ago) that not only would I voluntarily read a Thor book, but actually enjoy it, I’d have looked them straight in the eye and laughed.
Sales on Thor, in my store, have been nothing less than astounding over the past six months or so. Originally, I simply chalked it up to buzz over the death of Odin continuing to sucker new readers onto the book. However, it rapidly got to the point where I couldn’t ignore the fact that people were still buying the book, long past the point where the simple fun of seeing Thor as the All-Father should have worn off. So a month or so ago, I decided to bite the bullet and read an issue, just to see what the fuss was all about, fully prepared to shrug my shoulders after it was over and put the book back on the shelf, still dumbfounded. But it didn’t work that way.
I’ll admit, there’s a part of me that really doesn’t want to enjoy this book. For one, the last thing I need is another monthly superhero book (imagine, if you will, that I don’t review half the superhero books that I read in a given week; it’s rather sad, really). For another, I’ve made a career of laughing at Thor fans for about the last ten years. And I feel justified in doing so, because for the vast majority of those years, the book was a pile. Whenever I would talk about characters that had long outlived their need for an individual book, Thor was right there beside Wolverine and Captain America. And while I still hold to my notion that the other two belong solely on their respective teams’ books, I’m being forced to challenge my thoughts about Thor (incidentally, he’s no longer on The Avengers, so you can’t use that excuse either).
Simply put, the book is interesting. With Odin dead, Thor takes up his father’s throne and reigns as the Lord of Asgard. However, some slight changes are made. Thor takes a much more pro-active stance than his father did, dragging a sizeable chunk of Asgard down to Midgard (Earth) and floating it directly over New York City, the mortal city that he feels is most in need of his guidance and protection. For once, Thor is being seriously treated as a god, not just Marvel’s equivalent of Superman, who just happens to have a magic hammer. And when I say he’s being a god, I mean he’s making crops grow in the desert, healing the sick, etc.
Jurgens is doing a fantastic job of mixing both the necessary elements of superheroic action with intrigue at Thor’s court and the world’s reaction to having a god’s presence made known to them (or, at the very least, a man that they believe is simply claiming to be a god). The Enchantress is Thor’s consort and Loki is some sort of advisor and if you can’t find that at least amusingly intriguing, I don’t know what to tell you. Regardless, the past couples issues have been some of the best superhero-related issues that I’ve read this year, as much as it pains me to say that. This issue in particular is a great jumping-on point, revolving as it does around Volstagg telling some Asgardian children a story of their liege (which might be a rehash of past stories, I don’t know) and featuring the introduction of a new status quo. If you’re at all intrigued by the concept (and I think you should be), now’s a good time to try it out.
Ultimate Spider-Man #32
Marvel Comics – Brian Michael Bendis (w); Mark Bagley (p); Art Thibert (i)
Just a little spoiler warning before we start out. I can’t rightly review this book without discussing plot points and I think it’s worth reviewing, so if you read on, don’t complain later. If you’d rather just stop now and skip to the next, I’ll say in advance that this is definitely worth buying this week.
Spoiler #1: The man running around in the Spider-Man suit, which consensus at my store had pegged as either The Chameleon (which Bendis has stated on several occasions is one of his favorite Spidey villains) or Eddie Brock (which made sense, given that the Venom arc starts next issue) is…nobody. He’s just a guy robbing banks in a suit. Now, that doesn’t really explain how exactly he jumped around like Spider-Man, albeit without Spidey’s trademark sense of grace, as Ben Urich pointed out. But it doesn’t matter much, if you ask me, because the revelation of the fake Spider-Man leads to a really nice character-driven moment, a turning point in Peter’s career as a superhero.
Spoiler #2: Mary Jane breaks up with Peter. Now, the cynic in me thinks that this move is part of an editorial edict to make the book even closer to the movie, since the two were not a couple at the close of the flick and hence shouldn’t be in Ultimate Spider-Man. But even if it is an order handed down from on high, I’ll live with it because the manner in which it’s done is both tasteful and logical. It’s not a ham-fisted break-up, it makes perfect sense. It’s hard enough to believe sometimes that a teenage boy can handle the responsibility of being a superhero, much less that a teenage boy and his girlfriend can both handle it. And really, one of the best parts of Peter’s history is his love life, so this makes room not only for the obvious choice, Gwen Stacy (who, as of this issue, permanently lives with Peter and Aunt May), but also for Felicia Hardy and Betty Brant. Anyway, it’s a good move and I applaud it.
In any case, this is another solid, character-driven story. When Ultimate Spider-Man is on, it’s a shining example of everything that the Ultimate line can be and should be; this issue is one of those times.
Ultimate War #1
Marvel Comics – Mark Millar (w); Chris Bachalo (p); Tim Townsend (i)
And, by contrast, this book is an example of the problems that can arise from the Ultimate line: the inevitable crossover.
Millar’s constant posturing in interviews that Ultimate War was going to somehow stand as a parallel for the conflict between the United States and the Middle East turned me off to this story before it even saw the shelves. Even still, by the time I read it this past week, I had sort of forgotten about that and was fully prepared to enjoy the book, which I did, for almost the entire duration of the read. Then the last couple of pages showed up and it all fell flat.
If there is anyone out there who has read this and seriously believes that the X-Men are going to still be “bad guys” at the end of this mini-series, I feel sorry for them. To be sure, the former status quo of a world hating and fearing them will probably be reinstated. But their alliance with Magneto will almost assuredly be revealed to be part of Xavier’s master plan to uncover his archenemy’s respective plans. I mean, that’s just the way these things work, right?
I’ll grant you, there’s a chance, no matter how infinitesimal it may be, that Millar will pull a swerve out of his bag of tricks and shock the comics world. But then again, I lost my faith in the Ultimate line’s ability to shock me when Mary Jane wasn’t killed by the throw from the bridge, she merely passed out (I never thought Bendis would kill her, but I thought it would’ve made a fantastic surprise move).
In the end, I’m afraid that Ultimate War will be subject to that most constant of curses, The Curse of the Marvel Mini-Series. That is to say, none of them ever matter, since nothing ever occurs in them that endures beyond the final issue of the mini. So if you’re looking for a fun, fanboy read about the Avengers fighting the X-Men in the Ultimate continuity, this is the book for you. Don’t let my negativity dissuade you, it’s an entertaining book, on par with most of Millar’s superhero work these days. But all the same, this book could’ve (and probably should’ve) been so much more. That’s what I get for hoping, I suppose.
G.I. Joe: Frontline #2
Image Comics – Larry Hama (w); Dan Jurgens (p); Bob Layton (i)
Good God, this book is horrible. After I suffered through the first issue, I tried to tell myself that Hama was probably just a little rusty, what with not having written these particular characters for about seven or eight years now. Now, I’m not saying I expected him to turn this into Watchmen or anything, but this issue is just beyond belief. It’s overly wordy, unfunny and even more implausible than the cartoon it’s based on (and that, my friend, is quite the accomplishment). If you thought the main G.I. Joe book was out there, you haven’t seen anything yet, as Frontline makes it a paragon of rational thought and quality writing by comparison.
Steer clear, even if you’re a die-hard Joe fan like myself.
Uncanny X-Men #416
Marvel Comics – Chuck Austen (w); Kia Asamiya (a)
When I was in junior high (that’s 1990-93, for the curious), there was a period where I absolutely lived for X-Men comics. And during that period, one of the things that always fascinated me about the books were what I’ve always called “down-time issues.” They were the ones like X-Men #8, where the teams got together and had a barbecue. Typically, some sort of minor conflict broke out (in the issue in question, Gambit and Bishop got in a fight; as a side note, that issue was the first X-Men book that I bought off the shelf, that’s why I remember it so well), but it was almost always resolved by the issue’s end. Those stories were what I missed when the constantly self-referential nature of the books lead me to drop them from my pull-list and since I’ve started reading some of the X-titles again, I don’t recall having seen a story like that. Austen turns in one of those stories this time and although it’s not his finest hour on the book, it is a nice change of pace.
In Uncanny #416, the story is basically a mess of subplots all being either resolved or furthered, with little to no conflict to speak of. There’s the Annie/Havok “romance.” The Squid Boy/Juggernaut friendship. Stacy’s feelings for Archangel. Bobby’s ever-increasing power levels. The Professor’s quest to recover Havok’s psyche. These plot threads are what the issue is about, not the X-Men saving the world that hates and fears them for the umpteenth time this year. And it works, for the most part.
The problem is that Austen’s last couple of issues have been a little light on the superheroics and more focused on the soap opera. That was fine, since his opening arc was essentially the exact opposite. But this issue, I had hoped, would start to pick up the pace a little bit more. It’s understandable, I suppose, to keep the pace a bit slower and stick to a more character-driven story, for this issue in particular. #416 is the debut issue of manga superstar Kia Asamiya, so maybe Marvel felt it was in their best interests to give the man a little time to acclimate himself to the book and its characters. I don’t know.
In any case, the issue is still better than anything produced from the book in at least the last several years (certainly worlds better than any issue from Joe Casey’s abomination of a run). It’s not a stunner of a story, but competently written nonetheless and still a worthy contribution to a run that looks to have some serious potential. That potential should only increase if the rumors of Austen taking over the writing chores of New X-Men as well are true, what with the whispered departure of Grant Morrison after New X-Men #150.
Gotham Central #1
DC Comics – Ed Brubaker, Greg Rucka (w); Michael Lark (a)
Man, I was really looking forward to this. A police procedural book, set in Gotham City, written by Brubaker and Rucka? What’s not to like? I mean, these are the guys who have ensured that the two core Batman books are at least readable, month in and month out, since I got back into comics about three years ago. That’s solid gold as far as potential goes, in my opinion. You toss in Michael Lark, whose work on the Brubaker-penned Scene of the Crime: A Little Piece of Goodnight was stunning and you’ve got all the necessary ingredients for a great book. And then I read it and it’s not as good as I thought it would be.
Now, this is not to say that the book isn’t good, because it is. It’s just that I guess I expected more out of the opening arc. A bit more CSI, a bit less Batman. But there it is, the opening arc features an apparently senseless killing spree by Mr. Freeze. The only mystery here is why Freeze is not killing some people, voluntarily leaving a witness behind in his first murder.
Overall, the characterizations are tight, focusing on some new members of the GCPD, rather than Montoya and Allen, as I had expected (though they play substantial roles). The artwork from Lark is dark and moody when it’s appropriate, lending a real sense of the passage of time as the night and day shift trade places.
I’m not really sure why I’m so disappointed by this issue. I think if it had been the second story arc, I wouldn’t have complained. But as it stands, I was really expecting a bit more noir, a bit less glitz for the opening arc. And arguably, it would’ve been a better decision to do so. The first arc will make or break the book, as far as sales are concerned. And as it stands now, this is basically nothing more than a Batman book without Batman, which isn’t a good move.
Eden’s Trail #2
Marvel Comics – Chuck Austen (w); Steve Uy (w/a)
It’s like anime on paper, complete with unrealistic dialogue, full of characters over-explaining their every move. And when you get right down to it, the Marvel-scope format doesn’t contribute a blasted thing to the book.
But all the same, things finally start to happen this issue, albeit slowly. At this point, 1/3 of the way through the story, I might as well finish the book out and probably will.
It’s hard to recommend that you run out and catch up on this book, as it’s nothing terribly stunning. I’d like to think that Marvel could’ve found something more worthwhile to launch their creator-owned projects (i.e., all those that Mark Millar is continually talking about in interviews and at cons).
In any event, it’s not so much a bad book as it is simply a mediocre one. If you’re already a fan of manga and anime, you’ll undoubtedly enjoy the book. Otherwise, just pass on this one.