First off, an apology to my readers: I’ve been a slackass lately. That’s all there is to it. Reviews have been less than prolific because, quite frankly, there just hasn’t been a lot to get excited about, whether for good or for ill. The few things that I’ve read that really struck me as worth noting (again, either for good or for bad), I’ve reviewed. But the vast majority of the books that I tore through this past month have simply stayed the course, varying precious little from their norm. If you read a review of it last month, just apply what I said then to the current issue.
In any event, hopefully this week will mark a slow return to form. If at all possible, I’d like to see a return to the halcyon days of yore when I inundated you people with ten reviews on Thursday morning. But that might be getting ahead just a tad; let’s see me get back to simply writing five before the following Wednesday first…
So with that having been said, let’s start with the bad before we get to the good. And is it ever bad…
Crossgen Comics – Barbara Kesel (w); George Perez (p); Rick Magyar (i)
Have you ever been walking down the street or sitting in a bar and seen a simply drop-dead gorgeous woman? Then when you talked to her, you realized that there was absolutely nothing going on upstairs? If so, keep that thought mind.
‘Cause that’s exactly what this book is like.
What’s most amusing, to me, about the prospect of reviewing Solus is that any attempt on my part to summarize the plot thereof is basically a futile gesture. Why? Because it doesn’t make any damned sense.
And I’m not talking about nonsensical in the Grant Morrison sort of way that’s sometimes annoying, but mostly at least interesting. No, I’m talking about the kind of nonsense that just irritates the hell out of you because you wonder how anyone could have possibly green-lit this script; because you just wasted ten minutes of your life that you will never, ever get back. If Solus were a movie, I’d be at the front of an angry mob, storming the box office to demand a refund.
OK, I’ll try and summarize the plot anyway, just for the skeptics out there that might still be thinking about throwing away $2.95.
Apparently, the Crossgen universe is watched over by a pantheon of faceless gods. The intro paragraph on the inside cover of the book makes reference, as near as I can figure, to the opening sequence of Crossgen’s initial four books, wherein one god advised another to bestow the sigil on random inhabitants of all worlds. Those self-same gods evidently decided to undo the handiwork of one of their fellows, stripping another being that is identified as Solusandra of her memories and leaving her to create without influence or guidance. But, of course, something goes wrong (what, exactly, goes wrong and the causes of or impacts from that occurrence are not specified) and Solusandra rockets away from her homeworld.
Solusandra initially finds herself on a planet (or, at least, area) that appears to be a natural utopia. However, she just as quickly finds herself in a gutted city, littered with the rubble of fallen buildings and the wreckage of machinery. In that setting, the inhabitants of the world have become so obsessed with a virtual reality game known as GameSpace, written and controlled by a user named Radiant, that their society has crumbled around them. Still unsure of whom exactly she is, Solusandra repulses an attack by a rogue programmer to take control of the system and shuts the game down permanently, dumping the populace back into the harsh reality of their world.
The problem here is that this reads like someone decided to use the opening scene of T The Fellowship of the Rings (the part where Galadriel says vague, philosophical statements and loosely sums Middle-Earth’s history) to introduce Tron. It just doesn’t work. Our narrator in the opening pages says a lot of things, but most of them are at best cryptic and at worst nonsensical. And the nature of the GameSpace world is never entirely clear, as it seems sometimes that the danger is artificial, while at others the fighting seems to be happening in the “real” world. The most glaring inconsistency though is when Solusandra says, “I’ve been facing worse than this since before you were born!” Which, naturally, begs the question of precisely how she knows that, since previously we were told that she had no memories.
In the end, this is simply a terrible first issue. Initial offerings, in the comic book industry, as supposed to quickly and simultaneously establish both a solid premise for a story and a reason to care about the characters of that book. Solus provides neither. George Perez has clearly not lost a beat in all the years that he’s worked in the industry, but it’s sad that he isn’t in control of the writing chores. Because, to be perfectly honest, there’s little chance that he could, on his worst day, do any worse than this.
If you still insist on wasting two dollars and ninety-five cents, e-mail me. I’ll give you my mailing address and you can send the money to me. In return, I’ll send you an e-mail making fun of you, your girlfriend and your family. That way, in the long run, you’ll feel less insulted by me than you would by Solus and you’ll have gotten more entertainment for your three dollars.
So I’ll close with a snide comment and terrible pun: Solus? More like “So Lousy.”
Fantastic Four #67
Marvel Comics – Mark Waid (w); Mark Wieringo (p); Karl Kesel (i)
I was simultaneously impressed and irritated by this book.
Impressed because it’s really rather good and it does something that I’d like to see more of in the comic book industry (but more on that in a bit).
Irritated because going to Newsarama on a regular basis essentially ruined the surprise of this book.
OK, so a little plot summary and then on to further explanations of what I did and did not like.
Victor von Doom, archnemesis of Reed Richards and his family, travels to Cassamonte, Georgia (a town notable solely for being a tourist trap; specifically, a haven for charlatans and con artists posing as psychics and shamans) in search of information. Specifically, his journey centers on ascertaining the location of a woman named Valeria, a fellow gypsy with whom he was in love during his youth in their Balkan homeland. In addition to serving as a chance for Waid to cement, to his readers, the kind of persona that Doom will embody under his (Waid’s) pen, the issue also clarifies (and, for all I know, introduces) some elements of the legendary dictator’s past and origin. Doom, for once not clad in his armor (merely an iron facemask), merely walks down the street in Cassamonte for the entire issue, visiting a variety of homebrew seers, continually searching for Valeria and nothing else.
Now, what I do like about this is that is essentially re-establishes that Doctor Doom is a villain. If there’s one thing in comics that I can’t stand, it’s the tendency to attempt to turn popular villains into heroes (and, not to unfairly single anyone out, but it must be said that Marvel is the worst offender of this). In recent issues of Fantastic Four, Doom’s former role as an unrelenting oppressor of his people and rival of Reed Richards slipped to the point where he delivered Sue Richards child (apparently he went to the same evil medical school that Dr. Evil attended). This, of course, is not even taking into account the fact that J. Michael Straczynski has him crying in the ruins of the World Trade Center. It’s just not right, man.
What irritates me though is that a recent Newsarama interview and subsequent talkback posts essentially ruined half of this issue’s big surprise. It’s not a criticism of Newsarama or Waid. I respect the work that both of them do. I’m irritated at myself though that I read a moderate amount of message board posts in response to the story, where a general consensus determined (accurately, I might add) that a return to his mystical roots was forthcoming from Doom.
Anyway, what I want you to take away from this review is that Marvel spent a fair amount of time hyping this story arc and it really lives up to it. Waid promised an old facet of Doom’s personality would be revived, that we would see him return to his roots as a ruthless, hard-hearted man; he’s delivered on those promises (the latter of which is fulfilled in the story’s twist ending). It’s definitely worth the read.
Amazing Spider-Man #51
Marvel Comics – J. Michael Straczynski (w); John Romita, Jr. (p); Scott Hanna (i)
When I reviewed the last issue of Amazing Spider-Man, I was pleasantly surprised by its quality, particularly in relation to what I think has been a fairly pedestrian run by JMS. So I went ahead and picked up this month’s issue, hoping that the streak would continue and that we’d have some more Bendis-style character moments between Peter and MJ. And while there is a fair share of those quieter moments, in the end, I was left with one thought: what the hell is with that villain?
The book starts off with a backstory sequence, told in the vein of a History Channel special, regaling the reader with the story of an incident known as the “Vegas Thirteen,” a St. Valentine’s Day-style massacre with a twist: the bodies of the mafia dons and their lieutenants killed by Forelli’s hitmen are buried in the desert, theoretically where no one will ever find them.
JMS transitions to the further adventures of Peter and MJ’s reunion, this time in an upper-class restaurant where Peter’s insatiable urge for comedy has his prodigal wife in tears. It’s a scene that works well, even if it does seem like Straczynski is trying a bit too hard (through Mary Jane’s incessant comments about how funny her husband is) to remind the reader that they should be laughing.
These two scenes are all well and good. The problem arises at the same time that the villain does. And I kid you not, he’s a gamma-radiated zombie with multiple personalities.
Yes. You read that correctly. He’s like the Incredible Hulk, only he’s a stack of corpses (the dead mobsters from the thirty-year old Vegas Thirteen incident) reanimated by gamma-bomb testing.
And it all falls apart from there.
Peter goes on to spout some fairly clichéd dialogue about how much he loves Mary Jane and wants to make their marriage perfect. The gamma zombie (who has no name, I might add, other than his habit of referring to himself as “the boys”) wreaks havoc and begins seeking revenge. And that’s about it.
I’m reminded in this issue of how Grant Morrison has written New X-Men for quite some time now, but has never fallen back on using any pre-existing X-Men villains, aside from the Sentinels and how it’s worked really well. JMS, in the same vein, has created his own villains in every arc of Amazing Spider-Man that he’s written. The difference is that Morrison’s are both interesting and well-suited to the characters that his book centers around. JMS’ are not (a poor man’s Morbius, a moth-demon and a Hulk zombie).
In any event, this is an issue with a solid premise that is brought down by nothing less than mediocre writing.
Zatanna: Everyday Magic
DC Comics/Vertigo – Paul Dini (w); Rick Mays (a)
I have this suspicion that Paul Dini only accepted this book because of the similarity that his name has to Houdini. But anyway.
Zatanna, on a whirlwind tour to appease her legion of fans and keep the pockets of her agent lined with folding green, returns home to the city she claims as her own, San Francisco. As if her irritations with Tony Bennett (who pulls down more money per show than she does, hence the irritation) and her seemingly hapless love life weren’t enough, she finds a naked, drunken John Constantine passed out on her bed. A John Constantine who has grown a moaning, whining mouth on his hand (yeah, you read that right).
Constantine, it seems, has had a passing encounter with an acquaintance of Zatanna’s, a goth girl turned mystical dabbler named Nimue Ravensong (whose real name is Mary Jane Hoyt, a subject of some relevance later on) and, as a result, picked up a rather nasty curse (as opposed to just v. d., I guess), a human mouth on his hand that cries out nigh-constantly for its other half. The other half is a demonic entity that is bound, by enchantment, to seek out his payment in exchange for magical favors given to Nimue. Solving her former lover’s dilemma proves to be more hassle than Zatanna anticipates, however.
Everyday Magic, to be perfectly honest, is just plain cute. I question whether or not the Vertigo imprint was really a necessity, since editing out the little bits of profanity and nudity that the book has would have basically made it safe for publication under the mainstream DC Universe banner. But in any case, Dini does a nice job of both re-establishing who Zatanna is (and, by corollary, where she got her powers and why she does what does) and ripping out an entertaining story. He touches on elements of Vertigo’s backstory, referencing the encounter Constantine had at Club Bewitched involving Tim Hunter in Neil Gaiman’s original Books of Magic mini-series (where Zatanna saved their collective ass). And while the book’s moral feels a little shoe-horned in (namely, that Zatanna simply cannot stomach an everyday life, because she isn’t an everyday person), it’s hard to criticize it, because the book is possessed with an unflaggingly light-hearted tone and never takes itself too seriously.
Dini does not, however, explain the burning question that’s been on my mind since I learned who Zatanna is: why is it that the magic of simply saying what you want backwards only works for Zatanna? But when you weigh that complaint against the fact that he’s turned out an entertaining (if overpriced) one-shot story about a seldom-used character, it’s hard to complain.