Well, another day, another Marvel mini-series by Bruce Jones.
The last one was Captain America: What Price Glory? and from what I read, it was pretty lousy. On the upside, Wolverine: X-Isle isn’t as bad as Jones’ Cap mini, but the downside is that it’s still not very good.
The plot, once again, is very simple, straightforward fare. Logan decides to spend some quality time with his foster daughter, Amiko (a character who apparently, like most of the supporting cast of Logan’s solo book, only reappears when it’s convenient for the writers; case in point, I don’t even remember her). After the former Weapon X demonstrates that he has no eye for art, bemusedly embarrassing his adopted child, the pair move on to a boardwalk carnival. There, Wolverine repeatedly loses his legendary temper, snapping at carnival barkers and patrons alike. Eventually, his rage turns violent and Amiko retreats from his side, mortified to be associated with him.
So while it’s nice to see a Wolverine story that doesn’t revolve around either his past involvement with ninjas, samurai or Weapon X, the last thing that he belongs in is a story about the nature of self-imposed isolationism; because that’s what this story boils down to, in the end (and no, I’m not over-intellectualizing the subject matter).
Back at the museum, Logan and Amiko discuss a painting that depicts a lone sailor, ostensibly marooned on a desert island. For Amiko, the artwork represents the isolation that all true artists feel; for Logan, it’s simply confirmation that he doesn’t understand any art past Norman Rockwell. At the time, I wondered what possible relevance a six-page discussion of art could have to a story involving Marvel’s most famous mutant hero. In retrospect, I wish I hadn’t asked that question.
Because instead of another fight with Omega Red or Sabretooth, Jones has opted to over analyze Wolverine, depicting him as a man apart from his fellows, separated from human- and mutant-kind in the general sense and his adopted family in the specific by virtue of his violent temper. And it just doesn’t work, because Wolverine simply isn’t a character that I feel lends itself to intellectual examination. Moreover, I would venture to guess that this sort of story was neither what the average Wolverine reader was expecting nor looking for if they picked up the book this week.
Luckily, it’s only $2.50, so you’re not out too much money if you take the chance and try it out (it could be worse: you could be paying $3.50 for a bad Wolverine story like you did if you bought Origin). And there’s certainly a temptation to do so, I imagine, if you’re a fan of the character, since this week proved to be remarkably short on quality titles. All the same, I can’t say that I’d recommend the book to anyone other than the most die-hard of Wolverine fans. And to them, I reiterate my warning that it’s probably not what you’re expecting.
Now, unlike the fairly abysmal Wolverine: X-Isle, Sentinel is a testament to Marvel’s marketing team’s intelligence. Sentinel, unlike its counterpart offering this week from the fledgling Tsunami line, is a textbook example of a good way to launch an imprint: with a well-written, well-illustrated book that both younger and older readers will enjoy.
Juston Seyfert’s story is a familiar one: while possessed with intelligence considerably above the average, his social skills are somewhat below that. His area of expertise happens to be machinery in general and robotics in particular, a knowledge that he puts to use in the homebuilt, robot-oriented gladiatorial combat that he and his friends engage in. He spends his days being terrorized, along with his equally outcast friends, by high school football players. The time after the last bell rings, however, is when Juston’s world really comes alive, scavenging the junkyard that his father runs for parts and testing the machines that he builds from them. Fate intervenes in Juston’s mundane life when he stumbles upon a control chip the likes of which he has never seen; a control chip that belongs in a nearby, nearly destroyed Sentinel, the gargantuan, mutant-hunting robots that have plagued the X-Men for nearly their entire life. So while he may not know it yet, Juston’s life is clearly about to become a much more interesting affair.
The strongest point of the story lies in what I said before: the set-up for Juston’s life is neither the first nor the last version of an archetypical story. It’s possibly the most retold origin in comic book history: nerdy teenager falls ass-backwards into great power, discovering that great responsibility comes along with it. But however hackneyed that origin may be, it is that predictability that’s really an asset here, as a story like this is immediately accessible to nearly anyone (a concept that last year’s box office totals for the Spider-Man movie proved). And given the fact that Sentinel appears to be aimed at a slightly younger set than the average Marvel book, that’s to be applauded, as the only way the comics industry will survive into a new generation is through the use of characters that teenaged readers will be sympathetic towards.
McKeever treads a thin line with his protagonist and companions, as the needs of the story necessitate that those characters be at least slightly archetypical; at the same time, as a writer, he needs to put a personal spin on them so that they don’t become stereotypical instead, reading as little more than a generic teenage power-trip story. And for the first issue, at least, I think McKeever has been successful in that. It’ll be the subsequent issues, obviously, that seal the judgment on that, but McKeever’s well-earned reputation precedes him and that leaves me with confidence that he can keep this level of work up.
The only complaint I can summon for the book is that Udon’s manga-style artwork, at least in this book, has a tendency to blur the relative age of the characters, making all of them look much younger than the story tells us they really are. I understand that Marvel feels that manga is popular with the kids these days, but it’s a problem that needs to be addressed: Juston looks like he’s in middle school, at best, not high school.
At the end of the day though, Sentinel remains a very solid debut for an imprint that many have expressed misgivings about. McKeever’s script is genuinely enjoyable and Udon, despite my complaints about the characters’ diminutive bodies, turns in a solid performance. I was particularly impressed by the panel where the “camera” pans back to reveal the disembodied fist of a Sentinel, lying just beyond our capering heroes field of vision; it’s simply a nice visual.
OK, first the summary, then the complaining.
Beginning in the town of Little Falls, Colorado, an epidemic has spread across the United States. Known only as the Meta-Virus, it causes sudden and uncontrollable mutations in those people whose genetic structure contains what is known as the metagene (which is apparently DC’s explanation for why some people randomly have superpowers, like Marvel explains it under the blanket statement “they’re a mutant”). Most perplexing (and even more importantly, disturbing) is the fact that all known victims of the Meta-Virus reside on American soil, leading President Luthor’s superhero affairs organization, the D.E.O., to conclude that the Meta-Virus is an act of terrorism against the United States. After discovering that the sickness is triggered by light from a yellow sun such as our own, Luthor reveals a plot, engineered by the newly reborn General Zod, to place lenses around the sun that would essentially change it from yellow to red (a process that would leave Superman basically powerless). Superman’s initial reaction that the plan is simply a smokescreen designed by Zod to weaken the Man of Steel is complicated when the two finally speak in private: Zod reveals himself to be, apparently, a clone of Kal-El. With little choice otherwise, Superman and Zod make the journey to the center of our solar system, the devices in tow.
OK. I can appreciate that it’s probably unbelievably difficult to write credible threats for a character that is, basically, invincible, particularly one that we all know will never undergo any meaningful, long-term changes. So in that sense, I can actually applaud Kelly for writing a conflict that can’t simply be resolved by Superman punching it until it stops moving; it’s rather hard to combat the combined threat of the inexorable wheels of the American government and an incurable disease. As well, I like the way that Kelly portrays Luthor as a truly complex villain; Superman knows that Luthor will always have an agenda against him, but when (at least superficially) it appears that his archnemesis is acting in the best interests of the country, there’s little the Man of Tomorrow can do. And that makes the conflict interesting, far beyond the simple “Mwa-ha-ha! I’ll destroy Superman!” schtick that’s Luthor’s typical fare.
However, the concept of superheroes dealing with terrorism is just… so… tired. Ever since September 11th, it seems that both of the major comic companies have felt the need to repeatedly deal, both explicitly and implicitly, with the idea of terrorism against a United States guarded by larger-than-life heroes. And it got old a long time ago. As well, I’m not sure that the comics world really needed another evil clone of a major character; to make matters worse, Lois acknowledges that this isn’t the first time that the DC Universe has dealt with an evil Superman, dredging up the God-awful Superman Red / Superman Blue fiasco.
On the upside though, Tom Derenick does a really nice job on the art side of things. His work here reminds me a lot of pre-Ultimates Bryan Hitch and that’s not a simple thing to do. The combination of clean linework and bright colors makes for a nice (at least visually speaking) superhero-oriented issue.
In the end, the issue isn’t a total wash. It is however severely flawed and, at the end of the day, nothing we haven’t already seen before. You can take it or leave it.
You know, no matter how good the spandex-clad fistfights of this series are (and they’re quite good, generally speaking), it’s the issues that bridge those superhero-oriented arcs that always keep me coming back. This is one of those issues.
After finally (or so he thinks) dealing with the combined forces of the clearly unbalanced Eddie Brock and dangerously violent “suit,” Peter Parker stalks (and is subsequently uncovered and confronted by) General Nick Fury. The strain, it seems, of juggling both a teenage life that (even without the added stress of superpowers) has more than its share of abnormalities and a career as a costumed vigilante has simply become too much for Peter. First he breaks down in front of Fury and begs the mysterious leader of S.H.I.E.L.D. to take his powers away from him (if I were still writing papers for my English degree, I’d reference Christ here in some way, as Peter is essentially asking that his cross be lifted from him), then loses his temper when the one-eyed general (and if there’s a better phallic euphemism than that, I’ve not seen it) cannot satisfy his need to know how his parents were killed. Fury does, however, clear up his intentions for Peter once he reaches adulthood, setting up what will be a very interesting story arc, when and if it happens. In the end, Peter runs back to the college campus, hoping to find some sign that Eddie might be alive and sane. Instead, he encounters Dr. Curt Connors, a man whose formerly reptilian tendencies Peter helped cure in Ultimate Team-Up, who tries to put things in perspective for the friendly neighborhood Spider-Man.
Now, anyone who’s read even a minimal amount of Stan Lee’s ground-breaking run on Amazing Spider-Man (or, for that matter, has watched his commentary on the Spider-Man dvd) knows that the dominant theme of that run (aside from the obvious one about power and responsibility) was that Peter Parker simply cannot catch a break. In Ultimate Spider-Man, Brian Bendis has taken that theme and cranked it up several notches, all the while staying true to Stan’s original formula and never taking it over the top.
Ultimate Spider-Man earned its reputation as the Ultimate line’s flagship book based on more than the simple fact that Spider-Man is in it: Bendis has suffused the book with a teenaged pathos that is immediately identifiable to almost anyone, but he counter-balances that with Peter’s optimism and insatiable sense of humor (though sometimes the humor doesn’t derive from Parker’s lines; see Nick Fury’s comments about one of the cardinal rules of superhero comics in this issue). So while well-scripted, super-powered fisticuffs are this book’s bread and butter, it’s issues like this that ensure that Ultimate Spider-Man‘s reputation is in no danger and that Bendis’ place in Spidey history is firmly cemented.