Sunday, June 29, 2008

Marvel Capsule Reviews Week 23 2008

One last stretch of reviews before I depart for my holidays on Tuesday!

It's a week of odd pairings! Spider-Woman hits on Iron-Man (though one or both might be Skrulls- hmm), Bruce Banner hits on Marvel Girl, Rockslide hits on his teacher, the Enchantress seduces teen Spider-Man, She-Hulk picks on Red Hulk, Red Hulk picks on some deer, the Thing picks his nose and just what does G stand for in the new MODOG?

The answers will baffle you:


(Dan Slott / Marcos Martin)

'Peter Parker: Paparazzi' part 3. Brilliantly played mr Slott!

With all that fan distress over Peter forgetting his marriage and getting it on with other women other than his wife, noone really thought that MJ would be the first one to move on and shack up with a new beau.

Yeah, that's right, MJ is back, and she's the mysterious romantic interest of the Hollywood actor that Peter has been trying to take snaps of in his new day job as a celebrity Paparazzi. She's also the target of the paranoid stalker Paper Doll that Spidey has been chasing for the past three issues. Now they all converge upon the actor's villa, with Spidey kicking 2-dimensional goth stalker boot-ay, while MJ hides away in the panic room talking through a distorted sound system. Brilliant.

It's a deeply emotionally charged scenario, full of romantic irony and dramatic coincidencs; Slott doesn't let a single opportunity to explore the different facets of this, here through the dialogue between Spidey and who he thinks is just a secret Hollywood paramour. Does MJ really remember everything from the deal with Mephisto? She knows who Peter is, but... And what is the significance of her meeting with Jackpot's alterego in the end of the issue?

This is the best issue of Brand New Day so far, and it's got me excited enough to last throughout the next 12 issues at least!

Meanwhile, Marcos Martin excels in both his minimalistic approach to the character design - showing less but capturing every subtle nuance in the characterisation on the characters' eyes-, and his storytelling, with the stunning action sequence that would make Eisner envious! (ooooh, tall praise!)



(Simone Bianchi & Salvador Larroca)

Way Expensive for a regular-sized sketchbook edition. Shouldn't this have been free as a promotional item?


I did buy it, mostly because of my uncertainty it would be collected along with the regular issues eventually. For the rest of the run I'll be HC-trade-waiting.

What do you get for your big wad of money? Character designs, costume designs, some random notes, and very detailed maps and blueprints of the X-Men's new San Fran base. If you're a genuine X-geek you're bound to get excited with these tidbits, especially the look at Dazzler and hints of her joining the AXM team soon.

Concerning the costume designs themselves, they do look exquisite with Simone Bianchi's pencils, but then again ,what doesn't! I'm intrigued to see how other artists interpret them ,the big Xs might end up looking clunky, and I'm unsure any other artist could make that weird tiara setup for Storm, and the dorky Colossus costume work...


(Alex Ross & Jim Krueger / Steve Sadowski)

Geez, I hope this fight of the month formula doesn't keep up for long. After last issue's intro and 'vs Thunderbolts', the present-stranded Invaders from WWII fight against Iron Man and his Mighty Avengers.

I'm all for the formulaic 'meet-misunderstand-fight' scenario that all team-ups must follow (well, it wouldn't have been as fun if they just all got along and sipped tea for 22 pages), but this one really stretches it. The Invaders come off as overly trigger-happy -- Bucky actually opens fire on Ms Marvel before they get a chance to investigate if they really are Nazis as they presume... What if she wasn't bullet-proof? I get that Bucky is now retconned as this psychotic crazy killer kid, but would Cap really approve and foster such a 'shoot first / ask questions later' approach? Do we really need to have Bucky rip out his fingernail and use it to slash through his arm for the plastic explosives he has stashed under his skin? The whole sequence felt so sickeningly out of place in this otherwise-typical superhero confrontation. Iron Man is probably the best-written character on the book, with Krueger eloquently and succinctly capturing the post-Civil War survivor's guilt, right before the long-waited (re)match between Stark and Captain America.

Ignoring (hard as it is) the disbelief and characterisation issues, the fight itself is intense and imaginative. Most everyone gets a chance to shine, while the Sentry is kept conveniently out of the spotlight for obvious power balance reasons. Again, an explanation would go a long way, why he doesn't do a usual Superman/God fit and wipe out the entire opposing team in a wink.

Steve Sadowski is making a big comeback to mainstream superheroics with this book, his style having changed a great deal since his JSA days. Impressive and dynamic as it always is, I reckon he would benefit from an actual inker instead of what I'm guessing is digital inking from inLight Studios. That technique never delivers worthwhile results, as cost-effective as it is.



(Duane Swierczynski / Ariel Olivetti)

'War Baby' part 4.

The title is slowly coming together. Olivetti finally gets a decent handle on his characters who stop shifting in size between panels; Bishop gets a decent characterisation and clear motivation, safely taking him out of cackling villain territory and making this confrontation about means and ethics -- would you kill an innocent baby if it meant saving the lives of millions? I still wish we got a more believable explanation about the baby's significance in enabling Bishop's nightmarish future, as well as more solid clues / plot points about what happened to the mutants in this current timeline and why Cannonball is apparently the last X-Man standing.



(Matt Fraction / Salvador Larroca)

Stane Jr is using kamikaze fanatics to mass-produce living walking nuclear bombs;

AGM (Advance Genocide Mechanics) unleash the MODOG (you guessed it: Mental Organism Designed Only for Genocide, MODOK's Communist cousin);

the Philippines get (and lose) their first ever superhero team: Triumph Division (with a short-lived but imaginative line-up tat would make Morrison and Milligan incredibly envious);

Pepper Potts suddenly realises she's jealous of Tony after a certain blockbuster hit (ugh, that one sucked);

Thor and Iron-Man share a brief moment as a sequel to JMS' demeaning feud in Thor #3;

Tony Stark is interesting!

Fraction could well turn out to be the greatest thing to have happened to Iron Man since David Micheline...



(Mark Millar / John Romita Jr / Tom Palmer)

Sick! This comic made me sick and wheezy in my gut. I think it's actually the first time graphic violence in a comic made me actually - physically- sick. I applaud you gents!

What is so special about Kick-Ass? Millar takes special care to ground this book in reality. Our reality. This teen doesn't just wake up one day, decide to put on a superhero costume and he suddenly gets to kick mob ass and jump over rooftops in the dead of night. He gets a lucky break after a terrifying accident, he gets famous and way too cocky for his own good. JRJR has underplayed the violence - keeping it small, believable but getting maximum reaction but not glossing over any of it, keeping it utterly painful and graphic; keeping it real... when this issue the single barrier is lifted and the violence escalates to new lethal, Frank Miller/Garth Ennis/Tarantino levels of sick -- well, all bets are off.



(Jeph Loeb / Arthur Adams, Frank Cho & Herb Trimpe)

King-Size indeed!

I'm a recent convert to the joys of Loeb's Hulk. I guess I needed to turn some switches in my head to allow me to enjoy the pure fangeek joy of it. Of course it's the kind of writing that only works with bigger-than-life spandex artists and bright eye-gouging superhero colours.

Like McGuiness in the monthly, and these two amazing guests in this special: the legendary Arthur Adams and the babe-alicious Frank Cho. The former handles a Red Hulk vs Wendigo slugfest, while the latter, very fittingly, gives us the nitty gritty on the She-Hulk/Red Hulk slugfest that was ommitted from the regular title. Don't overthink it, just switch off and enjoy the guilty pleasure splash pages of monsters and babes kicking and punching each other in bright colours that pop out of the page.

Legendary Hulk artist Herb Trimpe also makes a comeback to the character with a short story featuring a retelling of the original Abomination's origins.

The reprint section features the famous original Hulk-Wendigo fight that introduced Wolverine, and mysteriously the Avengers issue featuring Valkyrie and the female Avengers or rather 'Lady Liberators'. Is it a hint concerning the Red Hulk's real identity? Is Red a Lady as I seemingly suspect? Freaaaaky.



(Marc Sumerak / David Nakayama / Vicente Cifuentes)

It's all laid out on the cover: Spidey gets the power of Thor - kinda -!

It's a fun fun fun issue, stretching a nifty gag into an actual plot and running wild with every possible fight scenario that could come of it. No need to overthink, just enjoy the cool Asgardian Spidey armour design with the goofy Thor-cap and the silly oversized hammer!


NOVA #14

(Dan Abnett & Andy Lanning / Wellinton Alves / Scott Hanna)

Mark Waid had wisely said (and i very liberally paraphrase): if you don't have an amazingly new approach to Galactus or a thrilling story to tell about him that noone before you has though to do, just leave the poor guy alone to his cravings. Other people have surely done the 'Oh no Galactus is about to eat a planet, I must find a way to save them, right after I fight and reason with his herald Silver Surfer', in grander and more appropriate ways.

DnA really don't yet justify their digging up of the World Devourer for this story, as it simply follows down the predictable paths outlined above. May I suggest the original Stan & Jack stories? Or even Waid's FF for the absolutely last time anything new was doing with the Big Purple Glutton.



(Matt Fraction & Rick Remender / Howard Chaykin)

'Jigsaw' part 3. Jigsaw's after the Punisher - and this time he's outsourced the job to the Hand's deadly assassins. Fraction handles the enormity of the Hand's threat appropriately - these ninjas are the deadliest fighters on the face of the Marvel Universe after all; after certain recent Bendis and Millar-penned ninja overdoses, it's great to see the Hand get its good name cred back. Meanwhile G.W. Bridge (X-Force) has assembled his anti-Punisher all-Girl team of Silver Sable, Contessa Valeria de la Fontaine and Domino, and is reviewing the case of Jigsaw's murdering fake Punisher. It was refreshing to see the good guys actually figure a setup out instead of blindly falling into a villain's plan.

As fun and gorey as the issue was, the general premise of 'Punisher as part of ongoing Marvel continuity' kept shouting in the bakc of my head about silly minutia during the entire read. If this is a continuity book, then who's that leading the Hand? Is it Skrullektra? Is that the Skrull Contessa as part of Bridge's anti-Punisher team or the real deal?

Grrr, just shut up and let me enjoy the stabbing fun! (Punisher turns another fan schizo)



(Brian Michael Bendis / Leinil Francis Yu / Mark Morales)

The pacing of this thing is giving me a migraine. So, the Young Avengers and the Initiative (the junior versions of New/Mighty Avengers) fight it up against the invading Super-Skrulls in NY, Captain Marvel invades Thunderbolts mountain (following the 'Who Do You Trust' one-shot, and leading into Thunderbolts), Spider-Woman casts some serious doubt over Tony Stark (though she could be just playing him), Jarvis takes down the Heli-Carrier (again...), Nick Fury shows up with his new Howling Commandos (from Mighty Avengers #13), while the rest of the Savage Land Avengers are nowhere to be seen.

In terms of structure and plot, it's more reminiscent of the original DC Crisis - a good thing in my mind - yet hardly a self-contained event. It could seriously benefit from editorial boxes or at least a back page listing all the links between different titles as they all weave in and out. Characters are introduced off-book and make an appearance here, before their story is resolved in a whole different title altogether... Not every fan knows to check Newsarama or the blogs for the connections.

Between this and Final Crisis, this looks likely to be an amazing summer for Big Events!



(Paul Tobin, Tony Lee & Yamanaka Akira/ Derec Aucoin, Ramon Bachs & Yamanaka Akira)

'Bang for your buck' doesn't begin doing this anthology title justice. Cosby & Panniccia on he credits should have been guarantee enough. 100+ pages of comics for all tastes:

Tobin & Aucoin provide the headline unusual team-up. Marvel Girl and Spidey are tasked from SHIELD with baby-sitting the 'man who turns into Hulk', trying to keep him calm, tranquil and non-Green while all sorts of super-villainy erupts around them. It's an oddball gag premise and Sumerak milks it for all it's worth, making these characters shine off each other and provide humorous exchanges as Banner geekily hits on the underage Jean Grey, Spidey fusses over his personal life and they both try to sneakily fight evil over dinner without Banner noticing. Sure, there's a lot of creative freedoms taken with the characters, but for a non-continuity Marvel Adventures story, the only criterion that matters is the fun factor.

Lee & Bachs provide a heart-warming run-of-the-mill story of Spidey discovering a homeless kid who uses his super-hero identity to score sympathy free meals in the local convenience store. A bit too overhanded to elicit any response from me as I ended up speed-reading through the half of it to move on.

Two full-issue reprints: the Bagley-riffic Venom Lethal Protector #1 and the touching Spiderman: Death * Destiny #3 with Lee Weeks.

Finally, another installment of the Manga Spider-Man J, with Friendly Tokyo Spidey facing off against the Japanese Fantastic Four and Doctor Doom! While not usually a fan of this particular series, I fell in love with Yamanaka's rendition of hot-headed Johnny (the dude works soooo well in terms of Manga's physical emotionality) and his bonding with Spidey J.



(Brian Michael Bendis / Butch Guice)


So: Nick Fury, Wolverine (James Howlett) and Fisk (one of Kingpin's ancestors? Wilson himself?) are stationed together during WWII; after an unfortunate slight, they are all captured and experimented upon as part of Operation Rebirth: the project that would eventually create Cap. Nick Fury is revealed as the first successful Captain America (freaky), while the experiments on Howlett lead to the creation of the mutant X-gene that will later spread and populate the Ultimate Earth with mutants...

I do recognize the inherent geekboy-cool appeal of this sort of reveals and twisty interconnectedness, but in the end -- do we care? In the context of the Ultimate Universe - the supposedly accessible edge-cool reinterpretation of the heroes in a modern setting- this sort of enhanced continuity hurts the accessibility of the titles and ultimately (har har) doesn't feel as significant since it's not the 'real' thing anyhow. If the series of revelations happened in the 616 universe instead, they would feel like prima-donna-ism and hollow changes for their own sake that wouldn't stand the test of time. In the end, the only real mark of merit is the value of the story itself; so far it's stayed to much on the surface, relying on the familiarity with the characters to give out a steady supply of shocks and geek-gasms.



(Marc Guggenheim / Yannick Paquette / Ray Snyder & Kris Justice)

Surprise Surprise, the young blond (could he really look more generic) new mutant recruit turns out to be a turncoat for Donald Pierce! Shock! As mentioned in the previous reviews, do they actually hire him out from Xavier's every time a new team starts, to provide predictable plot twists and be a punching bag for the X-Men's young? As for 'Ink', the mutant who gets a different power for each tatoo on his body - is there a specific reason his tattoos only appear for a few panels each and are then forgotten about? Do they dissipate? How does he really have time to get new ones between fight scenes? Is there any pseudo-sci/fi logic behind them or are they simply an ultra-convenient plot device to have around?


The plot and setup still don't make much sense in the broader X-universe scheme of things. We all assume 'Cyclops' ('d better be) is a dupe and the original New Mutants aren't really evil world-usurpers, but this issue doesn't provide any hints at all to that end.

Ignoring aaaaaaall that, we do get a very dynamic and exciting choreographed battle sequence between the Young X-Men and the lava-cious Magma.

Once more, can we please bury this car-wreck and bring the New X-Men kids back in the forefront under Kyle and Yost? Hmmm?


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