Saturday, September 06, 2008

Marvel Capsule Reviews Week 31 2008

Welcome to the very late and unfortunately very last Capsule Reviews installment!

Unfortunately work obligations and the demands as Nexus EiC have become a bit too much in the past few weeks so it's impossible to keep holding the (quite time-consuming) load of these Capsules every week. Thanks to everyone who's followed these weekly (or an adequate facsimile) ramblings, and I hope you stick around the website for our regular feature reviews.

After this I'll be focusing my time on getting LYSAD out regularly again (focusing on the hot-button panels of each week) and maybe churn out more capsules on an (even-less) regular basis...

On with the entertainment:


(Joe Kelly, Zeb Wells & Marc Guggenheim / Chris Bachalo, Patrick Olliffe & Marcos Martin / Serge Lapointe)

Brand New Day = Fun

Glad we got that out of the way!

This oneshot features three self-contained stories from the various writers and artists on the current weekly title rotation. Why they chose to feature the stories in this odd format instead of the regular book or, say, an annual is beyond me.

First up, new member of the 'Spidey Trust' Joe Kelly unites with Chris Bachalo (doing some real imaginative and cohesive layouts for a change) to resurrect Hammerhead after his rather pointless death last year in Civil War: War Crime, and upgrade him into a whole new level of menace at the side of new Spider-baddie Mister Negative. The intersected flashback sequences to his origins have their ups and downs, but they ultimately don't forge any connection to this still rather one-note villain.

The second vignette by Wells and Spidey veteran Pat Olliffe is a short spotlight on Peter and Harry's current standing as friends, along with a brief Trapster battle and some comic relief as Peter finds himself stuck to his mask and late for Harry's birthday.

Finally, Guggenheim and Marcos Martin pump up the courtroom drama with an interlude to a storyline yet to come (in 12 issues? oh, you tease!) as Murdock defends Spidey in a civil suit. Why is Spidey arrested? Why is his arm in a cast? Why are there 6 more Spider-men swinging around the courtroom? The story does a decent job of setting up anticipation for 'Character Assassination', and even puts some new twists in the done-to-death 'Spidey gets sued' trial scenario.



(Jason Aaron / Jeffe Palo / Lee Loughridge)

'See Wakanda & Die' part 1. Jason Aaron takes over the reins of the title for the requisite Secret Invasion tie-in that is plaguing every Marvel title from X-Men to Power Pack this summer. Only... (and this shouldn't surprise anyone who's ever read his work) this time the SI fill-in ends up being ten times better than any regular issue of the title before - or even any other story in the SI tapestry so far.

The overall plot is a simple 'Skrulls invade Wakanda for the Vibranium' device - yet in Aaron's hands (and with Jeffe Palo's dark stylized art) it takes on a whole new level. Wakanda is a technologically advanced, militant country, ruled by (and worshipping in essence) a lineage of Kings dressed as preying Panthers. If a bunch of silly green aliens think they're going to be easy pickings, they're in for a good slaughter.

The easiest comparison I could make would be to what Frank Miller accomplished with 300. The story moves in a frenetic pace, full of Aaron's now trademark cinematic moments. Black Panther is cast as the regal Warlord commanding this amazing geek-gasmic tech (Thunderbolts-tribute giant panther statues on either side of the palace shooting down the invaders?) and a vast army of seasoned soldiers/warriors. This isn't a usual spandex situation; it's ruthless, glorious, bloody, gut-ripping, head-on-spikes war violence. Hold on to your seats!



(Paul Cornell / Horacio Domingues)

Fiction's gone bad and the Fantastic Four begin a trip into the imagination - and the world's most popular literature (from the Jungle Book to Sense & Sensibility).

It sounds like a can't-miss concept... on paper at least.

Unfortunately, the execution leaves a lot to be desired. Cornell takes several missteps, mostly regarding the characterisation of Marvel's First Family. These are some of Marvel's most well-known characters. It's very easy to play them safe as vague stereotypes (ones mind you, that they helped establish probably). If a writer does feel adventurous and dares to attempt a fresh approach and reveal some quirky new side to them, it's sooooo easy to backfire... especially if we're talking about Reed's fascination with Josie & the Pussycats and his just-wrong sudden quippage, or Susan's mid-life depression and literature addiction. Just refer back to Mark Millar's first FF arc for further examples.

Not everything is as dire. The characters act predictably within their comfort zones through most of the issue, although the script is littered with a lot of experimental devices that either shine (the meta-textual comment on the repetitive nature of the FF interplay) or horribly crash (the botched Morrison-isms of the team flying beyond the comics page, or Reed reading comics balloons fall relatively flat in the context of the issue). Nothing outright bad, but maybe a hasty mish-mash of immiscible story approaches.

As for the art... Horacio Domingues has his work cut out for him when he attempts to mix his own style with a bad copy of the Mike Wieringo character designs (Susan's hair is unmistakeable), while keeping to the most recent Hitch costumes... Oof.

Despite my disappointment with the debut, I still eagerly wait the next issue as the setup gives way to actual pure silliness: the FF defending the Sense & Sensibility sisters from a monster invasion!



(Brian Reed / Adriana Melo / Mariah Benes)

'The Battle of Manhattan' part 2.

Ms Marvel vs Giant Skrulls. Ms Marvel versus a Skrull stampede. Ms Marvel flying a bus.

That's pretty much it. If you're a fan of seriously hot looking super-heroines in tattered costumes zapping green aliens around, this is the comic for you. Adriana Melo is the perfect choice for this book in that regard. I also feel for Brian Reed, anyone else in his place would have really exhausted his Skrull repertoir by last issue, but he keeps going strong, still stuck in the non-plot that is the Secret Invasion (=one looooong battle in Manhattan for 3 issues).



(Roberto Aguire-Sacasa / Barry Kitson / Chris Sotomayor)

This was a definite surprise for a Secret Invasion tie-in. Short, succinct, enjoyable, even fun!

The Thing and Torch are trapped with the Richards kids in the Negative Zone with Torch's Skrully ex-wife Lyja, trying to make their way back home.

Lyja is restored into the FF mythos by covering her story from when we last saw her (a decade ago!) just before Onslaught, without overly complicating the story. Franklin provides an amusing narration with the highlight being weirdly enough the recap page, actually looking authentically like a child's drawing (perhaps we have to thank the mysterious acknowledgment to Marlyn Sotomayor for that?). The Thing punches things, quips and looks stunning thanks to Chris Sotomayor's snazzy new colouring tricks adding a fun texture to his rocky hide.



(Greg Pak / Ron Garney)

Another quick read, following Hulk's little orphan savage baby rampaging through dragons and axe-handed princesses on the not-so-dead remnants of Planet Hulk.

It's really only "run run gasp slash DRAGON arrgh grrr slice" and then 'to be continued', so approach only if you've always been really desperate to read the adventures of Teen Hulk meets Mad Max.



(Fred Van Lente / Cory Hamscher / Gurihiru)

The Power Pack gets abducted by alien bounty hunters Abercombie & Finch (I'm not even touching that) and framed for intergalactic crimes! Meanwhile back on Earth, they're replaced by Skrull doppellgangers (who are predictably and humorously too well-behaved to convince anyone), and their only hope lies in their fifth member: Franklin Richards and his pet robot HERBIE!

Not as over-the-top ridiculous fun as past issues, but the cover for the next issue is promising enough to keep me reading.


THOR #10

(J. Michael Straczynski / Olivier Coipel)

There has been a boatload of Marvel villains who have suddenly turned a 'new leaf' in the past year, but only one of them has so far proven a bone-chilling, manipulative, eerie success: the Princess of Lies, Loki. Coipel has done more than just add lipstick and boobs, he's redesigned the classic Trickster villain from the ground up, with great detail in both her new facial features and her costuming.

JMS is of course building up to something big with Loki's machinations here, though being careful not to show his hand too early. Last issue's cliffhanger had Loki revealing to Balder that he too is a son of Odin and therefore a rightful Prince of the new Asgard floating above modern day America. Balder's confronts Thor with this knowledge, revealing the true origins of the heroic God and the true omen of his birth. JMS and Coipel perfectly capture the intense level of awkward silence and discomfort in the scene, just from the nuances in the dialogue and the art.



(Cary Bates / Paul Gulacy)

I don't get it.

It's pretty rare for Marvel debut series based on brand new characters and concepts. This one features a team of vigilantes that -well, I'm not quite sure from this issue. We follow the team leader Payback into an undercover sting of a swimsuit hooker version of Fight Club run by senators in Spider-man and Hulk masks, which -although kinda fun- fails to give her or her team any clear mission objective or personality. Thankfully the writer follows this with a mega-expository debriefing on the individual characters making up the team, although it begs the question: why not incorporate all this info in the actual fight sequence, and introduce your characters in action instead of fuzzy screen captures? The issue does end on a higher note with a an unsurprising plot twist and a puzzling lead-in to next issue featuring Reed Richards and a supposed heinous crime...

As a debut issue, it fails to paint a clear picture on the direction and identity of this title, or even create a compelling mystery around them, instead only focusing on establishing their sheer audacity in the face of super-hero authorities.



(Brian Michael Bendis / Stuart Immonen / Wade Von Grawbadger)

An average issue, showcasing the new silent brooding Ultimate Beetle (which of course leads to loads of Spidey ranting to himself and Bobba Fett jokes), a big fight, a new mystery, a series of seemingly nonsensical flashbacks to different battles, Peter & Mary Jane quipness (Bendis is slowly leveling up to a Whedon rank here) and a puzzling visit from... Ultimate Nick Fury?

Wasn't he shipped off to Squadron Supreme in that Jeph Loeb tragedy?



(Mark Millar / Steve McNiven / Dexter Vines)

'Old Man Logan' part 2.

Fifty years after the last superhero was massacred and the supervillains took over the ruins of America, a blind Hawkeye recruits the retired Logan with his Spider-buggy and they head to Vegas (now Hammer Falls) to rescue Hawkeye's daughter.

Oh, sorry, Hawkeye's daughter with Tonya, who happens to be mexican (I think) and Peter Parker's youngest daughter. Huh.

Millar sure means well, and he delivers in a number of big action moments here (most based on simple cues like 'Ghost Riders riding in' or 'Spider-Buggy jumping off cliff' - but that's why it pays to have such an amazing partnership with a talent of McNiven's magnitude), and certainly in the dialogue, but still... the setting is so over-the-top and childishly simplistic (like a kid trying to impress his dad with his kewl ideas) that it pulls the entire atmosphere of the story down the gutter.



(Jeff Parker / Roger Cruz & Colleen Coover / Val Staples)

The X-Men, along with their newest member: Machine Man Aaron Stack face off against the mindless Lava Men. Parker manages to squeeze in a few laughs and an unexpected and touching finale, still not enough to justify stretching this particular caper into two issues. Roger Cruz has been on fire (heh) since his return to the title, and this issue is his strongest showing yet, although I suspect the suddenly lush and vibrant new colouring style has something to do with that as well.

The back-up story with art by Colleen Coover is a silent reminisce of Angel's greatest moments in this title.


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