Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Weekly Haul: April 15th

Amazing Spider-Man #591 (Marvel Comics) This is the latest stop in Marvel Comics’ fifteen-month journey to make it so that Peter Parker never married Mary Jane Watson and make it somehow logical enough that people might still want to read their Spider-Man comics despite essentially breaking a 45-year-old (more-or-less) continuous and consistent narrative.

It amazes me that they have gone through so much effort, spent so much time and burned so much good will to un-do a 20-year-old plot point no one seemed to think needed undoing, and yet they haven’t bothered to address perhaps the biggest but easiest to fix element of the Spider-Man comics: Norman and Harry Osborn’s hair.

Oh, it looked fine when Steve Ditko or John Romita drew it, and there are still a few Marvel artists whose drawings are comic book-y enough to pull it off (John Romita Jr., Marcos Martin), but when someone who draws in a rather realistic style tackles it, and the art is over-colored as is the house style at Marvel these days, well, it just looks fucking ridiculous.

In this issue, for example, Dale Eaglesham pencils a few images of Harry Osborn, and Osborn looks like he’s wearing a wig from that Living Color video.

Why has Marvel been fussing around trying to put the “genie” of a 20-year-old plot point back into a bottle, but they won’t let Harry get a fucking hair cut? Wasn’t he, like, dead before the re-boot? They can bring him back to life, but they can’t change his “iconic” hairstyle? I mean, even Aunt May and Peter have been allowed to change their hairstyles now and then, and their hairstyles translate into Marvel’s attempts at photorealistic comic art just fine.

Anyway, this wasn’t just 22-pages of Dale Eaglesham drawing Harry Osborn’s hair from different angles, so I suppose I should talk about the rest of the book too, huh?

The solicit for this issue promised a big turning point in the book. Here’s part of what it says:

Plus, life kicks into high gear for practically EVERY member of the supporting cast! Big changes, big surprises, and, like we promised: an event so HUGE, it's going to be felt in almost every Marvel title! This one's a gamechanger, Marvellites! Miss it and you'll miss out!

Given that the first half of this two-part storyline, “Face Front,” dealt with Johnny Storm being upset with Spider-Man for somehow making the FF’s knowledge of his secret identity disappear, a reasonable assumption that this big change might have had something to do with the ongoing scab-picking regarding the “Brand New Day” continuity re-boot.

Well, writer Dan Slott does engage in a little more picking of that particular scab, but that’s not the “gamechanger” the solicitation was referring to. There is a pretty big thing occurring in this issue, but it doesn’t have of anything to do with the story Slott was telling last issue—it’s apparently the culmination of a sub-plot that’s been simmering in the background of the not-quite-weekly ASM. (You can read about it in AM New York, apparently).

For a regular reader of this series, it likely seems more natural than it did to me, an occasional reader who only picks up issues when I like the particular creators involved and/or it’s a light week for new releases. To me, it seemed like a bit of a cheat, as did the clever but cheap technique of sending Spidey and the FF to a dimension where time moves faster than in their own, so that sub-plots involving various supporting cast members move at lightning speed through four-panel montages, essentially jumping two months ahead while the FF and Spidey bicker about the continuity re-boot and battle aliens.

Like I said, it’s clever, and well-executed, but it’s also pretty forced, and, were I one invested in things like Aunt May’s love life or J. Jonah Jameson’s well-being or Flash Thompson’s, uh, not having any legs, I can’t imagine I would have wanted to see all those scenes essentially fastforward-ed through just to get to “the good stuff.”

The art is a real mess this issue. Remember last issue, the first half of this single story, was penciled by Barry Kitson? This issue Kitson pencils and inks one page, handling lay-outs for Jesse Delpergang to finish (and they look like the pencil work of Delpergang, not that of Kitson). It’s still very nice work, but it’ so obviously different than what came before that it’s jarring.

But wait, there are more jars!

The scenes set on the real world are penciled by Eaglesham (and colored without inks, as far as I can tell from the credits). He’s a great artist too of course, and, with the exception of Osborn’s hair, his panels look just fine, but they clash loudly with Delpergang’s pages, to the point that when the FF return to earth and into Eaglesham’s pages, Thing’s facial structure has radically shifted and Johnny’s hair has grown out and been styled differently.

If a comic book has to have three different pencilers to finish it, this is done about as well as could be, but, well, a comic book shouldn’t have to have three different pencilers to finish it.

All in all, it’s mediocre work for very talented creators, more interesting for the way the creators tackle their various tasks than the story they’re telling. (Wacker’s credit made me laugh after the two seconds of puzzling it took to get the joke, though, and the last page reveal sure shows some promise).

Marvel Adventures Super Heroes #10 (Marvel) I really dug the first Ant-Man story in this title, by Fred Van Lente and pencil artist Matteo Lolli, so I thought I’d give this ish a try. Despite a different creative team (Todd Dezago, Derec Donovan and a pair of inkers), this issue seemed to follow #6’s template of Ant-Man as a down-on-his-luck inventor who serves as a champion to ants.

Dezago’s story seems to have started with as ingle image—Spider-Man villain The Sandman being split apart by little ant farm-like ant tunnels—and worked backwards to find a story that could support such an image.

Hank Pym is desperately trying to find a job to make rent on his trash apartment/laboratory, and interviews at a warehouse. So too does Flint Marko. When neither gets the job, Marko robs the place, while Pym dons his costume and fights him off with the help of an army of ants and the hindrance of his two ant roommates.

It’s not as funny as the Van Lente story (which also had the advantage of coming first), but it’s not bad either. I was less than impressed with the artwork, which is serviceable, but had some weak spots, like Marko’s tire-tread hair and Janet Van Dyne’s boob sock top (Plus, isn’t Jan supposed to be all into fashion? She dresses like a soccer mom from 1997…with a boob sock top…).

I do like that cover image.

Mysterius The Unfathomable #4 (WildStorm/DC Comics) The Dr. Seuss analogue plot from the last few issues dominates this one, and it’s awfully distracting. I think it’s kind of neat, but the fact that writer Jeff Parker is resorting to things like “Emil Gaust” instead of “Dr. Seuss” and “The Ape in the Cape” instead of “The Cat in the Hat” drives me nuts. If you want to tell a story about how Dr. Seuss is an evil sorcerer, go for it; if you can’t for legal reasons, don’t. It’s not bad, mind you, it’s just one of those things that bugs me, to the point where I have a hard time enjoying a work on its own terms. Tom Fowler sure drew the hell out of this issue though; the opening pages, with large swathes of the setting appearing as white space in the shape of things like streets and steps, and the highly expressive Seussian, I mean, Gaustian monsters are just impressive as all hell.

Sub-Mariner Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1 (Marvel) I’m an easy mark for comics about Namor wrecking shit, so I might not be the most reliable person to ask regarding the quality of this thing, but I personally and it to be some pretty great super-comics (and by far the best thing I read this week).

Like last week’s similarly ridiculously titled Captain America Comics 70th Anniversary Special #1, this is a $3.99 anthology collecting a new story with a classic one, apparently in celebration of the fact that publisher Martin Goodman’s company released a book called Marvel Comics #1 back in 1939, featuring a couple of characters who would eventually become Marvel superheroes. SMC70AS #1 is one-up on CAC70AS #1 in that it has three stories, however.

The first is written by Roy Thomas and illustrated by Mitch Breitweiser. Set before America joined World War II, it’s about Namor having second thoughts about killing a U-Boat full of Nazis, and letting them live. He’s feeling ambivalent about taking sides in a war between surface nation armies, so he surfaces, steals the coat and hat from some poor sleeping bum, goes to a kraut bar, hangs out with a Nazi lady, and decides to go ahead and kill that U-Boat full of Nazis after all, ignoring the lady begging for mercy.

Oh, Namor! That’s just so…you.

Breitweiser’s art is pretty nice, but it’s not a style that I care for overmuch. It reminds me a little bit of that in the Avengers/Invaders series, in which a couple of Namors are featured, so it’s certainly appropriate. (I do really like his cover too, with a lightly smirking Subby looking positively bemused by the fact that he’s about to smash a torpedo into a dude’s face).

The second story is a short, eleven-page one written by Mark Schulz and drawn by Al Williamson, and it’s a knockout one. Also set during the Golden Age, this one more self-consciously tries to replicate a classic adventure strip feel, which isn’t too difficult to do when Al fucking Williamson is drawing the thing. Namor fights more Nazis, this time at the behest of his weird-looking fish king. It’s a gorgeous looking piece, full of delicate, intricate line work and a handsome, grand character designs.

Finally there’s the original Sub-Mariner story by Bill Everett, fresh from the pages of Marvel Comics #1 , eight pages of Namor murdering some surface men—whom his mom wants to stuff and mount—while learning his origin and how it’s his destiny to personally beat the shit out of the surface world. Holy crap could that Bill Everett character draw a comic book panel.

Super Friends #14 (DC) Once again, the J. Bone cover is easily the best part of an issue of Super Friends, and just about justifies the purchase all by itself.

The art on the inside isn’t quite as slick, nor are the characters as sharply defined, but it is better than usual, and provided by an artist whose presence is a somewhat inspired bit of stunt-assigning on editor Rachel Gluckstern’s part.

Sholly Fisch is responsible for this script, in which the Super Friends’ super-pets come to their aid, while it’s penciled by Captain Carrot’s Scott Shaw (“with Mike Kazaleh”). Eh? Guy who drew that funny super-animal comic for a long time now drawing this funny super-animal comic? Pretty good idea, right?

The art’s nothing to get excited about, beyond the fact that the animals expressions occasionally remind the reader of those Shaw’s other animal characters have worn over the years, but the artist is allowed to wander farther off-model with the character designs than usual, which is good news as far as I’m concerned (the only thing I hate more than those Super Friends toy designs is seiing talented artists trying to clamp down their personal styles to ape it).

The story? Kanjar Ro uses the Gamma Gong to freeze every single person on earth like a statue. Sensing a loophole, Green Lantern John Stewart wills his ring to summon the non-human Lantern Ch’p to earth to help them. Ch’p in turn rounds up whis own super-team, consisting of Krypto, Streaky, Beppo, Ace The Bat-Hound, Jumpa the Kanga and Topo.

I realize it’s kinda silly to nitpick a silly superhero comic for kids and all, but a couple of things bothered me:

1.) Why was Ch’p gray instead of brown? He looked more like a squirrel or maybe even a raccoon than a chipmunk, despite being referred to as a chipmunk in the story

2.) How come Topo was all walking around in the open air like that? Octopuses can’t do that.

3.) I didn’t understand how all of the Super-Pets were talking to one another and to the Super Friends. Their dialogue bubbles were half speaking bubbles and half thought clouds, with shout-y corners and were, I think, supposed to indicate telepathic talk. But none of them are telepathic. And Aquaman’s the only Super Friend who should be able to communicate telepathically (well, sometimes Wonder Woman can talk to animals, and sometimes she can’t; I don’t know about Super Friends continuity). Ch’p or John’s rings could have made everyone telepathic, of course, but there’s never any indication that that’s what’s happening.

Sorry, but what can I do? I’m a nitpicker.

Tiny Titans #15 (DC) This issue features another Tiny Titans Pet Club meeting at Wayne Manor, with Alfred supervising to make sure things don’t get out of hand. When Zatara brings his pet, a white bunny rabbit named Abby (short for Abracadbara, natch) and it starts some shit with Streaky the Super-Cat, things do get out of hand, leading to a sound effect even cooler than those found in your average issue of Incredible Hercules: “KA-BUNNY!”

That, it turns out, is the sound of 30 white rabbits exploding in a geyser out of a magician’s top hat.

Art Baltazar and Franco also provide a short story in which Ravager babysits the Tiny Terror Titans, and an epilogue in which Baltazar draws the cutest version of Hoppy The Marvel Bunny ever committed to paper.

Early in the book, when Streaky starts chasing Abby while the other Super-Pets look on, I realized how much more enjoyable Super Friends would have been if Baltazar were drawing it instead of Shaw, but, well, Baltazar can’t draw everything. Although I admit there are times I wish he could.

Trinity #46 (DC) With this issue, the series has returned to one of its pleasures, which is just having a bunch of panels of a bunch of superheroes doing things. Hal Jordan and Firestorm flying around, Nightwing and Black Canary posing and talking, hey, if you like superheroes, this stuff is kinda cool, especially when Mark Bagley draws it (The novelty of Bagley drawing DC supeherheroes still hasn’t worn off for me, even though he’s been doing it for 46 straight weeks now). In the back-up, drawn by Scott McDaniel, whose work I’m pretty sick of looking at by this point in my life, is split between that Xor fellow hooking up with “The Dreambound” and Enigma facing the Crime Syndicate over on Earth Whatever.

Only six more issues to go, and now I find myself increasingly wondering what book Bagley will draw next. Assuming he doesn’t just drop dead or have his right arm explode in flames after drawing almost 50 pages a month for so long.


awb said...

Jeez,I...I just love Namor. He should be considered one of the original prototypes as Batman and Superman are. Maybe throw in Wonderwoman as the prototypical female hero, but I think Namor belongs. He's like the original superhuman anti-hero that stayed that way even after Superman and
Batman were somewhat sanitized. One of the all time great characters

Jacob said...

Dude, Bagley's gonna be on Batman with Winick.

Sandra said...

What awb said. Namor is a great original character, who doesn't get the recognition he deserves, which is to say, his own ongoing book.

Rob said...

Re: Janet VanDyne and fashion. Well, she is supposed to be into fashion, but when you look at her costumes and the horrible costumes she has designed over the years (Remember the "Power Man" costume parade), I can only assume she is not a very good fashion designer.

Maybe she was trying to wear the tube top ironically, but had it fall flat. Who knows?