Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Twenty more-or-less random thoughts that occurred to me while reading The List

1.) It's just called The List, not Dark Reign: The List. I thought that was a little weird, given that the individual special all shipped with overly complicated titles, like Dark Reign: The List—The Avengers, Dark Reign: The List—Wolverine and so on. They put the words "The List" in what looks like some kind of Dark Reign font, though.

2.) I honestly can't tell you how much I hate this cover:
Not because I'm bashful about expressing my hatred for it, but simply because I can't quantify that hate. It's a lot of hate though.

Here we see five random Marvel characters more or less milling around in various half-assed poses, a list of names hovering behind them (Please note: That is not actually Norman Osborn's list, which is eight items long and shown a couple of times throughout the course of the book.) Also note that Wolverine, who is barely even in the book (despite having his name on one of the specials collected), is wearing the wrong costume, and The Punisher seems even more off-model, forgetting to put his gloves on.

3.) The book is pretty much a perfect sampler platter of the Marvel Universe circa 2009. Here's the creative roster, for example: Brian Michael Bendis, Andy Diggle, Matt Fraction, Jonathan Hickman, Rick Remender, Greg Pak, Jason Aaron, Dan Slott, Marko Djurdjevic, Billy Tan, Alan Davis, Ed McGuinness, John Romita Jr., Ben Oliver, Esad Ribic, Adam Kubert and others. Additionally, many of the characters are in modern, assuredly short-lived iterations (The X-Men are on their little island Utopia, Daken is running around as Wolverine, Bruce Banner can't turn into the Hulk, and is mentoring his son Skaar, etc). Some stories are better than others, of course, and there are a variety of art styles, but overall it's not a bad way to check in with the Marvel Universe as it currently stands.

4.) Marvel just recently released a book entitled Brian Michael Bendis: 10 Years at Marvel, celebrating the anniversary of the company's most successful and influential writer. So you know Bendis has been at this—making comics in general, making Marvel comics specifically—for a really, really long time now. So I was amused to see the first two pages of his Avengers special:
As long as Bendis has been writing these damn things, he still doesn't seem to have been able to figure out an effective way to put one of his very Bendisian conversations into a comic book page layout. That, or Ares is standing on one leg throughout that conversation for some reason.

5.) Fun fact: Lexapro is the brand name for the drug Escitalopram, a selective serotonin reuptake inhibitor, which is used primarily for the treatment of depression (although it is also often prescribed for anxiety disorders). I'm neither a doctor nor a psychiatrist, but as far as I know, it's not prescribed to paranoid schizophrenics. Spider-Man seems to be making a joke about Clint Barton/Hawkeye/Ronin II being paranoid, so Lexapro is a weird one to go with.

6.) Barton/Hawkeye/Ronin totally wants to kill Norman Osborn, for reasons not entirely clear to me based on this single story (He refers to the X-Men's little island as "a concentration camp," which doesn't seem much different then when they were confined to the Xavier mansion post-House of M, and is a lot less concentration camp-like than, say, Guantanamo Bay...did Hawkeye wanna kill Tony Stark or or Maria Hill or any U.S. presidents...?).

Some of the Avengers argue with Barton how killing is wrong. This story is written by the same man who wrote Secret Invasion, in which Barton advocated genocide against the Skrulls and killed a whole bunch of them himself. Everyone in the room with him in this scene were A-OK with killing Skrulls. I just don't get the moral compasses of Bendis' Avenger characters at all, as they're always changing without explanation, like a compass in a movie where the characters enter into some kind of screwy energy field or something, and the needle spins at random.

That said, while I understand the premise of "Dark Reign," the whys of it have never made any sense to me. Osborn was publicly known as a serial killer, and his redemptive act and the reason for his popularity in Secret Invasion was simply shooting the about-to-be-killed-anyway Skrull queen in the head before Wolverine could chop her head off or one of the other dozen heroes about to kill her killed her. If Secret Invasion was merely a miniseries devoted to making Osborn the new-new Nick Fury, Bendis really should have spent more time on him in the series, and shown him actually doing things that would make a reasonable case of his succeeding where Tony Stark failed (or, I don't know, maybe he just did a deal with Mephisto or Loki, and they changed Marvel continuity for him...maybe that will be part of Siege).

Wow, I got off topic real fast there, didn't I...?

7.) Norman Osborn kills 107 people in an explosion to send a message to Daredevil. That's a whole lot of civilians to just kind of kill randomly for pretty much no reason. The Daredevil story is the second one in the book, and it's the first of several times in which Osborn attempts to take out someone on his list, doesn't quite do it, and then just moves on. There's a frustrating amount of non-status quo changing, for a series all about an almost all-powerful Osborn attempting to change the status quo.

8.) I don't care for Billy Tan's artwork much. He draws one big, beefy Daredevil.

9.) I was dreading the Secret Warriors chapter, as I had little-to-no interest in the characters after meeting them in Secret Invasion, but it turned out to be a Nick Fury solo story, and, thanks to Hickman and McGuinness a pretty damn good one.

10.) I like how Fury breaks into Avengers Tower to get at Osborn, which Barton just did a few chapters ago, and he manages to do so much more effectively. It may just be a coincidence—not sure how much each writer knew about the other writers' plots—but the effect is a demonstration of how awesome Nick Fury is (and/or how relatively lame Barton is, I guess).

11.) Fury's own list is awesome, as is the fact that he has it all written down on a piece of paper and ready to show to Osborn, just in case the subject of lists comes up when they meet.

12.) I really like the way McGuinness draws Ares in his helmet:

13.) McGuinness does a lovely job of drawing Osborn making Green Goblin faces without his mask, quite effectively demonstrating that even though Osborn is supposedly reformed and in control, he's still essentially a crazy supervillain (Other writers usually demonstrate this by having Osborn yelling at himself or something a little more obvious). Poor show on the repeating image there though, McGuinness!

14.) I can't add anything of value to Abhay Khosla's discussion of the X-Men special, which I hope you've all read by now.

Although it is a pretty frustrating story. Osborn goes to the trouble of creating a weapon specifically designed to kill Namor, because Namor betrayed him by leaving his evil cabal (And how did that work, exactly? Osborn had a secret weapon behind a door to keep his reluctant allies in line, one so scary they couldn't quit. Yet Namor, Emma Frost and Doctor Doom have all since quit. Did they reveal what that weapon was? Did Osborn just never use it? If the Sentry's on his side, why not just have the Sentry beat these traitors up?). So Osborn has this monster weapon kill Atlanteans ("Hundreds are dead, if not thousands," Namor reports), and the monster ultimately attacks Namor and the X-Men. They kill it, and then Namor throws its severed head at Osborn and glowers at him.

And that's the end of that. Osborn lets Namor go, Namor leaves without trying to kill Osborn (despite the whole "hundreds are dead, if not thousands" thing).

That's pretty weird, isn't it? It's like the two enemies saw they only had a few pages left in that particular issue, and decided they would finish this later...maybe in a Siege book.

15.) Hey, if they ever get around to a Namor movie, I wonder if they'll be able to use the blue-skinned Atlanteans, or if moviegoers will just accuse them of biting off Avatar?

16.) I wonder if some of these stories will be re-collected elsewhere, perhaps grouped with the ongoing titles whose characters they feature. The Punisher issue, for example, is a pretty pivotal moment for the character, and what comes next in his own Marvel Universe book.

17.) This was my first exposure to the Bruce Banner/Skaar team. It seemed like a neat twist on the Banner/Hulk dynamic, with both personalities physically present at the same time and interacting with one another. I also liked how Pak played Banner as a sort of MacGyver-esque superhero (Has there been a Skaar, Hercules, Banner and Amadeus Cho team-up yet?). That said, I hated the art on this chapter, and I didn't understand the conflict or the resolution. I think Osborn "won," but I didn't understand how, or the goals of the participants.

18.) The Punisher story stood out as being one in which there is a clear winner and a clear loser. The Punisher gets throoughly killed in a way that's rare in superhero comics, with Daken literally slicing him into little pieces and leaving them as a bloody pile, removing any and all suspicion that The Punisher could somehow survive (Well, he does of course...the very next storyline in his personal monthly title was called, um, "FrankenCastle," and featured him as a Frankenstein's monster). I knew it was coming, and it was still something of a shock to see The Punisher finally get killed.

The more I thought about it though, the more unfortunate the issue seemed, like a bit of a lost opportunity. Marvel's only going to get so many chances to kill off The Punisher after all, and it would have been nice if he had a better death than being killed in a one-on-one fight with Wolverine's mohawk and tattoo-having son Daken. The Punisher's fought and beat and/or escaped from pretty much every superhero in The Marvel Universe multiple times by now, right? And it's Daken who finishes him off? It might have been more satisfying to see him run a gauntlet of Dark Avengers before Daken chopped him up, if not having a more unbeatable Avenger like Ares do him in.

This is another story that repeats something from earlier in the collection, in this case a fight with Daken. In the first chapter, we saw Barton take on and/or defeat most of the Dark Avengers—including Daken—before Ares ultimately captured him. If Hawkeye can take Daken and Daken can kill The Punisher, does that mean Hawkeye can wipe the floor with The Punisher? That doesn't quite sound right, does it...?

19.) Jason Aaron's Wolverine story is pretty fantastic. As I mentioned early, Wolvie just barely appears in it at all, and it's basically a team-up between the Grant Morrison-created Marvel Boy with the Grant Morrison-created Fantomex for a mission inside "The World," the Weapon-Plus factory from Morrison's New X-Men run. And surprise, surprise, Aaron writes both characters really, really well, making him one of the few people who can satisfyingly follow Morrison (Of course, this was only a single story, but it was still striking how much more closer to Morrison's Marvel Boy Aaron's was than, say, Bendis' first crack at the character was).

Maybe after Siege Bendis will retire from Marvel Universe-running, and they'll let Jason Aaron handle the gig for the next five or so year...?

20.) I was kind of shocked how good Adam Kubert's Spider-Man story was, particularly since the last time I saw his work it was pretty unimpressive. It's really too bad he can't keep a monthly schedule.


James Figueiredo said...

Well, at least the X-Men story has Alan Davis on art, right? I mean, that pretty much is all I needed to know to buy the damn book, Chuck Austen might've written it with assist from Jeph Loeb, and I wouldn't have cared..lol

But yeah, that cover is pretty atrocious.

Hdefined said...

That cover is mind-numbingly . . . mind-numbing. I mean, seriously, Marvel? Seriously?

Caleb, with point #3, what you describe sounds like the exactly opposite of what people usually say when they talk about how and why a book is inaccessible - being too caught up in its own situations and status quos. Would you say this collection was generally accessible, or accessible despite not really have a clear entry point (like in the way that we all started reading comics in the middle of some long-running series and didn't care whether or not it was accessible, because it piqued our interest anyway)?

Also, I'd like to see more of your thoughts about the Spider-man story.

Peter said...

Oh Ed McGuiness. How I wish you did any other book but the Hulk so I can buy it.

samuel rules said...

I honestly have got to ask why you excuse DCs nonsense with classified covers and dumb posing super heroes while hating on Marvel?

Filipe Freitas said...

"I honestly have got to ask why you excuse DCs nonsense with classified covers and dumb posing super heroes while hating on Marvel?"

As I remember, Caleb also hated the "classified" James Robinson Justice League cover, don't you remember that? Don't be such a Marvel zombie! ;-)

Caleb said...

Well, at least the X-Men story has Alan Davis on art, right?

Yup, and it was definitely one of the best-looking chapters of the book.

Would you say this collection was generally accessible, or accessible despite not really have a clear entry point

It's hard to say with any great certainty. I'm not reading any of the monthlies these specials tied-in to, but had no problem following (of course, I do read reviews and solicitations, so I tend to have a general idea).

They included recap pages in front of each chapter—I assume the same ones in the special—so there's a few paragraphs of prose explaining who's who and what's what.

I think it would be pretty accessible to anyone coming in cold...like, one need not know that Norman Osborn was the Green Goblin and his back story to know that he's a bad guy, and each of these stories is about him trying to take down a different Marvel character in some way shape or form.

Oh Ed McGuiness. How I wish you did any other book but the Hulk so I can buy it.

I'd definitely advise McGuinness to do as much work with other writers as possible, so he doesn't run the risk of being over-associated with Loeb. I completely forgot how much I liked his art until I read this, as I've been avoiding book's he's worked on for so many years now.

I honestly have got to ask why you excuse DCs nonsense with classified covers and dumb posing super heroes while hating on Marvel?

Well, DC didn't really come up in this piece, since it was about a Marvel comic. Did I really just have to say that?