Monday, June 01, 2015

Review: A-Force #1

I've been quite curious about the Secret Wars premise as a whole, and I was made more curious about this title in particular thanks to Jill Lepore’s article in which she dismissed the characters as all resembling porn stars, and her son and her son’s friends mention of all the characters having “cleavages” (The only cleavage on the cover I note is Dazzler’s and, within the book itself, Loki’s, Namora’s (in just the one panel) and Nico Minoru’s (depending on the angle, in just a few of the panels she appears in). But then I guess I shouldn’t put too much stock in 10-year-old boys’ understandings of and usage of certain vocabulary. That's the part of the article that really stuck with me though, because I like the way they used "cleavages" as a plural and all).

As this was the first Serect Wars book I had access to (i.e. my friend bought it, so I didn’t have to blow $4 of my own money on a 21-page comic book.), I figured I should read and maybe write about it here, on the Internet, which I am now doing.

So, the Secret Wars tie-ins are apparently really beginning en medias res, huh? This book opens with a first page of six, small, tight, horizontal panels, and then a two-page splash page(s) filling up the second and third pages.

In the first, the narrator–presumably She-Hulk, as she's standing front and center and filling the most space on the crowded cover–talks in poetic language about an island, while we see see a half-dozen rapid fire images of seven female superheroes and some civilians (Is that Luke Cage in panel three? Or is it racist of me to assume every huge, super-cut bald black guy pushing a stroller with a baby in it and standing next to a white lady with dark hair is Luke Cage?). The narrationboxes are green instead of standard yellow or white; another good indication that it's She-Hulk (who is, remember, green).

On the splash, we see roller skate-era Dazzler, X-Person Pixie, Runaway Nico Minoru, Ms. America (America Chavez version) and Captain Marvel Carol Danvers flying over a big, beautiful, vaguely Mediterranean-looking island nation: "Welcome to Arcadia," a little green box says, followed immediately by another that add "It's pretty tight."

No sooner had I begun to question whether or not Miss America and Dazzler could fly and how Nico Minoru could without using The Staff of One (and why she'd waste a flight spell on patrolling) when the title page interrupts, explaining this much at least about Secret Wars:
More about the rules of this new "patchwork" world (their words, not mine!) become clear as one reads on, as apparently She-Hulk is "the baroness" of Arcadia, the Thors police the world and enforce its rules and Dr. Strange is apparently higher-up the pecking order than some (I got a bit of a House of M vibe from the page in which Shulkie and Dr. Strange talk Battleworld politics, to be honest).

As for the plot, there's not much to it for a first issue, and the bigger, more obvious questions go unanswered–Why is it called Arcadia? Why is the team called A-Force? Why is A-Force composed entirely of female characters, particularly if there are at least a few super-dudes in town?

During a routine, morning patrol, a gigantic monster shark with spikes on its face that we're told is a Megaladon attacks America, the patrolling super-people kicks its ass and, after it's down, Ms. America picks it up and throws it...out of the bowl...that the ocean is in...maybe?
I didn't follow this part, just in the visual mechanics of it.

And there's a ghost in the background...I think....?

As throwing monster sharks out of the borders of a place is against the laws of Doom, America is to be arrested by the Thor version of The Falcon (sadly not Accompanied by Redwing in a little viking helmet), and she's to suffer some terrible punishment that readers won't know enough about to guess the exact nature of.

Female Loki and Medusa are kind of catty about She-Hulk being unable to stop this from happening, and Nico, who is apparently super-tight with America in this new setting with what I assume must be a new, jumbled continuity (She doesn't need her staff ever for anything, apparently!). She-Hulk turns to help from Namorita, Namora and Namor, as apparently Megaladon don't naturally occur in the ocean bowl outside of Arcadia, and when the three sea-going superheroes investigate, they find something that we'll have to wait until next issue to find out about .

Namorita, I should note, has a seashell over one breast, not both breasts, as Jill Lepore wrote in The New Yorker. Man, it's weird Jill Lepore wrote about A-Force in The New Yorker and discussed Namorita's breasts. It's weirder still that she messed up that part, as it's not like she was dealing with very big or complicated numbers. Namorita only has two breasts; we're dealing with numbers between one and two here.

I still can't wrap my head around that article's existence. Why did Marvel give Lepore a copy of this book, instead of Secret Wars, or any of their billion Avengers titles? Why did Lepore decide to write about this in relation to Avengers: Age of Ultron, as if this book were somehow the most representative of Marvel comics? So weird.

The book is written by G. Willow Wilson and Marguerite Bennett, and drawn by Jorge Molina, who both pencils and inks (with Craig Yeung helping out on inks and two colorists needed for the 21 pages, for some reason).

It's not very good, but it's not bad either; it's well-crafted, What If..?-style continuity gobbledygook. Characters are introduced, characters that have the names and appearances of some fairly familiar if minor Marvel characters but are essentially brand-new, based on their characterization and their relationships. A few conflicts are introduced, ones that will likely be explored during the remainder of the series, with the way in which the book ties into Secret Wars proper becoming more clear as it goes on.

The artwork is fine, but unspectacular; Molina's work is almost perfectly clear and well-executed, in a style that doesn't distract form the story, with the only real confusing bit occurring during what was unfortunately a rather key moment (the bit with the border violation). I don't like the way he draws Megaladons, but I guess I've never seen one in person, so I really can't claim he's drawn it wrong.

All in all, it's a perfectly acceptable, laughably over-priced, mediocre comic book from Marvel. Thinking back on Lepore's attacks on it and Wilson's defense of the book, it's hard to understand what either of them got worked up about, as it reads like nothing more than paycheck comics-writing devoted to 1/75th of a line-wide event series of the sort Marvel publishes on the regular.


I just went back and re-read Lepore's article, having now read the comic book she devoted so much New Yorker ink to. This is the second-to-last paragraph:
There’s an underwater superhero in the A-Force, but we couldn’t figure out her name. All I remember is: she wore a seashell on each breast.
Here's the panel in which "the underwater superhero" is introduced:
So not only did she mess up the math on the seashells-to-breasts ratio, she also miscounted the number of underwater superheroes (I see three; am I blind? There are three there, right?) and she couldn't figure out their names, which are written there?

I could understand Lepore not knowing which of the three characters belongs to which of the three names, but even without the benefit of knowing who any of them are or Googling 'em, she and her 10-year-old co-writers should at least be able to narrow the name down to one of three likely possibilities, right?


I just saw a link to this today, proving that The New Yorker isn't the only completely idiotic print media institution to publish bizarrely out-of-touch stories about superhero comics as if their staff and their audiences haven't heard anything about them since the Kennedy administration. George Gene Gustines' "Fashion & Style" page article "Sorry, Batman: Dick Grayson Outgrows the Robin Costume" lets NYT readers know that Dick Grayson is all grown-up and no longer Robin, thus catching them up to the year 1984 in the character's development.

Maybe in another five years, GGG and the NYT can write a story about how Jason Todd was murdered by The Joker ("Holy Murder, Batman! Comics Aren't Just For Kids Anymore!") or that Batgirl was shot and paralyzed by The Joker.


Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

I think "A-Force" is written with the assumption that the reader will have read Hickman's "Secret Wars" core series. This provides the important background info that is missing, such as that the punishment America is sentenced to is guarding the giant wall that the Marvel Zombies and Ultron live on the other side of.

David said...

To be clear, her punishment is because throwing the Megalodon damaged the wall, and it's not so much guarding as "getting exiled over the wall and expected to kill as many zombies as possible."

Unless Jamie Braddock was feeling particularly suicidal for some reason.

Personally, I'm just wondering if the rumors are true and Battle Fever J and the Titans (And maybe Diskwars?) are part of The Far East.

Evan Dawson-Baglien said...

David: The impression I got was that there were varying levels of punishments administered at the wall. America got the milder "guard the wall for the rest of your natural life," Jamie got the more severe "go over the wall and fight the zombies until they kill you."