So here's a problem with trade-waiting. I had every intention of buying this trade paperback collection of the first five issues of the new Daredevil comic, because I liked the writer, I liked the artist, I liked the character and the new direction seemed particularly promising. But then I saw it just sitting there in the library, waiting for me to take it home and read it for free, and suddenly paying $16 for it didn't seem like all that great of an idea.
I would not envy either writer Charles Soule or artist Ron Garney the task of doing a new Daredevil comic on the heels of the Mark Waid's work on the character, which spanned 57 issues, five years and a relaunch. Not only did Waid manage to find new–or at least long-abandoned–territory to cover with the character and offer such a lengthy, thorough examination of him, but Waid's artistic collaborators like Chris Samnee, Paolo Rivera and Marcos Martin regularly delivered one of mainstream comics' best-drawn books. Not only would Soule and Garney find themselves competing with Frank Miller-era Daredevil the way just about everyone since has been forced to do in the imaginations of Daredevil readers (in fact, a large part of what made Waid and company's run so instantly appealing is the way in which it read as a reaction to the Miller take), but they would be doing so immediately following one of the best-received mainstream superhero comics of the decade (so far).
Soule and Garney do just fine, however, and I guess I envy them for their talent, then, and their ability to tell high-quality comic book stories. It certainly helps that some pains are taken to distance their new book from Waid's two volumes of Daredevil. The title character has relocated back to New York City, he has a new day job as an assistant district attorney for the city, the genie of his secret identity is firmly back in the bottle, he's got a brand-new (awesome) costume and he's working with an apprentice, a new character named Blindspot.
In other words, almost everything about the comic is new, even the most familiar elements–the Hell's Kitchen setting, The Hand–are new in contrast to immediately preceded them, or the twist Soule brings to them.
Both Murdock and Daredevil are pursuing a new crime lord, a Fu Manchu-style villain who is also a Chinatown cult-leader. His name is Tenfingers and he has, um, ten fingers on each hand. It's an incredibly effective visual, as rendered by Garney. Daredevil isn't fighting alone, but alongside an apprentice of sorts named Blindspot, an illegal Chinese immigrant who has invented his own invisibility suit with which to protect his neighborhood...although the fact that he's not a U.S. citizen frustrates his ability to, like, patent and sell his miraculous invention. Or even get a good job.
This collection reads like an actual graphic novel, with a beginning, middle and end, a completely complete story of Daredevil and Blindspot's battle against Tenfingers...and their mutual foes, which I already spoiled (The Hand, if you missed it).
Garney's art is all big, muscular figures rendered in precise, sometimes sketchy lines, although it's impossible to talk about the visuals of this book without mentioning the coloring, by Matt Milla. It's not quite black and white, but close to it, in the manner of the millennial, Greg Rucka-written run on post-"No Man's Land" Detective Comics. Most of the pages have a single color applied to them like a wash, with each portion of the page appearing either black, white or some gradation of that color–red, blue, green, etc. The one exception is the bright, bold red of the highlights of Daredevil's new costume: The eyes, the belt, the boots, the fists.
It's a really rather beautiful comic, immediately striking when compared to almost anything its sharing space with, and appropriate given the fact that color is something completely foreign to our protagonist (along with several other aspects of a visual universe, like, in one dramatic scene, the digital numbers on the countdown clock attached to a bomb).
I really like the new Daredevil costume quite a bit, as I know I've said before; I really prefer it to what Marvel Studios and Netflix outfitted the hero with in the last few episodes of the first season, and the entirety of the second. Not only does the black look make more tactical sense (like, if I were a teenager and still thought as seriously about the interior logic of such comics, I would think a red costume would be super-dumb compared to the option of a black one), but it looks so much closer to the costume Daredevil wore on the show before he officially took the name "Daredevil."
In the comic, it's a nice, striking, emphatic change from the red of the Waid-written years, although there are enough details to the costume to allow room for Ol' Hornhead's signature color. Those details include wrapped up fists and laced-up boots, that give him the look of a guy who made his own suit, while simultaneously echoing the fact that he was the son of a boxer.
I'm not terribly crazy about the exact shape of the "DD" on his chest, but I'm not a fan of the "DD" in general (Rule of thumb for superhero costumes: Cool heroes have one letter on their costume, lame ones have two or more).
Blindspot's costume is somewhat generic, but that very simplicity is it's strongest aspect...especially given the fact that it was created in-story to be functional rather than thematic. The cover doesn't provide a very good look at it, but it's basically a full black bodysuit with a hole for Blindspot's hair at the top, some white stripe hightlights up and down it's sides, and a very distinct mask that shows a stylized, frozen face from the top lip to the hairline. The character's name might be a little on the nose–"We're all the same," he says of his fellow illegal immigrants, "Smack in the middle of society's blind spot. Invisible–but what the hell, this is a superhero comic, after all.
The first give issues of the new Daredevil are followed by a short, eight-page story that originally appeared in a ridiculously-titled anthology All-New, All-Different Point One #1 and introduces the character of Blindspot to readers and to Daredevil. It's rather awkwardly stuck on to the end of the book, as we had just finished a 100-page story featuring the character and already met him and knew most of this information, but it wouldn't make sense at the front of the book either, since Daredevil #1, now the first chapter of this collection, also thoroughly introduces the character and his relationship to Daredevil.
The best strategy would have probably been not to collect it at all. It's interesting to see how various books handle these shorts, though. The first trade collections of All-New, All-Different Avengers and the new New Avengers also have awkward preview type stories from a similar anthology (Avengers #0) to attach to their stories, but both put them in the front of the book, and they work a bit better. The former is a short story featuring The Vision and setting up his status quo before the start of the team he will be joining, while the latter is a series of pre-cognitive visions about the events of the first few issues of that series, delivered via a villain's extracting them from a psychic.
Anyway: Daredevil is still great, but in a completely different way than it was great before.
The unfortunate thing about Jeff Lemire's mainstream superhero comics writing is that he came to it only after he achieved a degree of acclaim as an excellent graphic novelist. So when he turns out merely mediocre work, there's an element of frustration associated with it; you know there are better things he could be doing with his time.
Not that I can fault the man, of course. I imagine turning out scripts for various Marvel or DC franchises pays much better than creator-owned work, and I know it's a hell of a lot easier than writing and drawing original graphic novels. It doesn't appear as if Lemire's first story for the X-Men franchise caused any undue stress, as there wasn't even a whole lot that seemed to have gone into this first story arc for the new title: It's simply a reorganization of familiar, too-often repeated X-Men plot points, with only a few specific details changed.
It's basically a new coat of paint Lemire and the art team of Humberto Ramos and Victor Olazaba are applying, but it's not like they're even changing the color from, say, white to eggshell or ivory; it's just off-white.
How much of that is Lemire's fault versus Marvel's is something only Lemire or editors Daniel Ketchum or Mark Paniccia could answer; certainly a lot of the foundational elements of this series were probably decided by someone other than Lemire, including the status quo of mutantkind in the current Marvel Universe and which characters could be used...and which were mandated.
Some months after the events of Secret Wars, after Cyclops has apparently done something terrible that has made the whole world hate and fear mutants as hard as they ever had before (something that is never explained, but it must be pretty bad, since he had previously conquered the world in Avengers Vs. X-Men), mutantkind gets some more bad news. Actualizing Marvel Entertainment's film rights-driven attempts to make Inhumans the new mutants (even though the Inhumans are, as I'm sure someone has already pointed out, just like fetch), the two groups are in a life-or-death existential struggle: The Terrigen mists that empower Inhumans are apparently poisoning mutants, sterilizing them and preventing the creation of new mutants...and even causing some to lose their powers or get sick.
This is problematic for the obvious reason that Marvel's mutants have always been born to non-mutant human beings, and I don't want to think about what exactly the differences are between mutants and Inhumans in the Marvel Universe, genetically speaking–culturally, it's difficult to believe that human beings would be racists (or speciest?) against mutants, but be totally cool with Inhumans. Marvel has always had this problem, as the difference between, say, Spider-Man and The Fantastic Four and Wolverine and the X-Men is simply the source of their extraordinary powers and appearances, but hell, giving the Marvel Universe another race/species mutated/evolved/misted from homo sapiens is just underlining and emphasizing that tension.
As a reader, the bigger problem is simply that we've seen this before, and recently too. Mutants are hated and feared, they are once more a tiny, dwindling population facing extinction (as they were after the events of House of M and the "No more mutants" spell) and so they retreat to a secure and fortified hideaway (as they did during their House of M to "Schism," "Utopia" phase).
As I said, only the specifics have changed. They are still operating a school/refugee camp, but now it is located in Limbo (like, the part of Hell in Marvel's universe that mutant sorceress Magik is linked to), which keeps them safe from humans and Inhumans, but is a pretty dumb place to set up shop, as any time Magik loses focus–as she does in these issues–they will besieged by an infinite horde of demons.
Storm, given a new, terrible costume with a nonsensical pair of belts and a shiny top with a weird texture, is the headmistress and leader. Her superhero team is assembled throughout this first story arc. There's Iceman, also given a new, terrible costume–a red and black, turtleneck adult onesie, and, obviously, Magik. Their recruitment drive includes gathering Colossus (who has grown a beard and started farming, Kingdom Come Superman-style), Nightcrawler (in a state of prolonged shock and only speaking in Bible passages), the still time-lost Marvel Girl Jean Grey (who is trying to live a normal life and go to college, until she encounters anti-mutant hatred from a guy she kissed) and the Old Man Logan version of Wolverine (imported during the events of Secret Wars, and, for all intents and purposes, just plain old Wolverine with different hair, which is kind of a dumb cheat regarding the death of the "real" version).
Back at the school/camp, Forge is a sort of behind-the-scenes member of the team, taking Beast's place as the tech guy and interacting with the outside world mainly via a reprogrammed Sentinel.
They all come together in time for a climactic battle against The Maurauders and Mister Sinister, one of, like, the five or six villains The X-Men seem to be constantly fighting. This time his half-assed plan is kinda sorta related to the new status quo, as he claims to be trying to invent a new, disease-resistant version of mutantkind, but it's basically just Mister Sinister Mister Sinister-ing as always.
If these first five issues were all about putting together a team, then it's possible Lemire will move on to focusing on something fresh, new or at least interesting in future issues, but this first arc was in incredible disappointment, and one that seems like a waste of everyone's time; Lemire's, Ramos and Olazaba's, and, of course, the reader's.
Worse still, I think this is meant to the be the "A" book in the post-Secret Wars X-Men franchise, with All-New X-Men (the time-lost, original X-Men plus a few teenage hangers-on) and Uncanny X-Men (Magneto leading a team that is basically just a renamed X-Force) are the apparent B books.
It's readable, so it's far from the worst X-Men comics ever made or anything, but that's not an exactly high bar for quality superhero comics in the year 2016, is it?
So it says on the spine and in the fine print, anyway; the cover simply identifies the book as Guardians of The Galaxy, with no mention of this "New Guard" business. That extra clause is presumably there to separate this volume one from all the other books called Guardians of The Galaxy Vol. 1 out there; this is the second one by Brian Michael Bendis (or third, if you count the oversized hardcovers). As I've noted before, Guardians of The Galaxy is a particularly difficult book to try and follow in trade, given the number of relaunches and the number of collections that don't have any volume numbers attached at all.
This particular volume one collects the first five issues of the current incarnation of the series, which, like the previous incarnation, is written by Bendis. It begins in medias res, as did the entire Marvel line, some months after the events of Secret Wars, the event series which lead to the cancellation of all of Marvel's comics and the temporary replacement of the line with fill-in miniseries for some months before everything relaunched with new number one issues.
The major change to Guardians is the addition of The Fantastic Four's Benjamin Grimm/The Thing–who, like fellow FF member Johnny Storm, is team-less and in need of a new running crew following the ending of Secret Wars. Less major is the fact that Kitty Pryde has started wearing Peter Quill's mask and jacket and going by the apellation "Star-Lord," while the former Star-Lord has assumed his late father J'son's role as elected emperor of Spartax, and...well, that's a bout it really. Gamora is missing from the cover and the first issue, but returns shortly, and Bendis picks up right where he left off, following story threads from "The Black Vortex" storyline (I could here note that it therefore doesn't really make any sense to have completely relaunched the title with a new #1 issue, but, well, why bother?)
Now re-teamed with artist Valerio Schiti for the length of this collection (at least), Bendis is in fairly fine form here. For the most part he eschews his propensity for over-explaining and filling the pages with dialogue balloons, and his script is fast-paced, fun and funny. It's also pretty forgettable, and even as a regular Wednesday visitor of a comic shop, I have a hard time imagining anyone dishing out $20 to read a story like this in $4, 20-page installments over the course of five months or so.
So: The Guardians steal something from The Chitauri, and since it may be a dangerous space-weapon of some kind, they take it to Spartax, currently ruled by their friend Peter. Then Gamora falls out of the sky, fighting Hala, a Kree warrior who survived the destruction of her home world during "Black Vortex" and blames the Guardians for that destruction. They all fight her.
Then a big, scary space barbarian shows up on Drax The Destroyer's trail, calling himself a "Destroyer of Destroyers." They fight him too.
And that takes five issues. Fighting, jokes, catchprhases. It's all written well, and Schiti's art, colored by Richard Isanove, is simultaneously smooth and sharp. It's easy to read and flows nicely, making it well-suited to Bendis' breezy script. His Rocket looks more like an mid-century Hanna-Barbera animal character than usual, and his Groot gets a little redesign, but other than that there's not much separating his Guardians from any other artist's version of them.
But if you ever hear anyone speaking dismissively of "fight comics" and find yourself wondering what they mean by that, Guardians of The Galaxy: The New Guard is exactly what they're talking about. Five issues, two fights and no plotting aside from what is necessary to generate and execute those fights, let alone anything like, say, a point-of-view or a message or a theme or anything.
In fact, there's so little going on in this book that at least one character has literally nothing to do. Poor Flash Thompson/Venom, the latest Guardian to earn his own spin-off series, has all of 17 lines. These include "Drax! Drop it!!!" and "Oops" and "On it" and "Totally" and "Hurry. He ain't easy to hold on to."
Want to play one of these things is not like the other? Okay, let's. Did you figure it out yet? That's right, it's this comic! While all of the other collections discussed in this post are recent releases collecting the first issues of various post-Secret Wars relaunches, this is a 2015 collection of a five-issue miniseries that launched in late 2014. Reflective of my general apathy towards the Deadpool comics, I apparently took a year or so to get around to actually taking the time to read the damn thing.
It was surprisingly good. The work of rather frequent Deadpool writer Gerry Duggan and artists Matteo Lolli and Jacopo Camagni, it finds a rather reasonable excuse to team two characters that have just about nothing to do with one another–this pre-dates Deadpool's place on the Avengers Unity Squad (in, like the second or third reboot of Uncanny Avengers, and I think that was his first stint as an Avenger of any kind, but I may be wrong). Well, other than the fact that this is the Marvel Universe, so 99% of all the superheroes live in the same city.
It opens on Halloween night, where Deadpool is taking his wife and kids (?) trick or treating, and they stop by Hawkeye's building. They get a message from a hacker who has a flash drive filled with a roster of SHIELD agents that a criminal organization would quite literally kill to get their hands on, and soon find themselves embroiled in chases and fights to get the maguffin–er, drive before the bad guys can put it to nefarious uses.
These bad guys are Black Cat, her two hench
There's a lot going on in here, but all of it is very light-hearted, and it's mostly excuses for fights, jokes and two (or three) title characters to bicker with one another. The book's relative age is apparent in several pointed parodies of the more inventive work that writer Matt Fraction and artist David Aja put into the Hawkeye monthly at the time, before it went off the rails schedule-wise.
There's a neat sequence involving sign language, as Hawkeye being deaf is played up here in a way it usually isn't, and there's a fun scene where the creators slip into a Fraction/Aja style sequence that is part diagram, part silent comics, in which Deadpool stands outside of the panel borders, railing against what he's looking at:
What the hell is going on?! This is taking forever!This isn't just Hawkeye vs. Deadpool in terms of the characters fighting–once while Clint is in his right mind, later when he's not–but also a conflict between the two modes of storytelling that their respective books employed at the time.
Are we waiting for the dog to solve the crime? I don't understand what's happening!!
...WAIT. I just now got why Kate was wearing a stethoscope and olive green jacket on Halloween night. She was dressed as Hawkeye from M.A.S.H.. Huh. That is a terrible costume for a 20-something to wear in 2016.
Writer Al Ewing has assembled a particularly hodge-podge Avengers line-up including Roberto De Costa (formerly Sunspot) and P.O.D. from Jonathan Hickman's Avengers run, Young Avengers Hulkling and Wiccan, leftovers from Ewing's own short-lived Mighty Avengers and Captain America and The Mighty Avengers run Power Man II and White Tiger, long-time Avenger Hawkeye and, apparently chosen at random, Songbird and Squirrel Girl.
Ewing is following up on at least one element of Hickman's pre-Secret Wars Avengers saga, that in which mutant superhero Sunspot had infiltrated, purchased and completely taken over bad guy mad science organization A.I.M. (Advanced Idea Mechanicas) and begun to transform it into a force for good, Avengers Idea Mechanics. They operate from an artificial island, and their remit is global rescue operations...of a particularly weird, almost Doom Patrol-like variety, based on the contents of this trade (which collects the first six issues and a few pages from the anthology Avengers #0.
As for the whys of the team Da Costa has assembled, they seem to be here solely because either Ewing likes them a lot (as must be the case for his hanging on to the new Power Man and White Tiger through so many relaunches) or they drive the plot, as is the case with the two Young Avengers.
As for that plot, the team is in the middle of bizarre attack on Paris in which a large gorilla/scorpion hybrid with a floating gem for a head is turning civilians into zombies of a sort by replacing their heads with floating gems. This monster works for W.H.I.S.P.E.R., a new agency with a new acronym lead by Ultimate Reed Richards, who apparently landed in the post-Secret Wars Marvel Universe just like his Ultimate Universe bro Miles Morales did. While this is going on, they are being visited/audited by SHIELD's robot Dum Dum Dugan and Hawkeye, who SHIELD is forcing Da Costa to take on as New Avenger so that he can spy on them for SHIELD (Which everyone is super-up front about; "SHIELD Agent Clint Barton reporting for duty," Clint says upon exiting the helicopter, "I'm the super-secret traitor on your team. Sorry.")
That's the first two issues. The next four involve the two Young Avengers, as Hulkling is captured by a campaign party of Kree/Skrull hybrids who want to make him "The King of Space," and the rescue attempt involves the team fighting Cthulhu-in-everything-but-name (At least Ewing lets a character refer to the obvious, letting us know he knows how derivative the villain is, when Songbird catches sight of the creature and says "Oh, good. There's a giant space Cthulhu in the space castle.") Space Cthulhu doesn't go down easy, infecting Wiccan and, in the final section of the book, forcing the Avengers of the year 20XX to come back in time to try and stop the infected Wiccan before he becomes too powerful to stop (Spoiler alert: Luke Cage and Jessica Jones' baby grows up to be the Captain America of the year 20XX. That's cool.)
Ewing's scripting is pretty fun, and he does his damnedest to try and marry Hickman's sense of the outrageous to a cool, just-another-day sense of casualness among all the characters. The result is something akin to a poor man's Jason Aaron in terms of tone. It's self-consciously zany, with all of the characters constantly referring to the zaniness.
It may be too self-conscious though, which sucks some of the fun out of it, and, like too many of Brian Michael Bendis' team books, everyone seems to have the same personality and the same speech patterns. Squirrel Girl and Songbird don't talk exactly alike–the former talks like Ewing's impression (or is it parody?) of Ryan North's writing–but they are on the same spectrum, and not even all that far apart on the spectrum.
Perhaps Ewing will get to it eventually, but I found myself curious and then frustrated by the peculiar make-up of this team. In a way, it was rather refreshing to simply skip the recruiting-the-team sequences of a superhero book, but given just how weird and random this line-up is, it seems like some form of explanation would have been helpful. While most of these characters have been in or around various Avengers squads in the past, they certainly don't seem like anyone that would have been on Da Costa's radar, and it's unclear why some of them would even be the least bit interested in working with a private, mad science branch of the Avengers...here based on an artificial island off the coast of California, which is very, very far away from where all these New Yorkers live, you know? (If the team was merely the remnants of the Hickman Avengers who aren't busy elsewhere, or the characters fighting alongside Sunspot during the last arc of his Avengers/New Avengers, then this let's-just-get-to-the-action-and-jokes approach would make more sense.)
The majority of the artwork is provided by Gerardo Sandoval, and it's a very striking style, looking to be about 65% manga-inspired and 45% 1990s super-comics inspired. There's something very Street Fighter or Capcom about that cover above, and I don't think it's a coincidence.
I like the art in general, or at least I did until I started reading. Any single panel or page looks pretty cool, but it doesn't flow very well, and actually reading the six issues worth of it can be a bit of a challenge. By the third issue I found myself wishing for more traditional grids and more static, less muscular and poised-to-explode figures.
He does a neat thing with Reed Richards/The Maker's weird helmet, making the lens in the middle of it look like a large, sinister, emotive eye, but it's also disconcerting to see his Reed grinning like a demon and being so, well, buff, not a word traditionally associated with the guy named "Reed."
He does a pretty good job with Tippy-Toe, who Ewing always labels as if she were an equal member of the team, always posing her as close to Squirrel Girl in terms of positioning and body language as possible (When Squirrel Girl has her head turned into a gem, the same fate befalls Tipp-Toe; when the team goes into space, Tippy-Toe gets a little space helmet). That said, his squirrels look more like Pomeranian/Ewok hybrids, and his Squirrel Girl is pretty awful. Not only does she have gigantic teeth that fill her whole mouth, but she's wasp-waisted and thin-limbed in a way that seems in direct contrast to the fuller-figured Squirrel Girl from Squirrel Girl, which may be one of Marvel's best comics at the moment.
When other artists finally arrive in issue six, they are artists whose work looks absolutely nothing like Sandoval's. At least they are employed strategically. Phil Noto draws a four-page section in which Wiccan confront Cthulhu inside his own mind, while Mark Bagley and Scott Hanna draw a two-page epilogue set in the year 20XX, where we get to see Hulkling and Wiccan's happily ever after.
This last issue in the collection has a couple of pretty great moments, particularly regarding the defeat of the bad guy, who ends up being pretty damn small once Wiccan sees the cosmic monster for what it really is (The kiss scene could have used a panel where Teddy/Hulkling reacts to the taste of Billy/Wiccan's mouth, given that a space squid just wriggled out of it, but maybe that's just the way I would have written the scene).
There are a lot of pretty fun bits in this comic (See "Champagne Robot"), but my favorite was probably Power Man confronting Wiccan about the codename "Wiccan" in the cafeteria:
Well...are you a Wiccan? Do you practice Wicca?Right on, Power Man! I hate Wiccan's hero name too! Is it worse than Asgardian? Sort of! Asgardian is only worse in that it leads to a pretty obvious joke, which you would think everyone involved would have thought better of before assigning it to a gay character. Billy does give himself a new name during the course of this book–Demiurge–but that's while he is possessed by the tentacle monster, so I'm not sure if it will stick or not.
I'm not talking about self-help guides or magic systems. I mean, on the most basic level--is this your faith?
'Cause I don't know if you get to wear someone else's belief system like a cape, you know?
Originally, he was given the name Asgardian because each of the Young Avengers was supposed to correspond to an Avenger character, and readers were meant to think he was perhaps somehow related to Thor. As it eventually turned out, he was kinda sorta the son of Scarlet Witch though. I suppose "Wiccan" was meant to reflect that fact, but as Power Man says, it's kind of weird to be a superhero named Wiccan, just as it would be to go by the code name Jewish or Catholic.
Given that he's the son of a character who goes by the name Scarlet Witch, maybe Warlock would be best...? Or something along those lines...?
I guess we'll see if "Demiurge" is a temporary or permanent(-ish) replacement (Note: I also don't like that name).
Finally, I'd just like to note that New Avengers had some of the best variant covers. Michael Cho produced a particularly strong one, there's a great Chris Burnham variant, and Ed Piskor of Hip-Hop Family Tree fame did the "hip-hop variant cover," and I don't know if there's a better candidate for hip-hop variants than Piskor; Piskor should have done all of those. And, in a perfect world, drawn the interiors of this series while he was at it.
This is probably as good as place as any to mention that I reviewed All-New, All-Different Avengers Vol. 1: The Magnificent Seven for Good Comics For Kids the other day. If you want to read yet one more review of a new collection of a new Marvel series by me, then you can do so here.