Is It Wednesday Yet?
02 October 2007
02 October 2007 — Here we are again with another installment of your favorite comic book review series. As always the comics you're about to read about won't be released until tomorrow (03 October 2007), so these reviews are free of spoilers and should help inform your purchases on new comic book day.
Our grading scale is simple:
Buy: An excellent comic book.
Borrow: A good comic, but save yourself some money by reading a friend's copy.
Flip Through: Give it a once-over at the comic shop.
Skip: This doesn't need to be explained.
Writer: Chris Claremont
Penciler: Clayton Henry
Inker: Norman Lee
Colorist: Wil Quintana
Letterer: Simon Bowland
Cover: Tomm Coker
The current team of Exiles is a ragtag group of loose ends and characters who fell through the cracks at one point or another. Truly, the only common element is that they each emanate from continuities outside of the main Marvel U, and that their monthly books have been discontinued or concluded. Blink, Sabretooth and a modified version of Morph from Age of Apocalypse, Spider-Man 2099, alternate versions of Kitty Pryde, Psylocke and Thunderbird — there wasn't much left for these characters besides a small cult following and a shortage of monthly publications, so Marvel seems to be keeping them on retainer by lumping them all together here and hoping something clicks.
Well, to an extent, something does. Their status outside the current continuity, separated forever from everything they've ever held dear, gives these characters a common sadness that binds them together like strong glue. Chris Claremont's story is surprisingly light on dialogue and full of interest and potential. When the team loses contact with one another after a mission, they're scattered across time and space with no immediate means of reaching one another. Claremont gives each character's new locale a look and feel all its own, complete with an immediately interesting supporting cast. It feels like the beginning of an epic story, covering several issues before even coming close to a conclusion. But then, around the halfway mark of its very first issue, the epic suddenly concludes.
It's like a light switch is flipped. Suddenly, Claremont's tendency to overcomplicate a solid foundation is evident, as he abandons what looked to be an intriguing direction in favor of another far-reaching, longwinded, high-concept mess. Reading the first half of this book, immediately followed by its conclusion is a horribly disjointed experience. It's like he finished the first 19 pages of script, realized that he wasn't going to have time to reach a conclusion before the end of the upcoming 100th issue, and hurried to reach a point that he would.
Artist Clayton Henry is asked to straddle a lot of different styles in this book, and he manages to do a decent enough job. While he's given carte blanche with some of the lesser known characters, the AoA characters and Spider-Man 2099 are naturally associated with some very distinct visual styles. Fortunately, not only do none feel out of place or uncomfortable in Henry's hands, but they also fit in decently enough with their peers — which is very much easier said than done.
That's not to say it's all wine and roses. Henry does a decent enough job at capturing the styles and personalities of these characters, but none feel as dynamic or exciting as they did in their original interpretations. His style is fundamentally strong, but with a nasty tendency to turn the amazing into the humdrum. When one new character surprisingly bursts into flames, it's treated so casually that the effect is lost on the reader. If the characters aren't surprised by these developments, why should the readers be?
This book has a lot of potential, and it had nearly pulled me in when Claremont tore his initial concept away from us. I like these characters, and I like the way they interact with each other. They have some chemistry together, and while he's not knocking my socks off on every page, Clayton Henry at least knows how their worlds should visually intertwine. It's a shame that the initial plot wasn't given enough time to simmer before reaching a boil, because I think it could've really been something special, something that's right down Claremont's alley. I'm going to suggest you flip through this, which is a shame because it was right on the verge of being something more.
Fantastic Four and Power Pack #4
Writer: Fred Van Lente
Letterer: Dave Sharpe
The Power Pack is a team with a deep history in the Marvel Universe, one that has been largely overlooked and treated with disdain since the cancellation of their self-titled series in the early 1990s. They've enjoyed something of a revival lately, as Marvel brought them back into continuity with a self-titled miniseries in 2005. Since then, they've appeared in a variety of crossovers with Marvel's heavy hitters, meeting up with the X-Men, Avengers, Spider-Man, Hulk and now the Fantastic Four (with an Iron Man mini already in production).
In last month's issue, Dr. Doom discreetly swapped bodies with Franklin Richards, which isn't necessarily his most diabolical plan for world domination, but one which still fits the expectations of a lighter book like this one. Fred Van Lente treats Doom beautifully in this issue, retaining every bit of his plotting, maniacal personality despite all outward appearances, which makes for a few great moments. His interactions with Franklin's elementary school teacher and a pair of bullies are just great, as he's stripped himself of his physical powers but refuses to back down nevertheless. The Power Pack, Franklin's classmates, notice Richards acting strangely and choose to intervene. In retrospect, this is a real cream puff of a story, but it's handled so effectively that I barely noticed. It's very by-the-rules, but it acknowledges that fact and never takes itself too seriously.
Gurihiru, a Japanese duo with an extremely clean, expressive style, has been handling the artistic chores for the bulk of Power Pack's comeback. Their uncomplicated, animation-influenced work is a great fit for the childlike, innocent flavor that their stories provide. They bring an interesting blend of manga and Disney to the table, borrowing the best of both worlds while selectively editing out each style's more overused indulgences. Their stuff is surprisingly simple, considering the amount of action that's crammed into this short issue, but constantly effective. There aren't a lot of lines on any given page, but that never limits the visuals, and the characters never lose sight of their personalities along the way.
The team's interpretation of the Thing is unspectacular, borrowing more from the character's lumpy, clay-like first few appearances than his more modern, rocky representation, but the rest of their character work is great. They nail the motherly / scientific personality of the Invisible Woman and pull no punches when Reed or the Torch are using their powers. When the focus shifts to the Power Pack, the artists quickly display their familiarity with the characters, showcasing their youthful energy through body language, restrained use of speed lines and a few dynamic poses at the right moments. This is some nice work.
Fantastic Four and Power Pack is a fun read, regardless of age. While more hardcore Marvel enthusiasts may need to curtail their expectations a bit going in, the nature of this story fits snugly alongside the history of the imprint's first family, and even the hard-edged Doctor Doom doesn't feel out of place alongside four kids with super powers. This is good fun, with a lighter tone and younger cast making it friendly to a younger audience, but a solid plot and quality artwork appealing to more serious readers such as myself. I'd recommend you borrow this and give it a read without any preconceived notions. It's great reading for a lazy Saturday afternoon spent on the couch.
Iron Man: Enter the Mandarin #2
Writer: Joe Casey
Artist: Eric Canete
Colorist: Dave Stewart
Cover: Eric Canete
Review: Tim Glancy
Last week, while reviewing Iron Man #22, I went on somewhat of a rant about Iron Man's place in the current Marvel Universe. In short, I was rather frustrated that he went from being a pretty fun, but flawed, character, to a supremely powerful character that never loses a fight. This was exceptionally hard for me to take, because I was, and am, a pretty large Iron Man fan. I see the need to involve Iron Man in a lot of books and all over the line right now, because there is a huge movie coming out next May starring the Golden Avenger. And, unlike Spider-Man and the X-Men who were huge worldwide long before their movies, Iron Man is of a lower profile, so he could really use the exposure he's been receiving over the last two-ish years.
However, it seems that Marvel may have realized they are alienating a certain percentage of Iron Man fans. First there was Marvel Adventures Iron Man which harkened back to Iron Man's old, tech-based adventures. The drama and continuity might be missing, but it's really a fun book with lots of action. And now, with Enter the Mandarin, Marvel has reached back into the character's history and is allowing us to revisit the never before seen first battle between Iron Man and his greatest villain, the Mandarin.
Joe Casey handles the writing chores here, and does a tremendous job of taking a story that we can all assume the outcome of and makes it feel exciting and fresh. Casey has long been a favorite of mine, especially his runs on The Adventures of Superman and G.I. Joe: America's Elite. Casey has a great way of humanizing characters, even Superman, and he does a great job of that here as well. We get to see Tony Stark get his ass kicked and we see how he deals with that, which is something that you would not see nowadays. Casey breathes life not only into Stark, but also Mandarin and another longtime Iron Man villain (who will remain nameless to not spoil the book for anyone). He also gives us an interesting reason to care about these characters. Mandarin, like all good villains, is only evil because of his methods, not because of his intentions. And Casey really puts that on display here, fleshing out a character who's often referred to as "that guy with all the rings." From the plot to the pacing to the dialog, every bit of writing is handled tremendously well.
The art, while different from what you will see in any other superhero book, is just spectacular. There is really an old school feeling in the rough look, but an overall polish that makes the art standout from the rest of the pack. Eric Canete is someone who I had never even heard of before this book, but rest assured that I will be looking for more of his work in the future. His style is just so unique and attention-grabbing. He handles every aspect well, from the action to the details and even to the cover (which is tremendous). He really needs to have his worked seen and spotlighted. I hope that Canete continues to work with Dave Stewart on colors, because the colors really compliment the art.
As a whole, this book is just a fun romp and a pretty good story as well. The only negative that I can think of is the lack of long-term effects that will come out of this book. Therefore, I have to give two recommendations. If you are in a place where buying one more book won't kill your financial standing, then please buy this book, because it is just so damn fun. However, if you are in the same boat I am in and your comic buying is severely limited, please borrow this from a friend. After reading it, you just might drop another comic for this one.
Shanna the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest #3
Writers: Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti
Penciler: Khari Evans
Inker: Jimmy Palmiotti
Colorist: Paul Mounts
Letterer: Natalie Lanphear
Cover: Khari Evans
Review: Tim Glancy
Last week, Michael David Sims claimed that I wasn't being my normal, negative self in this weekly review series.
This week he sends me Shanna the She-Devil: Survival of the Fittest #3.
I think he is about to get his wish.
I am a person who is never embarrassed by something he likes. Comics, video games, toys, wrestling — no matter what it was, I always embraced the things that I enjoyed and never let people making fun of me or looking at me strangely stop me from showing my love. Then the 90s happened, and women that made porn stars look modest populated comics, and for the first time ever I was embarrassed by comics. Sure, sexpots in comics were nothing new. Hell, one of the big draws in the "bad girl" scene of the 90s was Vampirella, a character created in 1969. However, it seemed like no matter the publisher and no matter the type of book, everyone was putting out tons of books with tons of silicon.
Eventually, like all bad trends, this would go away to be replaced by other bad trends, like manga and huge storylines. However, it seems as though from time to time, something pops up to remind us of this awful time in comic book history. This month's reminder is not an Adam Hughes statue of MJ or the new anime-inspired Women of DC toys, but Shanna the She-Devil from Marvel.
Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are the guilty writers this time around. Guilty of what? Guilty of continuing to write comics for horny men who'll never get laid. Guilty of pushing potential female readers away. Guilty of setting female characters back decades. Maybe these two can tackle the Fantastic Four next: Sue can wear some skimpy lingerie while fetching Reed his slippers. Of course they'll make sure to have her bend over, with her barely covered ass taking up the bulk of the page. It's sad, really. I actually like both men and think they are way too talented for this. Every situation they put Shanna in is to maximize the exposure of her cleavage and loincloth-covered crotch.
I honestly can't tell you one meaningful moment from this book, because it just seems like there aren't any. Shanna fights some dinosaurs. Poses. Fights Nazis. Poses. Runs. Says some puns. Poses. Finds herself in more trouble. Repeat.
I'm not saying comic books should lack sexual innuendos and be all milk and cookies, but you can tell when a book was created to give teenagers (and some adults, sadly) something to stroke to. This is that book!
The art, well, the art is just what you would expect. Big boobs and big action, but little attention paid to anatomy. The art team, I guess, does exactly what was expected of them, but that doesn't mean it is really good. You could go pick up any issue of Lady Death from a decade ago and see art that is comparable to this. There is no detail, no depth and nothing that will make you say, "Damn, that is some good art!" Unless, of course, you are using this book to get off. Then go directly to page 10.
Well let's see: I hated the writing, hated the art, hate the genre and hate everyone who buys these types of books. People like you are the reason that, when I am looking for posters with my kids at the comic book store, I have to skip seven different posters just to show them the ones they can get. It's like looking at the posters at Spencer's. Please, for the love of god, skip this book!