Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Recent Superhero Comics Reviewed

Brave and the Bold 8 & 9 by Mark Waid and George Perez (DC)

I think this is the first time I've ever read two issues of this title back-to-back. Issue 8 is basically what I've come to expect from the book--a fairly light adventure story focused on character work. Waid has undoubtedly the most entertaining take on Doom Patrol since their resurrection. It's a pretty viable model for how these characters could work in a shared universe setting--the members of Doom Patrol interact with the Flash and his family in a Addams Family/Munsters kind of way (Waid actually references the latter). Doom Patrol don't bemoan their freakishness; they're either oblivious to it or just don't care what other people think. Perez' pencils suit the tone okay--he can pull off a creepy mansion pretty well--but I think the Elasti-Girl joke might have worked better with someone like Gary Frank drawing it. In fact, I would say that this was the comic Gary Frank was born to draw. An ongoing Doom Patrol comic based on Waid's take would soon wear out its welcome, but they make pretty interesting foils for the other superheroes.

Issue 9 featured three distinct stories, bound together by the ongoing "Challengers of the Unknown read the Book of Destiny" subplot. This format invites speculation: did Waid (or one of his editors) question the commercial viability of an issue devoted to teamups of the Blackhawks and the Boy Commandos or the Metal Men and Dial H for Hero? Did Waid dump all these teamups in one issue because he isn't sure of his future on the title? It's entirely possible, of course, that Waid had always intended to break this issue into three parts. The stories all work pretty well, with a few hiccups. In the last story, it's unclear exactly why Hawkman and the Atom are bothering to fight the villain at all. And the central theme of the Blackhawks/Boy Commandos story is underdeveloped. Waid tries to emphasize the parallels between the two groups, but doesn't really say enough about the obvious issue: why are a bunch of pre-teen kids fighting in World War II in the first place? I found #8 to be the stronger of the two, but both issues delivered the usual Silver Age-infused fun I expect from this title. Nothing earth-shattering, but worth a few minutes of your time if you're into the genre.

Immortal Iron Fist 11 by Matt Fraction, Ed Brubaker, David Aja, and Kano (Marvel)

I've always liked this title, but this is the first issue where I could see why so many people think it's the best superhero title being published right now. Up to this point, I always felt like the book tended to take a bit too much time to get where it was going. In this issue, however, everything seemed to come together. Especially good were the Kano-illustrated flashbacks, in which Davos essentially goes off the deep end. The last panel was perfect--a bloody, crazed Davos being dragged off after spitting in his best friend's face. I also liked the present-day tournament fight, the first one that really clicked with me. The "oh no, he's GONE TOO FAR" moment is crucial for any action-adventure story featuring a tournament. It's may be a cliche, but it's a highly effective one. After this issue, Davos finally seems like an interesting villain and an actual threat to Iron Fist; I'm eager to see them meet in the tournament. I also thought that the other branch of the plot, with Hydra building a railroad to K'un-Lun, made more sense and finally added some tension to the proceedings. This is totally reading like a story arc from YuYu Hakusho, and I mean that as a compliment. It's the first issue of Iron Fist that entertained me as much as Brubaker and Fraction's other series. And if you're digging it, you'd be foolish not to check out some shonen manga.

Hulk #1 by Jeph Loeb, Ed McGuiness, and Dexter Vines (Marvel)

Those of you who read this--did you find it at all odd that She-Hulk was wearing a belt AND suspenders? Actually, the suspenders were down, but still. That was probably the dumbest thing in this issue, which is surprising given the epic stupidity of the Loeb-written Ultimates 3 #1. This might be partly because Loeb is much less intent on cramming several months worth of plot developments down our gullets. It also helps that Loeb is working with a much more talented artist in McGuiness, whose art has never looked so good. The action was crisp, and his character work is good, his pouty She-Hulk being a highlight.* For his part, Loeb is mostly content to set up a few mysteries and let McGuiness sell the action and drama. If that's the approach he takes for the entire run, this might end up being a pretty entertaining series.

Happy now, Dan?

*Bear in mind here that I'm talking about cartooning skill and not whether or not this is consistent with the characterization of She-Hulk in her ongoing title, which I haven't read in a couple of years.

Legion of Superheroes #37 by Jim Shooter, Francis Manapul, and Livesay (DC)

Regular readers of this blog might remember that I'm kind of a Legion fanboy. I'm not totally obsessed, but I know what I like about the series. The Waid/Kitson LSH was an interesting take, probably a necessary revamp. But I'm not sure that it quite captured the spirit of the title's Silver/Bronze Age glory years. Waid did a pretty good job at juggling the members; the real key is to cook up situations which keep the members from acting as, you know, a legion. Waid did this mostly by playing up politics, both internal (the struggle over who will lead) and external (the delicate balancing act between street cred and official sanction). Having said that, I thought that the political struggle overshadowed everything else, ultimately to the detriment of the series.

Shooter manages to restore some balance here, putting the endangerment of a field team of Legionnaires at the heart of this issue. He wisely keeps the politics in the mix, but the addition of some sexual politics brings the comic a bit closer to its roots. Ideally, LSH should look as much like a romance comic as a superhero title possibly can. Curt Swan and the criminally underrated George Tuska drew impossibly pretty Legionnaires. The book hit its visual peak when Dave Cockrum and Mike Grell combined that aesthetic with flashier costumes and more bombastic storytelling. It's totally unfair to compare Manapul to any of those artists, but I think he's closer to this ideal than Kitson was. The cover seems to show Invisible Kid in a new (proper) costume, and I think that Brainiac 5 costume is at least modified from the Kitson version. The Legionnaires also look more like teenagers, and very pretty ones at that.

All in all, I like the direction that the comic seems to be headed in. The question, of course, is how long Shooter and Manapul will be able to maintain this direction before the heavy hand of editorial decides that the Levitz/Giffen LSH must be returned to prominence. I like this approach to the Legion a lot more than anything I've seen from Brad Meltzer or Geoff Johns, so here's hoping they just leave this title alone. Highly unlikely, given the 50th anniversary of the Legion falling this year, but here's hoping anyway.

Captain America #31 by Ed Brubaker, Steve Epting, and Butch Guice (Marvel)

Interesting to see Guice inking this issue--I wouldn't expect to see him inking someone else's pencils. On the whole, his work meshed well with Epting's, though the results were sort of rubbery at times. (To be perfectly fair, Epting can tend towards rubbery faces.) Mostly, though, I'm struck by how much colorist Frank D'Armata ensures the visual continuity of the book. I never would have guessed that Epting wasn't inking.

As for the story, it's more of the solid thriller work I expect from Brubaker and Epting. Some might be most impressed with the continuing rehabilitation of Tony Stark/Iron Man, but I quit worrying about that kind of thing about five minutes after I finished reading the last issue of Civil War. Within the confines of the story, Iron Man and Bucky's scenes together worked pretty well. I'm as impressed as ever, even as I look somewhat reluctantly to the Alex Ross-designed future.


Caleb said...

She-Hulk was wearing a belt and suspenders? Then I guess she must be a Skrull—as my dad used to say, paraphrasing a cowboy movie I forget the name of (but more likely than not involved John Wayne), never work with anyone who wears a belt and suspenders. How can you trust someone who doesn't trust their own pants?

So I guess she must be a Skrull then.

The Fortress Keeper said...

I'm glad you mentioned George Tuska. As I kid, I was first exposed to his work on Iron Man. Turns out, Tuska's best stuff was on comics that came out before his Marvel tenure, but I always considered him THE Iron Man artist.

Dan Coyle said...

Why yes, I AM happy.

Dick Hyacinth said...

So did you read it? I really was pleasantly surprised, but good art usually trumps bad story for me. And the art was good and the story was not-terrible.

Dan Coyle said...

I flipped through it. The art was stunning; the story was the usual Loeb hackwork full of "shocking" bits that look stupid in execution.

The Hulk... USED A GUN!

The Hulk... IS RICK JONES!

That said, McGuinness swung for the fences and did his best work EVER.

Anonymous said...

Didn't Jackson Guice used to be an inker? One of the first things I ever read featuring his work was the Amazing Spider-Man annual where JJJ gets married (#18?) where Guice and Bob Layton inked Ron Frenz.

Dick Hyacinth said...

Hey, I had that comic. Didn't Stan Lee and Jim Shooter co-write it? That blew my mind when I was about 8 or 9.

I was under the impression that Guice's first Marvel work was penciling Micronauts, sort of towards the end of its run. I remember because my brother had a back issue of Marvel Age featuring an article on the subject which Guice had autographed. Kind of a strange thing to have signed, but Guice did live about 1 1/2 hours away (and even closer to the original location of the comics shop chain we frequented).

I actually have some issues of Dr. Strange he signed at a convention. There was a woman with him who wanted me to buy some of his original art, but I was like 16 and I had the sort of cash reserves typical for a 16 year old kid. And I hadn't even looked at any of the comics for sale yet. It was a weird setup--the "convention" mostly consisted of a few displays for comics dealers set up in a rather unsuccessful outlet mall. Guice was the only guest and was set up way away from the rest of the action. And there was nobody coming to see him, even though he was a much bigger guest than this sort of thing warranted. It just didn't make sense.

BTW, I never quite understood the Butch/Jackson thing. Is he using both names interchangeably now?

Dan Coyle said...

Guice did a couple inking jobs when he started out, but he's primarily been a penciler. Guice inked Steve Ditko in Rom around the same time he was drawing Micronauts.

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