Sunday, September 18, 2005

Two Weeks Worth of Comic Reviews

Don't get antsy; it's just five books.Exiles 69 – "World Tour: House of M, Part 1"
By Tony Bedard and Paul Pelletier

And so we enter the House of M. Exiles is a perfect fit for this crossover, since it's pretty much what they do every day of their lives: visit a reality that's vastly different from the ones they know. Bedard plays well with the different personalities in the book, drawing parallels with Blink and Sabretooth's home universe, and taking the opportunity to delve into what this change means for Beak. There's also some moralizing about whether or not the Exiles have the right to change the universe back; it didn't ring true for the Marvel Universe regulars in the main miniseries, but it does here, largely because the Exiles are outsiders in this.
We also have the introduction of the Exiles' new big nemesis, the one who will set them on course for this World Tour. Now, this is, by all accounts, the exact same plot device Sliders used, but so far, Tony Bedard has proven a better writer than most of that show's writing team, and he gives us the extra added bonus of providing a real impetus for one of the team's members to want this guy in a box. I saw the last couple pages coming, but I gather that I was supposed to.
I'm less enamored of two things. The "Oh, you're all ugly now, whatever will we do" subplot with Blink and Mimic does not grab me at all; it screams of forced subplotting that will quickly become a 60s-style status quo. Also, Bedard firmly joins the legion of American writers who cannot write a non-American English accent to save their smegging lives.
I liked Paul Pelletier on She-Hulk, I liked him on GLA, and I like him here; he has a crisp, simple style, along the lines of Tom Grummett and Mark Bagley, that works very well for the book's basic "longjohn adventures" style. He also does some wonderful stuff with Morph, who I have to admit has to be the best character to draw ever. Anyone who vomits that much without a metabolism, and in gray, is comedy gold.
I suspect that part of Bedard's impetus in starting the "World Tour" arc was to drum up interest in the book and bring on new readers. With the aid of some clever expositional skills and a smart use of the big summer crossover, the chances of success thus far look pretty good. I'm interested to see how he can hold it up.
Grade: B

Incredible Hulk 86 – "Terra Incognita, Conclusion"
By Peter David and Jorge Lucas

Okay, so this chapter is basically just PAD taking the piss. He has quite a bit of fun, and does manage to surprise us with the choice Banner makes at the end, but it's mostly a chance to put clever dialogue in Hulk's mouth, tear up Sydney, and write a scene with Banner and Magneto. All well and good, and done as well as I'd expect from a veteran of David's caliber but it's lacking a bit. Next issue will of course, be the epilogue, and hopefully explain what we've all learned, but I would rather have had that part in this part, if you grok me.
Lucas' art is fair, but inked and colored so damn dark that it gets on my nerves. This book is lit like the fifth season of West Wing. (I've said that already, haven't I?) In a key panel, I couldn't tell Scorpion and her mother apart, in spite of their hair color difference (which, I understand, is primarily for the purpose of distinguishing them). And the cyborgs are, well, pretty darn generic, nothing I haven't seen before, so the book doesn't stand out too well visually.
I applaud Marvel on the smart marketing move of including the Howling Commandos preview at the end of this book. Hulk is, after all, a monster title of sorts, and he does fight zombie-like cyborgs in this issue, so the segue works.
Ultimately, the House of M arc for Hulk took an interesting look at the character, but didn't follow him much of anywhere. I had higher hopes.
Grade: C+

Action Comics 831 – "Black and Blue"
By Gail Simone, John Byrne, and Nelson

So, how do you screw up a fight between Superman and Black Adam, the evil Captain Marvel? Answer: You don't. Instead, you make it very, very cool, and add in a race between Bizarro and Reverse-Flash like the mother of all cherries.
Really, Simone could get away with just havin' the punchin' and the heat vision and all that for the Supes/Adam fight, but throwing in Dr. Psycho's color commentary, and making the motivations and agendas of all three characters somewhat complex and runaroundy turns it into a story that can be followed with more than one lobe of the brain. I like that; writers who can tickle more than one nerve are excellent peoples. Adam's involvement in the Society has always been something more than what other characters come into it for, and seeing him fighting not just Superman, but his own better instincts, is more interesting than the "me smash you" dynamic that most villains have when they're punching Superman around Metropolis. And Psycho's just a brilliantly evil little cuss.
I have no idea what in hell Bizarro was saying or doing in this issue, but I laughed anyway. And he's probably right about the second Star Wars Trilogy.
Not to say there weren't problems. For starters, what the hell is up with Jimmy's hair? If he thought the pubescent Moe Howard look was going to get him laid, he needs to think again. (Incidentally, I'm not sure who to blame for that, given the recent fooferaw surrounding just how much redrawing Nelson is doing when he inks Byrne's pencils on this book. I can, at least, credit Byrne for the layouts, which, as usual, are peppy and exciting.)
I've made it no secret that I'm not wildly thrilled with the overall direction of this "Infinite Crisis" nonsense, but Gail Simone's contributions have been a cut above, managing to advance the downward spiral without completely losing the sense of joy and wonder that permeates the DC Universe. It's not an easy thing to do, but I'm glad someone's doing it. Yeah, I'm a whore.
Grade: A-

New Thunderbolts 12 – "Living Lies (Purple Reign, part three)"
By Fabian Nicieza and Tom Grummett

Well, as I predicted, the HoM crossover had fuck-all to do with the overall story. Oh, well, that's a criticism for that issue, not this one, so let's move on.
I find it… somewhat dubious that, immediately after House of M ends, New York spends two weeks under the complete control of the Purple Man. This is probably one of those really cool ideas that will not (and cannot) be referenced by any other title, ever, because it just don't fit. Don't care, as it does take the characters in some neat places. The device of having Atlas be just now reincorporating himself is a clever way to excuse the exposition. Since Nicieza has to fit two issues' worth of action into one (as opposed to the prevailing method these days, stretching two issues' worth of action into six), he needs all the help he can get.
So we get a heroes-against-the-villain plot, with overwhelming odds and iconic champions turned against them to boot. This is fairly standard, so what makes it different? Well, there's the Purple Man's incessant metafictional blathering, but I hate that, so let's move on, shall we? Each of the characters gets taken someplace by the story, so we end up with most everyone somewhere very different from where they were in issue 1. Scalpel is fit into the story very well, despite his obscurity, and sets up some nice foreshadowing for the big fight with the Avengers next issue. The eleven-fifty-nine reveal is one of those beautiful head-slapping moments that this book does so well. The final method of shutting Killgrave the hell up that Genis takes isn't new, but it works, and the son of a bitch deserved it, so I'm happy. And Grummett keeps up the good work.
Thunderbolts is a simple book about complex people. It's an old-school superhero book with "New" in the title. In short, it defies expectations. I like that.
Grade: B+ Presents The Hire 3 – "Hijacked"
By Mark Waid and Claude St. Aubin

What the hell is this book's publishing schedule like? Issue 1 came out last July (fourteen months ago, not two), 2 came out in February, and now here's 3. There's theoretically six issues; the way things are going, I might be the next big thing by the time number six comes out. Boy, that'd be fucked up.
Okay, so this is a total marketing whore comic; it's meant to sell cars that, technically, don't exist yet. That said, it's possible for a writer to have a lot of fun writing a car chase, and for readers to have a lot of fun reading it. It's one of those things that could only work in comics; car chase stories in prose tend to be rather boring. Waid makes this one work by crafting a mystery: Why is the Driver being chased? What does it have to do with his current client, if it does at all? It's cleverly-done, with an unexpected but logical solution that allows for a bit of catharsis. All the plot really has to do is give an excuse for driving stunts, and it does that well enough.
Unfortunately, characterization is pretty much a no-go with a book like this; the Driver himself is an intentional cipher, and if his passenger (a stereotypical nebbish lawyer) isn't germane to the plot, then he's somewhat useless as well. The attempts at comic relief with the lawyer mostly fall flat, unless you're the kind of person who finds Dilbert to be the height of comedy. I understand why Waid had to try, but really, it's a hollow effort.
St. Aubin's art is interesting; the figures have a definite Mark Bagley influence, but they're set against a very direct-from-life background. Ultimately, though, the meter stick ends with the driving action scenes. The script gives him enough to do: driving the wrong way on the freeway, across the tops of buildings, and through a modern art museum. Now, given that the key element in the excitement of a car chase is speed, and that this is something that's been notoriously different to portray in comic books, the fact that St. Aubin is able to do a passable job at it, using little more than speed lines and layout tricks, is worthy of praise.
This book is a cartoon, an action movie in stills. But that's all it's supposed to be, and if that's the sort of thing you're looking for, it does the job.
Grade: B-


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Dizzy said...

About the Howling Commandoes preview in the Hulk: You're giving Marvel too much credit there. The preview seemed to be in many titles: Cable&Deadpool had it and Ultimate X-men had it as well.

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