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Saturday, December 02, 2006

More SH'KOW comics! (with spoilers!)


Marvel's coming back strong. Astonishingly, even on a week when there was no new ETERNALS out, I still picked up three non-reprint Marvel titles -- Bullet Points, The Immortal Iron Fist, and Earth's Mightiest Heroes.

Taking the last first - Earth's Mightiest Heroes is a period piece, a comic that is set at some point in Marvel's past, when the Marvel Universe was still fairly cool. Of course, it's one of those 'retrospective' books bound and determined to insert various retroactive continuity elements to make the original events seem more 'realistic', and, as such, the unconscious intention seems to be to remake the early Marvel Universe into a place no one would really want to be a superhero in, just like the Modern Age. Still, I'm just diggin' on a series where the Avengers still live in Avengers Mansion, Hawkeye is still alive, the Black Panther is still a fairly straightforward good guy, and Hank Pym is chairman of the team.

The Joe Casey script is okay -- straightforward, no bells and whistles, with a reasonably linear story arc and decent characterization. This isn't really the Silver Age, of course, so the story is entirely carried by pictures, dialogue, and very brief place setting captions, with narrative captions and thought balloons (the two chief storytelling devices the medium of comics has that no other medium can easily duplicate) nowhere in evidence. One of the purposes of this visit is, apparently, to show that the Avengers' original induction of the Vision wasn't quite as smooth as Roy Thomas originally depicted it; another is to provide some back details on the Black Panther's Luke Charles identity, so it doesn't look quite so contrived as it originally did, either. To that extent, we could very nearly re-title this mini-series "Marvel's Extensive Apology For Roy Thomas' Failings As A Writer". Still, while the central story is a little bit dull, the overwhelming relief of finding a new story about a real Avengers team that doesn't include Wolverine or an insanely fascistic Iron Man is more than enough to get me on board.

I'd almost think there would be a real market for these kind of ret-con, early Silver Age mini-series now, since Marvel has so thoroughly pissed all over its own reality and continuity with Bendis driven garbage like New Avengers, not to mention the craptastic ongoing shitpalooza that is CIVIL WAR. I'd expect there would be a sizable target demographic out there of utterly shell shocked fans ready, willing, and anxious to retreat into some plausible re-creation of a warm, comforting faux-Silver Age, even if it is one crammed to the gunwales with unsettling four dimensional underpinnings and utterly lacking in thought balloons.

Or maybe it's just me. Either way, while Earth's Mightiest Heroes certainly isn't very good, it's a welcome refuge from what a bunch of preening idiots have done to my Marvel Universe, and I'll buy that for a dollar... or four.

The Immortal Iron Fist - every ten years or so, Marvel decides to bring back Iron Fist briefly, and every ten years or so, regardless of how crappy all the past attempts at the character have been, I jump on board. Call me a starry eyed optimist if you must.

I like the idea of infusing the Iron Fist continuity with a strong tinge of Lee Falk's classic Phantom comic strip, by apparently making Iron Fist more a title and an office that is passed down over the millenia than it is just the name of a kinda dopey contemporary martial arts superhero. And, at the same time, I like the way Ed Brubaker is at pains to root Danny Rand in the heart of the superhero mainstream by having him battle the hordes of Hydra. I'm not particularly wild about the apparent end of issue #1, where Danny is apparently killed by a stupid Hydra robot that Rick Jones could probably disable single handedly, and we seem to be turning the focus to Danny's previously unheard of predecessor, an opium besotted derelict off in Thailand named Orson Randall, who was, apparently, the Iron Fist back in the 1920s and 1930s.

I do like that Davos, backed by some mysterious and apparently malevolent occult patron, is attempting to track down Orson. Overall, I think the first issue shows an excellent mixture of mainstream Marvel and classic Iron Fist continuity. So I'll stick with this one for a while, too... but Danny Rand better not be dead.

Bullet Points - Wow. This title is frickin' weird.

I've been reading a fair amount of J. Michael Straczynski's superhero work lately, mostly in collected volumes I've gotten out of the library. I keep meaning to do write ups of some of it here, and then not getting around to it. Straczynski is, over all, an entertaining writer, who does what he does well pretty well indeed... but he's not a subtle writer, and he really only does one thing well, which is to say, he takes excruciatingly familiar concepts and twists them around to make them interesting again.

When one is seriously invested in a character, as I am with Dr. Strange, the results of Strazynski's thematic mutilation process can be unsettling and even alienating. On concepts one doesn't much give a shit about, like Squadron Supreme, it can work out okay. (When he's working entirely within his own self-created little worlds, as with the Rising Stars stuff, well, that's when we see his strengths and weaknesses showcased the most prominently.)

With Bullet Points, Straczynski seems to be basically taking the entire Marvel Universe into his hands and wringing its neck like a chicken. You'd think this would bother me, but, well, nothing he's doing is going to have any effect on characters I really like, it's all either an Imaginary Story or yet another alternate timeline waiting for sufficient validation via big circulation figures to be assigned its own numeric designation.

So, having said all that, this first issue, in which Abraham Erskine's premature assassination results in no Captain America project, and Steve Rogers instead becomes a prototype Iron Man super-soldier early in WWII, is pretty enjoyable. Dying along side Erskine in this timeline is an American MP who otherwise would have become Peter Parker's Uncle Ben; in the absence of Ben's warm and loving influence, Parker becomes a little creep, sneaking out of school functions and hot wiring cars along with all his hoodlum friends... a course which, with the seeming inevitability of any tragic destiny, leads him onto a restricted Army testing ground just in time for an experimental gamma bomb detonation.

It's interesting to watch as JMS takes various classic Marvel Universe plot threads and weaves them into an entirely different tapestry. As with every variant of the Marvel Universe, this isn't looking like a world I'd ever want to live in... but still, so far it's fun to watch it take shape.

I wonder, though, just how much life the Marvel Universe has left in it, when so many deconstructive, essentially incestuous or even cannibalistic projects like this are coming out and finding large, receptive markets. When your most popular books are ones in which, in one way or another, you completely destroy your baseline continuity, what does that say about the continuity itself?

Okay. Enough of that depressing crap.

I'm not even going to talk about various DC Comics titles I'm currently reading. Oh, I bought a few over the last couple of weeks, and I suppose they really do merit reviews -- Birds of Prey #100 was vaguely cool; the last couple of issues of 52 have been enjoyable (I wonder if, when the Question finally dies, fandom assembled will heave the same kind of collective yawn as they did when Lois Lane and Superman -- the first, primary, 'real' versions of each -- bit the big one in Infinite Crisis; after all, these characters aren't 'real' to most of the kids buying comics today, so who cares?), Teen Titans and Green Lantern and Green Lantern Corps and Checkmate and Justice League of America and The Atom are all cool, more or less (the Johns and Meltzer and Simone and Rucka stuff more, GLC unfortunately less).

But that's not what I'm going to talk about today. Today I'm going to talk about how I was flipping through the latest issue of Green Lantern, in that zone you get into when you're reading solidly excellent but not oustandingly brilliant Geoff Johns stuff, diggin' on mind controlled Global Guardians and subatomic bounty hunters and hey, is that Star Sapphire making a comeback and --

-- turn the page --


WHOA! RIGHT CROSS TO THE JAW!

So I pick myself up from the floor, set my chair upright again, sit down, and reach, much more warily, for the comic lying open on its face across the table where I'd been sitting reading. Carefully pick it up. One eye closed, the other squinted, I risk the merest glance --

WHOA!!!!! ALEX ROSS JSA HOUSE AD!!!! YEOWWWWWWW!!!

So JSA is finally coming back. No more shitty ass Paul Levitz/Roy Thomas crapola flashback stories for which the entire DC editorial staff is cordially invited to bite me. No, we're getting a REAL series, by Geoff Johns and Dale Eaglesham, with Alex Ross covers, and I can't wait, I can't WAIT, and...

...wait...

...who's that green chick?

And there's a new Starman?

And what's Atom Smasher doing back in the mix? Isn't he in jail?

And... is that the Golden Age Sandman?

Liberty Belle?

STEEL?

(Yeah, I see you lurking back there in the shadows, Obsidian.)

Okay, WTF?

Can't wait to find out.

See, this is like my reaction would be, if I were paging through an issue of ETERNALS and some house add jumped out at me saying AVENGERS and showing, you know, an Alex Ross rendering of a truly fabulous line up of Avengers mostly made up of Marvel's truly legendary members of Earth's Mightiest Heroes, with a few mysterious new additions that wouldn't make me immediately want to vomit, unlike the frickin' Sentry and GODdamned Wolverine.

But I'm certainly not going to get that any time soon, so, you know, I guess I'll just have to invest my money and emotions mostly in the DC Universe from now on.

You have no idea how sad that makes me.

2 Comments:

At 9:03 AM , Blogger MJ Norton said...

I'd decided to pass on both Bullet Points and Iron Fist, at least for now, but for some reason I must have started ordering Earth's Mightiest Heroes with issue #2, which is sitting unread until I get around to picking up #1 locally. So, this is another of those "didn't read the post yet, but didn't want you to think it was simply being ignored." Once I correct the EMH mistake and have read those two issues I'll try to get back to compare notes and then see how the other two items struck you, too.

 
At 10:37 AM , Blogger Highlander said...

I think you'd like the new Iron Fist series, but I could be wrong.

I appreciate the comment.

 

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