Wednesday, January 18, 2006

Low Blows 01.18.06

"Secret War" #5 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Gabriele Dell'otto

"New Avengers" #14
Marvel Comics
Writer: Brian Michael Bendis
Artist: Frank Cho

I'm of a mind that I'd honestly rather have a late comic, even an extremely late comic, than a half-assed and sloppy catch-up job. Look no further than Grant Morrison's "New X-Men" run, and you'll see the disappointing result of great writing too often paired with rushed and inconsistent artwork. Rumor has it that Igor Kordey, a more-than-capable artist when given the proper opportunity to be, was tasked by Marvel editorial to crank out an entire 22-page issue of "NXM" in a week!

Which brings us to "Secret War," the quarterly miniseries that... wasn't. Marvel, probably in deference to Bendis and in recognition of past failures, didn't replace Gabrielle Dell'otto, but instead gave him the space he needed -- nearly two years! -- to complete his work.

And what a work it is. There are plenty of people upset at Bendis for the plot content of this issue (which I don't really understand, and which I'll get to in a moment), but now that I have all five issues in my hands, it's hard to fault Dell'otto for his effort in getting a great-looking comic book onto the shelves.

Now, unfortunately, due to its lateness, the lasting effects of this final issue are well-known, and have been a part of the "New Avengers" storylines for over a year now: Nick Fury has disappeared, and there is a new head of SHIELD.

I don't hold this against Bendis. I applaud his decision to carry on with the story in books like "The Pulse" and "New Avengers" without revealing exactly what had happened, which, at the very least, kept "Secret War" #5 from being a boring read.

[What's that you're whining about? You don't remember what happened in the other four issues, or you don't care anymore? Well, pull them out of the long box and re-read them, and maybe you'll be reminded of why you originally cared in the first place! Seriously, what's the point of holding on to back issues of your comics if you're not going to go back and read them again at some point?]

Anyway, some might argue with me on this, but perhaps the strongest aspect of the plot of "Secret War" lies in how it ties in with current events in the Marvel Universe. It's debatable, I guess, but I really think that this was a satisfying miniseries all by its lonesome, but even more than that, I'm thrilled by its potential aftereffects. I've heard that this character arc for Nick Fury is not an original one. Perhaps not, but it's a direction I'm interested to see him going, with "Civil War" on the horizon, and SHIELD having been revealed as diseased and crooked, if not altogether evil. I'm betting that there's at least some connection between all of these storylines.

Along the same lines, I'd also like to mention the fantastic "New Avengers" #14, in which Spider-Woman's duplicitous nature is finally revealed, and she comes clean to Steve Rogers about exactly why she's simultaneously an Avenger, a SHIELD agent, and a Hydra spy. I won't get into the details, but suffice it to say that Nick Fury's involved, it’s partly Cap’s fault, and Jessica's just doing the best job she possibly can at this point. It’s pure speculation on my part, but I don't think that she's very long for the "New Avengers" team.

Which is perfectly fine, if you ask me, because this storyline is nothing less than a well-thought-out and fascinating setup for the upcoming Bendis/Maleev "Spider-Woman" book, and I absolutely can't wait to see what Bendis has up his sleeves for these characters.

The art by Frank Cho in this issue is just as good as his guest spots in Mark Millar's "Marvel Knights Spider-Man" run were last year, if not better. There isn't anyone more skilled at writing a comic full of talking heads than Bendis, and Cho does a fine job of making them interesting to look at. I'd love to see him work on this book on a regular basis -– perhaps even more so than the incoming Mike Deodato Jr., whose work I enjoy, but isn’t exactly my favorite.

I also really enjoyed the reference to the current "Incredible Hulk" storyline in this issue (did you catch it?), as well as the gathering storm around the media's increasing awareness of the new Avengers team. What a great issue! Suffice it to say, I'm committed to these stories for the long haul, and the Avengers family and their satellite titles remain my constant favorites, month after month.

“Secret War” #5: 8 out of a possible 10.
“New Avengers” #14: 10 out of a possible 10.

Tuesday, January 10, 2006

Low Blows 01.10.06

"Generation M" #2 (of 5)
Marvel Comics
Writer: Paul Jenkins
Artist: Ramon Bachs

I thought that Paul Jenkins' first "Sentry" miniseries was a little overrated, and couldn't have been more disappointed by his "Wolverine: The End" mini. That said, I absolutely loved his "Inhumans" maxiseries, and I'm real happy with what's going on in the second, more recent "Sentry" miniseries, now in progress.

Taking into consideration how I tend to run hot and cold on this writer, then, it was no surprise to me that I decided to skip the "Generation M" mini.

What not many people, including myself, knew about "Generation M" when it was solicited was that it serves as the prelude to a wholesale creative changeover for Marvel's longsuffering "The Pulse" series, which has seemed like Brian Michael Bendis' wholly enjoyable but sporadically-published afterthought for so long. And as its main character Jessica Jones packs her bags and heads off to "New Avengers," (or wherever,) "Generation M"'s Sally Floyd will be moving in, along with the new creative team of Jenkins and Bachs.

Once I learned the above, I decided to give the mini a shot after all, and I'm glad I did. It seems as if Jenkins (and perhaps his editor as well) has been able to intuit where his strengths are -- that is, in one-off stories that feed towards a larger plot -- and it shows in his recent work.

Sally Floyd is a journalist, an alcoholic, an abandoned wife and a bereaved mother. She works for "The Alternative," a New York street paper, and over the course of the miniseries so far, she's stumbled into telling the stories of mutants who have lost their powers through the aftereffects of the "House of M" miniseries. The story is as much about her as it is the mutants, and meanwhile, everything seems to be heading towards the culmination of the larger plot of a serial killer preying on the ex-mutants, who has apparently chosen Sally as his unwilling media outlet.

"Generation M" also seems to be checking in with at least one well-known depowered mutant per issue. Last month, it was Chamber, in a particularly shocking scene which also served to more or less sell me on the book. The current issue features Wolverine's ex-sidekick Jubilee in her new life as a left-wing political lobbyist, which doesn't necessarily jive with some other recent interpretations, but definitely makes sense in the long run towards the purpose of character growth. Up until now, she's been more or less the eternal teenager. It's nice to see her in a little bit of a grown-up role.

Ramon Bachs' rumpled, expressive art is well-suited for this kind of story. I hear he did a great job illustrating David Lapham's "Detective Comics" arc over the last year or so, and he has demonstrated in the two issues of this mini so far that he can handle anything from a two-page spread of a dragon-like mutant destroying an entire New York City block to a grieving mother dwelling over a picture of the child she has lost.

I'm interested in the murder mystery of "Generation M," but even more so, I'd like to find out more about Sally Floyd, and I'm even thinking of her future in "The Pulse" now -- will she come to work at the "Daily Bugle," just like her predecessor? I'd love to see how she interacts with Kat, Ben, and especially Jonah. It's hard to say, with only two issues of story under her belt, but I'm definitely along for the ride.

8 out of a possible 10.

Tuesday, January 03, 2006

Graphic Novel Grab Bag

*** Now that LBM has expanded beyond comics, I've retooled some of the columns for the sake of simplicity. This was originally part of a feature I did called "Graphic Novel Grab Bag." I only ever wrote five, so I've re-tagged them as Longbox entries. This was the first GNGB post, as you'll see if you venture into the early days of the site which I've somehow resisted the urge to purge. -- JA, 1/20/10 ***

What's a "Graphic Novel Grab Bag," you ask? Well, I'm using the term graphic novel liberally here, but hopefully once a month, I'm going to review a graphic novel or trade paperback (such as our inaugural edition today). Basically something thicker than your typical 32-page issue. Usually these are going to be something I've borrowed from a friend or my local library since I don't buy many of them for my own collection anymore.

By the way, libraries are a fantastic way to get good stuff on the cheap (it's free after all). If you live near an urban or college library, they probably have a sizable collection to peruse over. Smaller libraries may not have a great selection, but getting a copy of something well-known, such as "The Watchmen," shouldn't be difficult in most towns. Of course, it'll probably be listed in the Young Adult section, and those of us familiar with "The Watchmen" realize not every young adult is ready for radioactive blue testes mixed in with their superheroes, but that's for their parents to worry about, I suppose.
Anyway, on to the review...

Smallville Volume 1
various writers and artists
DC Comics, 2004
I've seen every episode of "Smallville" that's aired over it's 5 seasons thus far, and while I've enjoyed them on the whole immensely, individual episodes have begun to run together in my mind a bit. Part of this is due to watching all of them for the first time in the last year or so (TV on DVD and DVR is amazing, no?), but it has more to do with so many of arcs still, after five years, having only minimal progression and, in some cases, not being resolved what-so-ever.
Part of the reason why I've been able to enjoy the show despite it's maddening pacing is because I've hedged my expectations of it. I don't expect it to be on the same level as "The Sopranos." I just want to see some cool action scenes and laugh at a couple of jokes over the course of an hour. And "Smallville" usually gives that to me (and these days it also gives me Lois Lane in about as little of clothing as the writers can dream up each week, and I thank them for having those dreams).
So my expectations for the "Smallville" comic were even more diluted than those I have for the show. Despite these low expectations, I'm still left under-whelmed by the eight stories in this collection. I recognized all the authors of the stories from the writing, producing and directing credits from watching the show so often. Because of this, I'm left with the feeling that many, if not all, of the stories were rejects from the writer's room, either due to their lack of intrigue ("Vows") or the immense difficulty in bringing the story to the screen due to special effects ("Raptor," and "Paterfamilias"). But because they are all derived from the pens and keyboards of people involved with the show, the tone of the characters is dead on, Lex in particular. It's just a shame that very little of what was given to them to say was worth reading.
On the other hand, the art is strong for these stories for the most part. Each artist is burdened by having to create portraits of the actors who portray the characters on screen. They can't veer too far from what they actually look like, otherwise it would be too difficult to label the stories as occurring in the "Smallville" universe. Fortunately, this is pulled off.
In the end, this comic was made for rabid fans of "Smallville" the TV show. If you have never seen the show, or don't like the show, stay clear of this title. Even as a fan of the show, I found myself rolling my eyes at some of these stories. Nothing that happens in these stories adds any considerable weight to the "Smallville" mythos. In the end, it's just a decent way to spend an hour of your time.
5 out of 10