Reviews of trade paperbacks of comic books (mostly Marvel), along with a few other semi-relevant comments / reviews.

25 February 2011

Incredible Hercules, v. 1: Against the World

Collects: Incredible Hulk #112, Incredible Hercules #113-5, and Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide (2008)

Released: September 2008 (Marvel)

Format: 136 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785125334

What is this?: After helping Hulk during World War Hulk, Hercules and his genius sidekick Amadeus Cho go on the lam from Ares and SHIELD.

The culprits: Writers Greg Pak and Fred van Lente and penciler Khoi Pham

Incredible Hercules is an Internet darling — the kind that reviewers love, but comic book buyers do not. A large measure of credit has to go to the co-writers: Greg Pak and Fred van Lente also pop up in very positive reviews for their work other than Hercules. I myself certainly enjoyed Pak’s Planet Hulk, a sweeping, emotional comic-book epic about the Hulk as a gladiator. I had mixed feelings about the only non-Herc work I’d seen from van Lente, Super-Villain Team-Up: MODOK’s 11, but I have not read his most praised work on Marvel’s all-ages lines.

Although I was unimpressed by the first TPB in this series starring Hercules, Incredible Hercules: World War Hulk, I gave it a pass because it was part of a massive crossover and because van Lente wasn’t involved. I figured Incredible Hercules, v. 1: Against the World was the book I should base my opinion of the series on.

Incredible Hercules: Against the World coverThe good news is there is nothing about Against the World that is as forgettable or regrettable as World War Hulk. Pak and van Lente make Hercules and his sidekick Amadeus Cho into memorable and fun characters. There is a lightness to their dialogue and interaction occasionally cut by the darkness of the characters, giving them some depth. Hercules’s history, both classical and Marvel, are mined to help the story along; Wonder Man and Black Widow get a few good lines as well. And the villain, Ares, got the only laugh-out-loud lines in the book, ranting at and doggedly pursuing Hercules and his sidekick (but mainly Hercules).

Despite the humor, despite the somewhat standard superheroics, Against the World is more morally complicated that standard superhero fare. (Especially if you take it for granted that Iron Man in Civil War was a cryptofascist trampling on basic American rights.) Hercules is a Greek god who doesn’t share exactly the same ethos as modern Americans — or at least he didn’t when he was in the business of myth making. He is, as Ares calls him, the god of bad decisions. He drinks, he sleeps around, and he has a proclivity to rampage blindly. He makes a poor role model, to say the least; if there is a more competent hero to play watchdog, then he can at least be aimed in the right direction. But Herc’s sidekick is Amadeus Cho, the seventh-smartest person on the planet and a teenager. Frequently he’s too smart for his own good, blind to his own irrationalities, such as his unstinting admiration for the Hulk and Hercules and his own vengeful side.

Van Lente and Pak play with Hercules’s classical mindset, using his “mythological” exploits as the basis for Hercules’s hallucinations or as parallels to his modern adventures. I appreciate not only using those stories to fill out the character of Hercules — generally portrayed in the past as a two-dimensional, good-natured brawler — and to give a reason why he uses that name rather than his Greek name, Herakles. But changing the reasoning and chronology of Herakles’s twelfth labor makes me uneasy … yes, it helps make Hercules more morally ambiguous, but if a writer uses the myths selectively (and has Herc equivocate about whether the story he tells is true), then it weakens the totality of the myths. That is, if the reasoning behind why Hercules engages in his labors is flawed, then can we trust the stories of the labors themselves? I don’t like classical literature undermined in this way.

I’m not sold on the art by Khoi Pham, who draws the first four issues. I wanted to say positive things about his work, and I like his overall style. But at some moments in the story, he seems to focus in too far — on a face, on a certain character — and loses the overall storytelling of the scene. The final issue, Hulk vs. Hercules: When Titans Collide, has art from four different pencilers: Pham, Eric Nguyen, Reilly Brown, and Bob Layton. Pham’s work is a brief framing sequence. Nguyen does a five-page sequence that gives the background to the story and looks nothing like the rest of the book; it definitely is reminiscent of Bill Sienkiewicz, although the colors are washed out. Layton’s two pages are of Hercules wrestling the Thing and other Unlimited Class Wrestling Federation contenders in a charity match; I didn’t realize Layton was so closely associated with the UCWF, but perhaps I just wasn’t paying enough attention. The bulk of the issue is by Brown, who draws in a clear, dynamic style.

I wanted to like Against the World more than I did. It has a few jokes, but it’s not often laugh-out-loud funny; it succeeds at amusing. The characters are endearing, except when they show their dark sides. The myths are nicely integrated into the story, except when they hold up a sign that directs the readers’ attention to how they aren’t supposed to be integrated into the story. It’s better than serviceable, better than average. It is frequently, but not always, entertaining. But it if I hadn’t had two other volumes of the series waiting on my bookshelf, I don’t know if I would be reading more.

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (3.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , ,

22 February 2011

DC May 2011 solicitations (collected editions)

Some interesting books from DC, although the list seems a little short this month, as DC seems to have spent their time on getting Green Lantern maquettes, busts, and prop replicas to the teeming masses. But no Green Lantern TPBs. There’s a limit to their crass consumerism!

Most likely to buy:

  • Showcase Presents Doc Savage: I’m a sucker for a good Showcase (or Essential, but there are no Essentials solicitied for May), and this is an intriguing one. Doc Savage’s corporate ownership means that not only was the Man of Bronze’s adventures published by both Marvel and DC but that neither company has been able to put the stories back into print. As with Rom the Space Knight, Doc Savage’s guest appearances have been left out Marvel’s Essentials (such as Essential Marvel Two-in-One, v. 1). Obviously, Doc Savage’s status changed with Conde Nast’s decision to let DC pay for the rights to create a new series; this gives readers a rare chance to see some of the character’s Bronze Age adventures. On the other hand, this is a little steep for a Showcase; $20 for 448 black and white pages isn’t the best deal ever. ($19.99)

Might eventually buy:

  • Batman: Knight and Squire: Offbeat and Silver Age in a good way, from what I’ve heard. ($14.99)
  • Tales of Batman: Gene Colan, v. 1: I’m always up for Bronze Age Batman, and Gene Colan seems such a natural fit for the Batman. I’m just not sure I want to spend $40 (minus Amazon / other bookseller discount) on it. (hardcover) ($39.99)

Might buy if the price is right:

  • Aquaman: Death of a Prince: A Bronze Age Aquaman reprint? What in the name of Crom … ? It’s a delightfully weird choice, but what are they smoking in the reprint department? ($29.99)
  • The Jack Kirby Omnibus, v. 1 Starring Green Arrow (hardcover): Cynical attempt to cash in on King Kirby’s name or a chance for Kirby fans to glimpse a rarely seen part of Kirby’s pre-Marvel work? Why can’t it be both? ($49.99)

Already read that one:

  • Batwoman: Elegy: By and large, I liked it. ($17.99)
  • Stuck Rubber Baby: There are a certain number of a certain type of story you have to have read to be able to convince certain people you’re not just a superhero fanboy. (I would recommend not hanging out with those people, but sometimes we don’t have that luxury.) This is one of those stories, I regret to inform you. ($17.99)

The Rest:

  • Absolute Identity Crisis (hardcover): Seven issues of crap for $100. Sweet Robo Zoroaster, that’s a bold attempt at robbery. ($99.99)
  • Arkham Asylum: Madness ($14.99)
  • Batman: Bruce Wayne: The Road Home (hardcover): If you’re waiting for the trade paperback, it will be another year before you find out what happens when Bruce Wayne comes marching home again. ($24.99)
  • Batman: Red Hood: The Lost Days ($14.99)
  • Batman: The Streets of Gotham: The House of Hush (hardcover): I’m willing to bet Hush does something crazy and quotes Aristotle. (Not necessarily in that order.) Am I right? ($22.99)
  • Cowboys (hardcover) ($19.99)
  • Green Arrow: Into the Woods (hardcover) ($22.99)
  • Justice League: Cry for Justice: If you don’t want your horrible stories in hardback form, here’s one in paperback. Because someone demanded it! (We must find them and hurt them.) ($19.99)
  • Justice (hardcover) ($39.99)
  • Power Girl: Bomb Squad ($14.99)
  • Red Robin: Hit List ($17.99)
  • Superman Chronicles, v. 9: If you’ve been following this far, you don’t need me to say anything about it. ($17.99)
  • Superman: New Krypton, v. 4 ($17.99)
  • Sweet Tooth, v. 3: Animal Armies ($14.99)
  • The Twilight Experiment ($17.99)

Labels: , , ,

18 February 2011

Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip

Collects: Blue Beetle, v. 2 #7-12 (2006-7)

Released: June 2007 (DC)

Format: 192 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9781401213619

What is this?: With the aid of Peacemaker and an ever-expanding cast of helpers, Jaime tries to get to the root of what the scarab is.

The culprits: Writers John Rogers and Keith Giffen and artists Cully Hamner, Rafael Albuquerque, and Duncan Rouleau

So: Blue Beetle, v. 1: Shellshocked was a bit of a disappointment. What about Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip?

Well, it certainly corrects what I saw as the most glaring deficiency: relying on continuity without explaining it. In #7, Jaime explains what happened in the time he was missing, from blowing up the Brother Eye satellite (complete with adding Batman’s editorial comments into the story) to crash landing in the Texas desert. It’s a nice little story, with enough jokes and character moments that it won’t annoy people who have read it while still telling the story completely for those unfamiliar with the original.

Blue Beetle, v. 2: Road Trip coverThe next couple of issues involve the backstories of Dan Garrett, the first Blue Beetle, and the current Peacemaker. The former manages to remain interesting, by dint of using the journey to explore the relationship between Jaime and his friend Brenda and between Peacemaker and the Blue Beetle armor. Reusing the mystical baddie with a religious delusion from Shellshocked was a poor choice in that the monster isn’t interesting; on the other hand, it’s the only one of Blue Beetle’s enemies that could be reintroduced to liven up a talking heads issue. Win some, lose some, I suppose. Peacemaker’s story is no great shakes — man of action falls into alien tech, which sounds very Silver Age — but again, the character interactions liven things up, especially when Jaime’s parents have to decide whether he can save lives on a school night.

The best issues in Road Trip are #10-11; Brenda is transported to a world of the New Gods by a mother box. While Brenda has to deal with an alien world with malicious, living teddy bears and a New Gods ripoff of Conan (named “Lonar” — real creative, King Kirby), Jaime has to deal with his secret identity rapidly going down the tubes and figuring out how to rescue his friend. And of course there is the inevitable mistaken identity hero fight; as such things go, this one is above average, with some nice quips by Jaime. It ends with Jaime appreciating the majesty of the big action story — er, I mean outer space — and returning with Brenda before getting answers about his armor from Metron.

The book ends with the scarab’s makers showing up. It isn’t very interesting, but writer John Rogers tries to liven it up with banter. It isn’t wholly convincing, but it could be worse.

For this volume, Rogers writes every issue, but unlike in Shellshocked, he writes some of them alone. Keith Giffen, who co-wrote every issue in Shellshocked, contributes to only three issues: #8-10. His absence or presence doesn’t seem to make a great deal of difference in the quality of the issues, though.

Two of the artists from Shellshocked also contribute to Road Trip. Cully Hamner, who co-created this Blue Beetle, drew issues #7-8, and just as in Shellshocked, he does an adequate job. I think new penciler Rafael Albuquerque outshines him, however; although their styles are quite compatible, Albuquerque’s work on #10-12 is more kinetic, and the design of the little alien teddy bears was cute and menacing while the alien-dissected cow was suitably disgusting. Albuquerque’s art tends toward gritted teeth at all times during fight scenes, and Brenda’s wounds seemed too light, but for the moment, those are small quibbles. Duncan Rouleau is back again, working on #9, and this issue he visually seems the odd one out. Although Albuquerque is more cartoony than Hamner, he’s still much more realistic than Rouleau, who has lips sliding away from people’s faces and pupils disappearing when convenient.

This is a huge step up from Shellshocked. In Road Trip, Jaime is more confident and in control, and although the armor still has a lot of new capabilities, the reader gets the sense it’s because the armor is a technological battle suit. Although I blame DC’s “throw the reader into the middle of things approach,” perhaps it’s another example that superhero movies have taught us: origin stories are boring — we like to see the hero doing things rather than fumbling about and retreading that shared origin story all superheroes seem to have.

It’s a good start for Blue Beetle, although unfortunately, my libraries don’t have any volumes after this. Did I enjoy the story enough to actually pay for the volume 3? I don’t know. Perhaps I’ll have to bug the library’s interlibrary loan department …

Rating: DC logo DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (3.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , ,

15 February 2011

Marvel May 2011 solicitations (collected editions)

Will be picking up:

  • Spider-Girl, v. 1: Family Values: I’m just interested enough at the early reviews / hype to look at a repurposed, no-powers female hero that’s supposed to be “realistic.” Also to see if something can be salvaged from Araña. ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4694-0)

Might pick up eventually:

  • Captain Britain, v. 1: Birth of a Legend (hardcover): This is an odd choice, unless there’s some push behind Chris Claremont or Captain Britain this month that I’m unaware of. Still, it should be interesting — Claremont work from around the time he started writing X-Men (although to be fair, it’s around the time he was writing Iron Fist). ($39.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5728-1)
  • Mystique by Brian K. Vaughan Ultimate Collection: Good value for the money, and Vaughan usually doesn’t let me down. Although “Ultimate Collection” may be laying it on a bit thick.

Might pick up if the price is right:

  • Rocket Raccoon: Guardian of the Keystone Quadrant (hardcover): Always nice to see Bill Mantlo stuff being collected, but his attempt to take a Beatles pun and make it into a viable character doesn’t appeal much to me. ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5527-0)
  • Young Marvelman Classic, v. 1 (hardcover): Let me be frank: I’m only picking this one up if the price falls to a few dollars. I don’t have any interest in Young Marvelman, although the sheer oddity of Marvel reprinting the adventures of a character invented to complete the rip off of another character who a court found was a copyright infringement makes me both confused and happy. ($34.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5504-1)

Already got one (earlier collection or original comics):

  • Amazing Spider-Man by David Michelinie & Todd McFarlane Omnibus (hardcover) ($99.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5729-8)
  • Emma Frost Ultimate Collection: Good news for those who dislike the digest size that the series was originally reprinted in. ($34.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5510-2)
  • New X-Men by Grant Morrison Book 1 ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5503-4)
  • Powers, v. 1: Who Killed Retro Girl? (hardcover): Hasn’t this already come out in hardcover? I would have sworn … and Bendis swears in this one as well. ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5671-0)
  • Spider-Man: Hobgoblin Lives: Not one I would have thought would get reprinted — a miniseries that promised to resolve all and only ended up raising more questions (and received a lukewarm response) and three issues from a time when the Spider-Man books were winding down, waiting for Howard Mackie to be their savior. ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5512-6)
  • X-Men: Age of Apocalypse Prelude ($29.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5508-9)
  • X-Men: Fallen Angels (hardcover): You’re scraping the bottom of the X-barrel when your reprint program decides to turn to Fallen Angels. Not that it was unenjoyable — it had its moments — but it’s a third-tier ancillary miniseries from the X-books’ boom time. Also: should technically be New Mutants: Fallen Angels or even X-Force or X-Factor; I don’t think any of the Fallen Angels have ever been X-Men. ($29.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5530-0)
  • X-Men: X-Tinction Agenda (hardcover): It took this long to get X-Tinction Agenda into hardback? That’s absurd. Not sure it’s worth $50 for thirteen issues, though. ($49.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5531-7)


  • Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Venus, v. 1 (hardcover) ($59.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5018-3)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, v. 2 ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5050-3)
  • Marvel Masterworks: Daredevil, v. 6 (hardcover) ($54.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5020-6)

The Rest:

  • 5 Ronin (hardcover): Wolverine, Psylocke, Punisher, Hulk, and Deadpool as 17th century Japanese ronin. I completely missed this series when it came out, and that’s probably for the best. ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5632-1).
  • Avengers: We Are the Avengers: And I am bored. ($16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5154-8)
  • Captain America & The Korvac Saga ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5160-9)
  • Captain America: Allies & Enemies ($16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5502-7)
  • Captain America: Man out of Time (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5128-9)
  • Captain America: Official Index to the Marvel Universe ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5097-8)
  • Chaos War: Incredible Hulks ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5157-9)
  • Chaos War: X-Men ($15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5315-3)
  • Deadpool Corps, v. 2: You Say You Want a Revolution (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4826-5)
  • Deadpool Max: Nutjob (hardcover) ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4850-0)
  • Deadpool Team-Up, v. 3: BFFs (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5139-5)
  • Deadpool: Wade Wilson’s War: Four collections for Deadpool? That’s almost as many as Captain America and Thor are each getting. And Deadpool isn’t getting a movie (yet). ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4713-8)
  • Death of Dracula: Reprinting one issue that set up that X-Men vs. vampires thing, plus seven issues from
  • Tomb of Dracula tacked on at the end. Yes, that seems right. ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5616-1)
  • Invincible Iron Man, v. 7: My Monsters (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4836-4)
  • Iron Man: War of the Iron Men ($16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4730-5)
  • Marvel Adventures Thor/Spider-Man Digest ($9.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5651-2)
  • The Marvels Project: Birth of the Super Heroes ($29.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4061-0)
  • Mighty Avengers: Dark Reign (hardcover) ($44.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5669-7)
  • Namor, the First Mutant, v. 2: Namor Goes to Hell ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5176-0)
  • Origins of Marvel Comics ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5615-4)
  • Philip K. Dick’s Electric Ant: Electric! Dick! ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4043-6)
  • Punisher: In the Blood ($16.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5181-4)
  • Punishermax: Bullseye (hardcover) ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4755-8)
  • Spider-Man: Matters of Life and Death (hardcover): Alistair Smythe, the Marvel Comics sensation whose return everyone had been clamoring for! ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5102-9)
  • Spider-Man: The Extremist ($15.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5670-3)
  • Super Hero Squad: A Squad for All Seasons ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5217-0)
  • Taskmaster: Unthinkable ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5260-6)
  • Thor: Lord of Asgard (New Printing) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5087-9)
  • Thor: The Trials of Loki (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5165-4)
  • Thor: The World Eaters (hardcover) ($24.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4838-8)
  • Thor: Wolves of the North ($12.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5614-7)
  • Thunderstrike: Youth in Revolt ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5271-2)
  • Trouble by Mark Millar (hardcover): This was roundly lambasted when it came out, and I’m sure time has not helped matters. Sexually promiscuous Aunt May is no one’s idea of a good time, no matter how good she might have looked at the time. ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5086-2)
  • Ultimate Comics Captain America (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5194-4)
  • Ultimate Comics Doomsday (hardcover): Followed by Ultimates Comics Bane? ($39.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4776-3)
  • Ultimate Comics Spider-Man, v. 2: Chameleons ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-4100-6)
  • Ultimate War (hardcover) ($19.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5737-3)
  • X-Men: First Class — Class Portraits ($14.99, ISBN: 978-0-7851-5559-1)

Labels: , , ,

11 February 2011

Blue Beetle, v. 1: Shellshocked

Collects: Blue Beetle #1-6 (2006)

Released: December 2006 (DC)

Format: 144 pages / color / $12.99 / ISBN: 9781401209650

What is this?: Jaime Reyes deals with his new powers, the consequences of his one-year absence, and supergangs in El Paso.

The culprits: Writers Keith Giffen and John Rogers and arists Cully Hamner, Cynthia Martin, Duncan Rouleau, and Kevin J. West

Last week’s review of X-Men / SWORD: No Time to Breathe has me feeling charitable, so I’ll start my review of Blue Beetle, v. 1: Shellshocked with the positive.

Shellshocked is the beginning of the first series starring the third Blue Beetle. When this series started in 2006, there was a fair amount of controversy about replacing Ted Kord, the second Beetle, so soon after his sudden and senseless death. Happily, the new Beetle doesn’t seem like a cheap gimmick or knockoff of Kord. Jaime Reyes is a teenager who stumbles across the Blue Beetle scarab and gets armor and powers. Jaime has friends and a supportive family before he gains powers and disappears; although there is a slight adjustment period, his supporting cast adjusts relatively quickly to the new situation.

Blue Beetle, v. 1: Shellshocked coverI will give writers Keith Giffen and John Rogers credit for telling a story with a Hispanic protagonist, set far away from New York or Metropolis or Gotham — Shellshocked in that west Texas city of El Paso.55 Each member of the supporting cast has her own distinct role and personality, and the interplay between Jaime’s friends Paco and Brenda is amusing. Really, that’s the highlight of the book: Paco, Brenda, and Jaime talk, if not exactly like young friends, then certainly in the manner of teenagers, playfully insulting and testing each other without going too far. It’s also refreshing to have antagonists who don’t fall into readers’ preconceived notions of their roles; the Posse isn’t a violent gang but a mutual defense society, while La Dama is a gang lord but not a horribly unreasonable or cruel one. I’m not sure why Giffen and Rogers thought a supernatural adversary with a religious hangup would be a good idea, since religion has nothing to do with the book, but at least the monster does fit with the book’s exploration of the scarab’s magic origins.

What’s not positive is the book’s reliance on Infinite Crisis and DC continuity without being willing to explain all of it. The book begins in media res, interspersing scenes from just before Jaime’s disappearance in Infinite Crisis with those from his return one year later. Although it’s easy to keep the two straight, it seems overcomplicated to keep interspersing the two over the first two issues. But there is no footnote to tell the reader that Jaime received his powers and disappeared during the events of Infinite Crisis; if I hadn't known that already, I would have been mystified, since much of Jaime’s origin revolves around that crossover. Giffen and Rogers “cleverly” insert “one year later” into the dialogue at the end of #2, despite it not making much sense.

Rogers and Giffen continually assume the reader knows information that is not in evidence in this book. Shellshocked keeps referencing Booster Gold without explaining who he is or what his connection to the previous Beetle was. Jaime is stalked for a few issues by a mysterious man in ‘40s clothes and a cape; I’m assuming it’s the Phantom Stranger, but it’s never explained who he is or his larger role within the DC Universe. I don’t even think Jaime’s surname is used during the book (although “Reyes Gas and Service” is the name of his father’s garage). It’s frustrating to never know what should be a mystery and what the writers / editor don’t think to tell the readers. It turns out that Green Lantern Guy Gardner’s reaction to the Beetle armor was a plot point; who knew? Certainly not me. If other parts of the story had been better explained, I could have made that determination. Unfortunately, DC seems to have no inclination to explain its continuity to those who aren’t keeping up with it. Honestly, are footnotes that hard?

From there, Jaime has to figure out what his armor does and what his place in his new world is. Giffen and Rogers are more successful with latter. The ability of most of his supporting cast to come to grips with the new status quo is refreshing, freeing Jaime from dealing with the angst that is often the lot of the new superhero. I also appreciate Jaime’s research into the legacy of the Blue Beetle and his outright rejection of Oracle’s invitation into the superhero community. Jaime’s struggles with his armor are less enjoyable; although it adds some drama to the story to make his powers and his ability to call on them undependable, it makes the Beetle armor a bit too simple — by the end, the reader begins to think the armor will have the answer to whatever problem the Beetle is up against. Not quite a deus ex machina; a heros [demigod] ex machina, maybe.

The art doesn’t help matters. Cully Hamner, one of the character’s co-creators, is able to contribute art for only half the issues (#1, 2, and 4). His art is the best in the collection, although the other artists are either well chosen to mesh with his style or are consciously aping it. His work seems richer and more textured than the others, and although it’s not my favorite, it does seem to work for this book — aside from the unimaginative character design for some members of the Posse and a scene where Brenda appears to phase through a pickup.

Irritatingly, Cynthia Martin, who drew #3 and part of #6, can’t seem to get the geography of the Reyeses’ kitchen straight, complete with a table and couch that disappear and shift distractingly. Otherwise, her art is sparser than Hamner’s but in a similar vein, a good fit for a fill-in artist. Kevin J. West adds some pencils for #6, but it’s impossible to tell exactly what is his and what is Martin’s. Duncan Rouleau, the artist for #5, draws a frequently incomprehensible fight scene between the Blue Beetle and a supernatural opponent; figures who are knocked around by blows are represented by rotating them 90 degrees, although it’s often unclear what sent them flying in the first place. Characters occasionally devolve from semi-realistic to cartoon caricatures in a panel or two.

I want to like Shellshocked, as it’s clearly the kind of book the market needs more of — or at least it’s the kind of book a healthier medium would have more of. It has a new, non-white hero (not that new heroes need to be non-white, but some definitely should be). It has a young hero who acts at least somewhat like a teenager and who associates with his peers, even if school is the only teenager thing he’s done. But Shellshocked’s status as an exemplar for a brave new world of comics is shattered by the crippling reliance on DC continuity, the book’s unwillingness to explain things to the reader, and unspectacular art from four artists in six issues.

Rating: DC logo DC logo Half DC symbol (2.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , , , , ,

08 February 2011

What's the story, Image?

Where are the April solicitations for Image? Is there some sort of problem at Image that has prevented them from planning three months ahead?

Labels: , ,

04 February 2011

X-Men / SWORD: No Time to Breathe

Collects: SWORD #1-5 (2010)

Released: June 2010 (Marvel)

Format: 128 pages / color / $15.99 / ISBN: 9780785140764

What is this?: Abigail Brand runs SWORD, an organization on a station floating high above the Earth to keep the planet safe from aliens (and aliens safe from Earth).

The culprits: Writer Kieron Gillen and penciler Steve Sanders

X-Men / SWORD: No Time to Breathe was a last minute fill in for this week’s review. After my local library / librarian left me in the lurch, I looked through my reading list and selected SWORD to fill in the gap.

I had no recollection of ever reading any of writer Kieron Gillen’s other work, but after consulting my records, I remembered having previously enjoyed his work in the smashup TPB Dark Avengers: Ares. Gillen wrote the three-issue Dark Avengers: Ares miniseries, and I had been impressed by both the book’s violence and mythological feel and the characters’ depth and psychopathy.

X-Men / SWORD: No Time to Breathe coverSWORD is also a violent book, but not in the same way as Ares. Whereas Ares was the violence of war and the men who can’t keep themselves from fighting, SWORD’s violence is expressed as an action-filled space opera. There are coups, a bounty hunter, counterrevolutions, abductions, a fire-breathing space dragon, attempted genocides, battles for a space station, eye trauma, prison breaks, and several cases of explosive decompression, along with a few standard superhero type fights. Add that to a thief, romance, hard drinking (the dragon again), a ne’er-do-well brother, and a sense of humor that manages to fill the little space not devoted to the plot, and it becomes obvious No Time to Breathe is not just a subtitle but a warning to readers: this plot moves at a near-relativistic pace, and you better be ready for it.

Yes, that’s a bit of hyperbole, but there really are four different plot threads unspooling through SWORD, and there’s not enough time slow the pace. It becomes a little offputting when read all at once, although I can imagine that in monthly form it was a treat. This is certainly no decompression-fest,53 and the humor gives Gillen a chance to put some distractions into the story, if not giving readers a break from the pace.

Gillen’s characters are fun, and he has the advantage of being having mostly a blank slate. Beast, of course, has almost a half century behind him, but if you remember he’s light hearted, smart, athletic, and a decent scientist (by Marvel standards), you’ll be OK. (There was a reason he was one of Scott Lobdell’s favorites when he wrote X-Men.) Agent Brand hadn’t been established as much more than a half-alien hardass, and Lockheed … well, this isn’t quite the Lockheed we’ve read about before, with the alien dragon suffering from depression at the loss of Kitty Pryde. Death’s Head has a history in the Marvel Universe, but since he appeared mostly in Transformers and Marvel UK, most readers don’t know it. And Henry Peter Gyrich is a bureaucratic butthead. …

… OK, most of the lead cast is established to some degree. Most of the rest are one-note aliens or SWORD staffers. However, there is one standout character: Unit, a robot that SWORD keeps locked up as if he were a cybernetic version of Hannibal Lecter. He seems to have those sort of deep insights that Lecter had into his jailers, even the ones he hasn’t met. Unit is kept locked up under the most stringent conditions SWORD has; he’s the product of a civilization that wanted to make the universe perfect and were willing to do awful things to achieve the goal. Unit’s creators have been destroyed, but Unit is still playing a long game to finish his creators’ plan. And that’s what’s creepy about Unit; his insights are annoying, but his ability to look dozens of steps ahead to wait for and create the perfect chance to accomplish what his creators could not is chilling.

I haven’t read anything by penciler Steven Sanders, but I enjoyed his work in SWORD. It took me a while to get used to his Agent Brand — the sunglasses were not quite what I was used to, and she was a bit top heavy — and the new post-Grant Morrison design of the Beast always strikes me as wrong (as it does cover artist John Cassaday — the shape of the Beast’s skull on the cover looks nothing like it does in the interior artwork, where it more closely resembles the many long-faced aliens). But I got used it, and by the end, I had to admit it was a neat trick for Sanders to match the plot’s extremely brisk pace and Gillen’s sense of humor.

It’s a shame that SWORD didn’t last longer, although it’s not a surprise. The TPB tries to weld “X-Men” onto the title, but it’s not an X-book — yes, Beast is a lead / supporting character in the book, as is Kitty Pryde’s dragon Lockheed, and Cyclops, Emma Frost, Warlock, and what I believe is Doug Ramsey make cameos, but that’s not enough. It’s a book with a sense of humor and a largely unknown cast of characters set outside New York / major team books’ circle, written by a man best known for an indy / non-superhero book (Phonogram) and penciled by an artist without much name recognition. Yes, Gillen has become a major writer for Marvel — his Thor run was roughly concurrent with SWORD’s run, and now he’s writing Generation Hope and Uncanny X-Men — but at the time, this was a recipe for low sales and early cancellation. And that’s exactly what happened.

Rating: X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol X-Men symbol Half X-Men symbol (4.5 of 5)

Labels: , , , , , , , , ,