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

11 May 2006

Juggernaut Jr., v. 1: Secrets and Lies

Collects: J2 #1-6 (1998-9)

Released: March 2006 (Marvel)

J2 was part of the short-lived M2 line, which showed the next generation of heroes in the Marvel Universe. As in most future timelines, the legacies of previous (read: current, for readers) heroes dominate the surroundings. In the M2 line, it was the very real legacy of the heroes, usually their offspring. The M2 line was headlined by Spider-Girl, the lone survivor of the line, now limping toward its 100th and final issue.

In fact, the full title of this book is Spider-Girl Presents Juggernaut Jr: Secrets & Lies. Unwieldy at best. In any event, Juggernaut Jr. (or J2) is Zane Yama, the son of Juggernaut and a district attorney. Juggernaut cleaned up his act, became a hero, and started a family, but he disappeared suddenly when Zane was a young boy. In high school now, Zane finds he has the ability to become a juggernaut himself, although his invulnerability isn’t on par with pappy’s.

Tom DeFalco writes a book that hearkens back to Silver Age Marvel, a simpler time when the landscape wasn’t so cluttered, when every idea and character was new. Unfortunately, Defalco, who is a good writer when in his element, is no Stan Lee, and artist Ron Lim is neither Steve Ditko or Jack Kirby. (Too ‘90s, for one thing.) The gold standard for this title, the one it’s really aiming to emulate / exceed, is Amazing Spider-Man. But with J2’s struggles with school bullies in his geeky alter ego, romance, and keeping his identity secret from loved ones, the parallel is a bit too on the nose, and J2 suffers in comparison. (J2 is better liked than Spider-Man; one story has everyone looking at the positive side of the destruction J2 has wrought and applauding the new hero). His personal life barely moves, and the only personal subplots that get any play are Zane’s search for his father and his mother’s attempts to discover J2’s connection to the original Juggernaut. Only the second plot really moves.

Instead, J2 seems to function as an “explore the M2 universe” book. We see the original Defenders fighting the new Avengers; Jubilee and the Uncanny X-People; Wild Thing, daughter of Wolverine and Elektra (hunh?); Magneta, Mistress of Magnetism; and Doc Magus, who possesses the Eye of Agamotto. Each issue contains two or three stories, and with J2 also appearing in A-Next, DeFalco was freed to push aside of how other heroes looked at J2.

But the stories also lack substance, with J2 usually fighting the villain du jour and having to use his brain to overcome him / her. Nice twist, but it’s hardly inventive enough to hold the readers’ attention forever. DeFalco and Lim just don’t pluck enough thematic chords to make the book resonate: What is J2’s place in the M2 world, literally and metaphorically? He can’t be the Spider-Man unsure hero; that’s Spider-Girl, the daughter of Spider-Man. An early issue makes it obvious he’s not like the Hulk other than his brawn. He doesn’t have to clear his name. The only tragedy in his life is the disappearance of his father, and Zane does pursue that, but with all the short stories in Secrets & Lies, those stories seem watered down by all the other stories, and they don’t have the length or strength to withstand the dilution.

Secrets and Lies turns out to be faux-Silver Age fluff. Amusing fluff, at times, but fluff nonetheless.

Grade: B-

Labels: , , , , , ,

08 May 2006

Daredevil, v. 8: Echo: Vision Quest

Collects: Daredevil #51-5 (2003-4)

Released: March 2004 (Marvel)

Vision Quest is much like a vapid blonde: extremely beautiful but not worth spending time with. As long as you can look and not get bogged down with her words, you’re all right.

Even in an era of decompressed storytelling, it’s amazing David Mack is able to pack so little into five issues. Let’s look at what happens in each issue:

#51: Recaps Daredevil #9-15. #52: Our surrogate heroine Maya talks briefly with her old fling Daredevil, who’s found a new girlfriend, then goes to see the Kingpin. #53: Maya talks briefly with the Kingpin, then goes on a vision quest. #54: Brief fight. Maya thinks Wolverine is her spirit guide, although it’s news to Wolverine. #55: Wolverine tells Maya a short parable. Maya decides to become a storyteller.

If you were told this might read better in the trade, you’ve been deceived. It doesn’t. Every time I turned the page, I waited for the story to advance, and generally, it didn’t. This story is so padded it should be printed on goose down. I can imagine Stan Lee writing this story, but I have no idea what he’d do with the extra five pages in the first issue.

You have to cut Mack some slack for the space necessary for his art style, but this is ridiculous. On the other hand, the art is worth cutting some slack. While reading this, I feel like I’m looking at art — real art, the kind you look at in a museum, and whenever someone asks you your opinion of it, you have to make something up rather than feel shallow and say, “Pretty.”

Grade: C

Labels: , , ,

Inhumans, v. 1: Culture Shock

Collects: Inhumans (v. 4) #1-6 (2003)

Released: March 2005 (Marvel)

In Culture Shock, writer Sean McKeever and artist Matthew Clark build on the end of the Jenkins / Lee Inhumans mini-series, which was an Eisner-winning success for Marvel. But while that series focused on the internal politics of the Inhuman royal family as it tried to deal with humans, McKeever and Clark take five young Inhumans, some of whom were in the Jenkins / Lee series, and make them part of a trial cultural integration in America. Only one of the five, Alaris, is pleased to be sent on the mission, and the others are left looking to make sense of this strange mission with a savage, backward culture.

In Attilan, San is the primary viewpoint character, and rightly so. His confusion over why he was sent to deal with humans is piled atop a more personal confusion; his exposure to the Terigen Mists transform him from a strong, handsome young soldier-to-be to a weakened, hideous artist. He no longer knows who he is. His struggles with his new form are understandable and moving. But when the action moves to Earth, San gets lost behind some of the others.

Once the five start living at the University of Wisconsin (McKeever has put references to his native Wisconsin in two other Marvel series, Gravity and Sentinel), Alaris, Jolen, and Nahrees push San out of the foreground. Alaris is big, dumb, and sincerely likes humanity; Jolen hates humans but hides it and wants to rekindle a relationship with Nahrees; and Nahrees … well, she’s hard to get a handle on. She’s meant to be contemptuous of those around her, fellow Inhumans included. But her icy exterior breaks early and often; is it characterization or writing flaw? It could be either, although I lean toward the latter, given that Narhees’s snottiness is her defining characteristic, and to toss it aside so quickly seems a mistake. But this is one of those character issues that can truly only be examined by exploring the rest of the series, which isn’t in this book.

My main complaint with the Culture Shock is that is a bit too wacky for my tastes. The Inhumans aren’t the Japanese or even Latverians; they aren’t even from our planet any more. They have been separated from humanity through millennia of genetic differences and isolation. (In fact, I think Latverians would have worked much better than the obviously inhuman Inhumans.) Alaris is the only wacky personality, yet the plot still seems too Perfect Strangers: all the Inhumans have to work on campus because Alaris is scammed out of his money, the Inhumans live on Frat Row, pot heads ask Jolen if he can truly grow any plant, etc. I expect Alaris to do the Dance of Joy with every page. It’s out of character given San’s identity struggles and Jolen’s dark personality.

Culture Shock is in the digest format, although it is printed on paper that is superior to the other Marvel digests. The art improves from the change, and the book is noticeably thinner. Culture Shock Also differs from the other digests I have read in that it has bonus features: character sketches and McKeever’s story pitch. The latter is useful in pointing at what McKeever was aiming at, although it also shows that he perhaps watches a few too many teen movies.

This volume of the Inhumans — currently the last one — ran only 12 issues, and this is the only reprint of any of those volume. So if you do enjoy this book, well, prepare to hunt down the floppies or wait …

Grade: C+

Labels: , , , ,