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

24 May 2008

Young Avengers, v. 1: Sidekicks

Collects: Young Avengers #1-6 (2005)

Released: April 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 144 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9780785120186

When Young Avengers was launched, the title was universally derided. Then, when the first issues came out, readers were surprised at the quality of the book.

Why? This series didn’t take the “young Avengers” tag too seriously or literally, and neither did the characters. Allan Heinberg wrote a Kang plot that was interesting without being confusion. He had strong, new characters that clashed with each other and with established Avengers for solid, character-based reasons. The Young Avengers had individual personalities. He even has Jessica Jones speaking exactly as her creator, Brian Michael Bendis, writes.7

Young Avengers, v. 1: Sidekicks coverThe plot for Young Avengers, v. 1: Sidekicks could have been for a six-issue mini, self contained and complete. It works both to launch a new group of characters, the so-called Young Avengers, and to make their struggle against Kang, a world-shattering supervillain, suitably impressive. They even get tied to the Avengers via a secret program of the Vision, who has done that sort of shady plotting in the past.

I’ve enjoyed the art of Jim Cheung ever since he teamed up with John Francis Moore on X-Force in the ‘90s. His work remains very good, detailed without being too detailed, graceful without being too perfect. However, he does tend to give everyone a very similar face — it was difficult to tell who Jessica Jones was at times — with the exception that Hulkling and Asgardian, two gay characters, have more feminine features than other male characters.

All these positives aside, this TPB was released two years ago, and the second came out soon after. That caught TPB readers up with the floppies ... and there haven't been any new issues of Young Avengers since. (Young Avengers Presents doesn't count.) This is a series that, while potentially excellent, has little momentum at all.

Rating: Avengers symbol Avengers symbol Avengers symbol Avengers symbol (4 of 5)

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Gotham Central, v. 4: The Quick and the Dead

Collects: Gotham Central #23-5, 28-31 (2004-5)

Released: October 2006 (DC)

Format: 166 pages / color / $14.99 / ISBN: 9781401209124

I’m not sure what to make of the Gotham Central collections these days. I want to like them — really, I do — and I find many of the characters sympathetic and compelling. But I keep finding myself more and more frustrated, and Gotham Central, v. 4: The Quick and the Dead doesn’t help.

Gotham Central, v. 4: The Quick and the Dead cover Part of it is still the coloring combined with Michael Lark’s art. It’s better in this book, probably exactly the effect he and his editor was going for, but it still seems murky to me. Part of it is the skipped issues — #26-27 are omitted from the collection. Part of it is the lack of consideration toward new readers; the “helpful” list of Gotham’s Major Crime Unit personnel at the beginning of the book contains two dead men and still has two partners listed as being on different shifts. (It also is still badly organized and has only bare-bones info.) Also, in “Lights Out,” the Batsignal is taken down and cops discuss whether they should trust Batman after some act of perceived betrayal, but there’s no info on what that betrayal was and no reference even if the reader wanted to find out.6 Well, I’m not that immersed in the DC or Bat universes, so f$&k that noise.

As for the stories … well, writer Greg Rucka does his best work with characterization, let’s put it that way. I very much care about the characters of the MCU, especially Detectives Allen and Montoya, who are featured in all of the stories in The Quick and the Dead. Unfortunately, the plots leave something to be desired. For instance, in “Corrigan,” Allen is sued when a handcuffed felon is shot while Allen and the Black Spider duel over Montoya’s life. Rucka’s forensics seem sloppy — or leave too much unexplained — when one missing bullet in a gunfight can prove Allen’s innocence.

The final story, the four-part “Keystone Kops,” is the best part of the book, but that’s not saying much. It seems old hat. Cop falls into mysterious substance, is mutated, friends search for a cure. Villain doing his best Hannibal Lector riff with desperate cops. Superhuman prisoner escaping during transport. That sort of thing — you’ve seen it before. But again, the best part is Allen and Montoya, and Rucka deserves points for using a Flash villain and incorporating another fictional city’s detectives (Keystone City, home of the Flash) into the story. Other than that, there’s not much to say, except that the story feels a little padded (although I don’t know what I would take out).

I was excited about the first two volumes of Gotham Central. But I’m not sure if I’m going to keep buying them.

Rating: Rating: Bat symbol Bat symbol (2 of 5)

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Essential Hulk, v. 4

Collects: Incredible Hulk #143-70 (1971-3)

Released: September 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 608 pages / black and white / $16.99 / ISBN: 0785121935

More than any other of the mainstay, stalwart titles at DC and Marvel, the Incredible Hulk can withstand mediocre runs.

Essential Hulk 4 coverPerhaps it’s just me. But even though I know the stories in Essential Hulk, v. 4 aren’t classic or iconic, they have a certain appeal that non-Hulk stories do not. The Hulk can go anywhere — the scope of his stories is immense, sprawling. He arrives like a meteor strike, his movements formed only by chance and villainy. In Essential Hulk, v. 4, he ranges from Canada to Latveria to the ocean floor and Jarella’s subatomic world. When most of the Marvel Universe is stuck in New York, this is refreshing.

If that doesn’t rock your socks, the highlight of this volume is the art of Herb Trimpe. Perhaps the artist most closely associated with the Hulk, Trimpe begins his long association with the Hulk in this volume. His work is good — more comfortable than standout, as gross exaggeration of the Hulk’s physique over the years has made his Hulk seem a little small in comparison. But for those who don’t pay attention to such things usually, this book shows the difference an inker (and reproduction, I fear) can have on a penciller’s work. Lines go from scratchy to clean and back again, heavy to light, etc. It’s not Trimpe’s fault, but it doesn’t bring out the best in his pencils.

Bi-Beast! The Hulk has a few of his B-grade villains created in this book: Bi-Beast, Zzzax, Harpy, the Wendigo. The creation of the Bi-Beast is bizarre and wonderful, something truly worthy of Jack Kirby’s fertile imagination. Instead, he was created by Steve Englehart and Trimpe.4 The thought of a comic with both Bi-Beast and MODOK but without the participation of Kirby makes me doubt Stan Lee’s all-encompassing wisdom.

As for the plots … well, they’re provided by a bunch of Marvel’s best in the ‘70s, but that doesn’t make the plots great. Roy Thomas, Gerry Conway, Archie Goodwin, Gary Friederich, and Englehart combined on the 28 stories in this volume, although few are memorable. (A side effect of the sprawling nature of the Hulk’s travels is that it often leaves a disconnect between stories.) Perhaps the worst of the stories is the “marry in haste, repent at leisure” wedding of longtime leading lady Betty to the man who had held a torch for her for years, Glen Talbot. The stories occasionally gain traction — the Hulk’s foray into Canada, for instance, when he first battles Wendigo — but mostly they’re as aimless as the hulk.

I liked this volume. But then again, I like this style of the Hulk.

Rating: Hulk head Hulk head Hulk head (3 of 5)

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07 May 2008

Ares: God of War

Collects: Ares #1-5 (2006)

Released: October 2006 (Marvel)

Format: 128 pages / color / $13.99 / ISBN: 0785123334

I’m used to Michael Avon Oeming’s work as the artist for Powers, but I’d never read anything he’d written before Ares: God of War. The results here are not so impressive as his art.

With the Asgardians being killed in the pages of Thor, the Olympians are next under fire. But Ares, one of their greatest warriors, has given up his war gig to be a single father in Los Angeles. Then, in a plot that strongly recalls the oft-mocked Kitty Pryde and Wolverine limited series, Ares’s son Alex is kidnapped — first by the Olympians to force Ares to fight for them, then by the forces of an undead Japanese army.

Ares: God of War cover After that, a whole lot of fighting, a whole lot of arguing between Ares and Hercules, and more than few scenes of Alexander being seduced away from his family by Mikabushi, the Japanese god of Evil. The series drags on in the middle and could have stood to be shortened by an issue. The method used to justify the conclusion is barely tolerable, a loose plotline that didn’t get enough play earlier in the story.

The best part of the book is Ares’s relationship with his son and with the real world. Ares can just fit in, and although his relationship with his son is unorthodox, it’s still a loving relationship. Unfortunately, all that goes away when Alex is kidnapped, which hands us over to four unrelenting issues of carnage.

Travel Foreman provides the art. He draws a lot of double-paged spreads of battle scenes, which, while difficult to do, are often more impressionistic5 in purpose than realistic — e.g., he’s trying to get across the violence and chaos without showing one side or another winning. Other than recognizably drawing a few Greeks, it’s not necessary to be precise. I find the spreads a little dull, and the two-page art frequently requires full-page fuller art to make sure the two pages face one another.

This is most likely of interest to fans of Hercules and Marvel’s Greek pantheon, especially since those rumors of Ares as a member of the Avengers have seemed to come to naught.

Rating: Marvel logo Marvel logo 2 of 5

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