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

30 March 2012

Avengers Academy, v. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World?

Collects: Avengers Academy #7-13 (2011)

Released: January 2012 (Marvel)

Format: 168 pages / color / $19.99 / ISBN: 9780785144977

What is this?: The students being trained by the Avengers not to be supervillains start getting some field work.

The culprits: Writer Cristos Gage and artists Mike McKone, Sean Chen, and Tom Raney

As I mentioned in my review of Avengers Academy, v. 1: Permanent Record, Avengers Academy is a series with potential. The problem with potential, of course, is that you have eventually start delivering on it.

Writer Cristos Gage had the luxury of devoting an issue on each of the Academy’s six morally ambiguous and powerful students in v. 1, showing readers each character’s set up and establishing his or her personality. In Avengers Academy, v. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World?, he has to start developing these characters. Which way will they go — toward heroism or toward the dark side? Of course, advancing the characters doesn’t mean showing their final choices immediately; it just means they have to become something more or different than they were.

Avengers Academy, v. 2: Will We Use This in the Real World? coverWell, not really. For characters that are already interesting, such as the amoral and emotionally disconnected Finesse, the only thing Gage needs to do is keep the character interesting; unfortunately, Finesse gets only two character moments in this book, and one of them is fighting Taskmaster. Taskmaster may be Finesse’s father, but their skirmish reveals more about Taskmaster than Finesse.

Other characters don’t get much to do either. Mettle is still a good-natured lug, trapped in an unsightly form, although he’s reaching out more toward Hazmat. Striker is still a self-centered jerk, and one incident shakes his confidence in the value of fame compared the risk involved in heroism. Reptil, the ostensible leader of the group, barely shows up until the end of the volume, when he confronts Finesse and has to decide how much his maturity is worth.

The students who get the most development are Hazmat and Veil. They (and Striker) are partners in crime in avenging the Hood’s attack on Tigra, and they share the blame. They both learn that in the future, they will not be cured (or more accurately, in a possible future, they will not be cured). Credit goes to Gage for addressing the possibility of using nullifier technology to help Hazmat, who gets a day with power-stealing mutant Leech to enjoy the world without her killing powers. She rejects Leech as a long-term therapy, seeing that she would only be using him as a crutch. Veil makes the worst decisions possible, and somehow, she comes out smelling like a rose at the end of it all. Infuriatingly, her teachers smile indulgently rather than punishing her. At least she learns some self-reliance.

The teachers get some screen time as well. Quicksilver is still his acerbic self, and he steals any scene he’s in. Justice exists, and his only real importance comes at the party in #13. Speedball is still the New Warriors martyr, and his cutting in Permanent Record is revealed to be his way of powering up for fights (yeah, right). Hank Pym becomes Giant Man again; it’s never a great sign for Pym’s mental health when he changes names, and it doesn’t help that he highlights his many names and bouts of mental instability in issue #7. On the other hand, Pym and Gage get points for mentioning the Sentry was the least mentally stable Avenger, and Pym’s moment of compassion for Absorbing Man is a nice moment for Pym.

Tigra gets a good deal of attention, although most of it revolves around her dealing with the Hood attacking her in New Avengers #35 (not footnoted), but there’s also a bit of her relationship with Hank Pym and the baby she had with Skrull Hank Pym. (Did you know she had a child? Neither did I, but it was born in Avengers: The Initiative #35. It was never mentioned in Permanent Record, though. You’d think that would be important, even if Tigra is a secondary character in this title.) She seems to be making another attempt at a relationship with Pym, which makes even less sense that it did the first two times. But what is Avengers Academy if not the refuge of heroes who make horrible, horrible choices?

I really didn’t appreciate the use of Korvac as a villain in #11 and 12. He was the antagonist for one of the most lauded Avengers stories of all time (The Korvac Saga), in which he beat a powerhouse lineup of Avengers and was defeated only because he gave up. Using him to give the Avengers Academy students a push doesn’t make the Avengers Academy kids (or their future versions) look tough; it just makes them look as if they found a loophole the defeated Avengers did not. Although in theory defeating Korvac should make the team look impressive, Korvac will return, and if we’re lucky, this story will be referenced. Honestly, I get the feeling this battle will disappear, never to be referenced outside this title again — and that’s not something that should happen with a conflicted, powerful character like Korvac.

The final issue in Real World features a party that includes the Young Allies and some members of The Initiative as guests. In theory, this is an outstanding idea; it increases the dating pool, and gives the characters non-psychopathic colleagues and peers to interact with. On a practical level … I’m not so sure. It does give readers some closure on the Firestar / Justice romance that we’ve needed for a long time, and it allows some romantic subplots to move forward. However, having the students attend the dance in their costumes is an awful choice, emphasizing the artificiality of the setup. What kid would want to go to a dance in their work clothes or form-fitting spandex? If they wanted to conceal their identity, they should have gone with domino masks or some other contrivance.

More importantly, some of the interactions in #13 are predicated upon knowing what happened in the Young Allies / Avengers Academy crossover, Avengers Academy: Arcade: Death Game (also not footnoted). With a name like that, you would think it would have been included in the numbering of Avengers Academy volumes. Unfortunately, it wasn’t, and it doesn’t include any issues of the regular Avengers Academy or Young Allies series; instead, the book has the double-sized Avengers Academy Giant-Size and two reprint issues featuring the villain Arcade. I am not paying $15 to buy that (or even $3 to interlibrary loan it). That’s not Gage’s fault, I suppose, but it does put a slight crimp in my enjoyment.

As for the art in Real World… Oh, Mike McKone. I didn’t care for his work in Permanent Record, and I liked it less in Real World. McKone pencils #8 and 9, and he has the same odd spacing of characters in close ups that make them look as if they are about to kiss, regardless of the emotions between the characters. He has Tigra wearing more to bed (a t-shirt) than she wears in public. The cover for issue #8 (featured on the back cover) features Finesse seemingly leaning backwards to display her breasts; unfortunately, to get that angle, her neck is doing impossible things to put her head forward.

How did Finesse get Taskmaster’s sword? I don’t know.More importantly, his art for the battle between Finesse and Taskmaster is lacking. With two characters who can mimic the fighting style of anyone they see, McKone can do anything, show all sorts of crazy attacks. But what McKone actually shows are the moments between the attacks. Finesse disarms Taskmaster of his sword; how? I don’t know. A panel shows her kicking it, but it’s already out of Taskmaster’s hand by the time that happens. Taskmaster disarms Finesse right back, probably with a shield bash, but it’s hard to reconcile with the panel before it. Taskmaster chokes Finesse with a lariat; how did he get it around her neck? At one point, Taskmaster throws his shield at Finesse … and misses. A man who has copied Captain America, fighting an inexperienced opponent, just misses. That’s a horribly missed opportunity.

On the other hand, I was able to identify minor crimelord the Slug just from McKone’s art. So there is that.

I enjoyed the other artists much more, and I would very much like to see more of them (and less of McKone). Tom Raney penciled #7 and 11-12; he’s been a good artist for quite a while. I liked his work with the size-changing Pym, but his adult Reptil didn’t look old enough — more like a college student with a goatee than a 30-year-old. He really needed to put more work in on the redesigns of the students’ future versions; evidently, all that will change is that the males who can will grow goatees and Hazmat and Finesse will get slight changes to their costumes. Sean Chen was my favorite, as I enjoyed the tight, controlled line of his artwork, and he was able to handle the quiet conversations and crowded party scenes in #13 equally well. I can’t decide whether Hazmat and Leech’s mysteriously unexplained transportation from New York to San Francisco and back in an afternoon is his fault or Gage’s (teleportation? Infinite mansion? Quinjet?).

Gage continues to develop some of the new characters, even if in Real World it’s only Hazmat and Veil. Unfortunately, between Korvac and Finesse’s pointless fight and Tigra’s less than satisfactory moments, there are some questionable plot choices. There is still hope for the future, though.

Rating: Avengers symbol Avengers symbol (2 of 5)

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16 March 2012

Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War

Collects: Heroes for Hire #1-5 (2006-7)

Released: April 2007 (Marvel)

Format: 120 pages / color / $13.99 / ISBN: 9780785123620

What is this?: Misty Knight resurrects the Heroes for Hire concept (with a new team) to track down non-registered superhumans for the government.

The culprits: Writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti and artists Francis Portela and William Tucci

I hate books like Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War. Hate, hate, hate.

It’s an extreme reaction, I know — too extreme. There’s no reason for a book like Heroes for Hire to draw such ire from anyone — or to draw much attention, positive or negative, really. It’s a mediocre story, filled with characters best described as uninteresting. It’s not saying anything interesting about the Civil War crossover, but neither is it dropping a murderous, malfunctioning Thor clone into an already stupid storyline. This book is just … there. If you wanted to read more about the world created by Civil War or were already a fan of Misty Knight or Colleen Wing, then you might read this book. I just can’t see it getting much attention, even from its base.

Heroes for Hire, v. 1: Civil War coverBut for me, this exemplifies just about the worst mainstream comic books can offer without devolving into outright incompetence from its creators. First, just look at that cover: look at it. (Click to ... uh, enlarge.) Three of those women have breasts that are so powerful they overwhelm 21st century zipper technology. (And remember, these women probably have access to super-zippers, the kind designed by Reed Richards and Tony Stark.) Truly, this is the Mighty Marvel Age of Mammaries!

There is T-and-A throughout Heroes for Hire, but my animosity springs from more than that. Lots of comic books draw pictures of pretty women in scanty clothes, pictures that have no purpose but to titillate. It’s common; I accept it, even if I don’t care for it. But there’s usually something else to recommend the book. Compare Heroes to Birds of Prey; despite some gratuitous shots of women’s erogenous zones, the art did not get in the way of the story, and I found I actually cared about the characters in the story. I didn’t care about anyone in Heroes, even though I was more familiar with its characters than I was with Oracle, Black Canary, or Huntress before I started reading Birds.

Perhaps that’s part of the problem. I have a conception of who Misty Knight and Colleen Wing should be. They were supporting characters through the initial run of Power Man & Iron Fist; Misty was Iron Fist’s girlfriend and Colleen’s business partner in Nightwing Restorations, a private detective agency. Misty and Colleen were competent characters, intellectually the equals of the heroes although slightly less impressive in combat. But in Heroes, writers Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti write Misty as a combat-oriented sexpot whose planning skills begin and end with choosing team members. She does employ her milkshake to bring all the boys to the prison yard. Colleen barely has a speaking part, her partner role usurped by the large ensemble cast. There is no investigation, no thinking — only reaction: Misty’s reactions to criminals, and the male reaction to the female drawings. Chris Claremont, who wrote several issues featuring the pair, is spinning in his grave — and to give you an idea of how bad that is, Claremont is still alive, and would have to buy a gravesite, dig the grave, and jump into it before he could start his spinning.

The only character with even a whiff of a personality is Humbug, a former criminal who can communicate with insects. He’s earnest and trying to reform, a little confused by the moral boundaries Civil War has set in the formerly black-and-white Marvel Universe. The docile aquatic strongman Orca is also intriguing — he seems to be working with Heroes for Hire willingly, but why? — but he gets little screen time. The rest of the large supporting cast is bland. Shang Chi, master of kung fu, is prone to gnomic utterances and has a strong moral core, but no passion. Black Cat is sneaky. Tarantula is mysterious in a way that was played out in comics by the end of the last century. She has two settings — angry and spouting scientific knowledge — and I don’t care for either of them. Tying her family to the Stamford incident that started Civil War (and killing her father in this book) are cheap ploys for interest that don’t pan out.

So the art and characters actively repel me. The plot … the plot is nothing special. The first two issues revolve around the title’s ostensible hook — bringing in superhumans who won’t register with the government — but after that, Gray and Palmiotti decide to have the team investigate a Skrull organ-transplanting plot orchestrated by one of Misty’s old enemies. Even if I buy that a Skrull kidney gives someone powers, I’m unconvinced by Ricadonna as a villain of significance, when she’s so clearly eye candy. There’s just so little seeming significance to a villain who was supposed to have a history with Misty. (Was their battle, in which Ricadonna cut off part of Misty’s bionic arm, made up for these issues? Or was it published previously? There’s no footnote to help.) There’s no resonance, no symbolic importance to Ricadonna, and since she’s there to display cleavage, the character falls (ironically) flat.

The book fails on the Civil War front as well. There is a lot a title like Heroes could do with the Civil War crossover. Support it if you must or say something about how stupid it is, but say something. But Misty and Colleen (and therefore the title) vacillate on their position; they’ll take the government’s money to haul in the people they think should be captured, but they won’t support registration enough to bring in Captain America. There is a lot that Misty and Colleen, as non-powered people who have worked with superhumans, could say about it. Gray and Palmiotti tease readers by suggesting someone will say something interesting when the team chats and argues with Reed Richards and Tony Stark, whose support of the registration laws is based on accountability and training. Reed and Tony say the law will stop tragedies like the explosion in Stamford that started Civil War, but in Heroes, Reed and Tony admit to colossal mistakes — Tony created a clone of Thor that killed another hero, and Reed convinced Skrulls to transform into cows, which killed dozens, if not hundreds — without apologizing or accepting that all their training hasn’t stopped them from making stupid, tragic mistakes. I was screaming at the page for someone to make a point about pots and kettles and their relative hues, but surprisingly, no matter how I shouted, none of the characters seemed to hear me.

Misty Knight’s ridiculous costumeAs for the art, you can probably guess how I feel about it. As for how others might feel — well, do you like looking at ladies in contorted poses? Standing on their tiptoes for no reason? Always walking with a sway, with one foot placed in front of the other, even when running? Then Billy Tucci and Francis Portela have a book for you. I will admit they can put a lot of action on the page, but they seem preoccupied with drawing the pretty ladies. I was amused and appalled at how Misty switched between costumes within issues and frequently between panels. One artist had her in a red, low-zipped jumpsuit, as on the cover. The other had her in a gray midriff-baring top with red piping on the front ending in arrow points on her nipples. Why arrows? I don’t know. Showing readers where to look for points of interest?

Look: I’m not saying you shouldn’t buy and read comics whose purpose is to have attractive women for men (and some women) to look at. That’s your choice to make, and may Jeebus bless you, if you do make it. Tarot: Witch of the Black Rose has to have some sort of purpose, what with its barely clothed babes and haunted women’s reproductive systems. There are many other titles that fulfill this need, too: Empowered is generally accepted as a good one. Just don’t drag previously created characters from an established comics universe into it. But if you must do that, at least attach a good story to it.

Otherwise, it’s just a waste of everyone’s time.

Rating: Half Marvel symbol (0.5 of 5)

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12 March 2012

An Emperor, not a Queen

One thing I didn’t discuss in my review of Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6 is Robert Kirkman and Ryan Ottley’s interesting decision to make Freddie Mercury the king of the evil Viltrumites. I mean, look at this guy:

Viltrumite Emperor

I suppose it was inevitable that with that mustache being a racial characteristic, eventually one of those aliens would look like Mercury. But, man, I didn’t expect it to be the leader of the race:

Freddy Mercury and his alien twin

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09 March 2012

Power Man and Iron Fist: The Comedy of Death

Collects: Power Man and Iron Fist (v. 2) #1-5 (2011)
Released: November 2011 (Marvel)
Format: 120 pages / color / $16.99 / ISBN: 9780785152477
What is this?: Iron Fist tries to clear the name of his former secretary, Jennie Royce, with the help of his student, the new Power Man.
The culprits: Writer Fred Van Lente and artist Wellinton Alves (with help from Pere Perez)

A few reviews ago I mentioned zombie comics titles — the ones that go on forever without direction or life animating them, published simply because they were always published.

That species is almost extinct. What is still common is the unkillable concept. I’m using the word “concept” in a loose sense; usually it’s a team or character name or a comic title that has been used over and over again for decades without ever being popular enough to graduate to the ranks of the A-list titles or become a zombie. Copyright renewal, I’ve heard, is the reason for the recycling of these names, and publishers do seem keen to hold on to those copyrights.

At its worst, these unkillable concepts result in eternal retreads of “getting the band back together” setups in which the title character(s) pop up in the shipping schedule and expect to be taken seriously again. Punisher gets away with this, for some reason, but no one cuts Defenders that same slack. Or maybe the worst are the new titles in which only the names are the same, such as Scott Lobdell‘s widely panned Alpha Flight relaunch in 2004. Most split the difference, making slight changes and having fans ask, “Where’s the hook?” (Sometimes in a literal sense, in the case of Aquaman.)

Power Man and Iron Fist: The Comedy of Death coverPower Man and Iron Fist: The Comedy of Death is actually only the second go-round for the Power Man & Iron Fist name, but the concept has been around for 35 years, and the duo headlined Heroes for Hire in the ‘90s. In Comedy, however, writer Fred Van Lente seeds the story with elements from the classic ‘80s run of the title while integrating a new Power Man, teenager Victor Alvarez, into the story. Victor has powers similar to those of the original Power Man, Luke Cage (superstrength, resistance to physical injury), and he’s the son of one of Cage’s old villains, Specs. Iron Fist decided to take him on as a student, teaching him how to focus his powers more effectively. Why did he do this? I don’t know. Are his connections to Cage significant? They don’t seem to be, although I don’t know for sure. I suppose it’s my fault for not having read whatever storyline Victor was introduced in — Shadowland, I believe — but screw that noise. I can’t read everything.

Van Lente has a lot of fun with the new Power Man. Victor gets all the best lines in the book, and his natural teenage impetuousness and sense of morality allows him to move the plot along in ways the reserved Iron Fist cannot. When Iron Fist hesitates to help his former secretary, Jennie Royce, prove she did not kill Crimebuster, a competing hero for hire and her lover, Victor forces the issue. He has a strong sense of wrong and right and a modern sensibility that clashes with Iron Fist and his training in a way that Luke Cage no longer can.

PokerfaceVictor’s most memorable quips are reactions to Comedy‘s bizarre villains and supporting cast. Van Lente’s weird ideas should be the envy of his contemporaries; they manage to be memorable and enjoyable without being so stupid they break believability. The most outlandish is the Commedia dell’Morte, a Renaissance commedia dell’arte / burglary troupe who had the misfortune to rob Baron Mordo; the master of dark arts bound their souls to their masks and forced them to murder once a day, so they became international assassins. Pokerface has a less complex backstory but a more compelling visual; he is a gambler who literally has a poker driven through his skull, with the point emerging from his face. Tiowa Bryant, one of Victor’s classmates at Alison Blaire School for the Performing Arts (go Dazzlers!), constantly speaks in ‘20s slang and dresses like a flapper.

After that, Noir, a vigilante out of for revenge for the death of a Muslim cleric, seems normal, despite her use of darkforce bullets. This also has the unfortunate side effect of making the Divine Right, a white supremacist prison gang, seem mundane, even if they are an excellent choice for Power Man & Iron Fist villains.

There are some odd choices, though. Allow me to list the ones that stand out so much they make the plot stop dead, as if it were looking at Van Lente and saying, “Even I think that’s a bit too much”:

  • The Don of the Dead — a Mexican Day of the Dead-themed organized crime boss — has a great name, but every speech bubble out of his mouth reads like an ethnic stereotype.

  • El Aguila pops up for one scene. Why? He was a supporting character, both as an ally and a rival, during the original Power Man & Iron Fist run, but he seems to have no purpose in this book but to remind readers that he existed and still exists.

  • I find it hard to believe that a high school named after Dazzler would succeed in the Marvel Universe, given its virulent anti-mutant prejudice.

  • Tiowa draws Victor’s attention to a black-market auction Web site named “Twilight Idol.” It’s an awful name, as if somebody wanted a name freshmen girls in high school would react positively to.

  • The main villain of the piece — Joseph Duffy, a.k.a. Gerry Kammill — is named after Jo Duffy and Kerry Gammill, a writer / artist team on Power Man & Iron Fist in the early ‘80s. Van Lente likes to link Comedy to that era, but naming two creators after a racist, murdering thug seems an odd tribute.
Still, Van Lente gets away with these digressions. Referring to Power Man & Iron Fist‘s and Marvel’s history is a nice nod to long-time readers, and other than El Aguila’s appearance, none of them take up much space. No one takes the Greeked name of comic-book products and services very seriously, and Van Lente tells the entire story with his tongue placed so firmly in cheek it’s impossible to believe that anything about the Don of the Dead is meant seriously. A good sense of humor goes a long way, and anyone who reads this (or Van Lente’s other work, such as Incredible Hercules) knows he’s got quite a sense of humor.

However, less forgivable is the resolution of the story. By the time the final issue rolls around, Van Lente is scrambling to wrap things up. Victor’s personal issues are dropped; nothing about Victor’s family — his dead supervillain father and his pacifist, hardworking mother — is mentioned outside of issue #2. In fact, his mother’s only appearance is in two pages of #2, despite Victor still living at home. The identity of Noir, a major plot thread in Comedy, is revealed in an “oh, by the way” narrative box after the rest of the plot is wrapped up, and it turns out that Noir is a character who hadn’t previously appeared in the series. The main goal of Pagliacci, the leader of the Commedia, was to get his beloved Columbina back, but when Iron Fist frees the latest Columbina from the mask, he doesn’t resist. (Pagliacci does get the mask, though, so I suppose she shouldn’t be hard to replace.) But Iron Fist’s romantic relationship with Joy, the woman he freed from possession, is stopped there, despite it not being developed enough for us to unequivocally believe it will survive the trauma. Power Man and Iron Fist seem to let the Commedia dell’Morte — a band of international assassins, mind you — escape rather than imprison them or free the people whom the masks have possessed. Jennie is still in prison at the end of Comedy, waiting for her new trial. And then, in the middle of issue #5, there’s a panel with a sniper putting Iron Fist in his crosshairs, and it’s never mentioned again. I suppose we should assume Iron Fist is too good to be taken out with a bullet, but if that’s the case, what opposition can the Divine Right, a bunch of normal humans, give Iron Fist?

The series really needed a sixth issue. Did Van Lente run out of space, or did a planned sixth issue get axed? I don’t know.

Wellinton Alves is given the task of making the absurd visuals, such as the Commedia and Pokerface, look weird but not laughable, and he succeeds. Pokerface’s gruesome wound and his faceless, playing-card themed servitors are a particular triumph. He also does a good job shifting between action and talky scenes. I’ve never seen Alves’s art before, but I’m looking forward to more of it. His grittier work clashes with Pere Perez’s assisting pencils on issues #2 and 3; Perez’s style is more manga-influnced and could work on its own — an Iron Fist series, perhaps. But his Iron Fist is too youthful and fresh faced compared to Alves’s, and his light, clean artwork clashes with panels like the ones that show Pokerface’s disfigurement or Power Man’s big fight scene.

I want to like Comedy a lot. I like Van Lente, I like Alves. I like the weirdness and the light-hearted vibe. I like Iron Fist having a new role in the Power Man / Iron Fist partnership, and I really like the new Power Man. But I don’t think the story holds together well enough or has enough room to do with it sets out to do; rather than being very good, it has to be content with “good, but flawed.”

Rating: Marvel symbol Marvel symbol Half Marvel symbol (2.5 of 5)

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02 March 2012

Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6

Collects: Invincible #60-70, Invincible Returns #1 (2009-10)

Released: March 2011 (Image)

Format: 336 pages / color / $34.99 / ISBN: 9781607063605

What is this?: The hero Invincible battles alternate versions of himself, a powerful alien, and Martian parasites while dating Atom Eve and exploring his moral limits.

The culprits: Writer Robert Kirkman and artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker

I like reading Invincible, although not enough to buy the hardcovers or trade paperbacks. Instead, I have been catching up on the series by using interlibrary loan. There’s a fee involved at my local library — typically about $3 — so I’ve passed up the trades and requested the “Ultimate Collection” hardcovers instead, to get more story per loan.

Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6 coverIn Invincible: Ultimate Collection, v. 6, writer Robert Kirkman promises a lot of story featuring his half-alien superhero, Mark “Invincible” Grayson: a war against alternate versions of himself, further conflict with his archenemy, conflict with the Viltrumites (his father’s alien race), and the plotting of the Martian parasites known as Sequids … if there’s one thing Kirkman knows how to do, it’s keep subplots moving forward until he’s ready to make one of them the main plot. He even manages to fake out readers by briefly hinting that the Sequid invasion, which has a definite ending in v. 6, will continue as a subplot instead. Not all of these subplots are gold — I’m mystified why I need to care about crime boss Titan’s battles for control of the underworld — but the number of them means there is a lot of treasure in them thar pages. By the end of v. 6, several subplots are ready to be brought to the fore: the Viltrumite War, the Reanimators, and main plots from v. 6 that Kirkman shuffled back the background without tying off. He’s a bit like Chris Claremont, except he’s not so good with female characters, and he has more control over loose ends.

Volume 6 is all about loose ends, actually, with many of his villains repeating in this book. In the twelve issues in this collection, Invincible battles only two villains who have not been used before, and one of those is a throwaway villain named Dinosaurus, whose main purpose is to show Invincible’s state of mind. To be fair, that's not counting the alternate reality Invincibles, who were teased in the previous collection, as new. But they are weapons of Invincible’s archenemy, Angstrom Levy, and they are variants of the title character — there’s not much innovation there. Kirkman has an entire universe to himself, if he wants it. Six years is too soon to keep recycling old villains.

Not having to share a universe illustrates what’s wrong with the “Invincible War” (#60), which at times seems more concerned with showing other Image heroes battling alternate versions of Invincible than anything else. It feels like product placement for other Image houses; with a lot of space to fill, since the original Invincible was out of the fight, Kirkman and Ottley skipped creating their own off-brand heroes for the name-brand stuff. (Well, the RC of heroes, I suppose.) It might have been too much design work to create unique looks for a bunch of throwaway characters, but they could have been developed more fully later. (One Invincible’s comment to Spawn, “I've killed you before, and I’ll do it again!,” would have immediately given weight to whatever character it was addressed to.)

There’s a lot of fighting to this book — four of the first five issues are nearly non-stop slugfests — but Kirkman manages to pack in a lot of the soap-opera elements key to a story about a teenage hero. Mark as to deal with the difficulties of a relationship with fellow superhero Atom Eve, including her horrible father; his relationship with his own father and brother; the loss of a fellow hero; making a living; and learning his moral boundaries. This territory has been explored before, but Kirkman’s breathless plotting and Mark’s personality make Invincible’s journey interesting. I’m still not convinced by Invincible’s money-making plans (not without more help, either from his brother or Atom Eve), but there’s still time to convince me. Many of the quiet moments between Mark and Eve feel picture perfect, thanks in no small part to artists Ryan Ottley and Cory Walker, and the direction of the main characters’ relationship at the end of v. 6 is a relatively unexplored area, especially since Eve isn’t a throwaway character. Invincible changes his stance on killing a couple of times during v. 6, which feels abrupt, but I can believe the rapid turnaround for someone still developing their personality.

After all the fighting and death, Kirkman probably felt he needed a breather for #66. I agree, but two issues with Invincible’s father, Omni-Man, and Allen the Alien seems a bad choice, at least in the collected form. Issue #68 is the decompression story needed after all the sturm und drang — Mark having dinner with Eve and her parents — but two issues in deep space, with few appearances by the book’s hero, stops the book’s momentum in its tracks, and it doesn’t really get going again before the book ends.

Ottley, who has penciled Invincible since #8, drew #60-5, 68-70, and the main story in Invincible Returns. Kirkman calls for a lot of blood and fighting in v. 6, and Ottley gives Kirkman what he wants. Unlike most superhero books, you never get the feeling with Ottley that superhero fights are graceful, sanitized affairs. The combatants hit hard and leave marks — not necessarily permanent marks, since the toughest characters are usually fast healers — that show they’ve been through combat like pork goes through industrial meat grinders. The images in #60-4 are somewhere between horrifying and sickening, appropriate for the level of violence the characters visit upon each other and the landscape. But Ottley can still do the quieter moments — many of the scenes between Eve and Mark seem spot on, and he does a good job with Mark’s teenage-ish, slacker-y brother.

Walker, the series co-creator and original penciler, returned for #66-7 and the backup story in Invincible Returns. The former is a good choice for Walker’s return; the two-issue story prevents comparisons between the current and former artists by restricting the setting and characters to deep space. It also features Omni-Man and Allen the Alien, two characters Walker co-created. Deep space gives Walker a chance to draw all sorts of outlandish creatures and alien landscapes; I’m not sure I’d buy an 8x10 print of his work or air brush it on the side of my van, but it’s pretty good. His work on Invincible Returns, however, suffers in comparison to Ottley. His thick line and posing of characters makes his art look blockier, less fluid than Ottley’s, and Eve’s inexplicable hairstyle is distracting.

The less said of the supplementary material, in which Kirkman, Walker, and Ottley discuss the art process for the book, the better.

Volume 6 was somewhat disappointing compared to other Invincible: Ultimate Collection volumes; its plot is bloody and straightforward, with a heavy death toll for a relatively lighthearted book. Invincible himself is in danger of being a bit too grim. Still, the subplots, characters, and art lift this volume above the average comic collection.

Rating: Image symbol Image symbol Image symbol (3 of 5)

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