Thursday, March 06, 2008

Golden-age reviews

The Twelve: Starting with the cover, I'm assuming Legal realized that the proposed cover was all sorts of copyright and trademark infringement (viewed here). This cover isn’t really an improvement. It’s a bit iconic looking but it is ultimately a generic “strike a pose” cover that has little to nothing to do with the issue at hand. At the very least, due to being an “homage”, the advertised cover actually told a story and communicated quite a bit about the character. Overall these covers have been a huge disappointment. The text on the covers and the recap pages are a little bit of artifact creation, but these thoroughly modern computer generated/enhanced feels fight that kind of sensibility. Even if that wasn’t a factor, the style has nothing to do with the themes and sensibilities of the book inside. Reminds me a lot of the incongruous covers to the Hawkeye series a while back. The covers by Scott Kollins were bright and colorful, with a larger than life Hawkeye in full costume. The inside of the book was dark and street level with Hawkeye rarely in costume.

The book itself, JMS shows off his strengths here where we get quite a bit of character development, looking at how a few more of the characters are adjusting or not. This would be fine except for the climactic hook that bridged issues 1 & 2. That tells us there's more to the story than what we're getting but there's no mention of it for most of last issue and none this issue. It's bad storytelling structure. If he wanted to build towards that tragedy in a linear fashion as this and the last issue suggest and not flashing back and forth between the now of the Blue Blade's death and the "weeks ago" of their unthawing, then we shouldn't have gotten the "now" scene. It's bad form to introduce a major plot element like that and then proceed to ignore it as if it was never brought up. It’s one of these things that might read fine in the long form when collected, but month to month it feels as if the title is going nowhere. As a wordsmith JMS does a very good job, but the story structure needs refining, to make sure more is actually happening each issue.

Part of the structure problem this issue stems from multiple narrators. And this is actually going to harm the reading experience if you’re waiting for the trade. The inconsistencies of the last issue in trying to place at what point in time the Phantom Reporter was narrating is undone this issue as the comic expands the character scope and has us see things that the Phantom Reporter wouldn’t be privy to. So, we get to see things from other points of view, but as done here it completely disrupts the narrative flow of the story as the shifts and changes just happen.

In the end, we have a lot of what marred the first issue, for a comic book, very little actual action takes place. The much ballyhooed Fiery Mask vs zombies is a complete cheat. For one, of all of the characters involved, the Flaming Mask has probably been reprinted the most. His origin story was done awhile back, a lot of his adventures in b/w in the complete Jack Kirby volumes (by Pure Imagination I believe) and most recently in the DARING MYSTERY archives. But, even more, his big character moment is recounting his origin where the bad guy basically defeats himself? In other words, we still have the heroes basically doing absolutely nothing.

The look at Mr. E was almost as powerful as the Captain Wonder scenes last month. We find out that he was Jewish but changed his last name to avoid the racism of the times. However, his family had changed their name back and his now elderly son resents him for being such a coward. When he comes back to the compound, he’s still in denial, still more concerned with how he is seen than the truth of his life. It makes Mr. E very human. But, what we don't see is what made him a hero. We only see the condemnation of his actions but not his side of the story (and what flashback we see, it appears he not changed his name but also “covered” by sharing racist jokes). The end result is a character that is more sad and pathetic in its efforts to make the character more three dimensional. And considering the time period, the art form and characters involved, I can only wonder what Jacob Kurtzberg, Stanley Martin Lieber, and Eli Katz would have thought about the one-sided treatment here. I’m all for humanizing characters, but there also needs to be some balance to it. There’s more to rounding out characterization than just giving character flaws. Mr. E could be a really interesting character, but the efforts here between JMS’ script and Weston’s art mires the character more than letting him really explode. And, it’s funny, Mr. E. has become pretty much my personal favorite of the group, I’d like to see him take the place of being Marvel’s equivalent of the ultimate detective hero.

With the Laughing Mask we see a little more action, but it’s JMS just going the obvious "the man is a murderous psycho" route. You can have a hero be a killer vigilante and be compelling, just read the Shadow and the Spider pulps. But you lose it when you have him gun down a villain not only already defeated but actually tied and bound. Now, having read the golden-age story reprinted in the zero issue, in this particular case, this is pretty close to actually being in character. But, it doesn’t really make the character more interesting. It doesn’t even humanize the character any, he’s just reinforced as being unlikeable.

Mr. E is a hypocrite and portrayed as being a bit weak-willed in hiding his heritage, Weston draws him as balding and weak-chinned. Laughing Mask is a cold-blooded and unlikeable killer, his face is that of a brutish thug. Captain Wonder is rather white-bread and simplistic, out of costume he looks like Mr. Incredible including the massive chin.

The Atom: Ladronn’s covers for this series have been nothing short of great. I didn’t really care for Ladronn as a comic artist when he came on the screen, a little too much of just aping Kirby. His covers seem to be from a whole different artist and I love them. Here is a case that even though the cover is a bit generic and symbolic it perfectly captures the feel of the comic.

Gail Simone is gone, but this book still remains an enjoyable read. If I was Marvel, I’d be holding this book up and saying “why can’t we make Hank Pym this interesting instead of always portraying him as acomplete putz?” Even when the story is one that could have been told with Ray Palmer, Darrell Dane or Hank Pym as this one is, it’s still a very fun book. Olliffe is a good choice as artist. He manages to draw heroes very well, grounding them in reality even when in the middle of the fantastic. I loved his work on SPIDER-GIRL and I’m glad to see him on a book that I follow.

The story is even similar to one that would appear in that title as the main character Ryan Choi is a legacy hero, partly through a sense of responsibility and partly because it’s fun and he sets off to investigate something that he feels partly responsible for since he’s the legacy holder. Only, he’s a full blown scientist so we get a dose of science fiction. Gone is a lot of little personal quirks that Gail brought to the book, the story is a bit straight-forward as is the presentation and narration, giving the book a little more of that generic feel that it could have basically starred any of our shrinking scientist heroes. Still, in the sea of depressing books, this one is still good old fashioned superhero fun.

Men of Mystery #70: This particular cover as well as the back one advertising a Black Terror special are good examples of artifact creation. They are in the spirit of the books they are on while still being good clean artwork. Heike draws in an old-fashioned style, so this cover isn’t him dumbing down his work to actually look like it was done in the 40’s. He’s just trying to capture the sense of fun. Even the Black Terror piece which is done in the style of Schomburg doesn’t play up the shortcomings of the time period but more of what actually made his covers so attractive in the first place (and it’s not the yellowing, wrinkling and chips that come with the comics’ ages). Word of warning, if you regularly get these reprints, there’s a good chance that at least half of the Black Terror book will have been reprinted already by AC elsewhere.

The one bad thing is the reference on the front cover to “Major Midnight”. It’s typical Bill Black, he makes changes to things without really addressing the changes or explaining them. For some reason, Captain Midnight has been promoted to Major. I’d assume that it might have something to do with Moonstone announcing a Captain Midnight book or some other silliness. This is carried through on the inside of the book. I get a reprint book, I want as much fidelity as possible to the original stories. Especially as much as these b/w reprints cost.

Second little quibble, the title page uses Mr. Scarlet in the title logo and a figure drawing of the Harvey hero the Zebra! I might be the only person that would get excited about a Zebra reprint, but I’d never seen anything with the character beyond the odd panel here and there in reference books. Only, this is as far as he gets, there’s no Zebra story inside. What we do have are stories of Doll Man (who’s become a regular enough star in these pages that Black could probably make a trademark case with him), Cat-Man & Kitten (which he does claim trademark of, how that affects SUPERPOWERS is anybody’s guess), “Major” Midnight, the Star Pirate, the Reckoner, Crimebuster & Iron Jaw, Lance O’Casey, and supernatural detective Dr. Drew. It’s an interesting mix of characters and publishers. Of minor interest, in back to back stories of the Reckoner and Crimebuster we have villains named Skully. He’s the gang boss in the former and part of a group of villains called the Deadly Dozen in the latter. A little coincidence Roy Thomas would love.

The next issue looks promising as well as we have a team-up on the cover at least of Minute-Man, the Hood and Yellowjacket fighting off some hooded gang.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

thanks for the summery of twelve #3. im still waiting to hear about some action.

Merzah the Mystic