Friday, May 16, 2008

Comic Reviews

The Twelve #5: This cover has been about the best of the series so far. It both captures the nature of the Witness (as he is in the comic) as well as the 40's pulp-style cover art. A pity the rest of the comic didn't really work as well. The whole issue felt off to me and most of it seemed to finally denigrate into what I feared this series would be. All the characters were different shades of pathetic, whether they were criminal or just embarrassing.

JMS seems to think that because the characters are actually from the 40's they'd be nostalgic of that time period as our grandparents are. This mistake is what lead writers to portraying Captain America as being so far out of touch with today's society and ultimately killing him as well. Sure, their original time period is long past, but these are all characters that are still young, mostly under 30. They haven't lived all those decades in between. They aren't going to see the past in those rose-colored glasses any more than you pine for last month, and they are still young enough to adapt rather quickly. The nostalgia comes when youth has passed, when your mind follows your body in no longer being able to keep up with younger crowds and things no longer seem as new and fresh.

Coming from being kids in the Great Depression, where most kids didn't go to college and teenagers were treated far more as adults, Captain Wonder wouldn't be thinking of kids in the naivete of LEAVE IT TO BEAVER or FATHER KNOWS BEST. There are many things he'd be shocked by, but kid gangs and violence wouldn't be it. He'd be telling them to grow up and take some responsibility for their lives. At worst, their attitude would reinforce the latent sexist and racist attitudes of his time and think the minorities are just proving they don't belong, wasting the opportunity given them to better themselves. After all, he comes from a time when even Captain America thought little of taking a teen-ager into battle.

Likewise, the Blue Blade sequence seems to be confusing decades as the Blue Blade thinks that the best venue for him in Hollywood is a variety shoe. A variety show? Just a couple of issues the characters were confused even by the concept of a tv show. So, why on Earth would the Blue Blade or his agent even think of something so 50's, 60's, and 70's as a variety show as being the outlet for him? And this is coming from a Hollywood writer! We should be seeing something plausible and hopefully interestingly satirical as some kind of swashbuckling fantasy/super-hero/reality show. The whole thing is so lame, the only purpose I can see for it is so that it just highlights what a pathetic character the Blue Blade really is.

Dynamic Man's rant also makes little sense when taken in the context of the fact he's in the Marvel Universe. No flying cars and such? While the future may not be exactly what he was expecting, it should still be far more than he was prepared for (and the FF has their flying tub, SHIELD does having flying cars) in a future that accepts as fact space aliens, space gods, mythological gods, men in flying armor, fully operational independent robots and androids, as well as real world advances such as super sonic aircraft, putting a man on the moon several times, robotic missions to Mars, everyday tech and power of computers, cell phones, microwave ovens, etc. The MU is far closer to the future he imagined especially when combined with the real world. What would and should shock him are the changes and things that he didn't look for nor expect and what was touched on in earlier issues but what he didn't mention: race relations, women in the workplace, different attitudes towards sexuality and public decorum. Much of the same stuff that should have been off-putting to Captain Wonder in the classroom than the rose-colored notion of teen-agers being "innocent".

The only positive thing from the whole issue was finally plugging a plot hole from the very beginning, that of why didn't Electro's creator contact someone about what happened. Again, though, the decompressed writing and pacing works against it, as this was an obvious question from the very first issue. It's a question that should have been on the detectives of the group's lips almost as soon as they woke up. What took so long in finding them? Yet, the story doesn't address this plot hole until now, months later.

I didn't really care for the origin of the Witness. For one, it takes a non-powered hero and gives him a supernatural origin. But, it also makes him come across as quite a bit of the tool. While it's a bit cliche in that it smacks of DC's Spectre, the Spectre came back as a ghost with actual powers and a mission to punish the guilty. Here, it seems as if it's the Witness that's being punished or tested as he already knows what's going to happen, the question is whether he should allow it. And just letting something bad happen to someone just because they are a bad person, that's not really punishment. A death camp guard getting run over as an old man isn't justice. He's not being made to face his crimes or his sins and account for them.

There might be a larger plan on JMS' part here though. A couple years back, Nighthawk got his own mini-series. Quite an achievement because he had been dead up until then. He was brought back, revealed to have been in a coma, only he came back with eyes that could see evil. Eyes given to him by Mephisto. The Witness' new origin is similar in that he sees visions of bad things happening to people and must seek them out and judge them. Meanwhile, we also have Black Widow who got her powers from the Devil and must hunt down evil and send bad men on their way. As I noted, the Witness' mission doesn't seem too Heaven sent, there's no real sense of justice to it. I'm thinking that both Witness and Black Widow are possibly getting their powers from the same source. Or that they are being set up for as opposing forces in a larger conflict. How would he view her actions if his visions compel him to sit in judgment? Or if he finally decides to save someone, not because they deserved it by their original sins, but out of granting mercy, not wishing to see another person die. Yet they have been condemned by the Widow.

And why is the Fiery Mask just hanging around the mansion? I have a little trouble buying that the government aren't green lighting him, Dynamic Man, Captain Wonder, and Rockman for Avengers or other superteams. Especially when they have the recently arrived Challenger already headlining a team. Seems natural and logical to bring him aboard to help their re-entry into society and form an all new All-Winners Squad. This normally wouldn't be a problem for me, but from the onset, they have chosen to bring up the larger continuity of the Marvel Universe with having the heroes register if they wanted to keep operating as heroes. The Laughing Mask's storyline grows out of that. And yet we also see the Fiery Mask who is immensely powerful and seemingly well adjusted. So, it begs the question why isn't he part of the Avengers. We at least see Dynamic Man joining the FBI. It's a logical extrapolation from the issues the comic itself has raised.

The Laughing Mask plotline also shows up one of the problems I have with the whole heroes registering deal, where it doesn't make sense. A big part of superheroes and especially characters like the Laughing Mask is there is a reason they chose to become masked heroes, operating outside of the Law. If he wanted to work within the structure of the law, he'd have become a cop or agent or been satisfied with being the best darn lawyer he could. Instead he chose to devote himself more to Justice which meant standing outside of the law. He's a hero because he sees where it doesn't work. It's a choice he had already made way back, when he chose to put on a mask and use lethal force when he thought necessary in fighting crime. Thus, it makes no sense that he'd just blindly cooperate by registering AND turning over his guns or even whining about being carried off to jail without even a fight. It's a violation of the basic nature of his archetype. He's turned into a complete sad joke of a character. And technically, any deaths of villains at the hands of the other vigilante heroes of the 40's might also be construed as manslaughter or murder if the hero was already technically breaking the law to begin with.

Weston's realistic styled art doesn't work well at all with Laughing Mask or the Witness. He wants to show the former as being thuggish and the latter as looking tortured. However, with his style being so realistic, the two come off looking like grotesqueries than real people.

Superpowers: Like The Twelve, this issue is much like the past issues. It doesn't deviate any. Characters are randomly introduced, with abilities and powers that didn't have anything to do with them originally. Where The Twelve is a book of characters standing around talking and doing a whole lot of nothing waiting on the plot to happen, Superpowers is all about a barebones plot, a whole lot of stuff happening where nothing really gets explained or makes much sense.

The Phantom: In the same vein that we're a couple of issues into an ongoing storyline, and the quality hasn't slipped. We see a complicated plot grounded in real world issues but with some larger than life villains. The Phantom actually has a case that will test him physically, mentally and emotionally. And he uses all the resources he can muster, using not only his skills but his reputation and legend to fight extremely ruthless foes.

Guardians of the Galaxy: Didn't hate it. But for the most part it didn't grab me either. The characters just don't look or act right to me. The new designs are nowhere close to being as visually exciting as the older looks of half the characters. There was something epic and larger than life about the way that Starlord, Adam Warlock and the Destroyer looked. Part of that is that both Kane and Starlin knew how to design comicbook costumes that worked well with the natural lines of the human body. An all new team with all new characters, it would've worked. Instead, I see characters that once seemed glorious and awe-inspiring and now are made to look and act very mundane.

And right off the bat, we have the bad guys yelling "burn them!" which Rocket Raccoon replies as sounding a bit severe while he and Starlord are mowing them down with their guns and considering that the worshippers could rightfully see them as intruders... hmm, hypocrite much? We even get a death total later on.

Captain Britain and MI 13: Despite my misgivings, I likewise purchased this book. The artists on both this and Guardians do a great job with the story material. Here, we have a little more fidelity to the looks of the characters as Spitfire sports a look a little more in keeping with her classic look than what she wore in the last Invaders series. As much as I don't care for tying in with "Secret Invasion" the book has the luxury of being separated enough in geographic location to stand on its own. You don't really need to know everything going on elsewhere. As the book is taking an "All-Star Squadron" approach in claiming every British superhero being a member, I hope we will be seeing far more than just these few in the future, even if as a Yank I'm sometimes a little confused by the distinctions between England, Great Britain and United Kingdom. I hope maybe we'll see more in the way of other European nations and locales as well. I wonder if my quibble about the killing was shared by the writer, maybe he wasn't expecting the artist to be showing Captain Britain punching the heads off of the Skrulls because he does have the good Captain make a comment to the effect this isn't normal procedure for him.

The Black Knight's way of combatting the curse doesn't really make much sense. As long as he acts shallow and care-free, the curse doesn't work as well regardless of how many sentient beings he has to skewer? Guess we'll see how well that works when he's viewing death up close and personal. If the curse is that problematic, why not go back to his light-sabre sword, which made more sense than carrying around a weapon designed to be maiming if not lethal anyways.

Another disconnect for me was early on. We have a Skrull masquerading as John Lennon. He claims to have been up front to being a Skrull since 1963! The problem with that is that unless Marvel history has changed, it's generally been accepted that while Skrulls have been on earth for some time, it's their first appearance in the FF title that their existance became widely known. Now, originally, that would fit in the time frame, the FF first appeared in comics in 1961. However, thanks to the sliding timeline and such, in terms of the Marvel Universe, it's only been since the late 1990's. The First Line died fighting a truly secret Skrull invasion, and even that is supposed to only pre-date the FF by just a couple of years. So, a Beatles tribute band made up of space aliens in a world that didn't have that many superheroes would be VERY significant to the ongoing history of the Marvel U.

Looks like I'll have to amend my assessment that the previews managed to be exciting by accident though. Reading the issue, it's clear that the pages that showed up online are not just consecutive pages, but pages that prominently featured each of the more colorful characters in action. In other words, someone was doing their homework and took pages that gave a good feel as to not only the art but also who was in the book instead of just the first 6 pages of said book.

Overall, a good first issue even with two strikes going in. Good enough to get the second issue, to give them a little more rope.

Zorro also travels across the ocean. Or rather young Diego does in the flashback scenes as he travels to Spain to learn from a fencing master as well as seeing more of the casual prejudices and evils of the world. To Wagner's credit, he does a great job in making the flashbacks compelling. If anything, young Diego's journey is far more interesting than his adventure as Zorro. Wagner walks a dangerous line though. So far he's managed to balance both positive and negative aspects of the time. Yet, a lot of it is more of a politically correct latter 20th Century view, very simplistic and shallow representations. Those that claim to be civilized are corrupt, those that are of rougher nature (the native tribes, sailors and gypsies) are not. The balance is he does not want to show the world in too cynical a fashion or else one wonders why Diego would bother trying to save it. We want him to be a hero, but there has to be some kind of universal grounding to it, he cannot be too at odds with his time and setting or else you have what feels like a 20th Century Man in Colonial Times. It's an element that I felt ultimately made Sandman Mystery Theatre unconvincing to me. It treated everyone in a too cynical view via hindsight except for the two lead characters making them seem like anachronisms in their own book, a 1980's male in 1930's New York.

Green Arrow/Black Canary continue their adventures across the pond as well. If anything with this storyline, we see a "writing for the trade" mentality that actually seems to manage juggling concerns of the trade vs. the monthly. While the story seems overly long, as if Winnick is filling time between this and whatever DC decides to do next that upsets the status quos, Winnick does have something happen in every single issue. It doesn't just stay in place, marking time. New characters get introduced, each issue tries to end on a bit of a surprise as it pulls something unexpectedly from the left field. Such as the character found in stasis wasn't Connor as we knew it wouldn't be, but definitely didn't expect to see who it did turn out to be. Suddenly, I'm wanting to see the next issue. Part of me is telling me, I'd probably be just as happy reading this in trade, there's not a lot of meat to the individual issues, but they do remain just fun enough and interesting enough to keep plugging away. Especially with so many titles already having been culled from my reading list.

Both Spider-Girl #20 and FX #3 show us a little high-school cheerleader action on the covers. With Spider-girl, it's an inner conflict of the character, just barely touched on as one of several ongoing subplots that get addressed in this issue. The issue delivers on some action as she finds herself between two different hate groups, otherwise it's just setting the ball rolling on some of the upcoming storylines and conflicts. Wayne Osborne, Creator and writer of FX, manages to do something that many more accomplished writers seem to have forgotten. That is, he manages to have mysterious origins for his characters, but still also delivers clues and some back-story instead of just letting the characters be cyphers. And it's delivered clearly without actually being spelled out. Issue 1 introduces us to FX and he gets powers and a super-suit and being a teenager with little to no detective skills or inclinations, he doesn't question it overmuch. We also get a cameo of a mysterious villain and some references to other super-powered heroes. Thus, we automatically have a world that has a past, even if we're not seeing it in much detail. Issue #2 introduces another character with mysteries and powers. It's pretty obvious there's more to them than readily apparent. And we get another mystery villain who turns out to be a henchman of m.v. from issue 1. Issue #3, instead of dragging out the obvious mystery of the girl's powers, the mystery is revealed! Mostly, anyways. Because her back-story gives us more context on the mystery villain's powers and nature such as he's been around for a really long time. And, there seems to be links to the powers of the 3 characters involved. And, this is only the first half of the issue #3 as FX blunders into another situation, which the cover ties into for the 2nd act. Lord Erevos, the villain from issue #1 and the first half of this story has a great look. Here's hoping we haven't seen the last of him nor his ghostly foe.


Sean Levin said...

Hey, Cash. I do agree with you about Superpowers...I love these characters, and I'm glad to see someone using them, but I don't see the need to alter them. For instance, we've got The Face making people see (or materializing...I'm not sure which) their greatest fears, when he was mostly just good with his fists in the original stories. I also agree that the costume changes are unnecessary, especially the Black Terror's (one of my favorite golden age hero outfits). I further find it annoying that we're four issues in and still haven't gotten any hint as to the real reason the heroes were imprisoned. I have my issues with the series, but I have to confess that part of the reason I stick with it is the characters fascinate me (though moreso in their original incarnations), and I honestly do want to see where the story is going. BTW, what do you think of the character sketches of the heroes in their classic looks at the back of the book? I personally like them a lot, and certainly wish they were clad in those costumes instead of the new ones, much as I normally like Alex Ross' work. Though someone really needs to point out that Amazing-Man has BLACK hair, not blond (a mistake that's been made twice in this series so far).

cash_gorman said...

Seems we're on the same page. Good call on the lack of plot development. As it's something I repeatedly call THE TWELVE on the carpet for, I should have called attention to that as well with SUPERPOWERS. The one difference that I see is with SUPERPOWERS, there is a more frantic pace to the events, the characters haven't had the time to really question too much. But also, the flaw is in Kruger's attempt to include new old characters each issue that none are getting any kind of development. Which makes the changes even more irksome. If you're not going to spend a proper amount of time actually establishing and developing the characters, rein in the focus some and keep them closer to their original selves.

I love the sketches in the back. It does show that at least some of the homework was done. That's how the characters should be presented.

There is a precedent with Amazing Man in that on his first cover and one or two later ones and I think occasionally on the insides, he did sport more blondish hair. However, his hair was more consistently colored as black. Using his slightly off-model look may be one area they feel that they can trademark their version of the character (and frankly, that's what most of these changes smack me of, attempts to be able to lay claim to the copyright and trademarks to their versions of said characters).