Wednesday, May 19, 2010

2 steps forward, 3 steps back

Heroic Age... Yeah, right.

So, in the new Agents of Atlas series, they killed half the duo that made up the original 3-D Man and left the other comatose so that the minority legacy character can have a stronger hold on the title...

If there was any lingering doubt that the big 2's posturing of their transitions to "heroic age" and "brightest day" being anything other than just business as usual...

I think I was one of the few that didn't mind Triathlon as being a legacy hero and actually liked him and his costume in the pages of Avengers. Part of that was that he didn't actually usurp the original identity. Through his powers, costume and name, he referenced and updated the retro-hero without being an actual minority copycat replacement. Once they started with actually changing him to BE 3-D Man, I knew that something like this was coming. By turning him to the 3-D Man via name and costume, it robbed the character of what made him unique. Now, he's just like all other minority replacements of established heroes. See, the name "Triathlon" was uniquely his and tied to his powers and background just as the retro name "3-D Man" fit the original character as a retcon retro character of the 1950s. Re-naming Triathlon to 3-D Man lessens the identities of both men. And, where Marvel had two separate heroes that were unique but with bonds to each other, they now just have one. How is it a good thing to actually lessen the variety of a company's assets?

Astro City #4: Meanwhile, Astro City brings to a close its own "Dark Age" storyline. I've enjoyed the meandering stories of the past in Astro City such as the Confessor and Steeljack storylines. This one never quite gelled for me. I think there are some interesting themes in there of the evolution of the characters Charles and Royal Williams from being brothers who were a cop and a street hustler to the men driven to avenge the deaths of their parents years before to the point of them transforming into what they hate. Somewhere along the way, their personal journey became tiresome as the story delved into the death and resurrection of the Silver Agent, time travel, dimensional rifts to an evil dimension and the man they pursued becoming almost a cosmic level threat.

There was just too much stuff the story had to cover that was tangential to the core story, the conceit of trying to follow it through the eyes of the two men and their own journey wore thin. The story became bloated. Busiek may be one of the few writers that when one of his stories becomes padded, it gets denser with more story and characterization as opposed to just making a four issue story fit 6 issues by just adding action and frame-by-frame sequencing in the art so that something would normally fit in two panels takes a whole page or two (Batman taking two pages to change clothes and drive across town in a JLA Classified story a few years back comes to mind. Used to be such things would happen between panels). This time, it works against Busiek and the story he's telling though. The brothers' metamorphosis and its symbolism and themes become heavy-handed from having to constantly revisit it for several more issues beyond the story's natural end as the villain Aubrey gains powers and escapes, extending the storyline for several more issues.

Ironically, as the story became so bloated, there were elements that never got developed as much as they probably should have, feeling like they were tacked on to draw the story out. Such as the rift that was either darkening the public or feeding off of their darker natures, what and who the Pale Horseman was, the story of the Street Angel (I was left wanting more of this guy), as well as the Black Badge. Other than being a cosmic threat, I felt like I was missing something somewhere and just how it all actually connected to the why's of the Silver Agent and his time jumping. It all was just too big of an epic for the limited dual 1st person narrative of the Williams brothers.

The Spectacular Spider-Girl #1: Somehow, the news of this mini completely passed me by. Didn't see any reference to it at comicbookresources or any of the other usual blogs and forums. A pleasant surprise. It' had been awhile since I last saw Spider-Girl, I didn't follow her over to the Spider-man Family books as I don't see a reason to buy an anthology just for one feature, especially with today's prices. This doesn't seem to pick up too far after her series though. However, I still had to play a little catch-up as I didn't remember all the details of the status quo when the series ended such as the status of her clone and that she was living with May as a "cousin". Still, it has all of the elements that made her series a joy to read. Heroic characters, clear concise art, plenty of action and all done in an all-ages classic style. The main story concerns a gang-war enveloping the city, one that draws an older Frank Castle from his self-imposed exile in South America. While Spider-Girl is saving lives from a burning building, the Punisher shows he's still the toughest guy around as he fights his way onto a plane heading for the States. Fun stuff.

The book also contains a couple of short back-up stories, one featuring American Dream, re-introducing her to the readership. The second back-up is the one that falters as May has a dream that she has to play basketball against several of her foes. It's not that the story is just filler with no real insight or purpose but that the usually solid Paul Ryan fails to deliver on the artwork. Ryan's biggest flaw as an artist is that like Frenz, his style is about 20 years too late. He's wonderfully suited for books with a more traditional and classic style without an inker or colorist doing all sorts of filters, fills and special effects to jazz it up and fighting both the penciler and the writer for dominance. In short, in this day and age, a book with his artwork is normally a step in the right direction. Unfortunately, it is lacking here. It feels like it is trying too hard to be Pat Oliffe (the artist that started Spider-Girl off) instead of his own style and lacks the energy that he normally is able to deliver. Nor does it impart any mood or atmosphere or surreal aspect to what is supposed to be a dream. A weak ending to an otherwise enjoyable first issue overall.

Hellboy in Mexico: Love this comic. Mignola and Corben make a great team, I've praised their Hellboy comics in the past. It helps this is a self-contained story as well. Add in the phenomenon of masked Mexican wrestlers and make it a set of three brothers who get the calling to stop wrestling and hunt monsters and team up with Hellboy for monster butt-kicking, drinking and carousing, and you have the makings of a great story. Pick it up and you'll be entertained. Wouldn't mind seeing a return of the brothers.

JSA #38: As the story unfolds how the Fourth Reich managed to take all the heroes out and take over America, it stumbles. I've talked about how one of the problems with the Fourth Reich as a villainous group in this storyline is that it doesn't really have a head, we don't see who's pulling the strings. A bait and switch is pulled here as we are shown who is the "current" leader in the future, an adult Kid Karnevil. The flaw is that in explaining how the future came to be, it also glosses over many of the important details. Somehow, the darkness engine robs all heroes of its powers including Atlanteans of their natural ability to breathe underwater and the technological GL power-rings, while at least trying to give some lip service at explaining it. But, we are then expected to believe that the Reich is able to take over and people quickly align to their way of thinking, seeing the new government as being the rightful one and former heroes the criminals. It never explains how that transition happened, how the Fourth Reich went from a small band of a few super-powered Nazis to a movement that was able to take over the government and world and defeat all the non-powered heroes as well as the common men and women that would stand against them. It goes straight from the men and women on the street fighting to save the life of a now powerless and severely wounded Superman to a mob seeking to burn Power Girl at the stake in support of the Nazi regime. Nor does it explain exactly who came up with the idea of the Darkness Engine, knew that it would depower the heroes and put the Fourth Reich together in the first place. Some crucial parts of the story are missing for the presented sequence of events being at all credible.

Black Terror #10: After a promising improvement last issue, this one slides back into almost everything that makes the Dynamite titles a chore to read. Literally a chore in this case as the artwork is so darkly and heavily colored, it's a wonder they even bothered to do this as a comic book. Half the time Miss Masque's costume is more purple than red. It makes it difficult to really critique the storytelling skills of the penciller since it takes so long to just get past all the dense coloring to even figure out what he's trying to draw. Likewise, the ghostly flying pirate ship has a kewl special effect, done as a negative against the backdrop of everything and everyone else done as positive. But it makes the ship even busier and harder to read as a figure in already too dense and crowded artwork.

The primary purpose of comic art is to TELL THE STORY. This means everything, from penciling to inking to the coloring should work to that end. If any part actually impedes the movement of the story or the central message of a panel or page, then it fails. When you get a hyper detailed page by George Perez, the storytelling is still paramount and clear. The detail enhances, not impedes the process.

Unless I have forgotten something, it was Mystico from last issue that gave the Black Terror the ship. However, they refer to him as the Scarab several times, a completely different hero. Oops. And, the plot goes back to being about the Urn instead of just giving us a new threat and a little more variety to their world.

I did like the opening scene with the Magi. Still a bit curious as to which golden-age villain he's supposed to be, if any. We could use a little more development of the villains and surely not all the supervillains are part of the Supremacy or Claw.


Chuck Wells said...

Cash, I have to agree with your well-reasoned argument on 3-D Man. That wasn't the only problem I had with the first issue either, in fact so far all of the "Heroic Age" books seem to be channeling a brief pause or hiccup, as if the writers & artists are just too winded to produce a quality first issue on any of the relaunches, after barely catching a break from the last crossover.

Not only did I find the new Atlas to be a huge letdown, I was extremely disappointed in the new Avengers series and ditto for Legion of Super-Heroes, Paul Levitz or not.

I'm giving all of these turkeys a wide pass. The real heroic age for Marvel actually ended circa 1990 (or so).

cash_gorman said...

I hadn't had a chance to check out the Levitz Legion yet. If it's the emo Legion that was in the "Superman and Legion of 5 Worlds" mini or whatever that title was, not really interested.

With all of the reboots of the Legions, to the point that each creator just does their own Legion book without bothering to try to write anything faithful to what's going before, it's no longer THE Legion of Superheroes but A Legion of Superheroes. Thing is, I actually have liked some of the newer characters created for the Legion such as Gates and Monstress (and I liked ole Tellus as well). But, my ideal Legion is otherwise around the time before the death of Karate Kid.

There needs to be a law that no one is allowed to mess with the Cockrum design of Timber Wolf. Give him that look, strand him in the 20th Century and launch a book around just him fighting ninjas, super-powered samurai, pirates, drug lords, etc with art by someone like the Kuberts, Ed Beretto, Hannigan, or Francesco Francavilla.

Cannot say I would be actually disappointed with Atlas or the Avengers as I don't have any real hopes for them anyway and zero plans on picking them up.

Chuck Wells said...

The one decent thing about the new Legion series was seeing Jim Lee's alternate cover using Cockrum's 1970's costumed version of Saturn Girl.

If they would only skew back towards that Legion era, look, and attitude, and by theway, I'm all for bringing along those newer characters that you've mentioned AND then put a great artist on the book. I would buy that in a second!

I didn't buy Atlas of Avengers, just flipped through them, which is my point. They just didn't grab me as a potential reader!