Alternate Cover - 4th October 2006
After a week of technical ups and downs on NTS, this week's comics reviews are slightly delayed if only to give the Sonic preview I recently helped to write some time to breathe a bit first (and to give me time to read everything properly!). One day later than usual, I've got an unprecedented look at 13 different comics for you. It's okay, you can thank me later. For now we've got something of a spider-centric week with Amazing Spider-Man #535, Civil War: Front Line #6, Stan Lee Meets Spider-Man and Ultimate Spider-Man #100. Plus 9 other comics.
Amazing Spider-Man #535
Publisher Marvel • Writer J. Michael Straczynski • Artist Ron Garney
Since Civil War started, it's been made pretty clear - from the cover depicting him being chased down by his old enemies, to the hints that an eventual move away from his new red and gold costume might be politically motivated - that Peter's decision to throw in with Iron Man and the pro-Registration heroes was going to come back to haunt him in a big way.
Like it or not, any impartiality from the creators on the issue has, halfway into the event, been undermined completely by the fact that the Pro-Reg side are little more than jackbooted facists ignoring human rights and otherwise acting as the villains - even going so far as to employ the actual villains. Spider-Man's place on that side has been hard to understand.
Well, this is the issue we've all been waiting for. Spidey finally stops being Iron Man's bitch and the two face down. On the last bastard page. Or, if you like, on the cover, which probably could've been a little more subtle about the plot. One wonders if we're not going to see the rest of this fight over in Civil War #5, whenever that comes. As ever, Amazing, despite being front and center of Civil War crossover titles, continues to leave me unimpressed. Garney's art and especially Straczynski's writing never excited me much as a fan - the dialogue's bad, the pacing's odd, people are barely acting in-character (Iron-Jerk excepted) and yet it's one of the biggest selling titles of the crossover, so who am I to complain? I don't like it much, but there's no denying its importance in helping us understand Peter's situation - unmissably crucial if you're reading Civil War, and unreadably dull if you're not.
Civil War: Front Line #6
Publisher Marvel • Writer Paul Jenkins • Artist Various
Front Line is, in case you haven't noticed by now, an anthology title. It's also blowing the sales of any other Marvel anthology ongoing for the past decade (at least!) totally out of the water. Anthologies tend to suffer from wildly varying quality and readers eventually stop caring to wade through the mud to get to the gold. Halfway through, I'm starting to wonder if, despite having just one writer, Front Line won't be viewed with the same distaste as its predecessors.
The lead story, featuring Ben Urich and Sally Floyd, continues to be the most enjoyable by far, as the two reporters commentate on events from the main series while on the sidelines. The mis-rendering of Goliath's death as something vastly different from its depiction in Civil War #4 serves as little distraction from Urich's killer interview with Stark about both that event, and the apparent employment of villains.
In the second ongoing, Speedball is finding out the hard way that he's more or less in the Guantanamo Negative Zone, until Reed takes him to the Capitol only for him to be shot, Lee Harvey Oswald-style. It started off quite well, but the political metaphors are being laid on with a trowel and have all the subtlety of a brick in the face. It's not making for great reading. The remaining features, a Wonder-Man versus the Atlanteans chapter, and yet more of those embarassing allegories of Marvel's Civil War to, er, actual wars, cementing the premier Civil War spin-off as being more Joey than Frasier.
Stan Lee meets Spider-Man
Publisher Marvel • Writer Stan Lee/Joss Whedon • Artist Oliver Coipel/Michael Gaydos
Almost strangely, the best title of the week is actually written by none other than the original Marvel scribe, Stan Lee himself. It's long been sheepishly admitted in comics circles that Stan, while a genius in his day, is probably somewhat past his prime. Yet, reading this, he seems as sharp as ever.
In Stan's lead 8-pager, Spidey swings by with a crisis of confidence, thinking of quitting the Hero business, only for Stan to cheer him up and bolster his resolve to carry on with, er, talk of licensing contracts and economic forecast regarding the sale of Spider-Man rights. It's witty, wry, post-modern - perhaps a little bitter - and it's the last thing I expected to read from Stan. Coipel's art translate's well to the flat, 60s style and I find myself wishing the piece was longer.
The companion pieces which round out the title are also great, with a timely reprint of the classic Lee/Romita Amazing Spider-Man #87, "Unmasked at Last" (refer to Civil War #2) a second original 8-pager from Whedon and Gaydos, which is a comedy piece about interdimensional comics retailers meeting up and the one from our universe discovering that, well, there's only one Stan Lee, and finally a 2-pager by Fred Hembeck. In yet another week full of Civil War comics, this issue proves you can't beat classic action.
Ultimate Spider-Man #100
Publisher Marvel • Writer Brian Bendis • Artist Mark Bagley
Meanwhile, in the Ultimate Universe, Bendis and Bagley are giving Stan a run for his money, by teetering right on the edge of breaking the Lee/Kirby longest-run-on-a-Marvel-title record, set by #104 consecutive issues of Fantastic Four. Bendis has chosen to celebrate this with the most revelation-crammed, status-quo altering Spider-Man story to be done in the Ultimate Universe yet.
Far from paying lip service to established ideas and retelling the stories (as the Ultimate continuity tales often did back in the day) Bendis has totally confounded expectations by showing that in this universe, Peter's father is ALIVE. That's just one massive revelation in a series of many. During a sequence where Peter's father explains what's going on, I was right there with the characters in screaming "GET ON WITH IT!" only to have my frustration compounded by interruptions and deflections. When a comic affects you on that visceral a level, you know it's good writing.
The only downside to the issue is that, despite being sized (and priced) larger, the issue is padded out with text and sketch pieces instead of actual stories in what appears to be a pretty clear attempt to make a larger page count without paying the writer/artist rates extra story would entail. It's not a trend I hope to see more of, but the implication is that X-Men #200 is receiving the same treatment soon, so I'll have to keep an eye out for that. A+ for the story, but for the whole more pages, more pounds, less story package...
American Virgin #7 - Seagle/Cloonan
Despite working alongside such giants as Steven T. Seagle, Becky Cloonan and Ryan Kelly, it's Brian Miller's colouring that really makes this issue. The visuals alone are great, but the colouring brings them to the next level. I can't say I've noticed it before now, but this issue was excellent. Story-wise, Adam's crusade to bring his girlfriend's killer to justice (whatever that entails) gathers pace, while the wider theme of sexual exploration is tackled. The point of the arc appears to be to highlight the inconsistent nature of Christian attitudes towards violence and sex. Adam is happy to effectively sign the death warrant of a man, but nonetheless upset to see girls kissing each other. Still a great title.
Batman #657 - Morrison/Kubert
We're now three issues into my flirtation with the Batman title, the first ever DCU title I've bought on a regular basis, and it seems that old habits die hard, because I'm on the brink of dropping it. While some of it is amusing, it's mainly through the gimmicky juxtaposition of Batman-as-parent figure. It'll depend how I'm feeling next time the issue hits the shelves - and what else I'm buying that week - but this isn't a patch on Morrison's Superman, or even his X-Men work. Between his writing and Kubert's art, it's technically brilliant, but if I can't muster up any interest after 3 issues, it's probably time to jack it in.
Cable & Deadpool #32 - Nizieza/Johnson
This issue signals a pretty clear turning point in the relationship between Cable and Deadpool, telegraphing the status quo for the next few issues, and giving Deadpool, the insane mercenary with a wit quicker than his bullets, some actually decent character material, by god. Nicieza has done an excellent job of tying in the Civil War thematics and plot into an ongoing title without disrupting the flow of it, keeping it written in such a way that I'm actually getting interested in the regular title's story - comic writers take note - that's how to turn a line-wide crossover from an unwanted intrusion into something positive.
Captain America #22 - Brubaker/Perkins
Brubaker, on the other hand, has plumped for the "throwaway" option of dealing with a crossover, whereby the ongoing plot grinds to a halt and you get an issue that it feels like you could entirely ignore. If I wanted to read an issue of Sharon Carter, Agent 13, I wouldn't be buying a comic called "Captain America." I gather that Brubaker's run has been lauded by just about everyone, but an issue like this isn't going to make me stick around to find out.
Civil War: Young Avengers & Runaways #3 (of 4) - Wells/Caselli
At this point in the series, I get the feeling I'm just going to have to wait until the next issue and then read it all back in one go. Doing a meet up of two teams, getting the obligatory misunderstanding out of the way and both introducing and defeating the villain was never going ot be easy in 4 issues, and it's way too fast-paced for someone like me who has no understanding of who the characters are or, in some cases, even what team they're on. The art is great and the writing seems okay, besides the fact that it's horribly inaccessible to incoming fans, but let's face it, on a title like this with the Civil War name on the front, accessible should've been the name of the game to try and get the people reading this onto the arent titles. Don't make the same mistake I did and let this series be your introduction to both teams.
Daredevil #89 - Brubaker/Lark
In which Brubaker makes his first big misstep with the title. The idea of Murdock swanning around Europe looking for answers is an appealing one, yes, if only because it seems exceedingly rare for Marvel's heroes to leave New York, much less America sometimes. The problem, however, occurs when Murdock suits up as Daredevil and starts jumping around Italy. It's not far short of being completely ludicrous, given that Matt's gone to the trouble of assuming a false identity to lay low. Otherwise a compelling read, the tone shifting further away from Bendis' run without losing the quality.
Heroes for Hire #2 - Palmiotti/Tucci
Launching a title with a Civil War crossover seems like a pretty good idea, but does it work in practise? For its second issue, H4H amps up the Civil War content and throws in a few guest stars, while keeping things action-filled even if there is a bit too much of Palmiotti's tendancy to over-dialogue things a little evident. Tucci's art remains the primary selling point but overall this is an offbeat book reaching back to the 70s Marvel Kung Fu and Blaxploitation titles but with a modern bent - there's little else like it froming out right now.
Marvel Milestones: X-Men & The Starjammers #2 - Claremont/Lee
Having fallen in love with the story all over again with the previous reprint, I was really looking forward to this one. I wasn't disappointed at all, and seeing Claremont and Lee's work again makes me wish there were more comprehensive collections of that era. It does, however, make me feel a bit old when comics I remember coming out first time are being given "classic" reprints. It might be the nostalgia speaking, but this is still excellent - the X-Men the way I remember it.
X-Men #191 - Carey/Henry
That's not to say that the current iteration isn't good, however. As someone relatively unfamiliar with his work, seeing Carey on this title has been a surprise for me, because he's doing it much better than anyone has in years. With his team of X-Men assembled, it's now time for them to fight some of those most traditional of ill-defined X-Men villains "the next step in evolution" - as ever, ir's pretty ill-defined, falling into the usual questions of "how are these people not just mutants, then?" but on the other hand, at least Carey has given them all a distinct personality each, something previous versions of this idea tended to lack (The Neo, I'm looking at you.)