From The Dept. of “Act Now”: I can’t tell you how surprised and immensely pleased I am that only two weeks after I sung the praises of Frank Thorne’s Red Sonja comics, Dynamite put them up on sale over at Comixology. You’ll have to act fast to catch them—this post goes live on August 22 and the sale ends on the evening of August 24—but even if you don’t want to pick up the first collected volume (which is on sale for two dollars less than the sale price I paid for it, the sad man said sadly), you can snag individual issues for ninety-nine cents. I guess I’d recommend issue The Adventures of Red Sonja #6 (a.k.a. Marvel Feature #6), since it’s got Thomas back on the scripting and features some of the art sequences I excerpted? But honestly, I snagged the remaining two collected volumes before I even thought to post this.
That out of the way, let’s get down to the book reviewing, eh? And for a change, these are new books! (Ish.) From Marvel!
GUARDIANS TEAM-UP #9: Yeah, like I said: Newish books. This sucker is two weeks old, and features Javier Pulido writing, drawing, coloring, doing the cover…guy probably stapled the suckers at the plant. Over at our progenitor site, the esteeemed Mr. Hibbs said many glowing things and since I was in the process of hoovering up all the comics (it had been three full weeks!)…
I found it simultaneously tremendous and underwhelming, and in that way it reminded me a lot of when Alex Toth would pop up and do an issue of Batman or something. Pulido’s art here is lovely, most especially in the way he uses color: there are sequences anchored by green, red, and blue, but it’s when Pulido drops those out to just use black, white, and gray he gets ultra-audacious. Steve Ditko believed good character design should allow you to identify the character by something as brief as their hand, and Pulido puts that approach to the test, giving us a tussle between two characters in silhouette after discreetly training us how to identify them. Until this issue, I’d never noticed how well the Black Cat falls under Ditko’s rules for design. And as an especially nice bonus, Pulido also takes the way Ditko would sometimes draw Spider-Man’s outfit as bunching up in odd places and amplifies it, giving Spidey that great DIY aesthetic.
And yet, I admit it, part of me wishes I’d waited the extra six months and encountered this as a little gem while scouring through Marvel Unlimited than shelling out $3.99 for it. (Yes, it’s time for Jeff to climb on his crazy Teeter-Totter of Economic Ambivalence!) Pulido’s storytelling skills are formidable but what we’ve got here isn’t a story: it’s a collection of entertaining sequences that fizzle out at the end, leaving just enough time for a poignant bit that feels unearned and unjustified. There are a few other bits and pieces that also seem off, not quite polished, even a page here or there where the design feels rushed. It doesn’t quite provoke the full-on glee in me that, say, Darwyn Cooke does when he drops in on an issue of Jonah Hex or something.
If this was the start of a run, of Pulido switching gears to a fulltime cartoonist, I’d be more excited and more forgiving. But Pulido whets your appetite with this, leaving you all the more aware the meal is nowhere in sight. It’s an especially neat little curio, Guardians Team-Up, the kind of thing that gets slipped onto the assembly line before disappearing into an enormous bin, buried by all the other product. It’s a fun, lovely read. But it’s not the instant classic I made the mistake of hoping it would be.
WEIRDWORLD #3: Similarly, Jason Aaron and Mike Del Mundo’s salute to ’70s van art continues to plague me with sequences so beautifully executed within a disposable cheeseburger wrapper of a story. Aaron doesn’t go full-on Conan with his story of Arkon, a lone warrior trying to find his home in a world gone mad: instead, he doubles down on the goofiness whenever possible, aware how hilarious it would be to do a Masters of the Universe comic like it was the most metal thing ever, so you have the apes of Apelantis and a character from The Saga of Crystar and vomiting dragons and what have you.
This probably for the best, as I’m sure people would tell me the whole thing would be terrible if played straight. And yet, I think when Aaron is on, he manages to at least work in enough serious bits there’s something to hold on to. Based on these issues, I think he needs that spot of seriousness because he’s not crazed enough to bring things to a fever pitch. By the time I got to the end of issue #1 and figured out the tone, I can’t say anything has really surprised me since. And nothing has really moved me either: every issue of this reads like book pitched as a six issue mini and given four. That’s a shame because if ever there was a title that could survive the Secret Wars event, you’d think it would be this one. (It’s also a shame because I’ve bought three issues of this and feel nothing.)
Well, nothing but appreciation for the art, I guess. I’m not in love with some Mike Del Mundo’s designs, which are too oblique to actually end up on the side of a ’70s van. And he uses a lot of layering tricks to keep his action scenes from looking more static than they really are, which I think is a problem when you’re doing an all-action barbarian book. But the coloring on the book by he and Marco D’Alfonso is fantastic, making scenes simultaneously dreamy and vivid. And I’m also a huge fan of his acting, so much so the mounting suspicion on Arkon’s face as he drinks in a tavern with a mysterious stranger was the real highlight of issue #3.
Also, as you my know, I’m one of the few people on this planet that considers myself a fan of Skull The Slayer, and I was initially worried about how the character might be handled or mishandled here…but, at least as he appears in this issue, I didn’t have anything to worry about. Aaron is either considerate (or indifferent) enough to have the Jim Scully who appears here be only a Secret Wars analog to the character from the ’70s comics. I think that does a bit of disservice to good ol’ Skull, but whatever. He didn’t suffer the fate of poor ol’ Warbow, so I should probably just shut up and count my blessings.
SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVES #1: Sometimes this incarnation of Marvel’s Secret Wars seems less like a crossover event than an experiment in Orwellian doublethink: how many opposing thoughts can a big summer event hold in its head? It’s the event where everything matters…except nothing matters! Where every book is involved…except for the ones that still aren’t! Where everything is connected…by all taking place in its own little ghetto! And where, by acting like it’s the most important event to have ever happened in Marvel history, so many books are actually letting their hair down and relaxing a little.
Every title I’ve read under the event (admittedly, not many) feels crazily impermanent, spending barely enough time to set up a new status quo (and acting like it’s been that way for years) so it can then be overturned for maximum drama. Perhaps for that reason, I found it easier to deal with this anthology of stories as each story is doing exactly what the bigger books are: giving you a new status quo, and then putting enough of a spin on it to rocket through the seven or so allotted pages.
For me, it really helped that the three lead stories hit my personal sweet spot: the lead is Michel Fiffe doing a loving tribute to the Ann Nocenti/John Romita, Jr. era of Daredevil. Fiffe uses his page limit to capture the claustrophobia and lunacy of that run, deliberately overpacking some pages with detail, jamming buildings into as many panels as he can, cluttering every rooftop with detritus and debris. The effect is overwhelming and intoxicating, tonally sympatico to that previous team’s work while capturing it in its own way.
Following that is a Ghost Rider/Ms. Marvel story written and drawn by Felipe Smith which is a flyweight trifle, fun but neither as ambitious or as disappointing as Guardians Team-Up (but also only a third the length). I can’t imagine you’d really like the story if you didn’t care for at least one of the leads, but I thought there was something amusing about how it reminded me of a Silver Age DC story, where a male and female character can’t even meet without their respective love interests freaking out. And there’s also something on-point about how Kamala Khan remains an upbeat fangirl, even as she’s working what’s basically the concession stand at Thunderdome. Having watched Marvel birth, raise, and then murder the idea of the superhero growing and changing over time, it was kind of a flashforward to the comics that’ll be happening after I’m dead, where Spider-Man is swinging over the streets of a pollution-suited populace.
Third up is a Danny Rand/Misty Knight story by Jeremy Whitley and Gurihiru that the 13 year old Danny/Misty shipper would’ve loved. Or I think 13 year old me would’ve loved it? It’s tough to tell because back then I might’ve been frustrated by how neither character looked the way John Byrne drew them, and instead looked like Disney characters.
But also in the many years since, my ship never quite seems to work with the way everyone else ‘ships Misty and Danny which is that they’re these two totally incompatible people who love each other but struggle to find a common bond apart from beating the crap out of something. That’s certainly the case with this story, which–again in almost Silver-Age DC fashion–is set after the couple have been married for a few years and have a girl. (And I appreciated that just as Luke and Jessica named their daughter Danielle, here Danny and Misty have named their daughter Lucy.)
I wish I could say the story works, considering it’s five pages of talk and two pages of fight, but the opening dilemma just doesn’t feel like it got resolved by what happened in the story. (I also wish I could say those closing captions weren’t a stealth shout-out to Rick & Morty, but, even if they’re not, they’re distractingly close.) (Finally, just to round out my trio of wishes, I wish that podcast where I talked about Danny and Misty was up yet, but it’s not.) But…it looks great? It reads pretty well? I’d be more than okay with more superhero comics where best friends in interracial relationships could trade babysitting duties and relationship advice while fighting dinosaurs?
Following that up is a three page Squirrel Girl story where writer Marguerite Bennet doesn’t quite get the character but Kris Anka does? It’s helped a lot by even more Tumblr-style fan service, a ballroom packed with fandom pairings, and the feeling that everyone creating it or portrayed in it is having fun. I’m okay with fun, honest!
Although having said that, I gotta admit the charms of Katie Cook’s Happy Ant-iversary are pretty much lost on me: it features anthropomorphic insect versions of Ant-Man (who is an ant) and the Wasp (an actual wasp) celebrating their anniversary with a scavenger hunt around Central Park with the help of insect versions of the Avengers. (“It was adorable,” he sneered.) I guess if you are the sort of person who finds insects cute, or that anything can successfully become cute if drawn with enough cuteness, then this might be your kind of thing. Me, I’ll leave the bugs, take the little ponies. (And with luck, that’s the most labored pun I’ll ever write.)
Oh, and I’m also not crazy about the five dollar price tag. But if that’s what it takes for Marvel to consider doing this kind of project when the status quo returns…I guess I’m down with it? I guess that should’ve been my whole capsule review. “SECRET WARS: SECRET LOVE #1: I guess I’m down with it?”
SECRET WARS #5: Hey, speaking of those crazy old Secret Wars, here’s Jonathan Hickman and Esad Ribic’s latest issue, only a little bit late and only a little bit boring and therefore a strong contender for the greatest crossover book of all time, right?
In fact, as long as I think of this book as just another disconnected-but-interwoven crossover book to the main event–Hickman and Ribic’s God Emperor of Doom miniseries–I actually dig its stately portrait of a not-ominpotent-enough ruler unable to keep the world he’s created from discovering the lie at its own heart. (Though, that said, why did this book spend so much time telling me stuff I already knew. I’m barely on Twitter and I didn’t even read the first issue of this event and somehow none of the stuff discussed by Doom and the Molecule Man was in any way new or surprising?) Sure, it’s turgid, but it seems deeply committed to its turgidness: it’s really into what it’s doing, in a way something like the flop-sweat stained Fear Itself was not.
But as the actual hub of the event, where things happen and spiral off into other books–or even giving you an idea of what those books are about–Secret Wars is kind of an impressive failure. At the end of issue #4, the survivors from the 616 universe were scattered all across Doomworld, and here we deal with the repercussions of that, in that Doom wants the people closest to him to find the survivors without them discovering how they escaped.
Okay, that’s a decent hook: survivors plunged into other books, changing up skewed situations even more. Fine. So which books should I go hunt up? Well, the last two pages of the issue give me the covers of 51 tie-in books, broken down by their, I dunno, code names (Last Days, Battleworld, and Warzones!)…but absolutely no indication as to which books would continue this story thread. Why the fuck wouldn’t you at least give a reader that? Are you hoping I’d buy all 51 books?
But, hell, maybe there aren’t books in which those heroes pop up and you get to see the rest of the story. Maybe they just pop up in two issues holding the Magical Marks of MacGuffinville and it’s on to the finale! Again, Secret Wars feels like an experiment in double-think and it’s just as true here, where Jonathan Hickman can be at the literal center of the Marvel universe and still come across as isolated, happy in his corner but alone, the focus of an entire line that is also being largely ignored. I’d be lying if I didn’t say it suits my current interest level in superheroes these days, but it seems like a damn peculiar way to go about things.