Monday, January 12, 2009

The Weekly Chain Reaction: January 7, 2009

Given that there were only two new books I wanted this week, I purchased a few DC books that looked like I might be able to understand them without a doctorate in Multiversiology.

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The Amazing Spider-Man #582, by Dan Slott, Mike McKone, et al. Oh, thank god, they cured the Molten Man. I’ve never had much time for the Molten Man. I mean, he melts. And walks around. And moans. “I’m burrning, Spiderrr-Man! Burrrning Alive!” this, “And you can all burrn with me!” that (emphasis the Molten Man’s). So, you know, he’s burrrning, and … whatever. The thing is, although I feel like I’ve read a thousand Molten Man stories at this point, I’ve never been quite sure what his problem is, beyond the fact that he was melting and burning and moaning a lot. Nobody ever tried to give the guy a personality, let alone something that would make me care about him. So, please, please, let’s leave it at this, okay? No more Molten Man, or other melting men. In other news, it’s oddly refreshing to see a superhero fight in suburban New Jersey. Also, Peter Parker, Harry Osborn and Liz Allan seem like real people when they talk to each other, with some nice, unexpected character beats between them. On balance, that’s not a bad performance, I guess.

(Marvel Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B-

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Black Lightning: Year One #1 (of 6), by Jen van Meter, Cully Hamner, et al. … in which DC went and made an accessible superhero comic, to the astonishment of all. Ms. Van Meter’s capable writing and Mr. Hamner’s rich and dynamic artwork show real people living in real places and struggling with real issues, and the Black Lightning – a.k.a. Jefferson Pierce, a husband and father, teacher and former Olympic runner from the archetypal black American neighborhood plagued by gang violence – appears to be a much more nuanced and well-rounded character than your average superhero. But despite those strengths, Black Lightning: Year One remains a thoroughly conventional affair, unfortunately, with not much in the way of surprises. Further, if the Black Lightning’s Wikipedia entry is to be trusted, much of what’s established here was already in place, so I wonder why DC thought this was a story that needed to be told again. We’ve got a potentially intriguing character in the hands of some obviously very skilled creators here, but ultimately, the story doesn’t rise to the occasion.

(DC Comics, 23 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: C+

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Faces of Evil: Solomon Grundy #1 (one-shot), by Geoff Johns, Scott Kolins, et al. What’s the reasoning behind releasing a comic that claims to be a “one-shot” special, then turns out to be an advert for an upcoming miniseries? If DC were banking on the irresistibility of the material, this would rather seem like a miscalculation, at any rate, because it’s not even a very good advert. The plot is that Solomon Grundy, who’s kind of a zombie, throws a hissy fit, The End. Now, I’m not one of those old-fashioned people who postulate that a story necessarily needs a plot, but I certainly think it needs something. And this, unfortunately, has nothing. There’s a faint whiff of morbidity in the air, but it’s dispersed by some pointless fight with, of all characters, the Killer Croc. Seriously: Who thought it was a good idea to publish this? Does any half-cooked old rubbish need to be inflicted on an audience?

(DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: D-

* * *

Invincible Iron Man #9, by Matt Fraction, Salvador Larroca, et al. I need some help here: Is Tony Stark an active participant in that kiss on page 18, or is he just chewing lemons again, as he seems to be doing for much of the rest of the comic? It might be both, but the fact that I can’t tell is a problem. Also, Maria Hill’s handcuffs disappear at one point, only to pop up again a few pages later. Beyond Mr. Larroca’s hit-and-miss artwork, I’m not quite sure how the plot is supposed to work. In principle, turning Stark’s brain into a “hard drive” for all kinds of classified data and making Stark Norman Osborn’s most wanted man is an intriguing new direction for the series. But it never quite comes across what this means in practice. Will the rest of Stark’s brain be deleted along with the data, or won’t it? Does the process only work when he’s hooked up to his gizmo? And why is or isn’t that the case? Overall, Mr. Fraction has largely been able to use the “Dark Reign” crossover to his advantage, giving Iron Man a potentially interesting new handicap and building an intriguing rivalry between Stark and Osborn. But while the image of Osborn standing in his office, blood dripping on the floor from his busted knuckles after he’s evidently been pounding away at the window in a fit of rage (think Walt Kowalski in Gran Torino) is quite striking, it does beg the question why none of his underlings notice that their boss is, well, an outright nut. This isn’t one of the series’ better issues, I’m afraid.

(Marvel Comics, 23 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B-

* * *

Secret Six #5, by Gail Simone, Nicola Scott, et al. In one of the more intense and dramatically effective torture scenes I’ve come across in comics, Bane, one of the (superhuman) protagonists of this story, is chained to steel pillars while his interrogator is throwing bricks at him. The character’s unrelenting stoicism in the face of his ordeal stretches my belief, granted, and I wonder whether at least a tiny chink in his armor of enduring righteousness might not have served him better. What’s more distracting, though, is that the art isn’t really in tune with the script. While the narration talks about torn flesh, the art shows nothing of the sort; and whereas the narration – and, more crucially, the plot – require blood to run down Bane’s arms towards his chained wrists, he’s actually drawn with arms raised. The story’s big disappointment comes at the end, though, when, after first voting three to one not to rescue their teammate, the cast dutifully trot back to the beaten path of generic superheroism and have an epiphany in the end. That’s one perfectly good opportunity to be more interesting than the competition squandered, regrettably. Still, there’s a lot of creative zest here. In terms of how the action is staged and how the characters talk and interact, you can tell that the creators are trying to break from convention, and while the result may be flawed, they still do succeed a lot of the time. I like it.

(DC Comics, 22 pages, $ 2.99)

Grade: B-

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By the way, I almost impulse-bought The Punisher #1, but then I saw the $ 3.99 price tag. The comic is quite a bit thicker than usual, granted, but that’s due to a vast back-up section recapitulating the character’s history – which is fair enough, but not really something I’m inclined to pay an extra dollar for, particularly when I’m as lukewarm towards the actual comic as I was in this case. To make matters worse, Marvel solicited The Punisher #1 as a 48-page comic, so this is the second time after Astonishing X-Men: Ghost Boxes that they’re all but showing their audience the finger.

So, instead of buying an overpriced and probably mediocre Punisher comic, I went and grabbed a couple of old Steve Gerber Defenders comics, and I still congratulate myself on this exquisite decision.

2 comments:

Anonymous said...

Bane hasn't had any super powers since he stopped taking Venom after Knightfall. He's just big, strong, and skilled.

Just saying.

Marc-Oliver Frisch said...

I stand corrected.

In that case, I have to say he's taking the whole brick thing rather better than I would have expected.