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Wednesday, May 19, 2010

RECENT COMICS ROUNDUP

It's that time again, so here's a look at the relatively recent stuff I've chosen to rot my mind with.

DREADSTAR: THE BEGINNING


Containing the serial THE METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY (1980-1981) and the graphic novels THE PRICE (1981) and DREADSTAR (1981), this hardcover edition collects the stories that introduced Jim Starlin's Vanth Dreadstar character and I could not be happier to have it. As a Starlin fan since discovering his legendary CAPTAIN MARVEL during a family trip to Madrid back in 1974 and subsequently finding the rest of that run and his equally awesome WARLOCK run, THE METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY holds a dear place in my heart for being the first Starlin project I was in on from the get-go. Running in Marvel's EPIC ILLUSTRATED magazine from the spring of 1980 through December of 1981, THE METAMORPHOSIS ODYSSEY chronicles the efforts of Aknaton, the last of an ancient and powerful alien race that was destroyed by serial galactic slavers and planetary rapists called the Zygoteans (yeah, I know...), who seeks to destroy the Milky Way galaxy rather than see trillions of innocent souls fall to the inevitable encroachment of his enemies. The Egyptian-looking alien traverses time and space in setting up the evolution of beings who can help him attain his goal, and one of these people is Vanth Dreadstar, a superhuman warrior of immense and somewhat nebulous power who wields a mystical sword. Saying any more would reveal too much, but if you know anything about Starlin and his propensity for heady and allegorical cosmic opera, you know what to expect here. The difference is that this time around, all of the characters and situations were created by him from whole cloth and his painted visuals display a maturity and evocative skill earned from his time on WARLOCK. This stuff hails from right around when he did the excellent and moving THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN MARVEL graphic novel, and this volume maintains that high level of quality on every page. The subsequent DREADSTAR ongoing series was pretty good, but I lost interest in it as its narrative slowly degenerated into just another space adventure with little to distinguish it from its contemporaries, but the material found here is definitely worth your reading time. RECOMMENDED.

BIRDS OF PREY #1

Thank the comics gods that not only is BIRDS OF PREY back, but its signature scribe, the mighty Gail Simone, is back with it! Always a pleasure to read, Simone re-forms the mostly female team, led of course by Barbara Gordon, with the Black Canary, the Huntress and Lady Blackhawk (whom I love) as the core operatives, and all of the characterization magic Simone wielded during her lauded previous run fires on all cylinders. Rounding out the team with the post-BLACKEST NIGHT Hawk and Dove, things get off to a good start with crisp art by Ed Benes (some of his best work, in my humble opinion), so I heartily recommend getting in on this on the ground floor. The issue is not at all heavy with references to what came before, so it's easy for new readers to get a handle on, which is not to say that picking up the collected editions the original series isn't worth the cash and time. RECOMMENDED.

SECRET SIX #21

Cat-Man's quest for vengeance escalates as the Gail Simone-scripted excellence of D.C.s best ongoing series continues. The real question here is, now that BIRDS OF PREY is back and kicking ass, can Gail Simone steadily write the two best monthlies out there? I say "yes," but it will be interesting to observe as it happens.

THE FLASH #2

A brisk and kinda light read, as was the previous issue, this is entertaining and worth reading, but I'm betting it will read as being a lot more involving and cohesive when the first story arc is collected.

THE FLASH: SECRET FILES AND ORIGINS 2010 (ONE -SHOT)

This is one of those character/series-specific basic info handbooks that comics companies put out from time to time, with this one featuring a short story and detailed character bios written by Geoff Johns. Required reading for those new to the Flash.

BATMAN: THE RETURN OF BRUCE WAYNE #1 (of 6)

A decent Grant Morrison script and solid art by Chris Sprouse cannot mask the fact that this project has a built-in lack of suspense because we all know that Bruce Wayne will eventually reclaim the mantle of the Dark Knight. It's just a question of seeing exactly how Bruce will make his way back to present day Gotham City from the stone age, and I really could not care less about the inevitable permutations of the Batman that we will see Wayne embody during his trans-temporal journey. This was not bad by any means, but I say wait for the collected edition.

BRIGHTEST DAY #1

Much like issue #0, not much really happens here. I'm hoping all of this turns out to have a point, but as of yet I can't detect one.

POWER GIRL #11

With only one more issue to go until the culmination of her run, Amanda Conner turns in another tour de force of visual storytelling that reminds us of when comics were actually fun. Once she's gone from it, I don't give the continuation of this series more than another eight issues. Maybe.

JONAH HEX #54

Though its scripts by Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti are always solid, but JONAH HEX is a book that has been plagued by very iffy art. Not so with this issue, because the superlative Jordi Bernet is in the house and he was born to draw horse operas. The whole issue's a treat, plus it brings back Chula, the enthusiastic Mexican whore who's a dead ringer for Bernet's CLARA DE NOCHE and a comedic gold mine, so if you pick this one up, you win.

ORIGINS OF MARVEL COMICS (ONE-SHOT)

Presumably issued to coincide with Marvel's HEROIC AGE campaign, this one-shot recounts the origins of damned near every notable Marvel hero super-team and concisely does so with one page devoted to each of its subjects. As these things go, it's one of the best and a perfect place for those unfamiliar with Marvel's over seven-decade history to get acclimated. I definitely recommend it for new and old readers alike because it includes the current takes on all the origins and all the attendant updated status quos for the characters. The one thing that sticks in my craw is that if they bothered to include full pages of art and text devoted to Mockingbird, Spider-Woman, the Black Cat, the Hood, Power pack, Skaar and even the goddamned Pet Avengers, how can they overlook Namor? Sure, his origin pretty much amounts to his parents fucking and him being the logical result, but he's one of the major players in the Marvel Universe and, significantly, Marvel's very first superhero/anti-hero/villain. Doctor Doom and Loki got entries, so why not the Avenging Son?

THE WALKING DEAD #72

Same as every other month, this series continues to be worth following and is so briskly paced and sparsely worded that it's over almost immediately after you start reading it. Nonetheless, I'm still on board.

RESCUE #1 (ONE-SHOT)

Though not awful or anything, I fail to see the point in issuing this rather mediocre one-shot devoted to Pepper Potts and her Rescue armor. It doesn't tie in to IRON MAN 2 in any discernible way, so what was going on here? Miss this and you miss little.

ENTER THE HEROIC AGE #1 (ONE-SHOT)

After the avalanche of dour and over-long crossovers including CIVIL WAR, THE DEATH OF CAPTAIN AMERICA, SECRET INVASION, DARK REIGN and SIEGE, Marvel Comics now launches THE HEROIC AGE, in which they claim to be bringing things back to being fun and hopeful, in effect proving the narrative worthlessness of roughly four years of interconnected stories. (The CAPTAIN AMERICA stuff was by far the best of the whole dubious lot.) That kind of contempt for its audience is bad enough, but the opening volleys of this "new" direction failed to impress me in any way, which really saddens me because it brings back the Agents of ATLAS and does fuck-all with them. This one-shot contains five short pieces that serve as prologues to the upcoming AVENGERS ACADEMY (which is merely Marvel basically ripping off its own X-Men concept), AGENTS OF ATLAS, BLACK WIDOW, HAWKEYE & MOCKINGBIRD (aka Marvel's clone of the Green Arrow and Black Canary "rebel archer and his gal" dynamic) and Luke cage-fronted THUNDERBOLTS storylines, and there's nothing that interests me about any of them. Judging from what I read here, I will not be bothering with any of them, not even AGENTS OF ATLAS, which I enjoyed very much during its original run.

THE AVENGERS #1

*Sigh*...Yet another Avengers re-launch, this time featuring art that looked like John Romita Jr. phoned it in and a plot that's reads as a super-heroic ripoff of BACK TO THE FUTURE PART II. In a nutshell: Steve Rogers — no longer Captain America and now some kind of "cop of the world" after handing the shield over to Bucky — puts together one of the least interesting Avengers lineups on record, just as Kang the Conqueror arrives to inform them that their kids have fucked up the future and it's up to the Avengers to set things right. Ya know what? I just don't care how any of this turns out. For me, THE HEROIC AGE looks to be the latest cul-de-sac from the so-called House of Ideas, so I'll just stick to the FANTASTIC FOUR for my regular dose of the Marvel Universe soap opera and goings on and leave it at that. 'Nuff said, True Believers!

DAN DeCARLO'S JETTA

Comics archaeologist extraordinaire Craig Yoe brings us this charming hardcover collection and examination of legendary ARCHIE and "good girl" artist Dan DeCarlo's 1950's humorous sci-fi series that prefigured the similar Judy Jetson by a decade. Supplemented by a number of illustrations of the character by some current artists, JETTA chronicles the mis-adventures of the title character and her friends in a far-flung retro-future of the 21st century, and it's a far better reminder of when comics were fun than anything Marvel's feeble HEROIC AGE bullshit has to offer.

4 comments:

Mindlesskirby said...

oh man, I HAVE to pick up the Flash and Marvel origin stories because I'm sick of people asking me this shit ALL DEE TIME!!! Now I can just say "read this"

... and btw, Heroic Age Avengers or whatever it's called it strictly aimed for new young less then 10 year old readers. I know that everyone will argue and disagree, but face it, it's a basically MARVEL ADVENTURES re-branded. I guess I'm done reading Avengers now, shame really.

Deacon Blue said...

Not that I really have the money to be reading comics anymore these days (unless perhaps written by my college roommate Adam Beechen), but I did read the Civil War series itself, and some of the titles that tied into it most tightly (Spider-Man, Avengers, Iron Man mostly). I thought that it was actually kind of cool in many ways, and had hopes that it would take the Marvel universe into some edgy and interesting directions.

Boy, fuck was I wrong. Nothing like up-ending everything and then saying, "Oh, never mind..."

PiercingMetal Ken said...

Thanks Bunche for the cool notices about some interesting titles. I feel the "Birds Of Prey" and the "Flash" origin issue might interest me the most. Of course I have always had a soft spot for Green Lantern stories and the Marvel origins is a no brainer for me having been a lifelong fan of these heroes. Keep rocking.

Ps: Left off Dreadstar by accident. Nice to see those Epic stories put into one place. Amazing stuff.

ChrisV82 said...

I really hate when Marvel and DC have these epic crossover storylines. It only means you have to buy more books to follow along, because they never have any real ramifications. And while you're reading these shitty stories, which the writers on the bubble are required to force their prior stories to fit into, you can't help but thinking how awful it all is. Marvel (or DC) will tell you "No, no, it's great," but it never is, and then they do a quasi-reboot.

One title I would recommend (despite being 12 issues behind) is PS238. It's kind of kiddy, but it represents the purest superhero comic I have read in years, if not ever. It's beautiful and highly recommended.