Posts Tagged ‘Crossovers’

Ultimate Spider-Man heads toward Ultimatum, away from Coherence

July 27, 2009

 

With Ultimatum #5 coming out this week, it seemed like an ideal time to do some thinking about something I noticed when reading the last Ultimate Spider-Man collection:

 

Ultimate Spider-Man vol. 21: War of the Symbiotes
By Brian Michael Bendis, Stuart Immonen, and Wade Von Grawbadger
Marvel – paperback, $15.99

Ultimate Spider-Man had a pretty good run, didn’t it? Twenty (twenty!) volumes of user-friendly soap opera and superheroics (or ten if you’ve followed it in the annual hardcovers, my preference until volume ten inexplicably cost the same $40 as the very long volume nine, despite being the shortest volume to date*), with a good share of laughs and “oh shit” moments along the way, illustrated in a clear and appealing, if unexciting, style. This volume is where it starts to come crashing down, and it’s a shame, because it isn’t due to anything native to the book itself.

It’s not Stuart Immonen’s art—this is only the second Ultimate Spider-Man book I’ve read that was entirely drawn by Immonen, and it’s a very different look than Mark Bagley brought to USM’s first 111 issues, but it works for me. Immonen’s is a more frenetic, angular look, but the characters are recognizably the same, while still bearing his stamp, and he brings the same acting chops and storytelling clarity.

It’s not Brian Bendis’s story, which advances the soap opera satisfyingly, catching up with what’s become of Gwen Stacy’s clone while continuing to actually make me care about Venom and even Carnage. Bendis has managed, up through the 128th issue, which this volume ends with, to give nearly every storyline elements that make them personal for Peter Parker without making it seem as though the world revolves around him—while the emotional component is enhanced by the Venom organism’s connection to him, his presence isn’t unrealistically necessary for the threat to emerge. It makes for a compelling read, and feels like a genuine threat while moving the overall story forward in several ways.

So what’s the problem? (more…)

My Favorite Killer

October 8, 2007
JLA/Hitman
by Garth Ennis and John McCrea
DC Comics – 2 saddle-stitched @ $3.99

LIKE IT SAYS ON THE SIDEBAR TO THE RIGHT, Garth Ennis and John McCrea’s original Hitman series is among my all-time favorite comic books, so I’ve been anticipating this since it was first announced as an arc in JLA: Classified over a year ago. The final product is different from what I thought it would be, but it nearly lived up to my too-high expectations.

The titular hitman is Tommy Monaghan, created by Ennis and McCrea as part of the Bloodlines crossover that ran through DC’s annuals in 1993. Bloodlines’ mandate was to create a new batch of superheroes who all got their powers from attacks by the alien race that served as the series’ threat. Tommy first appeared in The Demon Annual #2 and then became a recurring character in that series before starring in his own from 1996-2001. Lasting five years, Hitman was the only series to come from Bloodlines that ran any significant amount of time. The rest have seldom been seen because, as Green Lantern points out in JLA/Hitman #1, “Those guys are lame. I mean they are really lame.” JLA/Hitman is essentially a follow-up to the Eisner Award-winning Hitman #34, “Of Thee I Sing,” in which Tommy meets Superman on a Gotham rooftop and the two talk about the myth and reality of Superman before Tommy gets his autograph.

That right there is probably already more than a new reader needs to know going in, and is all more or less explained in the book itself. Ennis has clearly taken pains to make the book accessible to people who’ve never read Hitman and, though DC has made no official announcement about new reprints, the book seems intended to pique interest in the Hitman series proper. Just about every run-in Tommy’s ever had with a member of the Justice League is referenced, sometimes a little clumsily, with asterisk captions pointing to the issues the meetings appeared in (don’t see a lot of those anymore). In spite of this tendency toward explaining itself for new readers, there are still a few in-jokes left for old time Hitman fans, like passing references to Injun Peak and Bueno Excellente.

In some ways, JLA/Hitman reads as an opposite of The Authority: Kev, in which Ennis ostensibly wrote an Authority story, but relegated them to supporting character status, with his new character Kev Hawkins taking the lead. Here, most of the publicity and hype surrounded Tommy, and he is the most prominent character in both cover designs, but the book is more of a Justice League story featuring Tommy than the other way around. Most of the character conflict involves Superman and Wonder Woman, The Flash and Green Lantern, or Batman and everybody, and the plot involves a threat on the Watchtower.

Not that any of this is a problem. Turns out Ennis writes a great Justice League and should really be given more opportunities to write Superman if he wants them (given the way that he presents Superman as the only hero that Tommy and his friends doesn’t consider a joke, he may well). Ennis “gets” Superman and is able to explain his motivations, his essential goodness, and how inspiring it is for others just to be in his presence without being corny.

And Tommy’s inclusion is definitely more than a gimmick. The first issue features an extended scene at Noonan’s Bar with the whole gang, and two scenes with Tommy’s best friend, Natt, and his new girlfriend have some of the funniest jokes in the series. A bit too much of the first half of the story involves Tommy standing around simply commenting on the action, but he becomes essential once the attack on the Watchtower happens, and after that it’s his show. As is the standard in this type of story, it’s Tommy who is left standing at the end and it comes down to him to save the Justice League and the world. Tommy’s actions and the Justice League’s reactions to them bring the philosophical themes that Ennis has built up between the heroes to a satisfying conclusion, and the end of the book brought a wistful smile to my face.

The other half of Hitman is, of course, John McCrea, who provided the art for all of Tommy’s Demon appearances and nearly every issue of Hitman. McCrea has a tough job here, drawing Tommy and the gang in the style they’ve always appeared in, while having to put a more conventional spin on the superhero elements of the book. He does a pretty good job, but it’s a bit inconsistent, with characters looking better in some panels than others. Tommy’s look comes very naturally and Superman has clearly gotten a lot of attention (McCrea admitted in a Newsarama interview to not being happy with how he drew Superman in Hitman #34, and he redeems himself here, though his Clark Kent looks different in every appearance); the other characters generally look good, but are more hit and miss.

On the whole, I preferred McCrea’s original Hitman work with Gary Leach inking him. Leach smoothed out some of the sketchiness of McCrea’s work while preserving its cartooniness. Some of the closeups here are a bit over-rendered, with hatch lines that are too thick. But other scenes look great; the trip to Noonan’s, with the kind of “dubious” clientele that McCrea is more comfortable drawing, is a joy to look at. And McCrea excels at the necessary gore and nails all of the reveal shots of the gruesome creatures invading the Watchtower. David Baron provides traditionally superhero-y colors, so the book overall ends up looking pretty different from the old Hitman series, which had a more low-key palette courtesy of Carla Feeny.

Overall, the book succeeded at taking me back to the feel of one of my favorite series, which I’ve missed a long time. Readers of Hitman need this, and anyone who likes action and over-the-top humor, or Superman, would do well to give it a try. The old Hitman series is also worth tracking down, Hitman #34 at the very least. The only warning I would give is that JLA/Hitman does reveal the ending of the original Hitman series and goes into a little detail about how things went down.

What I read instead of “Civil War” Part 2

August 10, 2007

Tuesday I ran an old review of Legends, which I read while Civil War was running. Today, the other series I read during that time that sounded like the descriptions of Civil War I was hearing, also reviewed in March.


Black Panther: Enemy of the State II
By Christopher Priest & Sal Velluto
Marvel Comics – Black Panther vol. 3 #41-45 @ $2.50
  

The original “Enemy of the State” saw an attempted coup against Wakanda. Here, the same organization has set its sight on America and the only way to stop them is corporate raider tactics between T’Challa and Tony Stark.

If you’ve read Priest‘s Black Panther before, you know the plotting style: dense, complex, jumps around in time a lot, hilarious. Narrated as usual by State Department employee, Everret K. Ross, there are two parallel plotlines running here: T’Challa teamed up with/versus Stark and Ross dragged along for the ride with Jack Kirby’s version of the Panther (where he came from goes unexplained, but enough hints are dropped that it’s a safe bet that it’s revealed later). Ross’s interaction with the more adventurous, gung-ho Kirby Panther and his sidekicks is comedy gold, as the Kirby Style makes for great adventure with a fun and silly Panther, but doesn’t quite jibe with later renditions.

As for the main plot, the twists and turns are excellent. Panther is in full “hard to trust because he knows more than you and isn’t going to tell you anything” mode. Stark already has reason to distrust him, as it’s already been revealed that T’Challa joined the Avengers essentially to spy on them, which gives Tony a pretty good reason to wonder why T’Challa isn’t telling him much now. Before it’s all over, they’ve taken over each other’s companies and a knock down, drag out fight takes place in the sewers. It turns out that they’re fighting because some of the time, the Tony we’re seeing is a doppleganger, a time-displaced future Tony who is being controlled by the real bad guys (also the case with Bush and the Canadian Prime Minister) and this is why T’Challa couldn’t tell him everything.

Admittedly, this is more straight superhero and less intricate politics than the first “Enemy of the State,” but it’s still strong plotting and plenty thrilling. The art is strong and clear as always, with Sal Velluto doing an excellent job of integrating the Kirby characters, drawn in a Kirby-homage style, with the rest of the book. The whole package just screams out for a trade. The only thing that stuck out at me was a personal bias and easily explained away: Bush is written as a clever and thoughtful leader, someone that you disagree with, but who has thought it all out and is entirely reasonable, an approach that makes for some comedy while preventing him from being a caricature, but which doesn’t exactly jibe with personal accounts of the real president. However, this can be attributed to his not revealing (all of) his true colors at the time of publication, and also the fact that Queen Divine Justice is arguing with the doppleganger Bush, not the real deal.

Added bonus: A not-lame reference to Lloyd Bentsen’s “You’re no Jack Kennedy” quote.

Recommended

Part 1.

What I read instead of “Civil War” Part 1

August 7, 2007

I skipped Civil War. I’m not usually into the big crossovers to begin with (though, sign me up for Grant Morrison and J.G. Jones on Final Crisis) and Mark Millar does nothing for me, so that was an easy decision. However, it was impossible to be on the internet and into comics and miss the Civil War developments, so I was fairly familiar with the broad strokes, and a few of the books that I read while it was coming out struck me as similar to what I was hearing. So, here’s the first of two re-presentations of reviews from March, 2007.


Legends: The Collection
By John Ostrander, Len Wein & John Byrne
DC Comics – softcover, $9.95
 

First, the cover: I now have a better sense in my head of when Byrne the artist went wrong; apparently it was between 1987 and 1993 (though I do remember really enjoying the first Generations series in 1999), as the interior artwork is well-rendered and dynamic, while the cover, copyrighted 1993, lacks that dynamism and appears to feature monkey-people.

As to the insides: I liked it. It’s the first crossover of the Post-Crisis universe and leads into the Giffen Justice League and the Ostrander Suicide Squad, as well as introducing the new Wonder Woman to most of the other characters. As an exercise in world-building, it establishes a lot in 6 issues. The story itself is fun. I don’t know if it’s the first instance of Darkseid as entire-DCU-villain, but it’s the oldest I’ve read. Basically, Darkseid is happy, but not entirely. The subjugation of Apokalips continues swimmingly, but Earth has been a thorn in his side long enough, and he decides it’s time to do something about it. Since the real problem is Earth’s heroes, the solution is to neutralize them and then take power.

To this end, he sends Glorious Godfrey, who has strong powers of influence, to Earth as G. Gordon Godfrey to stir up anti-metahuman sentiment. The inciting act is Captain Marvel, newly integrated into the DCU, destroying the “goliath” Macro Man. Sure, he’s a bad guy and he was smashing stuff left and right, but the sight of a giant person bursting into flames and falling to earth understandably makes people nervous. Combined with Godfrey’s rhetoric, the incident leads to Reagan issuing an executive order outlawing superheroes. Given the explicit inclusion of Darkseid as the secret manipulator and Godfrey’s powers, this is all logical and easy to follow. Reagan’s likeness, by the way, turns out to be both a strength and weakness of Byrne’s. His first few drawings are spot on, but he’s apparently satisfied having captured the Gipper once, because each subsequent drawing looks less like him – it doesn’t help that the colorist can’t decide what color his hair is.

This setup, which makes no attempt to be grounded in reality, signifies the major difference between Civil War and Legends, which is essentially one of realism versus metaphor. Naturally, in the real world, there are a lot of reasons why super powered beings might present problems, but in the DCU (of the 80s, at least) it’s a given that there are threats that only the superheroes can handle and that they are necessary. In the real world, yeah, I’d be for the registration (assuming the sane version of the bill that apparently appeared in some of the Civil War spin-offs), but if Darkseid is plotting to take over the earth, I want Superman doing his thing. Interestingly enough, Superman is the only one to obey Reagan’s order and basically stays out of the fight until it’s lifted.

Anyway, the whole thing makes a great superhero yarn, and your view of humanity will color your opinion of scenes in which cops attempt to arrest heroes while letting the villains they were fighting run away. Plus, there are some amusing scenes, such as when a riled-up mob turns on Captain Boomerang. It all culminates in a final brawl against Godfrey’s Warhounds and Darkseid’s Parademons on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial, and I think I can say that one side wins without giving two much away. The conclusion, in which the children of America stand up for the heroes, is a bit corny, but works both as a shout-out to the reader demographic DC hopes to have and in-plot based on some justification with Captain Marvel’s alter ego, Billy Batson, and then-Robin, Jason Todd (it’s also likely a reference to Mr. Smith Goes to Washington).

It’s not the best universe-wide crossover I’ve ever read, but it stands as an appropriate Post-Crisis affirmation of what DC wanted to be about at the time and a nice big superhero fight. Worth reading.


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