Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Review: Avengers Assemble, Vol. 1

Avengers Assemble Volume One Kurt Busiek George Pérez George Perez Hank Pym Giant-Man Machine Man X-51 Thor Wasp Stingray Rick Jones Scarlet Witch Magdalene Hawkeye Sandman Captain America U.S. Agent Sersi Beast Iron Man Marvel Cover hardcover hc comic bookWriters: Kurt Busiek, Len Kaminski
Artists: George Pérez, Carlos Pacheco
Collects: Avengers #1-11, Avengers/Squadron Supreme ’98 (1998)
Published: Marvel, 2004; $29.99 (HC), $34.99 (TPB)

Avengers Assemble, Vol. 1 collects the first eleven issues of the series’ 1998 reboot, which began the same month as the Iron Man reboot and the month after Captain America’s. Writer Kurt Busiek had been working in comics for over a decade at this point, but had really only gained wider recognition in 1994 with the epic miniseries Marvels, illustrated by Alex Ross. Still, he was fairly untested when it came to the ins and outs of writing a major monthly series, and it was on Avengers that he got his first shot. (While it’s true that Busiek was writing Thunderbolts at this time as well, I would argue that it hadn’t yet exploded into the hugely popular series it would later become.)

The other major creative force behind the relaunch was George Pérez, one of the true modern masters of comic book art. Pérez is probably best known for his work on the 1984 DC miniseries Crisis on Infinite Earths, in which he famously rendered almost every single one of the company’s enormous pantheon of characters. Whereas most artists would likely balk at the thought of drawing so many different characters in a single issue, Pérez does so with enthusiasm and aplomb. In Avengers, it’s not at all uncommon for him to cram dozens of characters into as many as twenty panels on one page, and in a way that, amazingly enough, keeps the action flowing smoothly and at breathtaking speed. His artwork is so dense, in fact, that a single page of his can look incredibly daunting when viewed as a whole – but taken piece by piece, each panel becomes a totally comprehensible, self-contained work of art in its own right.

The first three issues see the reformation of the Avengers, who had disbanded while most of the team was trapped in the alternate Heroes Reborn universe. As always, they unite to face a common threat – this time it’s the sorceress Morgan Le Fay, who captures the Scarlet Witch and uses her magic-based powers to remakes reality as a medieval society under her own rule. This gives Pérez the chance to do what he does best, drawing tons of characters and designing brand-new, medieval-themed costumes for each of them.

Review Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 Kurt Busiek George Pérez George Perez Thor Scarlet Witch Captain America Captain Marvel Monica Rambeau Hank Pym Ant-Man Giant-Man Hawkeye Beast Sersi Starfox Spider-Woman Quasar Swordsman Magdalene Darkhawk U.S. Agent Black Widow Sandman Tigra Moonstone Binary Carol Danvers Justice Firestar Hercules Sandman Machine Man X-51 Stingray Black Knight Vision Iron Man Quicksilver Crystal Falcon She-Hulk Living Lightning Firebird Namor the Sub-Mariner D-Man Demolition Man Marvel hardcover hc comic bookWhat I like most about this storyline is that it takes something which has always been somewhat of a sticking point between me and the Avengers – the fact that it’s a team whose ranks include an overwhelming number of no-name characters – and it turns that into something fun and almost self-effacing by throwing every single person who’s ever been an Avenger into one big adventure. The emphasis is kept on the most prominent team members (Captain America, Iron Man, and Thor), but even the parts without them are so well-written that despite not knowing anything about characters like Living Lightning or the Swordsman, I felt completely up-to-speed whenever they showed up. It’s a set-up that could never work for the long haul, though, and the third issue ends, fittingly enough, with Morgan Le Fay defeated and the Beast asking the one question that’s sure to be at the front of the reader’s mind: “What are we gonna do with 39 Avengers?”

The team is whittled down to a permanent – and, in the long term, much more manageable – roster in the next issue. The team consists of Captain America, Iron Man, Thor, Hawkeye, the Scarlet Witch, Warbird (Carol Danvers, also known as Ms. Marvel and Binary), reserve members Justice and Firestar of the teenage New Warriors, and the Vision (whose android body has been destroyed, so he exists only as a sentient hologram in the mansion). From the beginning, the character drama takes precedence over the Avengers’ actual exploits as a team, and Busiek executes this side of the story perfectly.

Most of the melodrama revolves around the team’s lesser characters – after all, the “Big Three” each have their own ongoing series already. The most important subplot is the Scarlet Witch’s inner conflict over her sudden ability to resurrect Wonder Man from the dead in times of need. Since the Vision’s thought patterns and personality are actually based on Wonder Man’s, an interesting conflict arises as Wanda develops romantic feelings for the dead Avenger: Vision is alive and in love with her, but he can’t touch her, while Wonder Man is dead and he can. (I think it’s worth mentioning that the Scarlet Witch has incredibly strange taste in men: her first husband was a robot who somehow conceived children with her, and here she’s in love with a dead man made out of pure energy. And then there’s the borderline-incestuous relationship some writers have portrayed between her and Quicksilver, her brother...but let’s not even go there.)

Ms. Marvel (sorry, but I don’t think I’ll ever be able to call her “Warbird”) is a huge source of drama too, at least for the book’s first half. Over the first few issues, it becomes increasingly apparent that something is really wrong with her; the cosmic-oriented powers she possessed as Binary have suddenly stopped working, and she almost always seems to be drinking. This leads into the “Live Kree or Die” crossover discussed in last week’s review of Iron Man: Deadly Solutions. While that book collects only the first issue of that story, Avengers Assemble collects just the last one. This isn’t nearly as detrimental as it might sound, since Busiek does a great job of summarizing what has happened in the other three parts, although reading the fourth part by itself, you still certainly feel as though you’re missing some of the story. There’s more to be said about “Live Kree or Die,” but I’ll save that for my review later this week of Avengers: Supreme Justice, the only trade in which parts two and three have ever been collected.

Review Avengers Assemble Vol. 1 Kurt Busiek George Pérez George Perez Vision Marvel hardcover hc comic bookThe other intra-team conflicts are fairly conventional, but Busiek pulls them off well. Hawkeye is miffed at no longer being a team leader, paving the way for him to leave the Avengers and take command of the Thunderbolts. Justice and Firestar, who are comparatively younger than the rest of the team, are the obligatory rookies – Justice the overeager one who’s dreamed of being an Avenger his entire life, and Firestar the more reluctant one who isn’t sure whether she even wants to be a superhero at all. They don’t join the cast on a full-time basis until after Ms. Marvel is booted off the team in “Live Kree or Die,” but their presence helps to lessen the occasional sense of erudition which, for better or worse, has come to be associated with the Avengers over the years.

The final issues bring some closure to Wanda’s mysterious ability to resurrect Wonder Man while at the same time telling a story very much like Blackest Night, in a thematic sense at least, only it does so much more succinctly and coherently. I won’t spoil how it ends, but it does bring about some pretty big changes which I look forward to seeing play out in the next volume.

Also included in the first Avengers Assemble collection is the 1998 Avengers/Squadron Supreme Annual, which is co-scripted by Busiek and Len Kaminski. This done-in-one story builds off of the two issues just prior to “Live Kree or Die,” in which the Avengers and the Squadron Supreme duke it out when the Squadron manages (for what must be the hundredth time) to get itself mind-controlled by a totally inconsequential villain. The two teams actually work together in the Annual, which is a welcome change, since by this point I was fairly tired of seeing them fight for no good reason. Aside from Mark Gruenwald’s miniseries in the 1980s and J.M. Straczynski’s reimagining of the team in the 2000s, I’ve never been a big fan of the Squadron, and the average quality to this story didn’t do much to change my mind. The art is by Carlos Pacheco, an excellent artist in his own right who nevertheless pales in comparison to Pérez. Don’t get me wrong, it’s not a bad story at all; it just doesn’t match the same level of excellence as the rest of the book.

Avengers Assemble was originally published as an oversized hardcover, and although it’s out of print now, it’s still pretty easy to find online. On the other hand, if you’d prefer to wait and pay a bit less for it, Marvel is printing a new softcover version in just a few months. The pages won’t be oversized like they are in the hardcover, which is unfortunate, but I’m sure Pérez’s artwork will still look amazing even at standard size. Either way, as the start of what can easily be called the definitive Avengers run of the last two decades, the first volume of Avengers Assemble is a book wholly deserving of a place on your bookshelf.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Friday, August 27, 2010

Review: Iron Man: Deadly Solutions

Review Iron Man Deadly Solutions Kurt Busiek Sean Chen Patrick Zircher Black Widow Cover Marvel Premiere Classic Hardcover hc comic bookWriter: Kurt Busiek
Artists: Sean Chen and Patrick Zircher
Collects: Iron Man #1-7 (1998)
Published: Marvel, 2009; $24.99

Just as it was for Captain America, the Fantastic Four, and a number of other prominent Marvel heroes, 1998 was a significant year for Iron Man. With the much-maligned Onslaught and Heroes Reborn crossover events now firmly in the past, the character was given a new series, a new writer and artist, and a new thematic direction. Iron Man: Deadly Solutions collects the first seven issues of that creative effort, and the result is, for the most part, a success.

The book is composed of one- and two-issue stories, all of which are fairly self-contained but also contribute to a larger ongoing plot that involves, among other things: a mysterious villain known only as the Arms Merchant; the takeover of Stark Industries by another major tech corporation; and Tony Stark’s seeming return from the dead, now that he has suddenly reappeared after several months spent in an alternate universe. That’s what I like about this era in the Marvel Universe – the feeling that you can read and enjoy any one issue by itself, but that when read together with the rest of the series, it builds towards something more substantial. It’s a nice balance between the “any issue could be someone’s first” mentality and the extreme decompression that would come to characterize many superhero comics just a few years later.

That being said, in some respects Busiek doesn’t make as much of his opportunity for a fresh start as he could have. The series still operates under the ridiculous pretense that the world believes Tony Stark and Iron Man are two different people – a lie that’s been exposed and subsequently explained away more times than I care to count. You would think, with both of them suddenly returning from the dead at the same time, that the world would finally have figured things out this time.

Practical issues aside, I’ve never understood why Tony even bothers maintaining dual identities in the first place. Is it to protect himself from Iron Man’s enemies? Or is it to protect Iron Man and (by association) the Avengers from the constant controversy that surrounds Tony Stark? The first explanation makes even less sense than usual in this particular story, since Tony himself, not Iron Man, is the target of the Arms Merchant’s kidnappers and assassins. The second doesn’t work either, since Iron Man publicly aligns himself with Tony – at one point even going on television to dare Tony’s enemies to come after him – essentially taking on a corporate-lackey image that’s even worse than the one he would have if he were just to tell the truth.

As much fuss as I’ve made of it, though, the secret identity aspect isn’t too detrimental to the story. Busiek makes up for it in other ways, most notably with the strength of the inner conflict Tony experience throughout the story. Whereas later Iron Man comics would depict the character as a man with a plan for every situation, here Tony is shown less as a trailblazer and more as a constant victim of circumstance. He doesn’t act, he reacts, constantly, and the conflicts that result from that always seems to be over what exactly his next move should be.

Busiek also does an excellent job of involving Tony’s traditional supporting cast (Pepper Potts, Happy Hogan, and Black Widow), an important part of the character that even some of the most notable Iron Man writers often ignore. With plenty of character-driven moments sprinkled between the action scenes – a walk on the beach with future girlfriend Rumiko Fujikawa, for instance – it makes for a more well-rounded portrayal of the character than we typically see.

There are few recognizable Iron Man villains in these pages, but that’s okay. The mystery behind the Arms Merchant is compelling enough to sustain interest while Tony fights a host of new villains, all of whom seem to be answering to some unseen higher authority. A particularly interesting new foe is Firebrand, a man apparently transformed into living plasma who uses his power over heat energy to awaken a volcano on a tropical island resort.

Chen’s art shines throughout the book, and while it isn’t quite as stylized as it would become just a few years later in this series and in Wolverine, it’s still very distinctive. Patrick Zircher draws an issue as well and does a capable enough job, although his action sequences are a bit cluttered at times. The colors are done by Liquid!, my favorite coloring group from this time, which gives Iron Man’s armor the perfect metallic sheen.

The final issue collected in Deadly Solutions is the first of a four-part crossover called “Live Kree or Die,” the inclusion of which is sort of puzzling. The other three issues in the story (which took place in the pages of Avengers, Captain America, and Quicksilver) are not collected here, but rather summarized in a one-page text piece at the end of the book. With no less than four editorial notes referring to other series in the first two pages alone, the issue is significantly heavier on continuity than the preceding ones. It’s definitely best read after the initial half of the first Avengers Assemble hardcover, since Ms. Marvel’s actions in Avengers directly precipitate the encounter between her and Iron Man in this issue. (The entirety of “Live Kree or Die” is basically the story of Ms. Marvel’s battle with alcoholism and what it means for her status as an Avenger.)

However, if you’ve read the lead-up issues in Avengers, the final issue of Deadly Solutions actually provides some good payoff for the increasing tension between Ms. Marvel and the rest of the team. And rather than letting itself be totally commandeered by the crossover, the issue drives the plot of Iron Man’s own title forward as well: Tony is still on the trail of the Arms Merchant, and there’s still plenty of drama between him and his supporting cast. Overall, it’s a good beginning to a story arc – but like I said, the fact that the other three parts are missing may be a bit confusing.

Perhaps Marvel intends to eventually reprint the entirety of Iron Man’s third ongoing series from start to finish; that’s the best explanation I can come up with for the story’s inclusion, and if it is the case, it’s probably better to put this issue at the end of the first book than at the very beginning of the second one. Although no more collections of this series have been announced so far, I really hope they continue, since Busiek continued writing the title for another dozen or so issues after this point, and Chen stayed on through issue 30.

With strong characterization, excellent artwork, and an ability to tell complete, satisfying stories within a larger narrative, Iron Man: Deadly Solutions is a fine balance of old and new trends in comic book storytelling. Even despite the few shortcomings I mentioned, it’s a book that I can easily recommend.

Rating: 4 out of 5

Friday, August 20, 2010

Review: The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 1

Review Action Heroes Archives Volume One Captain Atom Space Adventures Thunderbolt Steve Ditko Joe Gill David Kaler Rocke Mastroserio Blake Bell Doctor Spectro Nightshade DC Archives Archive Editions Charlton DC Comics Cover hardcover hc comic bookWriters: Steve Ditko, Joe Gill, and David Kaler
Artists: Steve Ditko and Rocke Mastroserio
Collects: Space Adventures #33-40 & 42; Captain Atom #78-82 (1960-66)
Published: DC, 2004; $49.99

No one knows for sure why Steve Ditko left Marvel in the mid-1960s. It almost certainly had something to do with his negative feelings toward Stan Lee and the direction in which the popular series he co-created, Amazing Spider-Man, was headed – but since Ditko simply quit without giving an explanation to Lee or anyone else, it’s impossible to tell whether there was something more to it, or, if Lee himself was indeed the reason, which straw it was that finally broke the camel’s back. There are two things we do know, however. The first is that his reason for leaving had little to do with money; when he returned to Charlton (one of his first employers), he was making far less than he had been at Marvel. It also certainly wasn’t to make better comics, as The Action Heroes Archives, Vol. 1 shows us.

Now, that isn’t to say that Ditko specifically set out to make bad comics after he left Marvel. What he wanted more than anything else was creative freedom – something he’d never felt he truly had under the aegis of Stan Lee, who at the time was Marvel’s top writer, editor-in-chief, and publisher, all at once. And creative freedom is what Ditko got at Charlton, a company known less for the quality of its comics than for its ability to churn out vast amounts of mediocre product each month. (In fact, Charlton’s comics division was a mere sideshow to their magazine and songbook departments; the company published comics only because it was cheaper to keep the printing presses running than to turn them off and on repeatedly.)

Ditko had worked for Charlton before, at the beginning of the decade, and his first act upon returning was to revive Captain Atom, a character he had co-created for the company in 1960 with writer Joe Gill. The original, Gill-written stories are all reprinted in this first Action Heroes Archives collection; in fact, they comprise more than half of the book. From an artistic standpoint, they’re fairly good – in the issues where he inks his own work, Ditko is at his pre-Marvel peak – although the small page count allotted for each story (usually just five or seven pages) easily puts paid to any attempts at character development whatsoever.

Gill and Ditko give us the bare essentials – namely, an origin story and an alter ego – and not much else. Captain Atom is, in reality, military scientist Captain Adam (clever, right?); his power set is vague, he has no recurring love interest, and no apparent motivation to do good aside from blind patriotism. Most of the stories involve some Soviet threat or another, almost always in the form of deadly nuclear missiles bound straight for the U.S. of A. And I do mean always.

There were a few times, as I approached the end of a story, that I breathed a sigh of relief in the false belief that there would be no missiles this time around, but then – nope, there they were again in the last few pages or panels. Kids reading these stories at the time must have felt incredibly safe knowing that Captain Atom was out there single-handedly destroying the world’s nuclear arsenals at least twice over. There are occasional bright spots, though. One story, in which a little boy’s dreams transport him to a distant galaxy where he rides giant green space-birds, is a fun, space-age homage to Winsor McCay’s Little Nemo in Slumberland. For the most part, however, the comics from before Ditko’s pre-Marvel days just aren’t very impressive.

The real highlight of this book is Ditko’s work from 1965-66, around the time that he left Marvel. Finally free from editorial influence, he really cuts loose with these stories, which are now long enough to support at least some form of character development. Whereas the early stories mainly had Captain Atom fighting communists and the occasional alien invader, the later ones are much more straightforwardly super-heroic. Atom soon gains an archenemy in the form of Dr. Spectro, a mad scientist who uses color and light as his weapons. Later, he teams up with the super-heroine Nightshade in what borders on a full-out espionage story. Their target, a villain called the Ghost, is an unabashed rip-off of Spider-Man and Dr. Strange in the visual department, even if his characterization is quite different from either.

The stories aren’t bad, but they don’t hold the slightest candle to Ditko’s work on Amazing Spider-Man. Most of them are inked by Rocke Mastroserio, whose brushwork actually stifles some of Ditko’s signature charm. But if you’re a Ditko enthusiast like me, then you’ll probably enjoy these comics on some level anyway, just as I did. When you love the work of a particular creator or artist (whether in comics, film, literature, music, or anything else), even their lesser works are interesting in their own way, and that’s certainly the case with the first volume of The Action Heroes Archives. In other words, it’s worth looking into, but only if you’re already a fan of Steve Ditko; otherwise, there’s probably not too much to see here.

Rating: 3 out of 5

Friday, August 13, 2010

Review: Friday the 13th

Review Friday the Thirteenth Vol. 1 Justin Gray Jimmy Palmiotti Adam Archer Ryan Sook Jason Voorhees Wildstorm Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriters: Justin Gray, Jimmy Palmiotti
Artist: Adam Archer
Collects: Friday the 13th #1-6 (2007)
Published: Wildstorm, 2007; $14.99

Halloween is one of my favorite horror films of all time, but (as I wrote in a post at my previous blog almost two years ago) it has yet to be equaled, and I doubt it ever will be. That’s because not only was Halloween the first film of its kind, but it was so deftly crafted that even watching it today, it elicits the same reaction as it did the first time – a time when “horror” meant more than simply “blood and gore.” Something about it still hypnotizes and frightens me, despite all of the films that have turned its plot into a stale formula in the years since.

I can’t say the same about the Friday the 13th movies. Even the first one smacked of creative theft, and aside from an admittedly brilliant penultimate scene, there was little to set it apart from the cadre of other Halloween rip-offs glutting the film market in the early 1980s. The original wasn’t scary, or even really suspenseful, for that matter; it was funny, although probably not intentionally so. It spawned even more sequels than Halloween, none of which were remotely scarier or less unoriginal, and by the early 2000s it had descended almost completely into self-parody. One sequel actually has Jason, the mass-murdering, hockey-mask-wearing central character of the series, awaken from a cryogenic freeze to chase astronauts around a space station with his signature machete.

So what, then, inspired me to read this trade paperback collecting Wildstorm’s recent Friday the 13th comic book miniseries? No, it’s not just that today is Friday the 13th (that turned out to be a rather funny coincidence, actually). Despite my negativity towards the franchise in general, the fact is that I’ve always thought it’s a concept that should work – I mean, what exactly about a man in a hockey mask killing people with a machete wouldn’t be terrifying in real life? It’s never really worked on film, but perhaps, I thought, it might fare better in a different medium, especially when written by people as talented as Justin Gray and Jimmy Palmiotti.

Sadly, the comic book version of Friday the 13th didn’t quite meet my expectations. It’s not a total debacle, though – it’s certainly no worse than any of the innumerable sequels, and it’s actually probably better than most of them. Gray and Palmiotti are extremely aware of the world in which their story takes place and all of the baggage that comes with it, which in a way is sort of refreshing. In case you’ve ever wondered just why on earth people keep coming back to Camp Crystal Lake (Jason’s stomping/killing ground) despite the hundreds of unexplained murders that have taken place there, this book offers an explanation, not so much in words as in characterization.

Several characters in the book are familiar with the legend of Jason; a few, in fact, are strangely obsessed with it. They’ve come to Crystal Lake, I would imagine, for the same reason that we ourselves enjoy horror stories – for the thrill that comes with feeling close to death and danger, and with ultimately escaping from it at the story’s end. The difference, of course, is that the characters in this story actually are in danger, and that most of them won’t survive to the end of the book.

The setup is precisely what you would expect: a handful of teenagers are hired to clean up Crystal Lake so the camp can be reopened again, although this time as something of a tourist trap (complete with T-shirts emblazoned with the words “I Survived Camp Crystal Lake”). Come nightfall, however, the characters are running for their lives and being killed off by Jason, one by one. In an interesting twist, it turns out that one of the girls isn’t entirely mentally stable, thus giving us reason to question at times whether Jason has even really returned at all. Unfortunately, this subplot isn’t used quite to its full potential; in the end, actually, it becomes a fairly thin excuse for the character to spend a good portion of the book running around completely naked. It wouldn’t exactly be Friday the 13th without an unhealthy dose of sexual exploitation, I suppose.

Adam Archer’s artwork here is pretty much the definition of “middle of the road.” It gets the job done and he’s decent enough at drawing spurting blood, which I guess is probably how he got the job. Speaking of that, something I’ve always enjoyed in slasher movies (even the bad ones) is the originality of the death scenes. Unfortunately, the kills in Friday the 13th are pretty boring – Jason mostly just stabs people and/or chops their heads off. That’s kind of surprising, considering Palmiotti inked Steve Dillon on Garth Ennis’s Punisher, a book replete with totally bizarre deaths. The ending is a bit less predictable, in that it seems to aim for comedy much more than the rest of the book. Whether the writers were successful in this case is really in the eye of the beholder, but for my money it’s far too over-the-top, even for a Friday the 13th story.

If you’re a big fan of the slasher subgenre or of the Friday the 13th series in particular, then there won’t be much in this book to prevent your enjoying it. It’s better than the movies, but of course that means next to nothing considering how awful the movies really are. I think it should matter, though, and the fact that this book couldn’t raise my already extremely low esteem for the series is what frustrates me about it more than any of its other failings. Perhaps that’s too much to ask of one tie-in comic book miniseries, but still, it makes me wonder: if writers as talented as Gray and Palmiotti can’t turn this franchise around, is there anyone who can?

Rating: 2.5 out of 5

Wednesday, August 11, 2010

A Timeline Update

If you’ve arrived here by way of another website, then welcome! My thanks go out to the Collected Editions blog, Chris Marshall at the Collected Comics Library (who mentioned the Marvel Trade Paperback Timeline in this week’s podcast), and others who have linked here. Feedback about the timeline has been great so far, and I’m glad that everyone seems to be enjoying it. Again, if you have any questions, comments, or suggestions, please leave a comment (either on this post or the previous one) or send me an email!

Last night I made some small, but significant, changes to the existing timeline. One of the aims I initially had was to clear up some of the confusion around the many trade paperbacks that have had their contents later repackaged and reprinted in other books – oftentimes, either in oversized hardcovers or Marvel’s massive Omnibus collections. With that in mind, I’ve added additional information (and Amazon links!) for a number of books, including Daredevil: Guardian Devil and Amazing Spider-Man: Coming Home, which have been re-collected in hardcovers or in bigger “Ultimate Collection” trades. I hope this will make it easier for people to find exactly what they’re looking for on the timeline itself, without having to do a ton of outside research just to find out what’s collected in some of these books.

This is also probably one of the last major posts you’ll see about the timeline here in the main blog at With Great Power. I’ve always intended for this to be a review blog, and that’s what it will continue to be first and foremost. At some point I may set up another, smaller blog for the purpose of posting updates about the timeline, in which case I’ll post a link here. Either way, you can be sure that I’ll continue to update and expand the timeline as time goes on, and that I’ll do my best to keep up with all of your comments and emails about it.

Well, that’s it for now – I’ll see you again on Friday for another review. Until then, have a great week!

Monday, August 9, 2010

Introducing the Marvel Trade Paperback Timeline!

Marvel Universe Olivier Coipel Civil War Puck Microbe Night Thrasher Captain Britain Wonder Man Iron Fist Deadpool Hercules Radioactive Man Namorita Nick Fury Captain Marvel Carol Danvers Power Man Luke Cage Silver Surfer Hulk Black Cat Falcon Mary Jane Watson Black Bolt Thing Hulkling Namor the Sub-Mariner Human Torch Invisible Woman Daredevil Spider-Man Mr. Fantastic Iron Man Dr. Strange Nova Cloak Dagger Spider-Woman Wolverine She-Hulk Captain America Asgardian Kate Bishop Patriot Sentry Nightcrawler Iceman Ghost Rider Cyclops Punisher Black Widow Werewolf by Night Avengers X-Men Fantastic Four Young Avengers New Warriors comic book
It all started some time in April. Having scoured the Internet for a Marvel-themed list in the vein of the Collected Editions blog’s wonderful DC Trade Paperback Timeline and turning up relatively nothing, I decided to work out a proper reading order for Marvel’s trade paperback and hardcover collections. At first it was just something I was doing for myself, but as my list grew longer and more comprehensive, I realized that if I was confused – me, a person who’s generally pretty familiar with Marvel’s collected editions and publishing history – there must be many more people out there with the same, if not even more, questions. And so the idea of creating a fully annotated Marvel Trade Paperback Timeline for this blog was born.

Today I’ve posted the first part of that timeline, starting with the nearly line-wide relaunch that took place in 1998 (following the events of the miniseries Heroes Reborn: The Return) and extending to the beginning of J. Michael Straczynski’s tenure on Amazing Spider-Man in 2001. As I mentioned in my review of Captain America: To Serve and Protect, the first book currently listed on the timeline, this is where the “current” Marvel Universe really got its start. While many titles obviously have roots going back to the early 1960s, I think the shift in editorial direction (and overall quality) that took place in the late 1990s makes this as good a demarcation point in Marvel’s publishing history as any. It’s also the time period that first got me interested in making this timeline – Marvel has been reprinting a great deal of material from this era lately, much of it for the first time.

In the near future, the timeline will be expanded to cover books taking place both before and after the ones listed currently – ideally, it will eventually cover everything from 1939 (when Marvel Comics #1 was first published) to the present. The offline version of the timeline is nearly finished, although there are several sections that require a good deal more reading and research on my part before they can be sufficiently completed. I wanted to start by posting just one part of the timeline so that I could get your feedback and suggestions as well as deal with any necessary formatting changes now, rather than later. I truly hope this timeline will help other people as much as the process of creating it has helped me. If you have any questions or comments (any at all!), please feel free to leave a comment on this post or to send an email to marveltimeline@gmail.com.

Before signing off, a few acknowledgments are in order. Both Comic Book DB and Trade Paperback List have been invaluable resources in making this timeline so far. Thanks as well to Ian from Trade Reading Order, where he’s created an excellent reading order for DC’s collections that complements the one at the Collected Editions blog quite nicely. He’s also working on a Marvel reading order which I think will similarly complement the one I’ve started here, when we’re both finished!

So, I think I’ve probably rambled on long enough. Feel free to check out the timeline (either by clicking here or on the link in the sidebar) and tell me what you think!

Friday, August 6, 2010

Review: The Muppet Show Comic Book: Meet the Muppets

Review The Muppet Show Meet the Muppets Roger Langridge Kermit the Frog Sam Eagle Sgt. Floyd Pepper Sweetums Gonzo Robin Statler Waldorf Dr. Teeth and the Electric Mayhem Zoot Pigs in Space Link Hogthrob Julius Strangepork Swedish Chef Miss Piggy Dr. Bunsen Honeydew Beaker Lew Zealand Animal Rizzo the Rat Fozzie Bear Camilla the Chicken Janice Scooter Rowlf Boom Studios Cover trade paperback tpb comic bookWriter: Roger Langridge
Artist: Roger Langridge
Collects: The Muppet Show #1-4 (2009)
Published: Boom Studios, 2009; $9.99

I’ll be the first to admit that when I heard Boom Studios was planning a comic series based on Jim Henson’s legendary franchise, I thought it was a terrible idea. I’ve been a huge follower of the Muppets since childhood, from Sesame Street to Fraggle Rock to feature films like A Muppet Christmas Carol and Muppet Treasure Island. And although I never watched the original version of The Muppet Show on television, I’ve familiarized myself with it by way of the excellent DVD sets that Disney has been releasing for the last few years. No matter where or in what format the Muppets appear, they always bring with them the same contagiously fun and energetic spirit.

Luckily, Langridge understands that completely, and his writing and drawings perfectly capture the essence of the Muppets. Each of the four issues collected here plays out like an episode of the actual TV show, with a series of brief skits and comedy sketches that revolve around a central, offstage plotline. Langridge spotlights a different character in each issue, with Kermit, Fozzie, Gonzo, and Miss Piggy each receiving their own story. Kermit’s is by far the most emotionally resonant, with the character’s feelings of homesickness for life in the swamp giving way to a genuinely moving song at the end. It’s worth mentioning, in fact, that there are quite a few songs and poems throughout The Muppet Show Comic Book (much like the original show), all of which are exceptionally well written.

The Gonzo issue is a bit of an oddity: it centers on the question of what exactly Gonzo is, the same question that was answered over ten years ago in the Muppets’ last theatrical movie, Muppets from Space. Langridge could have any number of possible reasons for ignoring that story, not the least of which is that it’s one of only two Muppet movies (the other being The Muppets Take Manhattan) to which Disney does not have the rights. Anyhow, it’s not really a criticism so much as an observation.

I also really enjoyed the Fozzie issue, in which the hilariously unfunny bear finally realizes that the audience can’t stand his jokes. This leads to him trying out a number of other acts, including a Shakespearean performance and a vaudeville number, all of which manage to go horribly wrong. The Miss Piggy story is decent, but far less memorable; it has to do with her becoming angry with Kermit after a bogus psychic leads her to believe Kermit has fallen in love with someone else. It’s territory well trodden, and since Miss Piggy isn’t one of my favorite Muppets anyway, I probably would have preferred to see a different character in the lead role for that issue.

The sketch sequences translate surprisingly well into comic book form, and they include such long-time favorites as “Veterinarian’s Hospital” and “Pigs in Space.” Langridge’s typical method is to cram an entire sketch into one page, sometimes two, as if it were its own extremely short, self-contained story. Even the really corny sketches (such as a pun-filled conversation between the houses on a neighborhood block) benefit from this method, and are done so self-consciously that they’re still quite funny. Statler and Waldorf – the two old hecklers in the balcony – do wonders to salvage otherwise lame scenes as well by frequently breaking the fourth wall to point out the relative stupidity of their own comic book.

Included at the end of the book is Langridge’s original proposal for the series, in the form of around a dozen pages of fully penciled and colored pages that were originally intended for the children’s magazine Disney Adventures. The art style is a bit sketchier and more off-model than the one used in the main series, and I think I actually like this initial version better. Both styles are excellent, though, and the one that Langridge opted for in the end is undeniably the slicker and more commercially viable one.

If you’ve ever enjoyed the Muppets, you have every reason to buy this book: it’s just as fun and funny as any of their movies or TV shows, and it’s only $9.99. Boom Studios has followed this collection up with several more by Langridge, as well as a few that adapt classic children’s stories and fairy tales (Muppet Peter Pan and Muppet Robin Hood, for example). Best of all, none of these books cost more than ten dollars, an exceptional achievement in a world where four-issue collections released by most other comics companies rarely retail for less than fifteen. In short: highly recommended.

Rating: 4.5 out of 5

Wednesday, August 4, 2010

Solicitation Commentary for October 2010

Marvel was a bit late with their solicitations this month, but now that they’re here and I’ve had time to go through them, it’s time to take a look at some of the graphic novels and collected editions that have been solicited for October 2010. Titles are in bold for easy skimming!

Marvel Comics
Atlantis Attacks Omnibus Mike Mayhew Don McGregor Peter David Doug Moench Howard Mackie Steve Englehart Gene Colan Jeff Purves Paul Gulacy Rich Buckler Mike McKone Marvel Solicitations October 2010 Cover hardcover hc comic book
The biggest surprise from Marvel this month is probably the Atlantis Attacks Omnibus, collecting yet another mediocre crossover from the 1980s. As I’ve said before, I don’t have a problem with collections like this one or the Acts of Vengeance Omnibus in principle, but it does annoy me that Marvel is doing things like this before releasing Omnibus editions for classic material like Avengers or Spider-Man by Stan Lee and John Romita. It seems like they’ve settled into a pattern of just two or three “classic” Omnibus editions per year now – still, I guess that’s better than nothing.

Far less of a surprise is the Captain America Lives! Omnibus, which follows up on two previous Omnibus editions collecting Ed Brubaker’s run on the character. I doubt I’ll be getting this, just because I made a conscious decision a while back not to buy anymore Omnibus collections of recent material, but it’s still nice to see.

One book that I have the feeling will pass under most people’s radar is Marvel Masterworks: Atlas Era Battlefield, Vol. 1. This will be the first book ever to reprint material from Marvel’s massive catalog of 1950s war comics, which is really exciting. Personally, I’m curious to see how the stories in this book stack up against the war comics done by EC Comics around the same time.

I’m also really happy to see Captain America: Sentinel of Liberty, collecting the entire twelve-issue series written primarily by Mark Waid. These comics come from the same time as the material collected in Captain America: To Serve and Protect, which I reviewed a few months ago. Hopefully this will open the way for more collections of the late-‘90s Cap!

As wary as I am about the new Thor movie coming out next year, one good thing about it is that we’re bound to see a lot more Thor collected editions in the immediate future. One of those is a new hardcover edition of Thor: Worldengine, which was released in trade a number of years ago but has been out of print for almost as long. It’s written by Warren Ellis, and it’s only $19.99!

DC Comics
I could not be more excited about this next release: The Green Lantern Omnibus, Vol. 1, collecting Hal Jordan’s earliest appearances in Showcase #22-24 and Green Lantern #1-21. For years now I’ve been waiting for DC to finally start releasing their Silver Age comics in oversized hardcovers, the way Marvel has been doing since 2005, and it seems they’re finally catching up! And they couldn’t have picked better subject matter to start with, since Green Lantern is my absolute favorite DC comic from that era. On top of that, it’s only $75 – a full $25 less than what Marvel’s Omnibus editions usually run for. This book is a complete must-buy for me.

Showcase Presents Green Lantern Volume One Gardner Fox John Broome Hal Jordan DC Comics Solicitations October 2010 Cover trade paperback tpb comic book
Interestingly, DC is also releasing a new edition of Showcase Presents: Green Lantern, Vol. 1, which collects virtually the same material as the Omnibus (Showcase #22-24 and Green Lantern #1-17), except in black and white. Along with Showcase Presents: Superman, Vol. 1, this book was originally released for $9.99; however, this new edition is $19.99. As I mentioned last month, I think this new price point is absurd, and the fact that this book is coming out only a week before the Omnibus is baffling. Perhaps DC is putting them both out at the same time to see which one sells better; I just hope they don’t end up cannibalizing their own sales and unintentionally bringing their new Omnibus program to a quick end.

Finally, one of the very best comic books being published today is receiving its final trade paperback collection with Ex Machina, Vol. 10: Term Limits. I have extremely high hopes for this one, and I sincerely doubt it will disappoint.

Dark Horse Comics
The recent death of Frank Frazetta was something of a shock to his legions of fans, and it seems Dark Horse has taken notice. They’ve announced a new series collecting his longest comic-book run with The Classics Comics Archive, Vol. 1: White Indian. I don’t know much about it, to be honest, but I’m certainly interested in seeing what it’s all about.

Another classic story receiving a new printing is Mage, Vol. 1: The Hero Discovered. This is the first in a trilogy of comic book series by Matt Wagner, of which only the first and second parts have been released so far. It’s been quite a few years since the second installment at this point, and I wonder if this new printing is any indication that the third is finally under way.

And that’s about everything that caught my eye in this month’s solicitations. Feel free to click the links to check out the full solicits for Marvel, DC, Dark Horse, and Image at CBR. What are you looking forward to in October?

Monday, August 2, 2010

Streams of Consciousness – 8/2/2010

Monsieur Mallah with the Brain Daniel Acuña Daniel Acuna Outsiders #37 DC Comics Cover comic book issueHey, everyone! I have quite a few things to share with you today, so I decided to cram it all into one giant, scatter-brained post. Enjoy!

First of all, thanks once again to the folks at MOMB Comics for the very nice mention they made of this blog on their most recent podcast, which you can check out here (it’s MOMBcast #45). This is one of my absolute favorite comics podcasts week in and week out – please go and check it out!

I’d also like to thank Ryan Lindsay and everyone else at Thought Balloons for featuring a single-page Punisher comic book script I wrote last week in a guest post on Friday (mine is the second one, "Dangerous"). For those unaware, Thought Balloons is a site where a handful of writers each write a one-page script about a particular comic book character (a new one every week). Reader-submitted reviews are encouraged as well, so feel free to try your hand at any time – this week’s character is Gamora.

And for those who have been following the comments sections here for the last few weeks, I’m happy to report that my move was a resounding success and that although there are still unpacked boxes as far as the eye can see, I’m settling into my new place quite nicely. Most importantly, there shouldn’t be any hiccups in the weekly review schedule, as I feared there might. I’ll also try to post some comments on the October 2010 solicitations soon – I would have done so much sooner, but Marvel was extremely late in releasing theirs this month, I think because of SDCC a couple of weeks ago.

You may have also noticed that I added a Review Index to the blog. There may not very many reviews here at the moment, but as more are added I think this will become extremely helpful. The link is in the sidebar right now (between the links and followers sections), but I may move it to the top of the page at some point.

And now, for probably the most significant item on the docket: yes, I am working on an annotated reading order for Marvel’s trade paperback collections, which is very much in the vein of the DC timeline at the Collected Editions blog. I alluded to this project (albeit somewhat secretively) in a post way back in May, but until recently it hasn’t really been in a state worthy of publication. It will be posted very soon, though, at which point I’ll be talking about it in a lot more detail. I’m also hoping to work in conjunction with Ian at the excellent website Trade Reading Order to get his Marvel collections database up to date. So stay tuned, exciting things are on the way!

That’s it for now – have a great week, and I’ll see you back here on Friday (if not sooner)!