All-New Doop (Marvel): It's perfectly appropriate for any series starring peripheral X-Men character Doop to be a weird one, however, the miniseries collected in this trade paperback is weird in a weird way.
Doop was created by writer Peter Milligan and artist Mike Allred for their iconoclastic (and somewhat -controversial) 2001 X-Force run, which was then relaunched under the name The X-Statix. The premise involved a group of celebrity-wannabe mutants who used their powers for fame and fortune by starring in a reality show; holding the camera was a mysterious, gross, floating, potato-shaped green creature that spoke its own, indecipherable language and answered to the name Doop.
Milligan imagined a dramatic behind-the-scenes life for the character in a two-part, 2003 Wolverine/Doop miniseries, and writer Jason Aaron ran with the joke, including Doop as a member of the faculty at the Jean Grey School during his Wolverine and The X-Men run. For the most part, Doop functioned as a background joke, one more signifier of the zany environment of the new school for young mutants, though Aaron did pair with Doop's co-creator Allred for a one-issue story that focused on the character as a behind-the-scenes, floating potato-thing-of-all-trades.
Milligan returns to the character for this miniseries, in which Allred only provides the covers, while David LaFuente draws the majority of the art. Milligan takes Doop's behind-the-scenes portfolio to an extreme, marking him as a character capable of traveling through "The Marginalia," entering and exiting the comic-book tales in order to influence their outcome.
The story Doop influences here is "Battle of the Atom," the Brian Michael Bendis-helmed X-Men crossover that involved Cyclops' X-Men team, Wolverine's X-Men team and an X-Men team from the future engaged in a fight over what to do with the teenage original X-Men plucked out of the Silver Age and currently hanging around the present.
That story ended with Kitty Pryde making a pretty random choice that didn't make any sense within the context provided, although it was the climax of the whole storyline. With All-New Doop, Milligan seems to be engaged in retroactively justifying her action, with Doop telling Kitty she must "find he courage to be ... irrational" early on in the series, long before she makes her choice.
Oh, yeah, Doop talks in this. Like, actual, intelligible English. It seems to be a major violation of one of the character's key charms, but so too is the entire series, as it treats the events of the Marginalia, Doop's world, as the A-plot, and the events of "Battle of the Atom" as the B-story. Your enjoyment of the series is thus dependent on how familiar you are with "Battle," as Doop interacts with various players in the series — Kitty, Teenage Scott and Jean, Iceman, Raze, Wolverine — as he swerves in and out of the events of the series.
Milligan also spends some time detailing Doop's past, including his parentage, a secret origin that turns out to be one of those "everything he thought he knew was wrong!" staples of superhero comics, and his real origin, which involves a revelation of his true gender (pay no attention to the male pronouns I've been using throughout to refer to Doop, please). That too seems like something of a betrayal of Doop's charms, as it dispels so much mystery.
If what's funny about the character is that we can't understand him, we don't know what exactly he is or what he does and he only appears in small, carefully regulated doses, well, All-New Doop tears down all those attributes. But then, he's Milligan's character — in terms of a creator-created relationship, if not actual ownership – and if that's what Milligan wants to do with him, I suppose that's his right.
Lafuente isn't the first artist who wasn't Mike Allred to draw Doop, but his version is markedly cuter than the one Allred, Darwyn Coooke, Chris Bachalo, Nick Bradshaw and others have depicted in the past. Lafuente is a great artist, and his open, engaging style is a welcome presence when it comes to re-drawing all these X-people and their scenes from "Battle," but his big-eyed, big-handed, little-mouthed, human-expression-having Doop comes in sharp contrast to the more alien, inscrutable look of previous incarnations.
Fans of X-Statix and/or Wolverine and the X-Men who also read and remember "Battle of the Atom" quite clearly will likely get a lot out of this trade, but that's a rather narrow audience ... even by the standards of X-Men comics.
All-New Ghost Rider Vol. 1: Engines of Vengeance (Marvel): This trade paperback collection of the first five issues of writer Felipe Smith and artist Tradd Moore's reinvention of Marvel's Ghost Rider, whose popularity waxes and wanes by the year and the direction, certainly earns the "All-New" part of its tite.
It's not just that the creative team introduces a new "host" to the title character, beleaguered Los Angeles high-schooler Robbie Reyes, who's raising his special-needs little brother in a horrible, crime-ridden neighborhood all by himself (and whose teenage problems make those of Peter Parker at his age seem downright trivial). It's not just that this is apparently also a new Spirit of Vengeance that inhabits Reyes. It's not even that this Ghost Rider's flaming vehicle is a car instead of a motorcycle.
While all of that certainly helps distinguish the new series, more than anything its Moore's artwork that makes All-New Ghost Rider look, read and feel all-new. It's really unlike almost anything else Marvel or its main competitor are producing at the moment.
Moore's character designs are all incredible, bordering on inspired, from the primary characters to more minor villains, like Marvel Universe mainstay Mr. Hyde (who doffs his Victorian coat to simply rip out of his clothes, Hulk-style, and is given Japanese ogre fangs and long, sinister eyebrows) and a neighborhood drug dealer who overdoses himself on super-steroids, eventually growing multiple arms.
All of Moore's characters are super-expressive, their faces occasionally warping when they're conveying high emotions, and all are so broadly and effectively drawn that one could read the comic without any dialogue balloons and not only follow the action, but also most of the drama. The one exception is the title character, whose face isn't a flaming skull, but a flaming metal sculpture of a skull. This Ghost Rider has a face as unchanging as a hood ornament.
Where Moore really excels, however, is in rendering action, from the car races and chases to Robbie getting massacred in a hail of bullets in the first issue (don't worry, he gets better), to the many rather amazing super-battles, Moore's Ghost Rider is easily the most dynamically drawn comic on this side of the Pacific.
Unfortunately, Moore has already left the book, his run only lasting as long as the issues collected herein — his run therefore is even shorter than Declan Shalvey's on Moon Knight. As with the Moon Knight collection discussed last week, this book reads perfectly well on its own. But unlike Moon Knight, the writer of Ghost Rider is sticking around after the early departure of his artistic partner. Given how integral Moore was in making this book as good as it is, his departure would normally be quite alarming. His replacement, however, is Damion Scott, who has a similar highly dramatic, in-your-face style of action and acting; if anyone can follow Moore, it's probably Scott. I guess we'll see in Volume 2.