My Adventures with Marvel's All-Ages Comics (part one of a series of self contained posts)

First, read my blog! I even posted on it for the first time since August! Second, it's time for a theme post! In search of some self contained superhero comics like Stan and Jack (and Steve, that lovable objectivist hermit) used to make, I decided to pick up a stack of Marvel Adventures comics this week. That's what these all ages books are great for, at least from a jaded, fat, dateless superhero fan's perspective, and that is the only perspective I can employ at any time; for your $3, you're getting a complete story free of decades old continuity or whatever attempt at shocking change there is permeating the "real" Marvel or DC books. All that being said, this site does have a name/mission statement for a reason, so I gotta ask; are these "fun" comics any good?Marvel Adventures Hulk #3 and Marvel Adventures Iron Man #4

I look at these books in tandem because they offer similar comfort for long time fans. Instead of Tony Stark: Tin Plated Dictator/Morally Ambiguous Visionary/General Dickhead, this Iron Man book's rocking old Shellhead's usual status quo; he's a corporate CEO with Iron Man as his head of security, which is one of my few problems with this comic. I can suspend my disbelief with the best of them, and perhaps even farther, but even for a comic aimed at whatever theoretical kids that may be reading it, I find the use of Tony's secret ID to be a total strain. Surely, a scripter as talented as one Fred Van Lente, a man Cronin gave his own vaguely unsettling holiday, can come up with something better than Tony just running off when the shit hits the fan.

That's really the only problem I had with Van Lente's script, though; it's basically a note perfect Iron Man story otherwise, as least as far as what I expect from one (to be fair, the only Iron Man I've ever really liked is Mark Millar's in Ultimates, so I don't have a lot of expectations). But it's got what I was expecting and a little more; corporate intrigue, a well defined supporting cast (both Pepper Potts and Jim Rhodes are used to great effect/affect (I'm too lazy to look up the difference, so I will let you decide for me)), a nice dose of humor, some nifty tech, and Tony being smarter than the bad guys saving the day. The fact that Iron Man's rampage through Manhattan can be written off to bad guy inteference is a little too easy, but I can live with that in what is otherwise a very fun single issue. While I'd be more interested in a Pepper Potts solo series (what can I say; I like freckled red heads), I could see myself buying another issue of this series, which is something I never expected to say about an Iron Man comic before. Even at my wrestling blog!

Oh wait, I forgot to talk about Fred Cordeiro's art! I don't like it. It's servicable and fairly expressive with the characters who aren't wearing metal face plates, but it's a little too cutesy for my taste, despite the usually gritty Gary Erskine providing the inks. The colors by Martegod Gracia are nice and vibrant without being overwhelming. I'd talk about Nate Piekos's lettering, but what the hell is there to say about lettering that isn't by people like Todd Klein, Chris Ware, or Dave Sim? It stays in the bubbles? It's legible? I don't want to denigrate it, but you know, it's like a football ref or the colon; you don't pay attention to it unless it screws up, it can cost you a lot of money with a bad call, and you need to stick a tiny camera up your butt to see if there's cancer in it. Okay, some of that simile doesn't work.

Moving on to the Hulk book, it, too, offers a nice, familiar set up. As much as I'm digging World War Hulk, I do like that there's a Hulk comic out there where he isn't a morally ambiguous space gladiator hellbent on enacting bloody vengeance on Earth's superheroes, but instead a lovable, childlike lummox who speaks in third person and smashes things. 

Writer Paul Benjamin makes his set up a hybrid of the old Tales To Astonish Era Hulk comics I have a soft spot for and the Bill Bixby/Kou Ferrigno TV show; Banner's a fugitive on the run from General Ross, with Rick Jones and (I kid you not) a monkey (cleverly named Monkey) as sidekicks. I am greatly disappointed that the usually reliable Chris Sims did not inform me that there is a comic out there where the Hulk has a monkey sidekick. That alone helps elevate this comic, a perfectly good little slice of superheroing with the Radioactive Man, to a whole other level of solid, by the numbers work, what with the brisk humor running through the whole thing and even a nice bit of a Pixar-esque moral to cap things off. Rick Jones goading the Hulk in to greater feats of strength is a cool idea that Benjamin employs well, and that I have never seen before (although I have like a fourty year gap in Hulk reading between Essential Hulk vol. 1 and World War Hulk, with a couple Peter David and Bruce Jones stories in between, so he may very well have been ripping off Bill Mantlo and I didn't notice).

I like the art work of David Nakayama, Gary Martin, and Michelle Madsen quite a bit. It's vibrant, expressive, and kinetic without being overly cutesy. I am avoiding say cartoony, because I hate that word and like most of the artists who dumb superhero fans slap that label on. Such as the late Mike Wieringo, who gets a nice dedication ad in this issue, even if the image (he's holding a giant pencil over his shoulder and waving goodbye to the Fantastic Four) is a pretty huge downer.

Anyway, this was fun too, and I'm more likely to pick up an issue of this every month, so long as Monkey and Rick Jones are hanging around. That's the thing about the Hulk; sure, he's a fun character, but unless you're pulling out Peter David reinventions or using Bruce Jones's trick of not having him show up for months at a time, and then only for one panel in meandering stories that ultimately don't go anywhere, he's kind of one note without someone like Rick to bounce off of. Good on Benjamin for acknowledging that. And adding a monkey.

Our final comic in the superheroes for kids that old fanboys can also read roundup as Marvel Adventures Avengers #13. It's written by Jeff Parker, who seems to be newest internet darling when it comes to superhero writers. After only a small sampling of his work, I can see why. He writes fun, breezy superhero stories with a keen sense of humor, a lack of angst, and impeccable pacing. He's also the guy that gave us that MODOK Avengers issue, which I have yet to track down. In this issue, he ups the high concept superhero comedy ante with a great sequence where the Asgardian Frost Giants squash the Avengers with an accompanying song so hilarious that I hope someone ressurects the Marvel Albums idea of the swingin' '60s just to record it. At least put it on itunes, Marvel; I'll totally forgive you for killing off Mary Jane if you do! I may even plug you on my wrestling blog!

Parker does a lot that I like with a concept I previously had very little time for. His Avengers (except Captain America) are all fairly chatty while still having discernably different personalities, they're funny without being too quippy, and they're just fun to read about. I've always found the non-Ultimate/Bendis incarnations of them superflous and boring, but these guys I find worth reading about and likable, which is really all I'm looking for in a team book. He even made Thor, as problematic major character as there is in the Marvel Universe, work, by combining the "have the other heroes talk about how awesome he is" approach that Brad Meltzer loves to employ with letting him do something actually heroic and save the day. He even gets in some cool lines in his bizarre, Stan Lee-esque Shakespearan dialogue, without dominating the whole issue. Unlike how plugs for my blog are dominating this whole post.

Again, this whole thing is a nice, breezy throwback to a time when Green Lantern wasn't being blamed for not helping black people Thor wasn't being blamed for Katrina, Captain America was alive and friends with an Iron Man who wasn't so much morally ambiguous as schisophrenic, veering between mustache twirlingly evil and just merely a massive dick depending on who's writing him, and so on. It's fun, in other words, and its nice that Marvel has this imprint around for people who want that in their superhero comics instead of whatever the hell Civil War was supposed to usher in besides a never ending cycle of crossovers, not unlike the War on Terror in its seemingly neverending cycle of cataclysmic emergency and Earth Shaking conflict. Maybe Millar meant that as a crafty political commentary, that crafty, lefty Scottsman. Wait, he wrote Wanted, right? Probably not then.

The art is probably the most accomplished of the three books' offerings. The exotically named Cafu, Terry Pallot, and Val Staples offer up attractive, clean, solid storytelling. The story never really slows down enough for them to do any quiet moments, but hell, it's the Avengers; what do you want besides all the cool wiz bang action they provide, superheroes crying and witch/robot dating? Get outta here!

So, what was all of this babble about? Well, I wanted to see if these Marvel Adventures comics were as fun as their boosters say. They are. That probably didn't need all these words, but hey, it amused me, and from my wrestling blog, I am pretty much used to writing for myself anyway. If I can actually stay interested in this little series, next time I'll check out the MA Fantastic Four and Spider-Man comics. But I'll probably either not post for six months and then write about Bendis and Maleev's Halo comic and how I only want to read it because Bendis and Maleev are the second most inappropriate choice for a Halo comic that I can think of among big name creative teams (Harvey Pekar and R. Crumb being the most inappropriate one, although I would buy six copies of that story if it happened). So, anyway, please read my blog! I'm not sure if I got that across vehemently enough.

Marvel's Doctor Doom Becomes a Wanted Man in New Ongoing Series

More in Comics