TALE OF TWO 100s
It was an exciting week for a couple of different reasons.
The first is the one-hundredth issue of SUPERMAN: THE MAN OF STEEL. I can remember picking up the first issue way back when. There aren't too many books around today whose first and 100th issues I can remember picking up at the comics shop. The story is from Mark Schultz and the art is by Doug Mahnke and Tom Nguyen. It's a caption-laden heavy-on-the-exposition story meant to re-establish the Fortress of Solitude. It does just that, although it takes too long and seems like another boring excuse for a few fight scenes. Aside from a couple of nice character bits, such as Natasha's interaction with Kelex, the issue is something you just have to plod through. The new Fortress is rather cool looking, though I have no idea how it works. Steel goes through so many acrobatics to explain how the thing works, that my eyes glazed over even worse than from a bad engineering deck-heavy episode of STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION.
Another oddity: There are two different covers. The standard one is $3, and the special edition will run you an extra buck. The difference is that the special edition has a glossier, heavier cover and is gatefolded to allow for a bigger view of the new Fortress. That's not worth anywhere near the extra buck, in my mind. (With word that THOR #25 will have a metallic cover in May, one is left to wonder if gimmick covers are coming back…)
The coolest part of the otherwise blah issue was the letters column. My letter is the only one in there. Yay! But I'd like to further explain what I wrote in there, since it may not have come out right. I don't think that the science-fiction aspects of Clark Kent's life are not important. Of course they are. We wouldn't have Superman without a little sci-fi. I just don't think they need to be emphasized or be the thrust of the character. For me, the fascination is with the human side. The elements leftover from Krypton are excess baggage. I guess this also helps to explain my displeasure with this title, since that's what it mainly focuses on.
The other 100th issue, of course, is X-MEN. This one marks Chris Claremont's (official) return to the band of merry mutants that he made top of the sales heap close to twenty years ago now. As far as I'm concerned, he hasn't missed a step.
First of all, this is the perfect jump-on issue if you really want to give it a shot. The storyline is set six months from the events in previous issues, so you have a clean break and a clean start. A little previous history knowledge of the characters, as always, will help you to understand the enormity of some of the changes, but it isn't strictly necessary.
The whole issue takes place aboard a space station and the hijinks that happen there. In classic Claremont form, we get nice introductions to each of the characters, along with plenty of interaction, a general sense of the environment and the battle the X-Men are waging, as well as a slam-bang ending.
Claremont writes a lot of words, yes. This isn't a bad thing. It's only a bad thing when some writer following him tries to imitate his style. Claremont's prose has a certain comfortable cadence to it. Even when the extra captions are necessary to make up for the lack of detail and storytelling in the art, they sound like they belong naturally in that segment.
Kitty Pryde gets the biggest re-think of all the characters so far. Her hair is cut off to a degree not seen since the second season of FELICITY began on the WB last year and everybody stopped watching. I don't think you'll have the same affect here. Claremont seems to be going for a more mature and less naïve Kitty. Some have been quick to point out that it's a process Warren Ellis tried to start back in his EXCALIBUR days. I hope to get around to reading those books someday soon for comparison's sake…
Dr. Cecilia Reyes, a recent favorite of mine, is also back in the book, brought back unwillingly to the lives of our favorite band of mutants.
There's a whole team of new evil mutants, introduced in a way not seen since Claremont introduced us to the Reavers or Magneto's Acolytes.
Leinil Francis Yu makes his much-anticipated debut on the title here, and does a pretty good job. I don't like some of the new costumes. Kitty's mask around the eyes just looks ridiculous. Makes you wonder why she'd even bother with them in the first place. The "X" over Rogue's chest seems to work only to enhance her bust, a theme that plays throughout the issue, actually. But I can only really judge this by the cover, since the characters don't really make a habit of wearing their costumes in the book. There's all of one page to show us the new costumes. This isn't necessarily a bad thing, by the way. I'm all for characters being in "street clothes" or something non-spandex.
Yu's storytelling needs a bit of help in some places. A lot of stuff needs long caption boxes to be explained. Some of the close-up shots seem to be done for the sake of finishing the page quickly rather than solid story construction.
It's still good-looking stuff, though, and LIQUID! does a great job in coloring the whole she-bang.
The oddity here: Take a look at the Marvel house ad opposite the Bullpen Bulletins page in this issue. The review quote for THUNDERBOLTS given at the bottom of it is taken from a Pipeline2 column written back in December. I do believe this is the first time I've been quoted in an advertisement for a book. Whoo-hoo!
A WHOLE BUNCHA REVIEWS
With the third and final issue out this past week, I sat down and read Warren Ellis' STRANGE KISS mini-series. Sometimes weird and bloody is just weird and bloody. I have to admit that this one didn't do much for me. It's got some of those trademarks Ellis grand concepts and one-liners. I've just never been much of a horror fan, and this one serves to remind me of why. Maybe the fact that all the truly horrific things are shown as pen-and-ink drawings blunted some of the impact. If this had been a movie, I probably would have squirmed some more.
It turns out not to be Warren Ellis' week for me, actually. X-MAN #63 is nearly a complete miss, as well. I can only hope that when this first storyline is over, I can come back and read this and see where everything fits in. Right now, there are a couple of plots running at the same time, one apparently set in a past which looks more like a future. I have no idea where they connect. Maybe I'm not supposed to know just yet, but I'm a much bigger fan of first issues that mean something right away. It's fine to leave some situations incomplete to be filled in later, but right now it seems to be the kind of market where you can't expect readers to hang around for that long.
Alan Moore's PROMETHEA #7 indulges in some fumetti. It does, however, fit in with the style and tone of the issue, and is generally done well. There are some of the usual problems with bored-looking models, though. The actress they had to play Sophie is a convincing likeness. She looks and often acts the part. There are just a couple of panels where she looks lost. The actress that plays Promethea is another sterling example of why comic book costumes always look a hell of a lot better drawn than they would in real life. It's a surreal book filled with plenty of meta-text and insider humor, but it's still a lot of fun. Special mention goes to Jose Villarrubia, who is credited with the digital art. A full list of credits for the sequence can be found in the back of the book.
The previous issue, by the way, was hilarious. Picture Promethea as a pulp hero battling against her greatest enemy - her author, who happens to be a typical shut-in pervert-type man. J.H. Williams III's layouts in this issue are also his best to date, including a vaguely Eisner-ian two pages on four and five.
I have to admit to being wrong: When the first issue came out, I found the border decorations to be busy and distracting. In retrospect, it actually helps to define the look and feel of the series. It's a wonderful addition to the storytelling. Williams' funky layouts are almost as much fun as the story is. (This is probably the first time I've been able to say that about a book since I first read Todd McFarlane's INFINITY INC. issues. If you want far-out and wacky page layouts, there's your textbook!)
YOUNG JUSTICE: SINS OF YOUTH #1 is perhaps the best bookend leading into a huge company-wide crossover as I've ever read. Peter David's writing is sharp here, if a bit heavy-handed in a couple of spots. (And a couple of the bits of humor are so cheap that they almost make no sense.) Todd Nauck and Lary Stucker's art loses nothing for having to do 50% more pages for this issue. It's still as sharp as ever with all the prerequisite background bits of business. Jason Wright also gets credit for a nice, bright coloring job, with some wonderful bits of shading on some of the character's faces. It's subtle enough that you don't notice it right off, but it still helps to model the characters.
Most of the issue is devoted to the on-going struggle in the battle of the ages between teenagers and adults, with references not simply grounded in superheroics. In-between pounding that point home, David lets loose with a load of cameo appearances from around the DC Universe. Nauck really gets a chance to shine in drawing all these people, and even does a few pencil-only panels that are the best-looking bits of business in the issue.
This one is definitely worth picking up, and the event issues coming out this week look like a solid group of books. Amongst others, the creators involved include Karl Kesel and Tom Grummett, Chuch Dixon, Cary Nord, Rob Haynes, and Mike Oeming.
Stop by here again at the end of the week for the second part of my look into the possibilities of open source comics.
In the meantime, I hope your office NCAA pool works out better than mine. I was ahead after the first round, and I'm out after the second. ::sigh::