REVIEWS FROM THE HOUSE OF IDEAS
I read a few Marvel books this weekend, just by coincidence. So let's start by looking at those. After that, we'll talk some about SPAWN #100, Image Comics, and Todd McFarlane.
Let's start off with something that shouldn't be too controversial: FANTASTIC FOUR: BIG TOWN #1.
Oh, never mind, it seems we're diving right into the mud. =)
As you probably know by now, this title was the subject of some heated controversy a couple of weeks ago and a flurry of public posts between Editor-in-Chief Joe Quesada and writer Steve Englehart. Englehart was ticked off that his script had been rewritten to some unspecified degree, and Quesada defended his decision and rewrites. We can't tell for sure where the rewrites occur, but we're all hoping Englehart does manage to put his version of the script on-line somewhere at some point. It ought to be educational, if nothing else.
I didn't give in to the temptation to be righteously indignant with the book. Partly, this is because I trust Quesada's talent and decision-making, but also because Mike McKone drew the book (with most of the inks by Mark McKenna), and so I would have read the book no matter who wrote the story or how bad it might be. Yes, I'm both pragmatic and idealistic. (For what it's worth: If X-MAN gets cancelled, I won't mind. I just can't get into that one. I know there are a great many shaman fans out there, but I'm not one of them. If CABLE and BISHOP and GAMBIT all bite the dust, it won't affect me. I might miss GENERATION X, I think X-FORCE has some potential with a better regular artist, and WOLVERINE is so hit and miss without a regular and strong creative presence that its disappearance wouldn't sadden me.)
The first issue isn't too bad, but it's also not that great. The premise is great. What would happen if all this technology that Reed Richards, Tony Stark, et. al. brought into the world were applied to their fullest extent to everyday life? What would happen to New York City, for one? It turns out to be a sprawling high tech metropolis, spreading straight into the suburbs of New Jersey. What affects does that have on the populace, and the super-powered populace in particular?
The first issue is the set-up. It's double-sized and spends a lot of time in exposition, pointing out how the Fantastic Four have become a much-revered group responsible for all the wonder in daily life. Meanwhile, the X-Men are not much more than a bunch of street level hoods.
It's a bunch of interesting concepts, and I hope the four issues (the bookends of which are double-sized) are enough to explore each of them in an interesting way. It should prove to be tight. On the other hand, so much of this first issue is lost in exposition, I'm worried that we'll never find the plot.
Some of the exposition is downright clunky, too, and speculation abounds that those passages were the reworked ones. It's impossible to tell, but it did seem odd to see a footnote explaining Latveria. This is an Elseworlds-type of book. The readership for it is going to be the set of people who already are familiar with Latveria. (Come to think of it, how annoying is it to see S.H.I.E.L.D. explained in every comic book? Worse yet, it's just the acronym being spelled out. I think writing something like "Government Espionage Squad" or something would fit better. Yes, "espionage" isn't the best word, but it's all I can think of at the moment. Work with me here, people.) An even worse example of a caption comes on page seven, where the "X Squad" is explained in a footnote. At that point in the story, you're not necessarily supposed to know what that it is. There's a prime example of what they are, along with an explanation for it and an example, a few pages later in the story.
Right now, I have to admit that I'm not terribly enthusiastic about the book. I think it's interesting and well drawn, but I'm not screaming its praises from the highest rooftop just yet. I'd say wait until the series is completed and read the reviews if you're hesitant. When the trade comes out, pick it up then. (Yes, yes, if the trade comes out…)
THUNDERBOLTS #46 finally brings about the plot point that I've been predicting here for the better part of the past eight or ten months. The cover gives it away, more or less, but I won't spoil it. I just feel slightly vindicated.
I do, however, need to go back and reread the last dozen issues or so. Since Fabian Nicieza has come aboard (last December, as I remember) he's introduced a dizzying number of plots and subplots and I'm losing track of them all very quickly. Heck, there's a mini-series spinning out of the upcoming fiftieth issue just to help wrap some of those up. My mind boggles, and no amount of exposition inside these issues is going to help that. I hope things get simplified just a bit after this year is over. It will be a welcome relief.
Mark Bagley is leaving in a few months, and that's a shame. We should just be happy that he lasted 50 issues, and only took a few fill-ins, all the while drawing other books --ULTIMATE SPIDEY, some annuals, and who knows how many other one shots and mini-series (AVENGERS TWO). He's an amazing artist and he will be missed here. His replacement is Patrick Zircher, ace fill-in penciller on more titles than I care to count. Zircher's art has always seemed relatively flat and uncomfortably to me, but I'm willing to give it a shot. I'll have to wait to see how me meshes with the inker they pair him up with. I believe he's a penciller who needs a good inker to make his stuff shine.
CAPTAIN AMERICA #37 came out last week, and it's an enjoyable read.
CAPTAIN AMERICA is fast becoming one of my favorite mainstream super-hero titles. I'm not sure I can explain it, though. It's not flashy. While I like Dan Jurgens' art, I don't drool over it the way I do, say, Alan Davis' or Mike McKone's. Dan Jurgens' writing isn't stylistic or distinctive the way a Warren Ellis' is, or a Joe Kelly. With CAPTAIN AMERICA, Dan Jurgens is writing some solid straightforward super hero comics in an old-fashioned vein, complete with big fights, super-villains, and all the long-time Marvel characters you could ask for. Yes, part of me still rebels at the concept of needing all SHIELD employees wearing the same spandex uniform. That seems a little silly to me, but I think of it as a carry-over from the original comics and it works. (Yes, my forgiving attitude is destroying comics. Pardon me for having fun. I can like THE AUTHORITY and still enjoy THE AVENGERS without having to apologize for it.)
Dan Jurgens has injected some character into Steve Rogers and Captain America that goes beyond the usual Big Blue Boy Scout that most writers go for. I find it interesting how he's contrasting Steve Roger's first life with his second, post-thaw life. This Captain America is more a fish out of water, finding himself sometimes apologetically uncomfortable with the beliefs and the thoughts that he was born and raised with. (He's dealt with technology in previous issues, and this month he's dealing with feminism.)
Jurgens' art is bold and splashy. He does a great job in drawing Cap under extreme circumstances fighting off battalions of soldiers from AIM or Hydra or wherever they might come from next. Art Thibert's inks are completely different now than they were when they last paired up with Jurgens' art in SUPERMAN nearly a decade ago, but that's reflective of the times. Back then, the line was shorter and there was more crosshatching. I liked it a lot, don't get me wrong. Nowadays, Thibert concentrates more on smooth, straight, solid lines. There's a better sense of the spotted blacks here, with some effort made to balance the page with shadows and design.
It all just gives Gregory Wright the space he needs to shine with his colors. They're bright, bold, and solid. There's not a lot of fine gradient and sculpting work here. It is there, but it doesn't overpower the pages and it doesn't look like he's trying to show off with them.
Oh, and Todd Klein letters the book. Do I really need to say any more about that?
IMAGES SPAWNS A ONE HUNDREDTH ISSUE
SPAWN #100 (published only four months later that solicited) was a disappointment, but that does not surprise me. I haven't read an issue of SPAWN since the fiftieth issue extravaganza. I haven't read SPAWN on a month-to-month basis since the late 20s. What this issue gives us is a thirty-page story that feels like it could have been done in five. Some space is wasted trying to throw red herrings at the readers desperately searching for the clues in the "She Dies!" mystery this issue was advertised with.
I didn't care much for the characters at all. Nothing they did or said really moved me, except for one page near the end at Al Simmons' grave. It all seemed mechanical to me, and most of it could easily be reversed in the next issue. The fiftieth issue marked a turning point in the direction for the character. I don't know if McFarlane stuck with that for very long, but it was there. This issue has the potential, but I think you need to know more of the Spawn mythos to see that.
On the other hand, I'm sure if you're a fan of this series, this will give you more of what you want: Big, epic struggles. Fire and Brimstone. Devils and angels. Mysterious men and struggling women. Splashy, needless-crosshatched artwork from Greg Capullo. The whole nine yards. It's all yours. Enjoy.
Oh, and Tom Orzechowski letters the book. Do I really need to say anything about that? (Well, in light of the rest of this review, perhaps I should: He does a great job. He's evolved away from the UNCANNY X-MEN look he's so closely associated with. For one, it seems slightly smaller, and the balloons seem more circular.)
The rest of the issue is filled with self-congratulatory hype on Spawn's history, complete with an interview between Greg Capullo and Todd McFarlane, a McFarlane-penned history and timeline for the series, as well as some preview art and toy hype.
I shouldn't be so hard on McFarlane, though. This is a definite milestone for Image as a company. McFarlane was the first and only Image founder to start with a monthly title. The rest of them all went with a mini-series to start. If that proved popular - and they all did - then they'd go to an on-going series. And they all did. Even Erik Larsen started THE SAVAGE DRAGON with a three-issue mini-series. Nowadays, Larsen's the only other Image Founder still working on the same book, eight and a half years later. He's also the only Image Founder still drawing a comic book regularly. That's probably the biggest shame of it all. Jim Lee has become an administrator. Marc Silvestri has become a Hollywood shill. Rob Liefeld has - well, who knows what he's doing this week. His latest planned relaunch seems to be fizzling/morphing/changing already. Jim Valentino hasn't drawn a book in a few years now, but is doing great work heading up Image Central. (When did TOUCH OF SILVER come out last? January 1998.) Somewhere along the line, we seem to have lost all of their creative talents. How great would it be to see Silvestri penciling a monthly book again? To see Jim Lee do something more than the occasional special or one shot? To see Rob Liefeld publish two consecutive issues of any single comic inside of a year? (I'd love to see that YOUNGBLOOD revival, for one.)
Such was the definition of Image, however. It gave its creators the choice to make their own decisions. If they wanted to sell their studios to a large company, as Jim Lee did with DC, they can. If they want to strike out on their own, as Top Cow did once for a couple of months, they can. If they wanted to work on their Image book as well as a Marvel or DC (or both) book, they could. It's the public perception of the lost talent that hurts Image more. The structure of Image Comics is working. Only the creators, themselves, are to "blame" for their individual decisions. On the other hand, if Marc Silvestri just doesn't want to draw anymore, who are we to force him to? I'd love to see him drawing something he's enthusiastic about, but I don't want to see him hack something out for the sake of a paycheck or in an attempt to please some small group of fans.
In less than two years, we will be celebrating the 100th issue of SAVAGE DRAGON. I have a feeling it'll be a double-sized issue, at least, and contain more comic than text, though. It'll be something different from SPAWN #100.
While I'm at it, I have to give Todd McFarlane credit for one other thing. He runs a hell of a letters column. Since the start of SPAWN, he's never been afraid to print the negative letters and respond directly to them. You may disagree with him. You may think he's a blowhard. You may hate what he thinks. But he's not afraid to go toe to toe with the readers who write in.
IN THE PIPELINE FOR THIS FRIDAY
The holiday season is upon us. The highways around my house will become congested like never before with all the mall traffic. ::sigh::
Me? I'm staying inside and running the DVD player until it burns out. In Pipeline2 this Friday, I'll be looking at a bunch of DVDs. While some of the discs reviewed will definitely be comic book-oriented, don't count on it for all of them. If you're a fan of the streaming digital bits, stop by on Friday and let's talk DVD.
To all my fellow Americans: Happy Thanksgiving!