MORE MISCELLANEOUS MARVEL MADNESS
I promise that next week Pipeline Commentary and Review will go back to talking about a little of everything. In fact, since I have a few of those reviews already written, I can guarantee it. Look for the latest from Slave Labor, PlaNetLar, DC, Image, and more in next week's column, plus some things I haven't read yet.
For the second week, though, it's All Marvel, All The Time. Let's start back a little further than last week and roll from there.
AVENGERS GO BEYOND INFINITY
I finally read the AVENGERS INFINITY mini-series this past weekend. For those who might need a reminder, it's the four-part mini-series written by Roger Stern, penciled by Sean Chen, and inked by Scott Hanna. It involved a group of reserve Avengers (Thor, Quasar, Tigra, Moondragon, Photon, Starfox) heading out to save the universe.
It was a real muddy mess to get through. The story came close to boring me to tears. You have to picture the kind of epic, cosmic storytelling done in certain issues of THE AUTHORITY or in JLA: HEAVEN'S LADDER, but then suck any of the grandiosity and characterization right out of it. What you get, instead, is a nearly laughable story of escalating proportions. As the scale continues to grow larger and larger with each issue, you're not left with an increasing sense of alarm, but a certain belief that things are just so far out of control that someone will eventually hit the reset button to fix these things.
I have to admit to some personal biases here. These kinds of epic, sweeping storylines are not my cup of tea. The battles between super-gods, eternals, immortals, or whatnot don't fascinate me all that much unless presented with a sense of humor and character, a point this series could have fared better on. CrossGen's THE FIRST, for example, isn't so entertaining because of the two factions of gods presented within, but because of the Braveheart-ian battles, focus on a single character surrounded by hordes of warriors, and presented with technically proficient art. Even THE MIGHTY THOR loses me sometimes when it retreats into the land of the gods to take care of inner turmoil there.
Sean Chen's art isn't bad, but it isn't perfect, either. There are times when it just looks flat. Certain angles seem tougher for him to draw than others.
The fourth issue also makes for one large printing error when Photon's face gets printed so darkly that you can't make out anything other than her lips and the whites of her eyes.
It's really a shame. There are some interesting characters on this team. QUASAR, in particular, is about due for another shot at a series, between his appearances here and in one other book more recently. That's up next.
AH, WHAT A TANGLED WEB WE WEAVE…
MAXIMUM SECURITY finally wrapped itself up this past week with the third issue of the mini-series. I had high hopes for it. It got off to a strong start. Jerry Ordway's art was beautiful, Kurt Busiek's story was involving and included some interesting characters and political intrigue (I love that stuff), and the pace was pretty quick. This third issue coming out a month after the second stunted some of that momentum pretty quickly. But the thing that just makes the third issue so shallow is the way that it used plotlines from different books as necessary items to the conclusion of the story. If you didn't read GAMBIT, UNCANNY X-MEN, and BLACK PANTHER, you'd see some plot devices come flying out of the blue. Yes, you can follow the story without having read those crossovers, but the story then seems so thin that you wonder why you're bothering.
(The AVENGERS INFINITY team shows up here, too, providing just the kind of carry-over material I need to keep this column running from point to point!)
It isn't all a waste, though. The series got Professor X back to earth, and made US Agent into a very strong character. I'd like to see more of him. He's a twisted character, to be sure, but I think a very easy one to give a series or mini-series to.
The ax has swung over at Marvel, and a whole batch of X-titles is gone. This isn't a surprise, and it's been talked about for weeks now. Most of the rumors were correct, and the post on Marvel's web site just made it official.
So let the whining begin.
I just don't get the fanaticism and righteousness surrounding X-MAN, for one. It was the first (and so far only) Counter X book I dropped. Ariel Olivetti's painted art might be nice to look at, but his pen and ink work is (in my opinion, obviously) distinctly lacking in design sense, liveliness, technical prowess, and storytelling. The story itself was muddled in its new age shamanistic nonsense. That might appeal to some, but it doesn't work for me, and it doesn't make it inherently superior.
Many of the protests against this round of cancellations revolve around X-FORCE. The usual argument is that the only title not worth keeping is the only one they are keeping, while "quality" books like GENERATION X and X-MAN get canned for no good reason. (For what it's worth, I like GENERATION X.)
These are the same people, by and large, that are lauding the decision to bring Grant Morrison onto the X-MEN, since he is (in their minds) the single most talented and idea-driven creator around. They've even been told that he's working on a whole new direction for the X-Men, and that those changes will have significant consequences for the rest of the books. Speculation often leans towards having the characters from GENERATION X move into the mansion to be trained, in part, by the current X-Men. This is all rumor, of course, but it is a plausible scenario, and one in which having a separate GENERATION X title would prove to be redundant. Yet they seem to forget this point.
X-FORCE is a different concept than X-Men. They're more pro-active, they're more violent, they're less reactionary and they have a harder edge. I doubt they'd be moving into the mansion, and I'm plenty sure they wouldn't fit into the two main X-Men books. (On the other hand, it would be pretty cool if X-Force's more forward behavior caused the X-Men to single them out as enemy number one, in effect putting the X-Men on the side of defending the bad guys from the overzealous X-Force, composed largely of team members the X-Men have traditionally been friendly with. But nevermind that. It's beyond the point.)
The point is that all of these cancellations center around one event - the debut of Grant Morrison and Joe Casey as writers and stewards of the two main X-Men titles in April. Any decisions that would need to be made would have to affect the rest of the titles before then.
X-MEN: THE HIDDEN YEARS seems to have been granted some sort of reprieve, but even that's only by a couple of extra months. Everything else will be in place for April. BISHOP and GAMBIT are done by the end of this year. GENERATION X and X-MAN are gone in March, and MUTANT X is done in April.
What you get in the end is a fresh slate to work from in Marvel's merry top-selling mutant community. It's a whole new paradigm. It ought to be interesting. I can't wait to see what Morrison and Casey have up their sleeves.
BIG TOWN'S BIG REWRITE
Steve Englehart's original script to FANTASTIC FOUR: BIG TOWN #1 is now posted at the Marvel Comics web site. It's a tedious task, to say the least, to go back and forth between it and the printed version, but the differences run fast and furious. There are very few pages in which nothing is changed. I haven't read through it all, but I did read enough to get a feel for what went on, behind the scenes. All in all, I could have been perfectly happy with the original script. The rewritten script - from Marvel EIC Joe Quesada and who knows who else - is a bit of a mess.
The good news is that there aren't any plot changes made evident by the new script. The changes in dialogue are not done to make any character behave differently than they were plotted to behave. For the most part, all of the changes are done in the interests of clarifying things for the first-time comics reader, as Quesada said when this story flared up a couple of weeks ago.
On the other hand, it doesn't improve the comic. What it gives you is a lot of unnecessary and redundant verbiage. It's very similar to the way I just used "unnecessary" and "redundant" in the previous sentence, come to think of it.
Certain things clobber you over the head. On page 4, for example, one line of dialogue is changed from "So I had to invent things to deal with the villains" to "So I had to invent the technological gizmos to combat the villains." In a series which just had a large two page splash to show the way technology has influenced the city, and which started with a text page explaining that Reed Richards and Tony Stark have used their advanced technology to "defeat the super villain menace" and to create "a showcase of unimaginable technology" in New York City. Besides, would Reed Richards really use the phrase "technological gizmo"? I think he'd be more prone to using some scientific jargon, instead.
That opening splash pages of credits and explanation, by the way, necessitated the change in the order of the first three pages. Instead of a nice teaser page set close in on Mr. Fantastic, Thor, and Iron Man talking about the grandness of the city, followed by a double-page splash showing the modified New York, we get the two page splash followed by a page of talking heads hinting around it. We even lose a mythological reference from Thor comparing NYC to Valhalla. This also necessitates a bit of a clunky transition in the first panel of the next page, which look continuous, but in which Thor and Iron Man have mysteriously vanished. (Is that image of Reed Richards in the Fantasticar even Mike McKone's art?) In the original script, you could assume a time shift between pages two and there. Not with this current layout.
Other scene shifts become awkward due to repetition, too. In one case very early on in the issue, a panel ends a scene with Doctor Doom saying Silver Surfer's name, and the next one begins with a blurb saying, "Below the Silver Surfer…" instead of "Below him…"
Yes, this seems like nit picking, but I think it helps me to understand why Englehart was so upset with the changes. One or two of these examples would be tolerable, unless you're a real egomaniac. But when you see your writing made this kludgy this often, I imagine it would annoy you a great deal.
One of the more substantial changes has to do with racism in the new Big Town. A direct reference to racism is deleted. Mrs. Suarez says to Suzie Storm, "Sometimes, I can't believe you're really here, Sue." Sue: "Nonsense." Suarez: "No, I mean - here in a Puerto Rican neighborhood." That changes to "No, I mean - right here in my very own kitchen."
This edit changes things in a couple of not-insignificant ways. First, it goes to show that despite all the technology, human nature hasn't changed. Racism in some form - real or imagined - still exists. Second, it shows that the essential nature of NY hasn't changed. As much as everyone loves to toss around the melting pot metaphor, it's really more like a tossed salad. Everyone is together, but still keep to their little ethnic enclaves. You have Little Italy, Chinatown, sections predominated by Russian immigrants, etc. Of course there's mixing, but it seems that the neighborhood models still exist.
Of course, the big question left from the original script is, "Why is Englehart referring to the blond god of thunder as 'Thorr'?!?"
Basically, the rewritten script makes the book a little bit clumsier of a read. It's meant to help first time comics buyers. Will it be successful with them? Who knows? Maybe all that repetition will be good for them. I just think part of the conceit of an Elseworlds-style project like this is that the people reading them will already know what the 'standard' universe is like, so you shouldn't need to point out the differences so heavy-handedly. Heck, there are even ways to introduce new readers to the material without being so awkward in so many ways.
The book is still worth reading. The scripts go back to the original "director's cut" versions starting next month and for the next three issues. We'll get to see how fluent Englehart's scripts read then. There's still some clumsy dialogue in this book. Some of it is expository in nature, though, so I suppose I can forgive it. We'll see where it goes from here.
(Special thanks to Adam for pointing me to the direct URL for the script, which is included at the top of this section.)
In last week's review of THUNDERBOLTS, I wrote "…there's a mini-series spinning out of the upcoming fiftieth issue just to help wrap some of those [dangling plot threads] up."
Fabian Nicieza wrote in to correct that assumption: "That is not an accurate description of CITIZEN V AND THE V-BATALLION, which does spin out of events in #50, not as a means of clarifying much of anything going on in TBOLTS (which will all be addressed and answered in the coming months)."
So there you have it. Sorry for misinterpreting the situation, Fabian. But I'll be looking forward to reading it all, in any case. And come back next week for my review of X-MEN FOREVER #1!
DOWN THE PIPELINE FOR FRIDAY
It's time for another flip through the jolly pages of PREVIEWS. We'll take a look at what's expected to show up in your local comics shop in the month of February 2001. More tellingly, we'll take a look at one or two things that aren't going to be there in February.
Next Tuesday's PCR will feature a bunch of miscellaneous reviews, some of which I just didn't have the space for in the column this week. It should be a nice hodgepodge from a variety of publishers, both large and small.