REVIEWS FOR A NEW YEAR -- OF COMICS THAT CAME OUT LAST MILLENNIUM
DAREDEVIL: NINJA #2 kicks the mini-series into high gear. If you were a little cautious after the first issue, I think the second one should put your mind at ease. There's a brilliant action sequence at the end of this book, and Bendis really lets Daredevil loose with the one-liners, harkening back to Karl Kesel's run on the title not so terribly long ago. Rob Haynes' artwork (with David Self's integral coloring) is still pretty darn cool. It's all done in "widescreen" panels with uniform line thickness and no solid black areas. That's why I refer to Self's role in the comic as "integral."
(Random observation: Looking at the ad on the last page for ULTIMATE X-MEN, it just struck me as funny that the first issue of the series doesn't even feature Wolverine as a team member, although it has him in full X-regalia in the promo shot.)
The JENNY SPARKS mini-series has finally concluded, a scant seven months after the five-issue monthly mini-series began. Maybe monthly comics aren't doable anymore. And remember when the indicias used to proudly proclaim the frequency of publication? Not anymore.
Anyway, the JENNY SPARKS mini-series fills in some continuity gaps surrounding the formation of the AUTHORITY team, alongside some more history of Jenny Sparks' adventures in the 20th Century. To make a long story short, she shags a lot and hangs out with some famous people, one or two of which were lost on me. I'm not up on my royalty history. That was probably Fergie she was dining with in one issue, but don't quote me on it.
This is a mini for the AUTHORITY completist, but not for the AUTHORITY newbie. It's much closer to being a "standard superhero" comic than AUTHORITY usually is. This one is meant to fit in a bunch of cracks in the continuity that Warren Ellis set up in his run and that Mark Millar started at the beginning of his run. So if you are an "old hack" when it comes to the main title, this would be a nice book to learn more about the characters and debate the points postulated therein. John McCrae handles the art duties and seems wildly inconsistent at times with characters. The cover to the third issue has one of the strangest-looking legs I've ever seen on a cover. It has the weight and size of a toothpick.
Meanwhile, in Mark Millar's THE AUTHORITY #22 – I can't get into it without spoiling everything. So stick with this mild bit of wording often used in solicitations and advertisements about comics: "This issue – everything changes!" Seriously. Trust me on this. It's bloody and it's brutal and it happens really quickly and suddenly. It's almost a letdown that it happens in such an anti-dramatic fashion. Nice art from Frank Quitely, though.
X-MEN POST MORTEM
X-MEN #109 is the latest Marvel Monster issue, containing 100 pages for $3.50. This issue's theme is Christmas stories. Chris Claremont attempts some last minute characterization in a meandering story before leaving the title, with guest art from Thomas Derenick. (Derenick's eBay artwork is much better looking than his interior panel-to-panel stuff. Without his lovely pencil shading, the art ends up looking like a bunch of people wearing impossibly tight clothes for little good reason. Maybe he just needs to ink himself and take more time with these fill-ins? I'd love to see him do an X-MEN one-shot story that could be printed directly from pencils. Give him enough time to do it at his own pace, and make sure it features at least one female character so you can play to the artist's strengths.)
The three stories reprinting in the back are interesting, as well. The first is Claremont and Dave Cockrum from UNCANNY X-MEN #98. It's an OK story and probably fits better when read in continuity.
The second story is perhaps my favorite from the Claremont/Byrne era of the title. It's UNCANNY X-MEN #143, featuring Kitty Pryde "Home Alone" fighting an "Alien." The issue starts off with some strong characterization and proceeds to be one of the great action sequences of all time in comics, as Kitty is chased by the menace throughout the X-mansion. It's filled with tension and suspense and is pulled off beautifully. This is also at a point when Kitty was new to the X-Men and still unsure of her powers. Great stuff.
The final story in the book is from the Lobdell/Madureira era, UNCANNY X-MEN #341, featuring – of all the odd things – a fight between Cannonball and Gladiator on Christmas Eve. The story starts off with an homage of sorts to the first Claremont story reprinted in the book, as the mutants find themselves in Rockefeller Center at the ice skating rink for a white Christmas. Having not been reading the X-Men titles at that point, it was something of a treat to see a sample from that time. Madureira (with inker Tim Townsend, of course) does a pretty good job here. Some nice moments, good characterization, one unfortunate bit of inside business with the X-Offices taking a role in the story, and more.
As we end the Second Coming of Chris Claremont, we should probably look back and ask what went wrong. The letters column in this issue is filled with letters that are quite critical of his work on the title, along with lengthy editorial response to them. (It's always a good sign to see signs of dissent in a letters column. It's not just an area for suck-ups, you know.)
I think it's a few things that went wrong. Claremont and his editors determined from the start that they were going to do two things. First, they would jump six months ahead in continuity, allowing enough time to pass for Claremont to make any changes to the characters that he wanted to. Secondly, Claremont decided to break the usual cycle that new writers fall into when they arrive on the book – no Sentinels, Brotherhood of Evil Mutants, Magneto, and the rest of the usual bunch of villains. I think that either idea would have worked, but in doing both of them together, it just confused readers too much. New villains were introduced fast and furious, most of which were forgettable and, at times, downright silly and annoying. (Goth villains don't work for everyone.) Meanwhile, characters changed without a lot of reason given, and the readers were asked to swallow this whole.
Secondly, they should have taken the opportunity to make these changes to coincide better with the movie. Yes, hindsight is 20/20 and if the movie had tanked, the comics would have looked silly. But it would have been worth the risk to tie into the movie more than just by changing the logo design and putting a graphic on the cover that proclaims the movie to be based on the comic. At least try to change the team around a little bit to feature Wolverine, Rogue, Cyclops, Jean Grey, Storm, and Xavier. Add in a couple of others and make sure to put an introductory page explaining all the characters briefly. You don't have to go so far as to regress Rogue to a teenager. (Although it's been done with Storm before, so it's possible, but I think that might reek a bit too much of tie-in-ism.) A change in costumes would have been nice, too. Keep them all in the same basic design. I've always liked the classic blue and yellow, but the black leather look thing works for me, too.
Third, Claremont once used the word "synergy" to describe the kind of give and take that must happen between a writer and artist to make for great comics. Maybe that just wasn't happening here. There were times when it seemed Claremont had to go on for caption box after caption box about what was happening in the art, but whether that's because the artist didn't follow the script or because Claremont wanted to add more stuff in after the art came in, I can't honestly tell.
Finally, there are some classic moments of dreadful Claremont prose in the past year's worth of comics. I've mentioned some of it above already, but there were other times when it just seemed to go on and on without a good reason.
The thing with Claremont's writing on the X-Men titles is that it was always viewed best from high above. When you're caught up in the month-to-month rigors of the comic, sometimes it can seem pointless. In the end, though, you can go back and reread the year or two of the title and see how everything fits together better. One of the other problems in this run of Claremont's is that things just didn't conclude satisfactorily.
Claremont is moving on now, with Salvador Larocca, to a new X-title. Maybe with a fresh start and established characters, things can be different this time. We'll see.
In the meantime, X-lovers will get to exchange one punching bag for another, as Scott Lobdell comes in to write the next few issues.
MORE TO COME THIS WEEK
There are more reviews to be had this week. Come back on Thursday for a special PCR Extra, as I look at CATWOMAN, FANTASTIC FOUR, BATMAN, and more.
On Friday, it's time for the annual visit with Derek Fridolfs, to see how his budding comics inking career is coming along.