BENDIS A GO GO
Both of the Brian Bendis-penned Ultimate titles are coming out this week in MARVEL TEAM-UP and SPIDER-MAN. As always, they're both interesting books, although there are one or two problems that creep up along the way.
First of all, Marvel has to do better in spreading out its titles throughout the month. When there are four Ultimate titles – as there soon will be – there should be a staggered schedule. Every week there should be a new Ultimate book. Having two Ultimate Spider-Man titles shipping in the same week is not optimal.
In any case, Brian Bendis' ULTIMATE SPIDER-MAN #15 script is a further exploration of Peter Parker's secret identity. It's not a bad idea and it is played out nicely, but I'm getting sick of seeing secret identity stories around Spider-Man lately. JMS has started one in AMAZING SPIDER-MAN right now. Bruce Jones has one in TANGLED WEB. Paul Jenkins even has one this month in PETER PARKER: SPIDER-MAN. (Go ahead and read it. It's pretty amusing as well as being the best ASTRO CITY story of the past year…) The plot usually becomes the case of an average Joe who discovers the identity and has to decide what to do with it. Kurt Busiek already handled this pretty well in ASTRO CITY a couple of years ago or more. Most everything else afterwards became redundant. While I have enjoyed all of the stories mentioned above, it is starting to induce groans. I hope this is just a strange phase the scripters are going through and that it'll be on to new and different plot points next month.
Bendis continues to focus on the teenagers in the title and not so much on the super-heroics. Spider-man makes a brief appearance in this issue, which is effective in part because it's so short. It's filled with classic Spidey one-liner material, and comes at a good time in the flow of the story. The scene is not played for high melodrama. It's understated, since it's just Spidey capturing a purse snatcher. There's no other costume involved, aside from Doctor Octopus' machinations in the occasional subplot story page. It's all particularly noticeable because it happens in a book otherwise devoted to a bunch of high school kids talking at school, or a cop outside a crime scene talking to a reporter. Bendis' ear for dialogue helps maintain interest in everything that's going on. I think he would do a great comic about a group of teenagers outside of a super-hero setting. Might be fun to see what would happen.
Mark Bagley's art doesn't get nearly as much praise as it deserves. It's been rock solid and steady throughout the tenure of this book. Along with Art Thibert's inks, the art makes it easy to figure out not just who is who, but also what they're doing. It's done so clearly and so well that I don't ever find myself flipping around the book looking for a plot point I had missed. It's simple and straightforward, which is the best possible thing for a story like this if it's meant to attract new readers.
ULTIMATE MARVEL TEAM-UP #8, in the meantime, is the conclusion of the three-part storyline featuring guest stars Daredevil and the Punisher. It's Spidey who ends up being the guest star in his own title, but that's OK. Bendis does a great job here in giving us characterization of The Punisher, showing Frank Castle to be just slightly mentally unbalanced. As much as we've always known this to be the case in the Marvel Universe proper, Bendis hammers the point home with every page that Frank Castle appears in. You truly get a little scared by the unpredictability of the character and the intense emotional scarring of what he's been through. Bendis' neatest trick is that, despite yourself, you also end up rooting for him. The job he's doing isn't all bad. He's going after only the dirty cops. He hasn't snapped yet to the point where he's targeting all cops in a Guilt-By-Association scheme. (Then we'd get the old Star Trek chestnut where someone would remind Castle of his police past and he'd destroy himself. Ah, that Captain Kirk always had a way with words.)
Bendis does a good job with Daredevil, too, using Matt Murdock's legal tactical training to fight crime. We so often see stories about how Daredevil affects Murdock's life. Less often do we see how Matt Murdock influences Daredevil and the strange pairing they have. We get that here, when Daredevil decides to talk Punisher to death early on.
I'm not a fan of Bill Sienkiwicz's art. When he inks other people, I find it particularly hard to look at. (He inked an issue of X-MEN one time over Andy Kubert that I don't think I ever forgave him for.) When he is inking himself, though, it works out OK. It's still slightly impressionistic in this storyline, but it's decent looking stuff. The wild pen line works in rendering a wildly dirty little corner of the Ultimate Universe.
The book does contain one typo that made me laugh. A character referred to Binaca spray as "Bianca" spray. There's probably a dirty joke to be made there, but I try to keep this column family friendly. That's also why I won't be discussing all of the POWERS typos every month. ;-)
There's also a great twist ending to the book on the last page that I really liked for reasons I can't really give away.
If you haven't been following the series so far, I'd say hop aboard the next issue that features an artist or a character you like. The story arcs are all self-contained, and you can come in and out with them depending on the creators or characters involved. And if you want to read this one, I'm sure it'll show up in trade form eventually.
Finally in our tour around the Bendis kingdom, we stop at a title that is out on shelves already. THE POWERS ANNUAL is an extension of POWERS 1 / 2, originally offered exclusively through WIZARD. The first half is a reprinting of the story, while the second half tells of the court case against the Shark. That second half is not a sequential storytelling piece. It's a "court transcript," which is really just in a movie script format. It looks like it was ripped straight from Bendis' copy of the Final Draft screenwriting software. This isn't a knock on it, by the way. I just want to describe it to you as well as I can. My main concern with reading formats like this is in taking the time to read each character's name before their dialogue. It's a little thing, but it can get tedious to picture scenes in your mind when you don't have the prose aid of descriptions and actions to accompany the dialogue, or the pictures that accompany movies or comics. Thankfully, since there are only three or four characters in the script, it's fairly easy to read. You won't get hung up reading characters' names. You can skip over them pretty quickly.
Michael Avon Oeming contributes some full page pencil splashes to illustrate the story, acting as the court stenographer. They're rather quick and loose pencil drawings. Don't be expecting the usual full glory inked work. They're also in black and white, as they should be to fit the feel they're going for.
The unfortunate part about the extension of the story is that it doesn't add anything. It rehashes everything we knew from the first half of the book in heavily verbose form. Aside from the last half of the last page, we don't really learn anything new or shocking. I'd like to say it fleshes out some of the character relationships, but I think that would be overstating the case. It adds a couple of details, but it doesn't make you look at anything in a new light.
The letters column, however, is worth the price of admission. It starts off with some professionals (Paul Jenkins, Bob Gale, and *****, amongst others) discussing their strangest fan letters. Then it devolves into the usual madness. It's the one great loss of the trades that they don't include these letters pages. They do, however, make the individual issues worth your money.
ONE LAST PREVIEW
DOOM PATROL #2 features a focus on the root of the team and the reason for its existence. Writer John Arcudi focuses on the decisions made by a corporate superhero team in the interests of serving its master, and all the little annoying side things that get in the way, as well, such as press conferences. It's an interesting complement to X-FORCE. Judging by the events near the end of this issue, however, it looks as though DP will be going down a different road from that mutant title.
The crux of the title is the clash of leaders between Ted and Robot Man. It's the biggest conflict of the book, so it makes sense that it would be the one they'd focus on. It's a classic case of young punk versus wizened veteran. Anxiousness versus stoic certainty. Attitude versus experience.
I really wish, however, that someday someone would write a story about a corporate-sponsored superhero team in which the corporation isn't the villain. It inevitably turns into that every time, and I think it's getting to the point of being lazy storytelling.
Artist Tan Eng Huat reminds me of a younger Travis Charest. The faces and skinny line work are very similar. His storytelling is fine although things sometimes get chaotic. Huat doesn't confine his art to a grid. His page layouts are very organic and overlapping. It's a matter of taste as to whether you'll find this freeing or distracting. As I've explained here countless times before, I find the grid to be more challenging and ultimately more satisfying towards telling the story.
DOOM PATROL is off to a good start, and is holding my interest right now. The second issue will be out on comic store shelves on Wednesday. I think next month's third issue will be crucial for this title in order to decide what direction it goes in. There are two or three possibilities, judging from the stories so far. I don't have a particular favorite, but hope that Arcudi will be smart enough to do something different than the usual with it, whatever he chooses.
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