NOT SO SECRET ANYMORE
It didn't dawn on me while reading SECRET WAR that there were questions left unanswered. Specifically, what happened to Jessica Jones during the whole conflagration? What happened to the injured Luke Cage? While those less charitable than I might think THE PULSE: SECRET WAR is a self-indulgent bit of storytelling, I think it's a great way to flesh out the main story, without short-changing either.
The trade paperback collects issues #6-9 of Brian Bendis' series, focusing on Jessica in the aftermath of Secret War, and her single-minded determination to find out what was going on, and to save her boyfriend, who starts out the story unconscious in the hospital. She's not hooked up with all the major players in the storyline, so she's left out in the cold for information. It's a nice way to point out to readers that not every superhero knows every other one, or everything going on in their lives. And, for Jessica's tortured soul, the frustration drives her into action and towards a turning point in her relationship with Cage.
The biggest complaints, as I recall, stemmed from the first issue. It retold much of what happened in SECRET WAR #1, leading many people to cry "cop out." While the major scenes in the issue are retold from that series, the entire issue and the trade as a whole come from a completely different perspective. This is all about how Jessica views the world. If she's not viewing it, it almost doesn't matter. That becomes demonstrable in the third issue, in which Jessica remains mostly silent during an interrogation. It's the most powerful issue of the series to date, and Bendis lets his main character remain mostly silent. It's all in character, as is her final decision at the end of the issue.
There are lots of moments of characters walking around confused and not getting anywhere. While the "standard storytelling style book" teaches us that our protagonists must remain pro-active in order to stay interesting, I think it's also perfectly valid to let the protagonist get lost in events bigger than herself. The key is -- as Bendis does here -- for the character to become active when it counts. The big decisions need to be her own. Her lack of progress must be explained by the sheer scale of the larger events, and her later progress must be a result of her own actions, whether directly or indirectly. That happens here.
The artwork in the issue is split between Brent Anderson and Michael Lark. Both do the stories justice, although I think I prefer Larks' work in this instance. His Jessica Jones looks cleaner and better defined. Anderson's work shines best on the big action scenes and the secondary characters. Since this is Jessica's book, I'm going with Lark on this one.
This trade paperback is $11.99 and is available now. It's the second trade of the ALIAS series.
DAN SLOTT'S THING
Dan Slott is making the rounds in the hopes of boosting the sales figures on his fledgling Marvel series, THE THING. He wants everyone to add the title to their pull lists and get others to do the same. THE THING has always been on my pull list, based solely on the strength of Slott's SHE-HULK series. But it was just this past week that I sat down to read through it and see if the same magic is there.
I think the magic is there, but it's only in its "potential" form. The series began with a three-part storyline putting the newly-rich Ben Grimm amidst a sea of gawkers and hangers-on from the upper crust elite of Manhattan. When a group of them is abducted and left to die on a deserted island owned by Arcade, Thing must live up to his superhero status while saving people who may or may not really be his friends. The fun in this story comes from the many references to classic Marvel titles, along with the inspired lunacy that a character like Arcade provides. I mean, how can you go wrong with robot Hulks fighting robot Things?
The first issue suffers a bit from Intentional Celebrity Substitute Syndrome, but that's quickly dropped as the story begins to advance. Instead of being Pop Culture Cutesie, it simmers down to Marvel Universe Cutesie.
It's the fourth issue where Slott shows his stuff, though. This done-in-one book is as strong a single issue of any Marvel comic as I've read in the past year. The Thing learns a valuable lesson or two from his previous adventures, with a little help from little Franklin Richards. As a bonus, Lockjaw comes along for the ride. That's right -- big orange rocky Ben Grimm has a new friend in a teleporting dog from the moon. The dialogue comes fast and furious, with lots of banter and chatter. It's the perfect blend of strong character development and Marvel Universe Cutesie.
Thing learns another lesson in THE THING #5, as Slott brings back Karl Kesel's Jewish store owner from Yancy Street from a few years back. Slott works hard to keep this particular story at street level, all the while setting up the superhero spactacle for the grand conclusion.
Slott has two strengths working for him throughout the series. First, he has a broad knowledge of the Marvel Universe and isn't afraid to use it, both the good and the bad. It's a recurring theme at Marvel these days, what with SHE-HULK, NEXTWAVE, and MARVEL TEAM-UP. Secondly, he has a very deliberate pacing to his story. I know that sounds like a negative when taken at face value, but it's really a very big strength. If you want to complain about decompression, Slott's books are the answer. These aren't five minute reads, but they're also never boring. There's a lot of meat in these books, and that's a good thing.
The artist on the series through five issues is Andrea DiVito, who you may remember making a name for himself over at CrossGen. He's a solid and dependable artist, but I think he's the weak spot in the title. I hate to say it, but his art is boring. There's nothing technically wrong with it. Proportions, anatomy, and perspective all look right. His storytelling is clean and legible.
But it's boring. The uniformly thick lines -- he inks himself -- just let everything sit on the page without anything jumping out or calling attention to itself. Camera angles are workman-like and uninspired. I have a hard time getting excited about looking at an issue of the title.
Combined with Laura Villari's coloring, which shares most of the same weaknesses, the art doesn't stand out enough on the stands. DiVito is being yanked from the title to go somewhere else soon, where he might shine better for a higher profile title. I can't help but think a new artist for this book might just be the thing to save it. Kieron Dwyer is the next regular artist; I think his art has enough personality to it to give the title the kick it needs.
THE THING issues #1-5 are out already. The sixth is due out any week now. If you like SHE-HULK or THE FANTASTIC FOUR, there's a lot to like here, too. Heck, if you're just an old school Marvel Universe fan with knowledge of a lot of dark corners, here's your book.
QUICK HITS AND LINKS
- Good news: The material seen in ROUGH CUT from TwoMorrows Publishing (mentioned in this column last week) will be new for the magazine, and not recycled from the MODERN MASTERS series. That makes the $7 100-page volume a steal.
- Speaking of TwoMorrows, do yourself a favor and pick up the latest issue of DRAW magazine. Mike Manley has a lengthy interview in it with Kyle Baker. The discussion ranges from the purely artistic to the purely commercial, and how the two interact. Baker discusses his learning process for the world of self-publishing, as well as what he is willing to do for major publishers like DC, as opposed to what he'll do for himself. He shows himself to be a canny businessman without being a money-grubbing sell-out. Think more along the lines of Will Eisner doing his own graphic novels to own his work and sell it over the long term. It's brilliant stuff. The second half of the interview will be seen in the next issue of the magazine.
Mike Hawthorne is the subject of the second major interview for this issue, but I've only just begun to read it. His life history is fairly interesting, though.
- Speaking of Kyle Baker, do yourself a favor and pick up MARVEL ROMANCE REDUX: RESTRAINING ORDERS ARE FOR OTHER GIRLS. First, the title is hilarious. Second, Baker's cover is very funny. Third, his story on the inside is worth the price of admission alone. I laughed out loud and had to put the book down several times inside the space of just seven pages to laugh at his story. In it, he wonderfully exposes the artistic shortcomings of the story and makes the characters out to be as dumb as they look, to these modern eyes. I can't imagine what the original story (from Don Heck and Vinnie Colletta) was about, though. All the sequences seem so random.
- Stats junkies were given a real treat this past week when Comics Buyer's Guide's John Jackson Miller posted a concise listing of sales figures for comics in the direct market dating back to 1997. It's enough to make me want to fire up the Perl engines to begin parsing through them to draw my own conclusions.
- It seems like the kind of question that should be rhetorical: Why isn't there a BATTLE POPE cartoon? Simple: If "Popetown" can't make it, neither will BATTLE POPE.
- Neil Gaiman gave a talk at Microsoft back in October. The full video of the event can be had at Microsoft's website, they claim. The video is only viewable through Microsoft's Internet Explorer 5.0 or better, so I'm out. So much for open web standards.
- If that's not enough Gaiman love for you, WIRED has some more.
- Ernie Colon and Sid Jacobson have illustrated "The 9/11 Report."
- Finally, don't we all want a cell phone with the shape and functionality of a word balloon?
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