Women of Marvel #2

Marvel's year-long focus on its female characters and creators has turned in a lot of very good, yet criminally overlooked stories. These comics have often been subject to curious marketing techniques, where the books are given a female-centric title ("Girl Comics," "Her-oes") which ghettoizes them from the "male" books (i.e. all other comics) - but then given the kind of cover that only a teenage boy could love. In this fashion, both male and female readers see a book that isn't aimed at them. It's no surprise they've been overlooked. After 12 months, you'd hope Marvel would have learnt something.

With that in mind, we end the year with this: "Women of Marvel #2", an anthology with a female-centric title, and a cover by Greg Land. Marvel, how far you've come.

The first story in the book is a fairy tale, as filtered through the Fantastic Four. It's not entirely dissimilar to the "Marvel Fairy Tales" limited series of a year or two ago, nor is it a million miles away from Paul Cornell's "Fantastic Four: True Story." Unfortunately, it's not a huge success, either.

The twist on the fairy tale setting doesn't really work, being so complicated for such a short story that the plot is in danger of being lost in exposition in an attempt to make itself viable. The manga-esque art is inconsistent and occasionally hard to follow, while the dialogue lacks character, particularly Sue's in the framing sequence. It could be a case of the reader not matching the target audience, but it's hard to find anything to enjoy here.

Jim McCann and Michael Ryan's Songbird short is the most conventional of the stories (and as a "Thunderbolts" fan, the one I enjoyed the most). In the short, Melissa faces her old criminal gang, the Grapplers, who have reformed and taken on a new Screaming Mimi. At 10 pages, there's not much room for dithering, and McCann quickly sets up a conflict specific to Songbird's situation, then resolves it by the end, both in terms of the metaphor and narrative.

Michael Ryan's art gives it a polished, familiar look, with strong storytelling and beautiful character work. Overall, it's a nice little piece that would be a welcome addition to a Thunderbolts trade though, admittedly, it seems a little out of place between the two more esoteric shorts here.

The ending Shanna piece is probably the most technically impressive, both in terms of Mary HK Choi's writing, which meshes 1950s pulp homage/pastiche with idiosyncratic humor, and Nuno Plati's art, which gives both the jungle and Shanna an sketchy, lithe and ineffable air. Between the inventive storytelling and beautiful, cinematic visuals, it's a real gem, and ultimately, one which just about tips the book into "worth buying" territory.

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