Monday, May 7, 2012

Books I Read: Marvel's Season One

Marvel's "Season One" books are modernized retellings of their heroes' early days, not a reboot. (More of a "Year One" book than an "Earth One", to use the DC terms.) The stories are about 100 pages (basically a four-issue miniseries) and the books also include a reprint of a recent issue to see if the current interpretation is to your liking, and a code for a digital copy of the book to increase its value.


Fantastic Four Season One: I love the FF so I wanted to love this but emotionally I felt it was pretty flat, which is surprising from writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa who is definitely capable of more. I wasn't a fan of "4", his previous attempt at these characters, but Aguirre-Sacasa recently wrote the winter finale of "Glee" which had some surprisingly well-crafted emotional moments in it. Artist David Marquez is drawing an arc of "Ultimate Spider-Man" starting with #9, and I think his style suits that book much better than this one. I don't dislike the book, I guess, but I'd rather give a new reader some Lee/Kirby or Waid/Weiringo FF. The reprint is Jonathan Hickman's first issue (#570), which has more heart than the rest of this volume combined.

X-Men Season One: On the other hand, this is drop-dead brilliant. One of my favorite books of the year. There's so much water under the bridge that it's easy to forget that "X-Men" started as a teenage drama, but writer Dennis Hopeless remembers and comes up with a take that's like the best "young adult" fiction without crossing over into CW soap opera. Jamie McKelvie's excellent character designs are familiar, but different enough to make you look at old characters with fresh eyes. (I panned some of his early work, but McKelvie has become an amazing designer; his new Captain Marvel costume has inspired artists all over the Internet, and the book hasn't even come out yet!) The reprint is Kieron Gillen's "Uncanny X-Men" #1, which is a terrific comic but so different than the main part of this book that I don't know how new readers will process it.
Daredevil Season One: Wow, this is kind of a mess. Matt's origin is glossed over in a couple of pages in favor of a story about his first few weeks (months?) as Daredevil, which I guess is appropriate for a "Season One", but Matt's portrayed as an indecisive insecure worry-wart which is entirely wrong. Underconfidence has never been Matt's problem. This is the kid who dove in front of the radioactive materials truck, remember? Heck, he was a trained ninja before he even put on a costume. All Matt's greatest failures (Karen's death, his "outing", Shadowland, etc.) are all direct results of his recklessness. Yes, there's some angsty stuff in the early issues (and repeated here) where Matt's in love with Karen Page but doesn't feel he's good enough for her, but he also at that time was the guy who posed as his own twin brother. So, yeah, this didn't work for me at all. There are about a half-dozen villains trotted out and defeated in a couple of pages each, which somehow manages to make both them and Matt seem ineffective, and the plot about the priest and the city councilman involved in shady real estate dealings never quite takes off. (Though points to Antony Johnston for at least attempting some legal drama.) Not to mention that the priest figures out that Matt is DD because of his voice which I don't think we really want to draw attention to how silly this premise is that ALL MASKED SUPERHEROES DEPEND ON? The reprint issue is Mark Waid & Marcos Martin's Daredevil #1, which tells you everything you need to know about Matt in the first couple of pages and is perfect. Go buy Waid's first DD hardcover instead and leave this one alone.

Spider-Man Season One: This team has the hardest job of all, having to retell a story that's been retold dozens of times in multiple media including on TV a few weeks ago and on film a few weeks from now. They don't bring a huge amount of new stuff to the party, but writer Cullen Bunn and artist Neil Edwards do a serviceable job. The extra space gives them room to expand on Peter's fame before Uncle Ben's murder, and to give him time to grow into the power & responsibility lesson afterwards. (As Bunn's script points out, Peter never expected to be powerful, so why should that lesson from Ben have stuck with him above all others?) The first 20 pages of this book were one of Marvel's FCBD offerings, so you can sample for yourself and see if you're intrigued. The reprint is "Avenging Spider-Man" #1, which is a fun and not too continuity-laden choice (but I guess you need to know Spidey's an Avenger now), though after "Avengers" opening weekend I wonder how many people will read it and think the Hulk is colored wrong.

So, I'm about 50/50 on the first batch of "Season One"s with X-Men being a "must buy" and Daredevil being a "must avoid". I'm excited for the next batch, especially Dr. Strange (by Greg Pak & Emma Rios), but also Ant-Man (by Tom DeFalco & Horacio Dominguez) and The Hulk (by Fred Van Lente & Tom Fowler).

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