Sunday, February 28, 2016

My Back Pages: Trying to keep it MARVELous

EDITOR’’S NOTE:  Regular readers of this blog may have observed that we don’t give much space to Marvel Comics.  That is not intended to mean that they don’t deserve attention.  Marvel puts out some high quality books.  The reason we don’t spend much time on them is because they don’t need any help from us to sell books.  Since one of the mission objectives of this blog is to shine the spotlight on works that might go unnoticed otherwise, we usually don’t review Marvel books.  However, from time to time we will dabble and from time to time we will share our thoughts with you.  Like now . . . . . . . . .

DAREDEVIL #1 (Marvel, February 2016)  Charles Soule, writer.  Ron Garney, artist. Matt Milla, color artist.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letterer & production.

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This time, beginning a new creative team with a #1 issue makes perfect sense. Otherwise, readers of the Mark Waid /Chris Samnee version of Daredevil would probably go into shock.  This is a different book than the light-hearted and equally entertaining former version of Daredevil.  It's an impressive debut that goes for the gut-punch and moves forward at a rapid pace.  Being a practicing lawyer, Charles Soule is the prefect choice to chronicle the background of blind lawyer Matt Murdock and it shows in his handling of the district attorney at work scenes.  Soule also doesn’t waste time with lengthy details of the changes in the Daredevil world with this introductory issue, but drops some details along the way.  This book is long on action, and superbly illustrated.  This are some subtle changes to the costume that are really brought out to the forefront in the color styling.  Daredevil has a “Sin City” feel in some of the fight sequences.  Artist Garney’s work has never looked better.  What else is new?  Daredevil has a partner-in-training and a new crime lord to contend with.  And he’s back in New York City where he belongs.  If I had to narrow my regular Marvel reading choices down to just one book, it would be this one.  I’ll be following Daredevil in 2016.  Rating:  A+.

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DARTH VADER ANNUAL #1  (Marvel, February 2016)  Kieron Gillen, writer.  Leinil Yu, pencils.  Gerry Alanguilan, inks.  Jason Keith, colors. 

This is a dynamic stand-alone story.  It’s loosely intended to be the prelude to the “Vader Down” crossover event, but it’s not necessary to read this or that in order to appreciate it. Kieron’s script is not overly complicated and easy to follow.  The most impressive thing about it is his ability to nail the character essence of Darth Vader in every dialogue and gesture.  It’s the art that propels this book and makes it a stand-out, something every Stars Wars fan will want to read.  Credit inker Alanguilan for making the most of Yu’s pencils and really bringing the art to life.  The story revolves around a visit to the planet Shu-Torun by Vader and attempts to assasinate him. Shu-torun harvests a host of raw materials that the Empire needs for their building efforts, and they are determined to acquire them, either through friendly cooperation or forcibly. The droids that accompany Vader on his visit will remind you of the first Star Wars movie, but this pair only resemble C3PO and R2D2 in appearances only.  They are perfect matches to the personality of Darth Vader. Rating:  A.

TRUE BELIEVERS: CAPTAIN MARVEL #1  (Marvel, November 2015)  Kelly Sue DeConnick, writer. David Lopez, art.  Lee Loughridge.  VC’s Joe Caramagna, letterer.

It’s great that Marvel has reprinted several recent first issues under the True Believers banner and made them available for just one dollar per copy. I passed on all three of the books being reviewed here on the first go-around. I’m glad I did on one of them, regret doing so on one, and am on the fence on one, that being the Captain Marvel series. This might develop into a worthwhile series.  There are certainly some reveals in the first issue that would seem to indicate so.  It’s just that nothing here really grabs and holds onto my attention.  In the current glut of books that I’m trying to read, it’s easy to reduce my workload by passing on this series. This Captain is the Carol Danvers Captain Marvel, not to be confused with the current and younger version of Ms. Marvel.  Just to keep it clear, Captain Marvel will spend her time in space, as a formal representative of the Avengers in other galaxies.  Sort of like another version of Guardians of the Galaxy.  Her companions are of various alien races, and could prove to be interesting. We don’t learn much about them in Issue #1. Carol will be leaving behind a worshipping niece, as well as a romantic interest and that creates some conflicts. As she relates in the concluding pages, Carol’s just trying to find her place in the new Marvel world.  And perhaps, Marvel is trying to find the appropriate place for her.  Story and art are too workmanlike for my preferences.  Ho-hum.  Rating:  B-.  

TRUE BELIEVERS: SPIDER-GWEN #1  (Marvel, November 2015)  Jason Latour, writer.  Robbie Rodriguez, artist.  Rico Renzi, color artist.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letterer.  Wish I could say this is a great book.  I do appreciate that Marvel is trying to develop some female characters and make them relevant to the times.  This books is just a little too flip for my liking (perhaps my age prevents me from appreciating it further - I’m not a teenager) and seems to me to be a little too irreverent of the subject matter.  The art style is also a bit too cartoony.  The story is all over the place, and introduces too much in the first issue without any elaboration. For example:  The hate campaign against Spider-Woman (only known to us readers as Spider-Gwen), the Mary Janes rock band, and Jonah Jameson hating on Spider-Woman (he should love her for killing Spider-Man). For those who didn’t have the benefit of growing up with the wise-cracking Peter Parker, this may seem fresh and new.  To me, it’s just a sorry re-interpretation.   The portrayal of The Vulture, a classic Spider-Man villain, just doesn’t come off as believable here. Frank Castle is still a rough house, but an overweight detective.  That could be interesting if he wasn’t so dumb. Again, the art hurts the development of the character. Too silly. It’s nice to see Captain Stacy back in the book. At least his character seems respectfully handled.  Maybe I have too much affection for the original Gwen Stacy. Spider-Gwen has a legion of fans, and I respect that and I respect them. Every one has varying tastes. Otherwise, we would need only a handful of books.   I just don’t like the new version. Rating: D.

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TRUE BELIEVERS: THOR #1  (Marvel, November 2015)  Jason Aaron, writer.  Russell Dauterman, artist. Matthew Wilson, color artist.  VC’s Joe Sabino, letterer & production.  A new female version of Thor just received too much hype in the news media when it was first announced.  Instead of catching my interest, it served to turn me off. That could turn out to be a shame, since everything in Issue #1 seems to indicate that this could be a very interesting book.  As long as Dauterman stays on the art, it’s a joy to behold.   And Aaron does a commendable job on the story.  He’s one of the best Thor writers, and deserves the recognition.  He’s in esteemed company, since Thor has always seemed to attract the cream of the crop when it comes to writers. Odin returns to Asgard after his exile, and learns that Thor has been reduced to a no longer confident son with failing leadership qualities and a new inability to lift the enchanted hammer. The timing is right for the Frost Giants to invade Midguard, prompted by the evil machinations of Malekith, King of the Dark Elves.  It’s time for a new champion to wield the hammer.  We don’t read any mention of the new Thor and don’t really get a glimpse of her until the last page.  I just have to read more to find out who she is, and what happens next.  Rating:  A.

WINTER SOLDIER: A BITTER MARCH #1-5  (Marvel, April 2014 - September 2014)  Rick Remender, writer.  Roland Boschi, artist.  Chris Chuckry, color artist.  VC’s Clayton Cowles, letterer.

If you make a general comparison of the quality of comic books today versus the 1960’s and 1970’s the biggest difference is in the maturity and skill of the writing. This is a general, overall comparison and not specific to any particular type of book, character or writer.  Some books from that time period have not aged well.  Still, there are many high quality works to be enjoyed from that era, and this limited series reminds me of some of them.  In particular, it seems to pay homage to the classic Nick Fury, Agent of S.H.I.E.L.D. title and specifically the writing and art style of legendary Jim Steranko. From the stylistic 1960’s pop-art depicted on the cover to the interior story and art, this series just screams ‘1960’s” at me, and it brought back many fond memories of the comics of that time. 

It’s 1966, and two former Nazi scientists have perfected a dangerous formula, which prompted Hydra agents to kidnap them.  Nick Fury and fellow agent Ran Shen have been dispatched to extract the scientists from Castle Hydra, or go to Plan B and eliminate them so no one can obtain their secret formula..  Their competitive nature provides some amusing dialogue between the two secret agents. Agent Shen has some cool moments that recall the best parts of the Sean Connery Bond movies, until the true nature of Madame Worm is revealed and he needs rescue.  Enter the Winter Soldier, just as it appears that Nick will be successful in getting the scientists away.  What follows over the course of the next four issues are some exciting back and forth battles between Russia’s agent and America’s agents to capture and retain the scientists.  Street battles, battles on trains,  double-crosses and uneasy alliances, more Hydra agents with enhanced abilities, battles in the air, more early background on the Winter Soldier and his Soviet brain conditioning, engaging political philosophy discussions, battles in the air, and a satisfactory (albeit bitter) resolution make for a great story.  This is available in a trade paperback collection, so don’t miss it.  Rating A-.  

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