Yes, by the time you read this, Halloween will be in full effect, but since it’s Thursday night now–though the midnight hour is indeed close at hand–that means it’s time for another round of the Internet’s Most Diabolical Comics Reviews to separate the tricks from the treats!
Here’s what I picked up this week…
…and here’s what I thought about ’em!
Amazing Spider-Man Annual #1: Those of you who obsessively track my comics purchases may have noticed that last week’s issue of Amazing Spider-Man was the first one since Brand New Day began that I’ve skipped out on, and since someone asked about it, I figure this is as good a place as any to discuss.
So here’s the short version on Amazing #574: I might be judging the issue a little harshly since it was the return of Marc Guggenheim after the hoot that was Dan Slott and John Romita Jr’s “New Ways To Die” (because come on, Anti-Venom? That’s hilarious!), but the fact of the matter is that Flash Thompson never needs to appear again. As much as I’m a guy who spends a lot of his time looking backwards and celebrating pieces of comics that have fallen by the wayside over the years, I recognize that there are things that have outlived their usefulness, and brother, he’s one of them. He exists solely as the counterpoint to a teenage Peter Parker, the school bully who frustrates Peter with his hero-worship of Spider-Man, and then matures along with Peter and grows to accept him as Our Hero becomes more comfortable with himself. That’s it, and while it essentially maks him the male Lois Lane, it is his entire function as a character, and the more he’s removed from that specific idiom, the more ridiculous he gets.
Seriously, look at what’s happened to the character in the past few years, a litany of plot twists that reads like they were written with a sledgehammer: He gets injured in a car crash because, having missed that episode of Saved By The Bell, he was driving drunk. Then he gets liquored up by the Green Goblin and gets in another crash, coming out this time as a catatonic albatross to be hung around Peter’s neck. Then he makes a miraculous recovery that somehow also leaves him a partial amnesiac who once again reprises the role of a high school bully which… Really? They might as well have just written “HERE WE GO AGAIN!” at the bottom of that page. And now, in a callback to when Stan Lee shipped him off to Vietnam that works as the ultimate in subtle commentary, he’s an injured Iraq War veteran, which makes him Capital-R RELEVANT.
Not to get too deep into this–or at least, any deeper than I already am–but that’s pretty much the opposite of what I want to see in the comics. Using a fictional character that has been plugged into what appear to be completely random stories as a cipher to represent the sacrifice of American soldiers in a real-life war–in a story where the message is that their acts are directly inspired by fictional characters in an oroborous of heroism–is the kind of thing that takes great skill to pull off, and when you’ve got a fucking premature ejaculation joke on page four (because his name is FLASH, get it?! Ha ha! That’s edgy!), I think we can all agree that “skill” is not the primary focus here.
So no, I didn’t much care for it.
Anyway, onto this week’s Annual, and I’ll warn those of you who are already nodding off after 550 words about Flash Thompson: I didn’t care for this one either. This time, though, the reasoning’s a little easier to explain.
One of the things that gets on my nerves in storytelling–not just in comics, but storytelling in general–is when something’s presented as a mystery when it’s really not. See, there’s a difference between being a mystery and just being mysterious, and when you’re dealing with the former, it presents a problem–and this is the important part–that can be solved. A mystery, such as asking “Who is Jackpot” and then offering up “clues” such as the simultaneous introduction of another beautiful redhead with an interest in crime fighting, should make sense in retrospect once the big reveal’s been made. But with this issue, that’s not what happens. Who is Jackpot? Oh, she’s just some girl. Some girl who apparently looks enough like Mary Jane that Peter–who, if you’ll remember, was in a “civil union” with MJ for a while–is fooled into thinking that it’s her. Don’t get me wrong: I don’t necessarily want Jackpot to be Mary Jane or Carlie, but if there’s a mystery here, it’s one that doesn’t play fair and relies too much on entirely unnecessary red herrings and a deus ex machina ending that makes me care even less than when we started.
To be fair, though, the artwork is fantastic.
Hellboy: In the Chapel of Moloch: Considering that this is the first Hellboy story to be written and drawn by Mike Mignola in something like 26 years, I think it’s safe to say that expectations were running pretty high, and… Well, this is the kind of book that meets your expectations exactly, and that’s sort of the problem.
Make no mistake, this is not a bad comic, but In the Chapel of Moloch reads like a Greatest Hits album: It’s everything you want to see from a Hellboy story–from creepy villains and two-fisted monster-fighting to Hellboy’s laconic dialogue and Mignola’s beautiful art–but by the same token, it’s everything we’ve already seen in other stories, only this time around it’s all done by the numbers, which makes it, by Hellboy standards, pretty unremarkable.
That said, an unremarkable Hellboy comic by Mike Mignola is still a Hellboy comic by Mike Mignola, and it’s worth picking up, even for a die-hard fan like me. If you’re new to the character, however, I imagine this one’ll make a nice place to jump on and test the waters to get a good picture of the entire series in miniature. Just keep in mind that there are other, better Hellboy stories that may or may not involve the title character punching the living heck out of a Goddamn Nazi Frankenstein Monkey. Just sayin’.
Incredible Hercules #122: I’ll talk more about this when I get to the hardcover below, but just so you don’t think it’s all negative around here, I just wanted to point out that this issue contains this panel…
…and may therefore be the greatest Marvel comic on the stands.
Marvel Adventures Fantastic Four #41: And speaking of the greatest Marvel comics, I’d be remiss if I didn’t point out that this month’s MA Fantastic Four, by ISB favorites Paul Tobin and David Hahn, features none other than Devil Dinosaur, which means that, no matter how remote, Marvel Adventures Devil Dinosaur is now a possibility.
Now, I’m just going to go ahead and put this out there, Marvel: I would pay you to let me write an all ages book about a dinosaur from a volcano and his human buddy who roll around the Mesozoic Era–or the future, I’m not picky–just kicking the living crap out of cavemen and space aliens. Devil Dinosaur fights the Celestials in space. Devil Dinosaur vs. Kang. Devil Dinosaur vs. the Council of Cross-Time Moon Boys. Seriously. Don’t answer now. Think about it for a while.
Secret Invasion: Thor #3: I don’t know how it is for you guys, but since I usually end up reading my comics during the downtime at work, I’ll occasionally have moments where I read something and then immediately have to go tell someone about it because I just can’t keep it to myself. Today, I had one of those moments, and it went like this:
“Hah! Hey, dude, did you read this?”
“They dropped a city on her.”
“Like, the whole thing. They dropped a GOD-City on a Super-Skrull.”
“Man, I love comic books.”
And I do, mostly because guys like Matt Fraction and Doug Braithwaite are ensuring that they’re a medium in which I can see the God of Thunder and his pal the Space Horse do something so awesome that Volstagg–whom I remind you is the Lion of Asgard–has to step in and break it down for everybody. Not since Thor hit Hercules with the island of Manhattan has the use of a city as a weapon been so thrilling.
ISB BEST OF THE WEEK
Empowered v.4: Ever since it first hit shelves last year, I’ve been pretty vocal in my support of Adam Warren’s bondage-heavy sexy super-hero shennanigans, so to avoid repeating myself–and since I’ve already blown whatever claim I had to brevity with my novella-length complaints about Spider-Man up at the top of the post–just assume that I said all that stuff again here, pointed out that this volume featured something of a tonal shift towards more long-form stories and more (relatively) Serious Drama along with a guy whose arms and legs had been replaced with katanas, and then reassured you that yes, you really oughtta buy this.
If only to see the Goddamn Maid Man, who may in fact be the Sensational Character Find of 2008.
Incredible Hercules: Secret Invasion HC: I’ve gone on at length about my affection for Incredible Herc–in fact, I’ve mentioned it in this very post–but the fact remains that it is probably the single best comic being put out by Marvel today. And considering that they also put out stuff like Ed Brubaker’s Daredevil, Matt Fraction’s Invincible Iron Man and Jeff Parker’s Age of the Sentry, I think that’s saying something.
Still, even stacked up against those, I find that it’s Hercules that I tend to look forward to the most every time it comes out, and while the current story’s knocking it right out of the park, it’s this one that really sets the tone. One of the more interesting things for me as a reader is seeing what various creators do when they take part in a crossover, and like the best writers before them, Greg Pak and Fred Van Lente use the conceit of Secret Invasion to springboard into something entirely more grand, sending a group of gods that includes a Jack Kirby creation, a member of Alpha Flight and the Japanese god of evil who speaks only in haiku to fight the Skrull Gods for the fate of the Earth.
Like I’ve said before, it’s downright Simonsonian, with a mix of action, comedy and adventure that’s darn near perfect. So if you haven’t, give it a read. It’s worth it.
And that’s the week. As always, any questions, such as whether Harold Sipe and Hector Casanova’s Screamland makes for an excellent Halloween read (yes) or if I’ll ever be able to stop saying “Nick Fury 2099 is right, Ghost Rider 2099!” (no) can be left in the comments section below.
Happy Halloween, everybody!