So I was away for almost a week, back in Baltimore for a poker game (great fun), a wedding (a beautiful ceremony) and a funeral for my 33 year old nephew (a horrible tragedy). An unbelievable roller coaster of emotions and a week that refocused my priorities in that the people in our lives are more important than anything else. This fact actually ended up making me take notice of something with comics this week that I knew, but had it re-emphasized.
Before Watchmen is producing some of the best super hero comics on the stands right now. I have always loved the cape and cowl stuff but have been driven away from most of the Marvel and DC stuff for reasons I have bored you with numerous times. This work is producing some great books and the reason became clear to me today while reading Nite Owl. The stories are about people. Minutemen is delving into who the people behind the masks are, Silk Spectre is opening up her story, the Comedian is about the man behind the mask as is Nite Owl. Even the independent stuff reflects that simple ideal, with Invincible being more about Mark Grayson and his growing up and learning then it is about the actual fights. Marvel and DC have almost totally forgotten about the private lives of the characters. At times they do some stuff with it, but it is minimal and we know how it ends. Matt Murdock and his girl friend eventually split up (did he ever get divorced last time?), Peter Parker’s girl friend gets retro-conned out, Johnny Storm grows up for two issues and then reverts to form, in DC it is worse because everyone has been de-aged and we have no clue what is there back story. The vast majority of the characters are the suit now and no longer anything else. From what I read of Superman, Clark Kent plays no role in the book, Bruce Wayne’s past comes back to haunt Batman, but Bruce does not really exist. Captain America is the character, Steve Rogers is just another name to call him. I can identify more with the man than I can the superman.
In reading the Before Watchmen stuff I see the young Nite Owl as a teen-ager hero worshipping the original Nite Owl and tracking him down. Dealing with an abusive father, getting his hopes and more up when he meets Silk Spectre. Silk Spectre’s story of running away from her domineering mother and dealing with high school anxieties wonderfully illustrated by Amanda Connor is a great read. I love the battle against the impossible odds and the winning against all hope of success, the glorious and crazed battles against some madman, but I also want to see what it cost them. I’ll go back to Amazing Spider-Man #31- #33, as much as the battle against Doctor Octopus was cool, seeing Peter have to push Betty Brant away from him due to his secret identity is just as powerful of a scene. The memories of the stories remain for the relationships, Wally West and Linda, Barry Allen and Iris, Clark and his parents and Lois Lane, Tony Stark and Pepper Potts, Hank Pym and Janet, they are the elements that are missing. The characters are no longer truly human, because no writer is allowed to actually advance the character, so the characters are empty avatars they are filled with facts and personalities needed to fill a role in the story being told.
I’m reading Tarzan of the Apes, again for at least the third time, and the story begins with Lord Greystoke and his wife Alice being abandoned on an African coast. The adventure and the setting is important and creates much of the drama, but the characters are all important and Alice has died before we get to Chapter 4, heck Tarzan is not even a character at this point, but a baby. I was just glancing through my Daredevil Born Again Artist’s Edition and the story is about Daredevil versus Kingpin, but also about Matt Murdock and Karen Page. Due to the way Marvel and DC run their business that is just a story that no longer matters to the character anymore and yet is should have stood as a turning point in his life and by now someone else should be Daredevil.
Onto a few brief comments about books I read this week, which is an amalgamation of books from the last few weeks.
Epic Kill #3 by Raffaele Ienco is a strong art book and an interesting story that is a pure action picture and like a good action picture the plot is thin. Still it is an entertaining high energy over the top book about a young girl who has almost super human martial arts skill and is apparently trying to kill the US President.
Resident Alien #2 by Peter Hogan and Steve Parkhouse is a fun series. The premise is an alien from outer space uses his telepathy to look human to everyone in this small town. He acts as the town doctor and is helping trying to solve a murder mystery. At the same time the US Government is looking for him as they found his crashed space ship. It has a terrific feel to the book and I hope this short three issue mini-series is the first of many about arcs. I love how the reader sees the alien as he is and not how the townspeople see him.
Before Watchmen Ozymandias #1 was a beautiful book. Len Wein wrote a great origin story about the smartest man in the world giving us a detail back story that starts with his birth and ends with him putting on the costume. Jae Lee’s artwork is wondrous and flat out beautiful. Wein has not impressed me with much of his recent work, but this was a great issue and Jae Lee’s art more than matched a stellar script.
Avengers vs X-Men #7 by Matt Fraction and Olivier Copiel and Mark Morales is a waste of money. The story is boring me to tears as it meanders it way around making any point. Copiel’s art is strong, but I didn’t recognize Tony Stark at all. I find it amusing that the Scarlet Witch is once again becoming the deus ex machina of choice to solve the problem of the Phoenix Five. The characters are just shells to play parts they have been cast in. I have dropped all the ancillary titles to this series and will follow it for morbid curiosity. My Marvel list is often 5 or less books a week now.
Nite Owl #1 by J. Michael Straczynski and Andy Kubert and Joe Kubert was a great looking book. JMS also turned in a terrific script that fleshes out the Nite Owl character and the book feels like it fits seamlessly into the Watchmen canon. I think the formula of strong writer and strong artist with a story that has a beginning middle and end is a recipe for good books.
I, Vampire #10 by Joshua Hale Fialkov and Andrea Sorrentino continues to be one of my favorite DCU books. It is not part of the regular DCU and therefore the disconnect from previous DCU history has no impact. Joshua has ratcheted up the action level as the Van Heslings attack Andrew’s vampire settlement. They are dispatched with relative ease and then come back to life and the cliff hanger says “Next Issue: Vampires vs Zombies! (It’s about time)”. Andrea Sorrentino evokes a Jae Lee type vibe, but the panel design and storytelling is very much Andrea’s own.
Fury Max #4 by Garth Ennis and Goran Parlov is a great book that makes Nick Fury more of what he should have been after WWII. Not a super spy, just a spy who gets his hands too dirty and says the wrong thing too often for his political bosses. This issue focuses on the Cuba debacle of the Bay of Pigs. I think this is a mini-series, but not 100% sure at this point. It does not matter as I can read this as long as Garth wants to write it. Parlov is not the strongest draftsmen, but he tells the story very well.
Batman Incorporated #2 by Grant Morrison and Chris Burnham is my favorite Batman book. It stills feels like the old DCU. This issue we get the history of Talia and how she become the villainess she is today. It incorporates so much of the Batman history and just is a thing of beauty as Chris Burham is knocking it out of the park with his artwork. I can’t see this story lasting forever, but as long as Grant is willing to write it, I’m willing to buy it.
Earth 2 #3 by James Robinson and Nicola Scott and Trevor Scott was another good issue, but I’m a little worried as it is the green vs the grey and I’m getting that too much of a similar thing with Animal Man and Swamp Thing. The reintroduction of the JSA is entertaining. The one complaint I have are the redesigned costumes are too convoluted and have a nineties Image characters vibe to some of the designs. Less can be better.
Next week’s books, standard fare Batman, Batman and Robin, Suicide Squad, Resurrection Man, AvX, Dark Avengers, New Avengers, Uncanny X-Force. The rest American Vampire Lord of Nightmares, BW Minutemen, Demon Knights, Frankenstein Agent of Shade, Punk Rock Jesus, Saucer County, Shade, Chew Poyo, Dancer, Enormous, Hoax Hunters, Planetoid, Revival, Walking Dead, Conan, Eerie Comics, Hellboy Volume 5, Massive, Locke and Key Volume 5, Richard Parker the Score, Smoke and Mirrors, Bloodshot and Harbinger.
As I catch up I may get ambitious and share my thought on other books, but worse case I’m back next Monday.